132 - Kristin. 134 - Kim and Francie. 136 - Donna and Jenny. 138 - Amanda and Hillary. And so on.
Filed Under: Middle School, Alumnae, Houseparenting, Bill Ivey, Beautifully different, community, Boarding School, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School
All knowledge is held in community. - Peter Sellars
Filed Under: Teaching, Alumnae, All-Girls, The Girls School Advantage, On Education, Bill Ivey, Beautifully different, Girls Schools, community, arts, All Girls Education, Boarding School, Performing Arts, Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Education
I can’t see the students on the other side of the wall from my office, but I can imagine the scene that I’m hearing as I listen. The girls sit in a loosely formed circle, some perched on stools, some sliding out of a chair, others with feet firmly planted on the ground. One student is silently shaking her head, refusing to take her turn. Her fellow students, some who have already auditioned and others anxiously waiting for their chance, cheer her on. They offer words of support, chant her name and talk about how their experiences weren’t so bad. “Once you do it you’ll be glad you did!” “It’s not that bad!” “You can do it! Really!”
This could be any class, in any subject. But I am sitting in my classroom next door, eavesdropping on one of Tony Lechner’s vocal classes. It is Middle School Select Chorus auditions, and each girl has come prepared to share a snippet of a song with the group. The returning eighth grade students have done this before. I can hear familiar works by Adele and Rihanna through the wall, and can pick out some voices that I know well. After all, some of these shortened songs I’m hearing today shocked us last year when performed in their entirety (I still brag to my non-teaching friends about witnessing Charlotte’s Spearth Day performance in May). Now I am hearing unfamiliar voices coming through with unfamiliar songs and I assume they belong to the new seventh graders hoping to join the group.
While I certainly work throughout the year to see where I need to make adjustments to maximize student learning (most notably by talking with my students), I always welcome the summer as a chance to slow down my pace and reflect on my practice. So when a prospective parent mentioned in passing research on the usefulness of handwriting, it caught my attention. I've been working over the past few years to create as paperless a classroom as possible, for a variety of reasons including environmental concerns and to help prepare students to easily create and manage electronic portfolios for the IB program. Had I perhaps been too successful? Catherine and I used to discusss the possibility, but had decided to continue what we were doing given positive results and reactions on the part of students. Nonetheless, it was definitely time to do some investigation.
For teachers, the end of the year is always a time for reflection. My students and I talk through how we can continue to improve the middle school experience for next year’s kids. Ghosts of former students that occasionally materialize throughout the year, looking over my shoulder while I’m teaching and reminding me of a basic truth they taught me, begin to gather together as if for Reunion. The AP French class that made a music video of the reggae song “Femme Libérée.” The 9th graders who raised money for a special doll that Franklin Medical Center could use with little kids to help them understand what was happening with them. The French 3 student who caught fire when she learned to use the tenacity she brought to being a superb soccer goalkeeper to improve her schoolwork. The girl who could laugh at the four-year senior dinner as she looked back on her 9th grade year when she would knock softly on my apartment door nearly every night at 11:00 or so and say, “Bill, I can’t sleep.” The rock band that pulled off “Stairway to Heaven” with three different groups of kids playing each of the three sections, Emily the guitarist holding things together through each transition. Literally hundreds more students hover above me, asking if I remember them, smiling to learn that I do.
Ghosts of current students, too, fill my mind – ghosts of who they used to be. When you teach middle school, incredible growth almost, but not quite, ceases to amaze you because it happens every single year. During the first week, I used to have to turn my right ear toward one student and stand within six inches of her to hear what she was saying; now, I can look back to April and remember her reading poetry to a room full of friends and their families with a voice audible in every corner. The Humanities 7 class, from being a roomful of relative strangers, has coalesced into a model community of writers with extraordinary talent and a high level of honest supportiveness. The drummer in the rock band used to need me to write her parts for her; now, I just give her the basic beat and off she goes! There are stories all of us could (and do) tell about every single student. Those of you who can attend our 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony will hear many of those stories, and you will understand why our eyes fill up at this time every year.
I do not usually wear a jacket and tie to chaperone duty, but this was a special occasion. As Greg Snedeker (our instrumental music teacher) and I approached the Capen Room at the appointed meeting time of 5:45, it seemed awfully quiet. But when we walked in, we saw one of the Juniors and her father; one raised her arms and pumped her fists while the other clutched a camera and smiled at us. Soon, students were milling about and taking picture after picture, often drawing cheers and whistles as they entered the room. It was Prom night at Salisbury School, an all-boys school in Connecticut.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
The first sign that spring has arrived here at Stoneleigh-Burnham has nothing to do with the greening of the grass or the opening of buds on the trees or even the melting of the pond. The one surefire way to know that spring has arrived is to watch the corner of the oval for the swing.