Groundbreaking News (Literally)

 

What’s better than sharing good news?

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with students about the new Arts and Humanities Wings coming in the Fall of 2018. We gave students a heads up about groundbreaking before March break, but wanted to explain the new addition in the context of our  vision for St. Luke’s. As I said to students today:  “The world changes so fast and we want to make sure you have a campus and spaces that fuel and inspire learning.”

Addressing the Upper School

 

General Reaction: Smiles

Lead architect Jim Rogers joined our student meetings. Jim shared images of the project and illuminated why space matters. He also outlined three goals of the new addition:

  1. We wanted to create light, bright, open spaces with a lot of flexibility in the layout. The ideal is to  that students come into a space and make it their own. Whatever the activity, we want the work areas to be comfortable, appealing and user-friendly.
  1. The new design brings the Art Department into the fold. The distance between art and the rest of the school can be a roadblock to the arts working with other disciplines—for example a collaborative history and art project. We wanted to eliminate this physical and mental distance between art and the rest of the school.
  1. Creation of a Humanities Wing gives English and History a new space and more of the collaborative, flexible spaces seen in the Science Wing. With all our core departments in the main building, the School will be united. And just as the Science Wing clearly announces to visitors that St. Luke’s values the sciences—the new wings will send the same message about the Arts and Humanities.

Jim Rogers Talking with Middle School

More Smiles from Middle School

 

As Jim and I pointed out to students, achieving these goals brings another major benefit:  St. Luke’s will have distinct Upper and Middle Schools. Right now, the Upper and Middle Schools share classrooms and that requires shared schedules. It’s long been a desire to have enough space for each school to design classes and schedules around what’s best for students. Once these buildings are complete, that vision too will be a reality.

Earlier in the week, St. Luke’s Trustees gathered to lend the construction crew a hand. Take a look to see how that went…

 

Teachable Moment: Civil Discourse

Every four years the St. Luke’s History Department organizes and oversees a mock Presidential election at school, with advisories dividing up into states to “replicate” the Electoral College.  Last week’s mock election showed that we had many students and faculty supporting each candidate, with roughly one third voting for President-elect Trump and roughly two thirds voting for Secretary Clinton.  Our outcome mirrored Connecticut’s but not the national results, and we saw democracy in action.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that emotions were high on all sides going into this election, and we have seen that continue in the days since November 8th.  Not surprisingly, the divisions we see in our country at large also play themselves out here at school.  In a few instances, this has led to behaviors not in keeping with our core values, school culture or Honor Code.  Knowing this, and wanting to remind everyone of our expectations, I made the following points at this week’s Upper and Middle School town meetings:

-At St. Luke’s we value respectful discourse and encourage discussion of different viewpoints.

-Among other things, respectful discourse means not making your disagreements personal.  For example, it’s not in keeping with our values to call someone an idiot, or to suggest that they are a bad person, or a racist because you disagree with their point of view.  We expect that no one will engage in behavior or use language intended to intimidate or humiliate anyone.

-If you’re struggling with how to manage a difficult or emotional conversation, seek out a faculty member or an advisor for advice.

-Our culture of kindness doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or strongly argue your point. In fact, debate – respectful debate – is the essence of a healthy democracy, and a core element of what it means to participate as a citizen of a democracy. Whichever candidate you supported, and whatever policies you agree or disagree with, now and in the future, I hope every one of you will not shy away from understanding the issues, debating them with others, and working hard to make our democracy strong and healthy.

What I didn’t say, but perhaps should have, is that everyone has a right to feel how they feel.  If you feel excited and optimistic because your candidate won, that’s understandable and OK.  If, on the other hand, you feel sad and fearful, that’s also understandable and OK.

Since November 8th we have seen a spike in overt harassment of minorities in schools, including schoolyard bullying, taunts, and even the Royal Oak middle school students seen chanting “Build the wall” on a video that went viral.  It’s not a partisan act to condemn these things and to assure those people in our community who fear what could happen to them or their loved ones that we will keep them safe here at school. This is how a school community acts with integrity and stays true to its fundamental values.

And so we will encourage—no, insist on—civil discourse at St. Luke’s.  While we have no wish to monitor every interaction among students, when we learn of students not respecting each other we address it and will continue to do so.  As the St. Luke’s Honor Code reminds us:

As members of the St. Luke’s community, we will maintain and encourage integrity at all times.  We will be honest in what we say and write, and we will show respect for ourselves, each other, and all property.  We will treat everyone with kindness, and we will accept responsibility for our actions.

Read Look for the Beacons for more about honor at St. Luke’s.

 

A Life-Saving Night

 

Before you leave for vacation, or settle in for stay-cation, please mark your calendars for March 31: The Power of Prevention: Success Stories and Strategies for Healthy Teen Years. The event is hosted by the RAM Council, an organization built around New Canaan students who lead substance-free lives.

I’ll be speaking on a diverse panel (see flyer below). We’ll each address substance abuse through a different lens.  I will share my story of watching a loved one struggle through addiction and recovery. Several other panelists have personal stories to share as well.

RAM Council president, Joyce Sixsmith, said the goal is to make the threat and pain of addiction real:  “…if we recounted stories that brought to life how heroin has affected families it could make a difference.”

You can read more about RAM and Power of Prevention in this New Canaanite article.

There are no reservations or tickets required.  I hope to see many of you there—with teens in tow.  See the flyer below for more information.

P.S. If anyone doubts the need for this talk…see links below:

Heroin Has Killed Six Young People from New Canaan – New Canaanite

Heroin Use Becoming An Epidemic in Fairfield Community – Norwalk Daily Voice

Heroin Killing Connecticut Residents at an Alarming Rate – New Canaan Patch

Pair Arrested for Heroin Possession in New Canaan – Eyewitness News

New Canaan Police Have New Tool for Fighting Heroin Overdoses – New Canaan News

Heroin Epidemic Increasingly Seeps into Public View – New York Times

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 8.50.53 PM

 

Diversity: Messy, Imperfect, Essential

“The problems we face in the world are very complicated. Any one of us can get stuck. If we’re in an organization where everyone thinks in the same way, everyone will get stuck in the same place.”

Scott Page, a professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, in an interview with the New York Times, illuminates why our diversity initiatives at St. Luke’s are so critical.

Diversity is not a matter of opinion, or a political posture. It is deep within the DNA of our school and central to our mission. As we wrap up this year’s theme of Building an Inclusive Community, it’s important to note that our work in this area is certainly not done. Unless our world changes drastically, we will never be finished teaching and learning about diversity.

Our focus on diversity and inclusion (the atmosphere that makes diversity possible) is not a sign that St. Luke’s has a “problem.” It does not mean that our families are racist. Quite the contrary, the fact that we spend valuable time focused on developing our students’ compassion, respect and appreciation for all is a sign of a healthy community—one that understands the deep benefits of its diversity work.

Does this work sometimes feel uncomfortable? Boring? Annoying? Accusatory? It may. These are things we need to talk about. With each other. With people outside the community.

Because diversity not only makes us better people—it also makes us smarter and more successful.

Data supports the cognitive benefits of diversity: Research done with college freshmen and high school seniors examined how students’ experience with diversity in college improves their critical thinking.

The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014 study shows that students who are enrolled at campuses with stronger acceptance of diversity tend to realize greater benefits from interacting with other races and ethnicities. Among these benefits are diversity-related skills, such as “ability to see the world from someone else’s perspective or openness to having their own views challenged.”

The business world has also embraced diversity and its direct ties to corporate success. From a recent Forbes article: “The business case for diversity has never been more front and center than it is now…and why not? Basic economic theory suggests that consumers will correct for a company’s lack of diversity by simply not spending money there—making slow-to-change organizations extinct.” The writer goes on to point out: “Perhaps most exciting, top workplaces are approaching diversity problems with a more forthright, open tone. A long recognized best place to work, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ diversity division is led by Maria Castañón Moats who proclaims on their company webpage, ‘At PwC, we believe in confronting the hard realities—and then doing something about it.’ Then there’s a Clorox corporate blog post which aptly rationalizes, ‘…If you cannot answer the diversity question clearly and favorably when it is asked in the recruiting process, young people are going to choose to work elsewhere.’  These examples represent a more resolute stance compared to the old days of corporations simply valuing difference or promoting a tolerant environment.

Research fully supports the need for diversity and inclusion, but the research doesn’t say that it is easy. Diversity work is bumpy, uncomfortable, messy and imperfect. But we have to talk about it—honest conversations help us move forward.

These are times that, more than ever, we need to remember our school’s mission to increase our students’ knowledge, compassion and ability to thrive in the world.

How could we be St. Luke’s without a passion for and dedication to diversity?

 

Why Unplug?

It’s my pleasure to feature Academic Technology Director Grant Russell as my guest blogger…

Why are we unplugging on Friday, December 12?

I posed this question to several faculty members. Others offered their opinion without prompting. Here is a sampling of responses.

For more face time with students. To practice talking in person. To have time to reflect. To raise awareness about our technology use. To realize those moments when we reach for our devices and what that means. To challenge our students differently. To train intentional and academic use of technology. To refocus our attention on what this device is and does for us. To remember that technology is important at school.

This multitude of reasons speaks volumes of our faculty’s ability to think deeply about the pedagogical approach we are taking with the integration of technology into academics.

Despite the benefits that technology affords, we often focus on our perceived overdependence on it, the anxiety to be constantly connected, and other negative effects that it has on us. Email is a terrible monster. The Huffington Post sucks too much of my time. Snapchat, Instagram, and Yik Yak are overwhelming. I haven’t checked my text messages in 5 minutes – I just know that someone texted me! We tend to focus on technology’s intrusive elements and take for granted the wonder of these devices that enable us to know more, to do more, and to be more.

Yes, I am optimistic about the screen in front of me. No, I am not unaware of the challenges it presents to me. Part of me knowing more is knowing when to step away and look at and interact with the world around me. This is a skill that I practice. It is a skill that we all should practice. It is a skill that we are practicing when we unplug on Friday, December 12.

I would argue that mostly everyone knows that being intentional about technology use requires practice and reflection, and that perhaps the best way to use technology is in moderation. The difficult part is actually motivating ourselves to practice being intentional, to reflect, and to use technology in moderation. And so we can think of Friday, December
12, as a gentle catalyst for motivation.

I would also argue that being mindful of our interactions with our mobile devices is now an important aspect of education. Having open, honest, and sustained dialogue with students now about technological balance, fears, hopes, benefits, and challenges will be highly valuable once they leave for college and confront the next wave of technology without our guidance.

But let’s remember. Wonderful things can happen in the absence of mobile devices. Wonderful things can happen with mobile devices. Our challenge is to create a balance and to revel in the fact that we can have the best of both worlds and mitigate the perceived challenges that technology presents.

This is why we are unplugging on Friday, December 12.

NAIS Board of Trustees

Welcome back St. Luke’s families. I hope everyone had a refreshing, rejuvenating break. The Hilltop is buzzing with the life and energy of well-rested students and faculty. Despite aggravating weather forecasts (c’mon already with the snow!), spring’s presence is tangible and most welcome.

I return with news of my recent appointment to the National Association of Independent School’s Board of Trustees. The NAIS board includes many independent school pioneers and innovators, as well as true thought leaders in education. To have a seat at the table where critical conversations start is a privilege.

I’m particularly excited about NAIS President John Chubb. Chubb brings a penchant for research and data that will benefit all independent schools and more broadly, education. You can get a good sense of his philosophy and vision in this opening presentation from the NAIS conference. In it Chubb celebrates the power and potential of “independence.”

Above all, I’m energized by the prospect of bringing NAIS insights to the St. Luke’s community. Stay tuned.

 

Come Walk With Me

Last week I wrote “Kindness without action is useless…”

On October 6, 2013 we all have another chance to put our kind thoughts into action. St. Luke’s Student Service Board has organized the “One Step Closer to Home” walk-a-thon. Organized by the St. Luke’s Student Service Board under the leadership of Marissa Ruschil ‘15 and Elizabeth Guillen ‘15, the event will support Inspirica and their mission to eradicate homelessness.

I will walk the walk on October 6th and hope to have your company! Please register today.

Read more about the St. Luke’s and Inspirica partnership here and here.

What’s Scary About Bath Salts

“…what’s scary about bath salts is how the drug seems to have appeared out of nowhere, and how fast it’s taking hold.”

– Forbes.com

 

Saturday, I hosted our annual Fathers & Friends breakfast.  Approximately 70 men joined me, SLS parent Steve Gilbert, and three representatives from the New Canaan Police Department for a jarring discussion of  “designer” drugs including the “bath salts” referenced above.

The larger topic was preventing substance abuse in teens, but we drilled down on designer drugs – bath salts and “Molly” in particular – because so many parents (including myself) seemed completely unaware of these drugs or, at best, under-informed. The police provided an invaluable overview, including photos of drugs and drug paraphernalia to help parents recognize items that might appear to be harmless – but are not.

I wish I could replicate the morning for every parent, but instead we will bring the New Canaan Police back in the fall and invite all parents and faculty. There are also many resources available online. I’ve included several below and encourage you to do your own research. The School can and will support your efforts, but the true power of prevention (or intervention) lies in the hands of parents.

I’ll close with an excerpt from an article on Forbes.com. While specifically about bath salts, the key points apply to all synthetic drugs. I recommend reading it in full. The journalist provides a level perspective and hones in on why the risk is so great to teens:

“…But those most often using the drugs are kids and teens, whose brains and central nervous systems are still developing. In fact, experts say the drugs are marketed directly to kids, with cartoon characters on the colorful packages.”

So we have substances that are easily available, inexpensive, innocent sounding, and profoundly dangerous. Doesn’t that sound to you as though we have a serious new drug problem on our hands?”  Read, learn, and talk with your children.

Additional Resources:

 

NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/us/17salts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Drugfree.org:http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/drugs/using-bath-salts-playing-russian-roulette-with-your-brain-expert-says

Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act:http://thenetworkca.org/the-news/96-synthetic-drug-abuse-prevention-act-of-2012-banning-spice-and-bath-salts

Preventing drug use at every age: http://theparenttoolkit.org/

Advice about discussing your own past: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/02/21/172595877/parents-just-say-no-to-sharing-tales-of-drug-use-with-kids

 

Newtown Follow Up: All-School Assembly

Below is yesterday’s follow-up regarding Newtown and plans for talking with students…

Dear St. Luke’s Families,

As we all prepare for our return to school tomorrow, we are feeling our way through many emotions, some of them bewildering, even unfathomable. Two days after learning of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I want you to know that we’re eager to return to routines and to see your children on the Hilltop.

Students and faculty will attend an all-school assembly tomorrow morning. We want them to feel the security and warmth of being together as one community. While I will refer to the terrible thing that happened in Newtown, I will not provide any details that might be inappropriate to share with students of differing ages.

This all-school gathering will replace Middle School Advisory and Upper School Town Meeting.

Gathering in this way represents our intentional way to feel – literally – the warmth, strength, and love of our school community. We have each other. We need to feel that closeness, as it’s our greatest source of strength and security.

It’s also an opportunity for me to tell the kids that each of us will react differently to this terrible event. That’s not only OK; it’s normal and human. Some people want to cry and talk about it. Some people want to push it out of their minds and think about something else. No one should feel guilty about laughing with friends.  No one should feel guilty for not being able to cry. Psychologists tell us that we have the full range of human emotions to give us solace and strength. So tomorrow we want to be together, to support one another, and to feel thankful for the blessing of being in this place.

As I mentioned in my message last night, Blake Bueckman, Middle School Counselor, is available to talk with students and parents every day – on the phone or via email. Additionally, Dr. Ron Raymond, St. Luke’s Consulting Psychologist, is available and will be at school on Tuesday as usual.

Just as we look forward to seeing the beautiful faces of your children, we also can’t wait to see you on campus during this busy week before the December break and in the New Year.  In light of recent events, we ask that you pay particular attention to using the front entrance, rather than knocking on locked doors, and to checking in with Jeanette when you come during the school day.

Thank you for all of your encouraging messages and kind words of support during these last two days. They have helped more than you know.

Staying Connected

The following went out as an eblast today (10/29/2012)

Dear St. Luke’s Community,

For our second consecutive October we are waiting out a potentially devastating storm. We’re filled with concern for friends and colleagues who live in particularly vulnerable areas. We’re geared up to help those who may need it — but don’t yet know what or where the damage will be. For safety’s sake we have to suspend school and that is, let’s face it, very disruptive.

We fully expect and understand that storm conditions will prevent some faculty and students from focusing on school work. This should not weigh on anyone’s mind. Family and safety come first and school work will wait. We are pleased, however, that continuous improvements in technology and communications are allowing many to stay connected and continue their learning. Some teachers gave take-home assignments in anticipation of Sandy and many are leveraging blogs and the website to communicate and post assignments. If you have not watched this tutorial from IT Director Elizabeth Preston, I recommend it.

St. Luke’s administrative team is collaborating regularly to monitor the storm and its impact on school activities. We will continue to do our best to provide you with updates and encourage you to check the website, our facebook page and local news stations as well.

As we all hunker down together, know that I’m thinking of you.