Commencement 2017

…I see my friends here before me, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude as I am flooded with memories of the times we’ve shared.  Although my personal recollections are probably a little different from yours, one thing is for sure:  We’re all very lucky to have had such transformative relationships with our teachers, and to have benefited from such invaluable opportunities to learn.  This, indeed, is St. Luke’s.   

                         – Luke Martocchio, St. Luke’s Salutatorian 2017, Attending Harvard

 

In his impeccable address, Salutatorian Luke Martocchio captured the spirit of Commencement—a time to reflect and enjoy a flood of memories—before the next journey and new memories begin.

I referenced Luke’s “stratospheric GPA” and “the quality of his intellect” when introducing him. But as we listened to him celebrate his teachers—from Mrs. Olsen in fifth grade through a host of Middle and Upper School faculty—we knew Luke’s greatest asset is his huge heart.

Awe-inspiring “intellectual prowess and acumen” describe Valedictorian Grace Zaro. As I cautioned the Commencement audience: “Do not be fooled by her casual demeanor.  This is a scholar who combines innate brilliance with both discipline and a fiercely intense focus.  In high school this has brought her to valedictory heights.  At Stanford and beyond, the sky seems the limit.”

Gracie gave a provocative address. She used “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy to demonstrate humor is not a cop out:  “When a situation is hard or frustrating, it is the little one-liner, the ability to self deprecate, that makes the fight easier. Humor is not a cop out, it is an advanced defense mechanism. Think about it: it is free, it is legal, it is harmless. It is your opponent’s worst nightmare.”

Class of 2017

Each year, I marvel at the skills of our young speakers and the intense emotional impact of this day. When will I become desensitized? Never, I suspect. It’s an honor to send these wonderful people out into the world. And a beautiful sorrow to bid them farewell. Below is from my Commencement farewell:

“Whatever you achieve in your lives, remember to seek out communities like this one.  Places that offer you connection, the feeling of rootedness, and the timeless values that St. Luke’s has.  We live in a time of constant change, of uncertainty about what the future will hold for us…or ask of us…and of relentless questioning of what many of us considered timeless truths for most of our lives.

As any great skipper will tell you, your moorings matter.  Without that safe harbor, that tether to something stable and comforting, that thing to which you can cling when storms seem otherwise overwhelming – without that, moving forward feels scarier and more difficult.

Soon – at college and throughout your life – you will face tough choices, in new communities and in unfamiliar cultures.  You might encounter a fraternity brother or sorority sister who wants you to drink yourself into oblivion, to prove…who-knows-what.  Maybe it will be a roommate – or a boss – who seems to lack a sense of honor.  Whatever the circumstance…remember us.  Remember St. Luke’s, and all the people who love you.  Remember that here you have constructed a strong moral compass…within yourself.  It’s there.  Use it.  Whenever you feel untethered, remember St. Luke’s.”

Enjoy this Commencement 2017 Photo Gallery (we’ll keep adding photos so check back).

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Lessons from Penn State

Early this month, 18 fraternity brothers were charged in the death of a young man. He died during a drunken “pledge night.” From every angle, this story is pure heartbreak. For the senseless loss of a life just beginning. For his devastated family. For the 18 “brothers” who did not set out to cause harm—but whose actions and inactions will forever haunt them.

In the wake of this sadly familiar tale, I received the email below. It was written by St. Luke’s alumnus Drew Lord ‘14 to the Interfraternity Council (IFC) at Cornell. In addition to serving as president of the IFC, Drew is president of Cornell’s Cayuga Watchers group which aims “to become an established national model for combating high-risk drinking.”  USA Today wrote about Drew and the group in 2016.

As our class of 2017 prepares to leave the Hilltop and make their way in the world, I’m eager to share Drew’s wise words. I am deeply grateful for his leadership. He is living every element of the St. Luke’s mission and has indeed gone forth to serve:

 

From: IFC President <president@cornellifc.org>

Subject: Lessons from Penn State

Date: May 7, 2017 at 3:30:37 PM EDT

To: IFCALL-L@list.cornell.edu

Hi everyone,

At this point, I’m sure you have all heard the news of the horrifying death of Timothy Piazza, a member of Beta Theta Pi at Penn State, who died after falling down the stairs at his chapter house following a fraternity “initiation ritual.” While the details of this incident are beyond disturbing, they are important for us to reflect upon.

First, we must all recognize that under no circumstance is it acceptable for any of us — or for our peers — to reach a dangerous point of intoxication. Indeed, it seems like there might have been forced drinking involved in Piazza’s situation. It goes without saying that forcing anyone to drink copious amounts of alcohol is unacceptable. However, in more general terms not related to Piazza’s situation, be safe with your alcohol consumption — pace your drinks, do not drink with the goal of blacking out, and be aware of your limits. It’s also important for us to realize that we all have a place when it comes to mitigating the harms of high-risk drinking. Sometimes your brothers, or your peers, need an active bystander to help keep them in check. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being that person.

Second, and most important, if someone is to ever be in a situation like Piazza’s — call for help. Many times we hear our friends advocate for letting a drunk or injured person “sleep it off.” This is problematic — oftentimes, we don’t know whether the BAC of this person has reached its peak and is declining, or if it has rather not yet peaked and still rising in their sleep. Keep in mind Cornell and New York State’s Good Samaritan Protocol, and remember that immediately taking action to do the right thing will always have a favorable outcome for all parties involved.

Third, do not — in any capacity — try to “cover up” any type of incident. The results of the grand jury investigation demonstrate the consequences of acting in the way of the brothers at Beta Theta Pi the night of Piazza’s death. Following a review of GroupMe messages, texts and surveillance video from the night of his death, the fraternity and its brothers faced over a total of 850 charges. Eight of the brothers were charged for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing. Four brothers were charged for reckless endangerment and hazing. Six were charged for evidence tampering, while the chapter itself is facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and hazing. In a situation like this, there is no other option than to seek help from a medical professional as early as possible.

Cornell is not immune to the harms of high-risk drinking or hazing. The situation at Penn State serves as a somber — but incredibly important — reminder of the incident that occurred at Cornell’s SAE chapter in February 2011. Ever since, we have taken great strides to make our fraternity community more safe, responsible, and aware. With a few high-risk days coming up, let’s hold the lessons we’ve learned close.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks for reading through, and I hope you have an awesome week.

Best,

Drew Lord
President, Interfraternity Council
Cornell University

 

Drew Lord @ Cornell

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

 

Taking the Lead on Mindfulness

Just over a year ago, I wrote this blog post about the benefits of mindfulness.  I was fairly new to meditation and yoga but increasingly excited about the possibilities—for myself and St. Luke’s.

Since then, I’ve continued to practice and study data around mindfulness. Even more compelling than the science, however, are the people I’ve encountered. Once tapped into mindfulness, a network of kindred spirits began to appear—each with a tale of improved focus, presence and capabilities.

One such spirit, Erika Long,  is St. Luke’s parent. Erika and Will Heins—both former Wall Street warriors—along with Michelle and Nick Seaver (featured in the aforementioned blog ) could not find a secular meditation group locally, so they created one. In May of 2014, New Canaan’s Community Mindfulness Project (CMP) launched.

Just three years later CMP is thriving. Over 6,000 people have attended sessions (including me). This make it happen spirit inspired me to take the lead and create a    St. Luke’s mindfulness event. Thanks to my incredible team, the CMP and The Spence School, The Mindfulness in Education Conference will come to life on June 10, 2017.

In an unbelievable stroke of good fortune, Susan Bauer-Wu, President of the Mind & Life Institute will be our keynote speaker. There will be something valuable for anyone interested in how mindfulness prepares the mind for learning.

All parents and faculty of Fairfield and Westchester independent schools are welcome to attend. I cannot wait and hope you will join us.

P.S. Recommended reading: One Second Ahead, The Mindful Leader, Real Happiness

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Five Reasons Student Athletes Should Diversify

 

Baseball was my true love as a kid, but I have great memories of playing hockey and soccer too, and loved cheering on my own children at different fields. As an educator and former coach, I strongly oppose sports specialization because I see wonderful things happen when kids play all kinds of sports.

Many experts agree, from sports medicine doctors to professional football coaches, as do many parents and athletes themselves. Here are my five core reasons:

  1.     Fewer sports injuries: Different sports access different muscle groups. This story in Yale Medicine Review targeted women’s sports specifically, but the same holds true for all athletes.
  1.     Greater competitive intelligence: Not only do different sports access different muscle groups, but they also hone different mental and emotional strengths key to competition. The New York Times reports that in this year’s N.F.L. draft, “90 percent of the players selected in the first round had been multi-sport athletes in high school.”
  1.     Decreases burnout: From the same story, “studies have shown that the rates of injuries and burnout are significantly higher for athletes who pour all of their time and energy into one sport while their bodies are still developing.”
  1.     Opportunity for exploration and discovery: Youth is a time for discovery—on the field and in the classroom. Even more, youth is the time to discover what’s inside you. In order to find out what you love, you have to try it, and as educators and parents, we need to protect the “play” in sports.
  1.     Specialization works on a fixed as opposed to a growth mindset: Sports—especially in school—lose their magic when reduced to wins and losses. I am all in favor of excellence, but I also believe that the pressure to be the best instead of reaching for your own personal best now plagues our society. Teamwork, mentorship, resilience—believing that you can be part of something bigger than yourself—these fade into the background when students grind away at one sport their whole lives.

In the words of Clemson’s football coach Dabo Swinney,  “I see it all the time; They’ve been to every clinic, every camp, every teaching session, and everything’s been squeezed out of them. There’s just not that much room for them to get any better.”

Want to learn more? St. Luke’s parents can join us March 2nd for…

A Healthy Approach to High School Sports

Thursday March 2nd 6-730pm Fireplace Commons

Listen to our panel of experts address a variety of concerns for student athletes.  The topics will include:

Concussion Education by Neuropsychologist Dr. Christina Kunec, Director of Stamford Health Concussion Center

Preventing overuse injuries by Dr. Daphne Scott, Primary Care Sports  Medicine at Hospital for Special Surgery

Sports Psychology by Psychologist Alex Diaz, Ph.D.

Please RSVP by Tuesday February 28th to Anna Knechtel (knechtela@stlukesct.org)

St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Visionaries on the Hilltop

This is the second in our Visionaries on the Hilltop series. See first post.

Earlier this week, St. Luke’s Board of Trustees gathered to listen and learn. We had the rare opportunity to hear about an incredible moment in business history—directly from the history makers:  Aris Kekedjian and Dan Janki.

Aris, a St. Luke’s parent, leads General Electric’s Mergers & Acquisitions/Business Development Team and Dan, a former SLS parent (prior to relocating to Atlanta), is senior vice president of GE and the Treasurer of GE and GE Capital. The two recently led GE’s unprecedented and highly-publicized sale of $260 billion in financial assets.

Bloomberg called their initiative “The most sweeping transformation in General Electric Co.’s 123-year history,” and hailed “the speed and shrewd bargaining behind one of the boldest corporate overhauls ever.” (Monty Python to Project Hubble)

I asked Aris and Dan to address our board and administrators because as Aris said, “This is a story of leadership. This is a story of teamwork.”  While St. Luke’s and GE are not peers, we share a focus on excellence and innovation. Learning from other industries is one way St. Luke’s stays ahead of the curve and facing the future.

Aris Kekedjian (left) and Dan Janki at Board Meeting

Aris Kekedjian (left) and Dan Janki at St. Luke’s Board Meeting

 

As expected, the night contained valuable leadership lessons. My favorites …

Move Fast: “Speed is everything” said Aris. Dan added: “When you move quickly and people start seeing results, confidence and momentum build.”

Be Transparent: Originally the pair thought they could move faster if only a small group knew the plan. In Dan’s words, “We soon learned that when everybody has the same information,  it empowers the heck out of them. Good things happen.”

Have Mission Clarity: The two agree this is the most vital element of their success. Per Aris: “The first lesson in life is that things don’t go as they should. But if your mission is clear, you can triumph.”

I am awed and enriched by the leaders among us at St. Luke’s. Thank you Aris & Dan.

P.S. Aris shared his leadership insights with students this fall as part of the Center for Leadership Lunch & Lead series.

 

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.

 

True Patriots

To criticize one’s country is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism—a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation.  

—Senator J. W. Fulbright

 

When Senator J. W. Fulbright told a roomful of students at Johns Hopkins how important it is to question and criticize your country, he was describing what it means to be a citizen. For him that meant criticizing McCarthyism and the Vietnam War during his 30-year career in the US Senate. To him, patriotism was about far more than singing a song or pledging allegiance. It was about standing up for what you believe.

It may seem strange that loyalty and disagreement go hand in hand, but consider this: a real friend tells the truth; learning means asking questions; and honest discourse, the kind that brings about change, begins from a place of respect. Finding that place is tough, and it requires a great deal of practice.

At St. Luke’s we practice finding that place. We practice empathy, and we practice finding our voice. We learn to have difficult conversations and  remain respectful of diverse opinions. Our confidence to lead grows from this practice.

During the course of this Presidential election, a great deal of the discourse has been uncivil, and it’s hard to imagine how Senator Fulbright would have reacted. Appalled at the current culture of personal attack? Or approving of the dissent so essential to democracy? Both, I suspect.

When we head to bed on November 8th, a significant number of Americans will not be happy. Regardless of outcome, true patriots will stand by their country, ready to criticize and improve it and defend every citizen’s right to an opinion and a voice.

On November 11th, St. Luke’s honors the very men and women who defend our rights and secure our freedom. Our annual Veterans Day celebration takes place during Grandparents Day so that we may salute those who served across generations. We’ll sing the National Anthem, learn about the origins of this special day, and remember the courage that defines our nation.

Veterans & Grandparents Day Assembly 2015

Safe Teens & Sane Parents

Elizabeth Driscoll Jorgensen knows a lot about teenagers. She’s a nationally recognized expert in substance abuse counseling, with an excellent track record of engaging resistant teens and motivating them to change. She’s also hilarious.

Last week, Jorgensen gave a talk at St. Luke’s for parents of teens, aptly entitled Delay Your Gray. She admitted that, while parenting a teenager isn’t always pretty, it helps to keep in mind that you’re the grownup. According to Jorgensen, children need two things in order to be happy and healthy: to know they are loved for who they are and that there are limits to their behavior.

Children need and want time with their parents, but Jorgensen—who frequently polls teens —tells us that in high-achieving families, teens often feel that this time turns into a to-do list of academics and athletics. With so little “quality time” together, it’s no fun to be the party pooper. But the reality is that love and limits go hand in hand, especially when it comes to substance abuse. She asked us to face facts:

  • Connecticut has a 20% higher binge drinking rate than the national average.
  • Affluence is a risk factor for drug and alcohol use.
  • It’s “cool” to smoke and even deal weed—the stigma is gone. 
  • Median age for first-time pot use is 12.9.
  • The plastic adolescent brain is permanently changed by cannabis.
  • The later the “first use” of alcohol and marijuana, the less impact on the cognitive functioning of the adult brain, and the lower the chance a person will experience substance abuse in adulthood.
Liz Jorgensen at St. Luke's

Liz Jorgensen at St. Luke’s

According to Jorgensen, teens’ brains are wired for learning through new experiences, and not for understanding consequences. They aren’t always aware of the dangers of riding in a car with a friend who is drunk or high. To them, smoking pot for the first time or swallowing a pill is all about now.

As parents, we always have to think about consequences and impact. And we have to do that while our teens’ emotions are running just about as hot as they ever will.

Jorgensen reminds us it is possible. Teens should test their wings but need to be aware of the no fly zone. This means being the one who says yes maybe you can go to a friend’s house, as long as I meet the friend, and I know that his or her parents will be there. It means being the one who agrees to rescue that child any time of day or night as long as they promise to call. It means saying all this calmly, even if your teen throws a tantrum.

Jorgensen likes to wear a badge that identifies her as the “world’s meanest parent.” She wears it proudly, and often passes out extra badges to the parents she counsels. I applaud her refusal to go along with the “we all partied at their age” justification. She pushes back hard on that thinking and warns that lack of limitations often leads to substance abuse and other coping issues. She sees it firsthand every day.

Among Jorgensen’s many quotable lines was my favorite: “Being fired by an emerging adult child is a sign of success as parents.” May we all get fired one day.

Below are the slides from Jorgensen’s presentation, including much of the data. My personal thanks to our Parents’ Association for bringing Liz Jorgensen and her invaluable parenting wisdom to the Hilltop.

Just hit pause to spend time on a slide.

 

State of the School 2016

“I’d been told that the State of the School evening was not to be missed. That’s certainly an understatement. My wife Meghan and I walked out of the building and we both were virtually speechless. Truly, I’m at a loss for words to express what a fantastic, inspirational evening it was. Best I can do is, simply, wow! I’m sure there are more eloquent ways to say it, but that one unsophisticated word seems to say it all.

—St. Luke’s Parent, Christopher Rosow

Many years ago, someone asked me: “What’s the goal of the State of the School?” I answered: “To make sure every parent feels informed and leaves thinking—I’m so happy we chose St. Luke’s.”

When I receive a note like the one above, I think mission accomplished. This year, the St. Luke’s mission was front and center as Board Chair Bob Wyckoff and I—along with several guest speakers—presented Living the Mission. It was the first State of the School to feature student speakers and as you might ascertain from Christopher’s comment, they were a big hit.

My thanks to these poised, articulate students, to the Jazz Band and their leader, Bob Leinbach, who sent us into the night still buzzing from their electric performance, and to Co-Chairs Barb Clayton and Michelle Diliberto whose parent team once again executed a truly exceptional dinner celebration.

If you missed it…

SOS blog-Sam INSPIRICA

Click to view slides and photos from the State of the School 2016.

Visionaries on the Hilltop

Some of the most forward-thinking minds in the fields of technology, finance, education, and politics have or will soon be on the Hilltop—visiting, inspiring debates and sharing theories that resonate across campus.

David Pakman addresses St. Luke's Board

David Pakman addresses St. Luke’s Board

Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist David Pakman, a St. Luke’s parent and Board member, spoke to trustees about “Technology, the Future, and Us.” David, a partner at Venrock, specializes in researching and predicting the future. We sat riveted as he covered everything from driverless cars (much sooner than you think) to artificial intelligence. The big take-away: St. Luke’s investment in STEM curriculum is well placed as professionals of the future—regardless of chosen fields—need a firm grasp on how their digital world works.

David arranged for John Katzman to share his insights into the future of education with our board. John,  a well-known educationalist, is currently CEO of The Noodle Companies. He also founded and served as the CEO of The Princeton Review, the SAT prep company, and created 2U, an educational technology company. John shared provocative ideas about the future of independent schools and their need for increased technological sophistication.

Our faculty and Board had a private screening of the Sundance Film selection Most Likely To Succeed and a discussion with the education consultant for the film Stephanie Rogen, a leadership expert and St. Luke’s Board member.

 

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott-Haims and Mark Davis

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott Haims and Mark Davis

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the best-selling book How to Raise an Adult , spoke last week to faculty, students and parents. Her core message, which clearly resonated with all audiences: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids way.”

St. Luke’s parent Aris Kekedjian, GE Head of M&A/Business Development, spearheaded the sale of roughly $200 billion of GE Capital assets in a whirlwind 18-month period that helped strategically position GE as a more nimble industrial company.  In this year’s first Lunch and Lead sponsored by the Center For Leadership, Mr. Kekedjian delivered a tour de force of leadership lessons gleaned from his personal and business experiences to thirty-five students and several faculty members.

On September 27, the day after the first Presidential debate, Ari Fleischer, St. Luke’s parent and former White House press secretary, will speak to grades 8-12 about the election. In addition to sharing his thoughts on the campaigns and the issues at stake, Mr. Fleischer will respond to questions from our students.  Yes, you can bet I plan to be a fly on that wall.

Wow. These thinkers bring to the Hilltop much more than just their expertise. They bring their ideas. And they bring their questions.

How can schools stay relevant and sustainable in the crush of new information and network technology? How do we encourage a love of learning, not merely a quest for achievement? How do we provide an exceptional education—one that lights up each student’s curiosity and leadership qualities—while thriving in the competitive world of standardized tests and college admissions? How do we, as a country in 2016, elect our next President, and how do we talk with students about the controversial nature of this year’s campaign? (See my “Hamilton” Meditation for more on those last questions).

It’s electrifying, a bit daunting, and the perfect challenge for a community full of people who love to learn. What an exciting time and how fortunate that St. Luke’s has visionaries from whom we can learn.

 

My Summer Letter

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.”

                                                                                     ―E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Do you hear the crickets?  I’m afraid they’re right.  Summer cannot last forever, but happily its end means we return to the Hilltop for a year of learning, friendship and growth.

Summer offers so many opportunities for us to use our time in ways we can’t during the school year.  For me, it especially means more time to spend with family, more time to play golf, and more time to read.  I trust everyone has embraced the summer reading.  Thus far I’ve read:

How Google Works, by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, by Frank Bruni

The Second Machine Age, by Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

The Elon Musk Blog Series, by Tim Urban

The Libertarian Mind, by David Boaz

Buddhism, by Huston Smith and Philip Novak

Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda

 

Hoping to make a further dent in my imposingly high stack of books as I begin a two-week vacation. So many books, so little time….

Meanwhile, the Hilltop has been bustling all summer.  The Fifth grade renovation has kept our dedicated facilities team on full throttle, as has their determination to keep the entire campus beautiful for our families’ return.  Between our own growing summer programs (i2 Camp, Maker Camp, Writing Workshop), St. Luke’s summer squash programs, and the various sports camps hosted on our fields—it’s quite easy to forget the school year ended in early June.

In less than two weeks, our new faculty arrives and then full faculty meetings begin. We’ll share profiles of our new teachers in the coming weeks. We also have several internal promotions and new hires  including:

Dr. Stephanie Bramlett, formerly Dean of Upper School Student Life and Director of  Diversity, joins the Center For Leadership as Director of Inclusive Excellence and Leadership.  In this key role, she will work closely with CFL staff and the entire St. Luke’s community to assure that inclusive thinking and leadership support the School’s Mission and all academic and co-curricular programs.

Dan Clarke takes the helm of the Storm Zone as our new Sports Information Specialist. Dan replaces Ethan Pearce ‘11 who heads to law school. You may know Dan as St. Luke’s Varsity Girls soccer coach—a role he will continue to play (the crowd cheers).

Barbara Clayton becomes our new Parent Liaison, replacing Heather Freeman who served so well in the position for two years. Barb was a St. Luke’s parent for 15 years (Will ‘09, Henry ‘11 and Sally ‘16) and twice served as the PA Board President, most recently last year.

Eli Fendelman is our new Academic Technologist. Along with Bruce Strothenke and Matt Bavone, he’ll be working with teachers and students to leverage technology for learning. Take a look at Eli’s distinctive job application for a sense of his skills and personality.

Anna Knechtel transitions to Assistant Athletic Director–a role that recognizes her contributions to the Athletics program. Anna will spend half of her time in the training room, where she leads the effort to provide the best care for our student-athletes. She is supported by Athletic Trainer Nicole Guido who moves to full time. Jennifer Besgen remains in her crucial role as Associate Athletic Director, focusing on the Middle School program.

Stephen Vehslage is our new Associate Director of College Counseling. As a St. Luke’s parent (Wiley ‘13, Bailey ‘16, Henry ‘16 and Sadie ‘20), Stephen is a familiar face. He brings sixteen years of experience at New Canaan High School where he  served as chairman of the faculty and taught AP Government, Law, and other Social Studies courses. Prior to his career in education, Stephen worked as an attorney.

Matt Ward is our Upper School Dean of Students. As Director of Athletics at Kent Place and Miss Hall’s, he worked closely with each Dean of Students. He comes to St. Luke’s with great energy and is looking forward to working with students and parents. Matt will take over many of the student life responsibilities Stephanie Bramlett formerly had. He will work closely with Noel Thomas, who assumes a new role as Assistant Upper School Dean of Students. Noel brings a great deal of wisdom and experience to the team. Matt and Noel will lead Upper School culture, discipline, and activities with the support of the eight Class Deans.

As outlined in my June 10 letter, Associate Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Mike Rupp is serving as Interim Director, with Elisabeth Evans serving as Interim Associate Director until Ginny Bachman returns as Director in January.

There is much more to share. Keep up with summer news on  St. Luke’s Facebook and Twitter (@StLukesSchool, @MarkDavisSLS).

New parents, please save August 24 for the annual New Parents Barbecue, a great way to meet other parents as well as many school administrators, teachers and trustees.  And all parents should reserve October 6 for The State of the School — the perfect opportunity to gather with friends, learn how St. Luke’s is doing in the marketplace of independent schools, and hear all about our plans for the future.

Wishing you a wonderful August filled with family, books, playtime, sunshine and crickets.

See you soon on the Hilltop,

 

 

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

 

No Unicorns

Mindfulness is not going to solve your problems. It’s not going to render your life a nonstop parade of unicorns and rainbows. Nonetheless, this is a superpower.

– News Anchor Dan Harris,  Why Mindfulness is a Superpower

I love this statement from Dan Harris. It pokes fun at the “feel good” aspects of mindfulness without diminishing its tremendous potential. The superpower Harris refers to is focus. Mindfulness helps quiet and calm the mind. Sounds simple, but consider the firehose of distractions at work, school and home. Learning to focus, despite the cacophony, is an invaluable skill.

“Meditation—more than anything in my life—was the biggest ingredient of whatever success I’ve had.”  

– Bridgewater Associates Founder, Ray Dalio

I began practicing yoga and meditation about fourteen months ago. I’d read a lot about CEOs—such as former St. Luke’s parent Ray Dalio—who employ meditation to manage stress and improve performance. Dalio was interviewed at Georgetown University’s meditation center and explained that meditation “opens my mind and relaxes me…it gives me an ability to look at things without the emotional hijacking, without the ego, in a way that gives me a certain clarity.”

Like Dalio, Nick and Michelle Seaver had life-altering meditation experiences. You can learn more about their journey in How Meditation Changes a Go-Go-Go Couple and Nick’s TEDx video The Gift of Silence. Nick will co-host the March 5, Fathers & Friends Breakfast with me. Our topic: How Mindfulness Makes You A Better Parent, Partner & Leader will touch on our personal experiences and the growing body of research behind the mindfulness movement.  Register for Fathers & Friends

At St. Luke’s, we’re exploring ways to bring mindfulness into our school day. With benefits that include lower anxiety, greater resilience, and increased focus, incorporating mindfulness seems like a no brainer (pun intended).

I’ll leave you with links to some worthwhile articles. Please share your reactions, ideas, and experiences. Use the comments feature on this page—or send me an email.

 

New York Times: The Hidden Price of Mindfulness

The Atlantic: How Mindfulness Could Help Teachers & Students

CNN: Calming the Teenage Mind in the Classroom

NYT: How Meditation Changes the Brain & Body

TedX: Neuroscientist Sara Lazar on Meditation & Brain Growth

Mindful: How the Brain Changes When You Meditate

Harvard Business Review: Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain

Forbes: Why the World’s Best Leaders Want to Meditate on It

Harvard Business Review: Why Google-Target- And General Mills Are Investing in Mindfulness

Harvard Business Review: How Meditation Benefits CEOs

Bloomberg: To Make a Killing on Wall Street Start Meditating

Mindful: Free Mindfulness Apps

 

A Niche of Our Own

In a few days, the Niche list of Best Private High Schools will come out. Our competitors are on it, and St. Luke’s is not. Why? Below is an explanation from the Managing Editor of Niche:

“Our K12 school lists come from the U.S. Department of Education’s NCES database, and St. Luke’s School was not previously included in the data. The way our system is currently structured, we can’t add schools that don’t come from this source.”

After much back and forthing with Niche—we’ve been added to their database and will be ranked on next year’s list.

I’m not waiting with bated breath. I appreciate good data and dig into research before making big decisions. But this is just shoddy work. The National Association of Independent Schools forcefully discredited the Niche ranking as Bad Data, calling it the “least competent ranking system” with “horrific” indicators.

That said, some people still place value on this and other  “best of” lists and will be disappointed. To those folks I recommend a quick read of When Knowledge is the Prize, by College Counseling Director Sonia Bell…

“When I was growing up, we defined ourselves as students. Our job was to learn. Now, many students define themselves as college applicants. Once they get to college, they define themselves as applicants to internships, graduate schools or high-paying companies…Our job at St. Luke’s is to recapture an idea that has fallen into extinction: Knowledge is the prize.”

Thank you Ms. Bell for reminding us all what matters most.

Balancing Act: Tech Benefits & Boundaries

Bavone_Matthew

It’s my pleasure to feature a post by Matt Bavone who wears two hats at St. Luke’s: Upper School Classics teacher and Academic Technologist. Matt shares much-needed guidance for those trying to remove the phone surgically attached to their teen (spouse? self?).

One of the most common observations we hear from parents is that their children seem overly attached to—even obsessed with—their phones. In December, the Hilltop unplugged for the day and we all experienced life without our mobile devices, including cell phones. This was a big adjustment for the adults in the building, too, as we are also accustomed to being connected. But being “unplugged” is not a realistic solution on most days. So how can we—the adults—restore balance as we care for and raise Generation Z? We know parents are looking for good ideas.

This recent article by Janell Burley Hofmann underscores the need to responsibly introduce teens and tweens to technology. Hofmann pioneered the Slow Tech Parenting Movement, and she has created a sample contract for giving her 13 year old son his first iPhone. Her overarching message is that with great power comes great responsibility—and there is no greater power than having all of the world’s information outlets at your fingertips.

We cannot hope to shelter our young ones from technology, it is all around us. We are steeped in it daily, whether we think about it or not. Yet it is this thoughtfulness, this deliberate use of technology that is most important to pass down and teach. We parents and teachers—Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers—are tasked with being role models for its appropriate use. We will falter at times, give in to habit or distraction, but so will our young wards. The most important thing that we can do is to keep an open and honest conversation going and Hofmann’s article contains excellent talking points to that end. And though the task may at times seem daunting, as she puts it: “we are in this together.”

—Matt Bavone