A Tornado in Woodbine Helps the RPCS Preschool’s New Play Space and Living Classroom Come to Life

On Tuesday, June 21, a sudden tornado touched down in Woodbine, MD. The damage to Willow Wood at Huntington Farms’ trees was devastating. WBAL’s Six O’Clock News was on the scene. They reported how the high winds ripped mature trees out of the ground. The pictures showed them in a tangled mass all around the farm. In addition, out-buildings were smashed flat, and fences were ripped apart. The day we visited, Kim Williams, who rents the space for her Willow Wood Farm Horse business, pointed out pieces of the horse barn’s roof perched up in a nearby tree.

Downed Tree

Why were the RPCS Preschool teachers visiting this site? On the very day of the tornado, we were safe inside RPCS meeting with representatives of the Irvine Nature Center to plan a nature play space and living classroom. RPCS had been awarded a summer grant to visit other nature play spaces, and we had attended the two-day nature conference at Irvine Nature Center. In addition, we had just recently visited Brown Memorial Weekday School, and the folks at Brown were most generous with their time and advice. Our tour of their play space excited us to plan a similar space for our preschool children. At Brown Memorial, the most difficult part of making their space was locating downed live trees, obtaining permission to remove these trees, and then transporting them via flatbed truck to their school. The folks from Irvine also stressed how difficult it would be to obtain the live trees.

Farm RepsMegan Ferguson saw the WBAL story on the tornado. With her mind still brimming with the ideas that we had just discussed with Irvine, Megan had a brainstorm! She noted the name of the farm and its location, looked them up on WBAL’s app, and gave Willow Farm a call. She explained that RPCS was interested in their downed trees for a nature play space for the preschool. Kim Williams invited her to come out “right now.” Megan grabbed her husband’s truck and went to Woodbine where she met with Kim and the owner of the farm, Jayne Nessif. There she saw firsthand the devastation. Megan expressed how sorry she was for their loss. Can you imagine their duress at losing twenty to twenty five of their beautiful, mature trees?  The vista would never be the same. Birds will never nest in those trees again. No one will hear the rustle of those leaves again or enjoy their shade. Megan told Jane and Kim that she was very interested in some of their trees. These two ladies loved the idea of donating their felled trees to a preschool. These trees will have a story to tell and keep alive for future generations of RPCS preschoolers. “Once upon a time, I was a mighty hickory tree.  Then, a tornado felled me…”

Farm1 Downed Tree3 Donuts

Early the next day, Megan texted Jayne who responded quickly that “The tree people are here and working fast.” Megan and I met at school, and Lucy Haus and Carole Packett met us at Willow Farms. Indeed, Stabler Tree Services was making quick work of the downed trees, and the chipper was working hard! Many logs, limbs, and stumps littered the ground. The crew chief, David, allowed us to select the trees we wanted. We chose a hickory and a locust tree as they had been recommended to us by Irvine. Several men chain sawed through the longer segments and helped us load up the truck and the back fold-down space in Carole’s car. The Stabler workers could not have been kinder or more helpful. The cost to us? Two boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins!

GabrielArrived at RPCS

So, back to RPCS where Gabriel from our maintenance staff helped us unload our trees. They were placed alongside another slew of “finds.” Lucy, Carole, and Sarah Pope had already scoured the piles of discarded objects in the rear of the school and scored a huge black plastic tube to be used as a play hut; flagstones for steps leading up our steep hill to a “music room” and “sit spots;” and wooden pallets for a variety of purposes to be determined as the planning continues. A real treasure hunt — and all for free!

The Preschool has big plans for the play space. We are working on our grant with Irvine, and we are developing a budget and a wish list. In the early stages of the planning, we are talking about raised beds, dry streams, natural wood carved furniture, a mud kitchen, a large climbing structure, and other exciting ideas.

Please feel free to contact any of the preschool teachers, Beth Casey, or our new Director of Early Childhood Education, Tynaya Quickley to find out more about the new play space plans. Take a moment to visit the vision board posted outside Tynaya’s office. We hope to attract some volunteers and folks with special talents to help make our vision a reality for the lovely children in our care.

The Preschool Team
Director:   Tynaya Quickley
Teachers:  Lucy Haus, Carole Packett, Sarah Pope, Megan Ferguson, Debbie Meyers, Noémie Fiske

A Librarian’s Successful Step Saga

Beverly Edwards Lower School Librarian

Beverly Edwards
Lower School Librarian

When I was in college, I met my friend Patty from Milburn, NJ, located half an hour outside of New York City.  Patty once took me to a walk-in dance class on 62nd and Broadway.  The teacher was the famous Luigi, “King of Jazz Dance,” as he was dubbed by admirers.  I’ll never forget Luigi ending the class with his famous catchphrase:  “Never stop moving…never stop moving.”  Little did I know that these words would become my mantra while participating in three different RPCS VivoFit Step Challenges sponsored by Charm City Run and our Wellness Committee.

Over the years, I’ve tried to get exercise by riding my recumbent stationary bike for twenty minutes each morning and taking occasional walks around my neighborhood.  I always knew that this was not enough, but I thought it was all I could manage with such a crazy schedule.  When Sean Donmoyer announced the first step challenge, I thought it would be the perfect way to “step it up,” as it were.  I purchased the discounted VivoFit so generously offered by the Levinson Family at Charm City Run, set it for the customary 10,000 steps, helped my team come up with a clever name and went to work.  I soon discovered that I was building up stamina and could easily reach 12,000+ steps.  Encouraged by my team, I began to get excited and started aiming higher.  We didn’t win, but I was pleased with my results and my increased energy level.  I had a new spring in my step! The competition was motivating and, above all, fun.  During the second round, my all-female team (The Step Sisters—loved that name) also didn’t win, but my daily step average hovered close to 20,000 steps.  Once I even pushed myself above 30,000!  It was a thrill to watch those digital numbers on my wrist creep higher and higher.

When I found out that the third challenge would be a solo effort, I decided to go for it.  Life has taught me that there is little over which we have control, but this was something I could tackle.  Would I be able to reach the top five?  I’m no spring chicken, and I knew I’d be competing against younger opponents among the RPCS employee group, some of whom are marathon runners, but I was determined to give it my utmost effort.  I was stunned when my first week’s total count of 158,568 steps was 24,813 steps above my closest competitor. (There’s a reason I’m using these very specific numbers. Rounding is not satisfying; every single step counts!)  I had assumed that I’d be behind the younger folks, but there I was, at the top of the leaderboard displayed in the Athletic Center outside Sean’s office.  Boy, did I become motivated after that.  With much grit and effort, I was able to keep my name in that same spot for the full six weeks, and at the end of the challenge, this mild-mannered librarian was the victor.  I WON!  My trusty VivoFit indicated that in a month and a half, I had accumulated a total of 933,695 steps, equivalent to 466 miles!

People have asked me how I accumulated so many steps. The answer comes from Luigi.  I rarely sat still. When I talked to my mom each evening, I walked during the conversation instead of plopping on the sofa.  When I set the microwave to three minutes to heat up a cup of tea, I strolled rather than stood.  When I shelved books, I took a few extra steps around the stacks. At home, my son Luke thought I was completely nuts, complaining “Mom! Just stop already!”  He ended up being proud, however, when he saw what I was accomplishing.  His “Great job, Mom!” was music to my ears.  Even my students became little cheerleaders for me.

There were few embarrassing moments along the way.  I liked going to the track above the gym when it was empty and dancing to the bouncy music on my iPod.  One Saturday, while strutting to a Motown song, it occurred to me that there might be a security camera recording my “groovy” moves.  As I passed through the lobby to leave, I sheepishly asked the security guard if there was, indeed, a camera.  His broad grin gave me my answer.

Sometimes I’m shocked at my current age (think double nickels).  By some standards, I am considered a senior citizen!  How can that be?  I don’t feel old.  I get a dose of reality, though, as an increasing number of former students become my colleagues, including Kristen DeMarco Rickard, Emily Dierkes, Sarah Morehead Pope, Patricia Statkiewicz, Caroline Riina and Lisa Diver, who was once a tiny 6th grader playing Pepper in my Middle School production of Annie, and who STILL can’t bring herself to call me “Bev.”  I even teach some children of former students, such as Kelsey Twist Schroeder’s Hazel and Lillian, and Annie Ferebee Short’s cute little preschooler Hudson.  It’s a sheer delight working alongside these gifted women who decided on careers in education, my chosen field.  Who cares about my age?

Gratefully, all of my exuberant patrons in the Killebrew Library keep me young.  They occasionally ask me how old I am, and my standard response is “What do you think?”  I am tickled when they guess a number like 27 or 43.  Just a few days ago, a first grader exclaimed, “You don’t look a day over fifty!”  The RPCS step challenges have helped me realize that, despite the number, I’m not ancient.  For me, the key to staying youthful seems to be Luigi’s philosophy:  “Never stop moving.”   I declare (with apologies to Dylan Thomas) that I will NOT go gentle into that good discount from Denny’s!  I will continue to step, step, step my way into the great unknown.

Live in the Book

~Nancy Mugele, Assistant Head of School for External Relations

Anna Quindlen & Nancy Mugele

Anna Quindlen & Nancy Mugele

On the way to pick up Anna Quindlen at her hotel last night I literally pinched myself. How was I lucky enough to perform such a fantastic “other duty as assigned?” While several of my friends were dancing in the audience as they listened to rock star Bruce Springsteen in concert in Baltimore, I was actually going to have my idol in my Rav4! Five precious minutes to and from RPCS with someone whose words have resonated with me for decades.

As I waited in front of the hotel I caught something blue out of the corner of my eye. I spun my head quickly to the back seat and spotted my blue dry cleaning bag with a skirt hanging out of it. I wished I had had time to drop that bag at the dry cleaner earlier in the day and also wished I had washed and vacuumed my car. As Anna walked toward me I packed the skirt tightly in the dry cleaning bag and pulled the string taut.

 

Bestselling author, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, social critic (and total celebrity to me) Anna Quindlen delivered the Anne Healy Lecture last night for the second time. Anna helped us celebrate our Centennial when she was the Anne Healy lecturer in the spring of 2002. She came this year to kick off our celebrations for Jean Brune and her amazing 24 year tenure as Head of School. I was so excited that I had a headache all day!

I read Anna’s column Life in the 30s religiously as a 20-something professional in NYC. I looked forward to hearing what she had to say because it was always so poignant and relevant. I imagined my life would mirror hers – I, too, was an aspiring writer although I worked in advertising to pay the rent. Her columns on Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and life in general as a young wife and mother were compelling to me then and now.

Anna believes in the joys of reading and writing, as do I. She is so passionate about the characters in books who have taught her so much. She reminded us that, “books are the greatest purveyor of truth” and that it is critical to “lead children to books.” She praised teachers, and especially librarians, for keeping society literate. “Reading and writing break down the walls between people,” she said, “and bring down the big lies of demagoguery. That’s why a literate United States is a more tolerant and more democratic United States, and why a thirst for words may be the greatest legacy we hand down to our kids.”

In a quiet moment when I asked about her writing a novel and balancing family, she answered, “you have to live in the book.” I thought about her words as I listened to her speaking from the podium. Everyone at RPCS was hanging on her every word. Live in the book…live in the moment.

I thought back to Goodbye Dr. Spock when Anna wrote the following about her parenting:

…the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

That Anna could know exactly what I am thinking and feeling, in each chapter of my life, is the reason I cherish her work. As the magical evening honoring Anne Healy ended, Anna and I walked slowly back to my car. I asked Anna to sign my copy of Miller’s Valley which I had left in my car. After she signed my book I lightly tossed it in the back. It landed next to the blue dry cleaning bag. We shared a smile. And, while I wished I had even more time to spend with Anna Quindlen, I will always treasure those moments to and from RPCS when I was fully present and listening to her every word.

Our Preschool Cosmopolitan Intellectuals

Kelsey Twist Schroeder, 2001 Upper School Dean of Students

Kelsey Twist Schroeder, 2001
Upper School Dean of Students

It’s what they do…It’s their language, their conflicts and negotiations.  It comes right off the playground. It’s them. That’s why I love it.” – Debbie Meyers, Preschool 3’s Teacher

For a graduate course I am taking on literacy, my professor asked each of us to observe a “literacy event.”  I immediately knew I wanted to visit the Preschool 3’s and do an ethnographic observation of their daily storytelling.  I had seen glimpses of the activity as I picked up my own daughter at the end of the day, and I had read with delight the children’s stories displayed in the hallway.  I knew it was something special, but I never guessed just how powerful this act of early literacy would be.

As I observed the classroom for roughly ninety minutes, my mind kept returning to a phrase coined by my professor, Dr. Gerald Campano. He writes about how all children should be understood and treated as the “cosmopolitan intellectuals” that they are.  These three-year-old children – the same children who walked out of the bathroom with their pants still around their ankles and crashed to the floor in distress when they couldn’t have ‘thirds’ during snack time – were acting with the authority of authors and directors, teachers and scholars.  Not only were they approached by their teachers as capable and literate individuals, they saw themselves and one another in these powerful roles.  As I heard phrases like, “I am the author,” or “It’s my/your story,” I realized the children were connecting literacy with their identity.  Watching them take on these literary qualities with such pleasure, confidence, and authority is something I strive to nurture in my Upper School students.

Storytelling takes place at a small classroom table.  The after-school teacher, Mrs. Meyers, sits in a child-size chair beside “the author” and among the other children.  She is equipped with three yellow legal pads and a small pile of ballpoint pens.  I initially wondered why she had so many pads and pens since she was the only person who could write, but I reminded myself that I was there to observe and not to interject, so I noted my question and continued to quietly observe.

Schroeder1

As the first author took her seat, Mrs. Meyers asked, “What’s it going to be about today?”  The little girl began, “Once upon a rabbit.”

“Once upon a rabbit?”

“Yes, once upon a rabbit,” she giggled.

“Ok. What’s next?”

“And then came Elsa.”

“And…then…came…Elsa…” Mrs. Meyers repeated as she wrote down each word.

As the girl continued with her story, Mrs. Meyers would encourage her with small affirmations, nodding and asking clarifying questions.  Two other children seated at the table listened with intensity, their small bodies leaning in toward the action.  Two additional children came in and out of the activity, alternating between listening and playing with trucks or dress up.

After a few minutes, another girl began to get impatient and asked, “Can I go now?”  Mrs. Meyers reminded her that another classmate was next, but that everyone who wanted a turn would get one.  She handed her a pad of paper and a pen and said she could start her story on her own while she waited.  As she picked up the pen the boy beside her asked, “What’s your story going to be about?”  She said it would be about a witch and began to draw on the pad.  I sat amazed.  They are only three years old, but they didn’t seem to need Mrs. Meyers at all.

Schroeder2

Schroeder3In subsequent stories I heard the children integrating plots from children’s books and movies into their own stories.  The second story was a modification of the three little pigs but with six pigs and a prominently featured firetruck.  When Mrs. Meyers would ask a clarifying question, sometimes other children at the table would answer and the author would either accept or reject the suggestion.  The storytellers often incorporated other children from the classroom and members of their family into the story.  It became both an individual and group experience.

After everyone told their story, we all headed outside for recess.  During the break I had a chance to speak with Mrs. Meyers about how she began storytelling and what attracted her to it as a teacher.  She told me,

“Everyone’s got a story.  Sometimes the kids start out shy, but then they participate more.  I like it because you can teach anything.  You can teach math, science, compassion, anything.  I also like it because it builds community.  They borrow things from each other and they put each other in their stories. It’s what they do.  It’s their language, their conflicts and negotiations.  It comes right off the playground. It’s them. That’s why I love it.”

There is both joy and pride in her voice.  She has successfully established a culture where toddlers can engage in primary and secondary discourses, connecting their knowledge of the world to their ideas, opinions, and imagination.  She has opened her mind, the children’s minds, the parents’ minds, and the larger school community to a wider understanding of literacy – an understanding that allows a child’s unadulterated language to be celebrated and worthy of display.  She has created an environment where these children who cannot yet ‘read’ or ‘write’ can identify as highly literate authors.

Schroeder4After outdoor play, the children returned to the classroom, unbundled, and found a seat in one of the small chairs arranged in a U-shape.  It was time to act out the stories.  The activity began with the author standing beside Mrs. Meyers as she read the story aloud to the group.

The author then chose a volunteer to play each character. The children acted out the story one sentence at a time, with Mrs. Meyers asking questions that would guide the performance. “I wonder how the piggies would feel when the big bad wolf was coming toward their house.”  The children became almost giddy with excitement as they took on the role of their character.

After the third story was acted out, the teachers got the children seated for snack and I began to pack up my things and collect my own daughter who had rather surprisingly been ignoring me and participating in the activities for most of the afternoon.

As I left, my mind returned to that phrase “cosmopolitan intellectuals.” It is how Mrs. Meyers sees and understands her students, with a level of respect and admiration that serves as an example to all teachers.  By engaging with the children’s stories, Mrs. Meyers delights in their humor, empathizes with their pain, and honors their language, setting a strong foundation of literacy as a critical social practice for these very young children.

Schroeder6As my daughter, Lillian, and I walked through the hallway on our way out that afternoon, we passed by the Stories Board in the hallway.  Like every other day, she stops and asks me, “Mom, can you can read my story to me?”  It is almost 6 o’clock and we still need to pick up her sister.  I am exhausted from a day of teaching, loaded down with our bags, and eager to get home.  I look down at her and reply, “Of course I will.” And as I read aloud about the Pretzel Princess, the Rainbow Princess and Penny the Police Officer, she beams with pride.  “I’ll always stop to read your story, baby,” I tell her. “Always.”

~Kelsey Twist Schroeder, 2001
Upper School Dean of Students

Outsmart Your Smartphone

What Kind of Roland Park Country School Online Community are We?books_disconnect_edit

The 7th annual Robinson Health Colloquium brought Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair to RPCS in October for the second time. The idea for these Health Colloquia came from James G. Robinson, former Trustee and parent of alumna Beth Robinson deVilliers, 1996, who believes that parents must be fully engaged in the lives of their daughters

We have been holding these annually since their inception in the fall of 2009.  These Colloquia, involving assemblies for students, evening meetings for parents and specialized information for faculty, have focused on a variety of important health issues for girls and young women, ranging from drug and alcohol information to body image and healthy eating to social media.

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair is an internationally recognized clinical psychologist, consultant and author specializing in education, who spoke about her latest research and book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in a Digital Age.

 In her book, Dr. Steiner-Adair examines ways in which technology and media change how children learn and grow, and shows parents how to balance the benefits of technology while reducing the risks it poses at every stage of development.

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair

Dr. Steiner- Adair posed a simple, yet thoughtful question, to the students that I continue to reflect upon. “What kind of Roland Park Country School online community are you?” Was I guilty of creating a “Fakebook” on my Facebook page? Was I like a “toddler with a blankie” with my smart phone? I had to look at myself honestly and answer, yes. It takes a lot of time and energy to create an online profile and maintain it. Was it time taken away from personal relationships and conversations? I am still thinking about Dr. Steiner-Adair’s message to students to “be your best self and most thoughtful self when you connect in any way online.”

Texting is often a vehicle for meanness online. The key to strong relationships is hearing the tone of voice and reading social cues when you hold conversations. With texting, we cannot see the person we are communicating with and we may become emotionally disconnected. Being unable to empathize makes us even meaner when we are angry with our friends. Dr. Steiner-Adair’s talk has made me much more aware of my text messaging to be sure that I am conveying the proper emotion. It has also made me text less, talk in person more and listen more closely.

“Outsmart your smart phone” was the rallying cry for this colloquia and it has changed my thinking and my actions. Dr. Steiner-Adair noted that RPCS is a leader in outsmarting our smart phones by not allowing cell phones to be used during the academic day unless approved to do so in a class for academic reasons. She loved walking through the hallways and seeing students conversing, laughing and connecting in meaningful ways. I plan to do a lot more of that myself – at school and at home.

I am deeply grateful to the Robinson family for bringing such inspired speakers to RPCS each year.

~ Nancy Mugele, Assistant Head of School for External Relations

 

Nothing Ventured…

David Brock, Upper School Science

David Brock, Upper School Science

I am “old school.”  I like to sit with my cup of coffee on my back porch on a Sunday morning, with an actual physical copy of the newspaper, and catch up on the details and nuances of the week’s events.  Which is why in October I happened to come across an article on the front page of the Baltimore Sun’s business section about a remarkable group of young women and the company they had started, Sisu Global Health.

Part of the Sun’s “Five Minutes with…” series, the article shared the story of Carolyn Yarina and Gillian Henker, co-founders of a company dedicated to developing life-saving yet economical medical technologies for the developing world.  Carolyn and Gillian have created a device, called Hemafuse, for recycling blood during surgeries where transfusion is not an option—a situation very common in the developing world—and they have developed Sisu Global Health to market their device.

I won’t go into the full details of what the Sun shared about Sisu and its founders (feel free to read the original. But needless to say, I was impressed.  Here was the role-model trifecta for someone invested in STEM education for teenage girls:  an all-female company founded by twenty-somethings, committed to employing STEM disciplines to improve people’s lives, who had earned degrees in something other than the biological sciences (women already earn more than 50% of college degrees in biology; it’s the physical sciences where women remain under-represented).  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get Ms. Yarina and Ms. Henker to come talk to—or better yet—work with the students in our STEM program? Yet all I had was a newspaper story with no contact information and details that said these were “very busy people!” How could I turn such a meeting into a reality?

redblogstemAs the old adage goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and when I shared the article with others on the STEM teaching team, we all agreed that it would be an amazing opportunity for our students to have the chance to interact with these two women.  So we took the risk to reach out to Carolyn and Gillian (as I now know them), and this past Friday, December 4, Gillian was able to join all 52 of our current STEM students, grades 9-11, for a marvelous hands-on workshop on developing prototype medical technologies for the developing world.[1]

For 90 minutes, Gillian led the girls through the brainstorming and design process to develop an alternative mobility technology for those suffering the loss of use of their lower limbs.  The girls learned about the challenges designers face when developing for the world’s emerging markets—cultural, infrastructure, cost—and how creative, out-of-the-box thinking can meet these challenges.  Out of their work came such great prototypes as the Pathway Paws-er (a sled designed to be drawn by a dog) and the Wiggler (a device that employed nervous energy to move the rider).

redblodstem2In the end, our students developed nine different, unique solutions to the problem.  But even more importantly, they developed a better sense of their own strengths as designers and solvers of STEM problems, and most important of all, they left with a better understanding of how their own current investment in STEM might someday help them change the world for the better—which is all I could ever hope for as a STEM educator and their teacher.

[1] Unfortunately, Carolyn—who was originally scheduled to participate—was unable to join us.  But when the Minister of Health of Ghana calls about your product, you get on the plane and go to Ghana!

~ David Brock, Upper School Science

Sometimes All You Need to do is Ask

Dana Hamilton

Dana Hamilton

Every fall, employees have the opportunity to get flu shots on campus free of charge.  This is organized as an effort to create a community of wellness, and increase participation by making the benefit as convenient as possible.  As you can imagine, as the organizer, I have heard my fair share of excuses and poking fun at the “flu shot clinic.”  Each year I try to change it up a bit to rally the employees to participate.  Slowly the participation has increased every year, and I am proud to share that 75% of RPCS employees took advantage of the benefit this year.

This summer I received an email from our flu shot provider, Passport Health, with an opportunity that caught my attention.  Passport Heath was partnering with Vaccine Ambassadors to bring immunizations to children who lack life-saving vaccinations in low and middle-income countries.  Each year, a staggering 1.5 million children die world-wide before their 5th birthday from vaccine-preventable diseases.    I was encouraged by the information that as little as 35 cents could provide an immunization for a child in need.  My reaction was “we can do something” and I sought approval to participate.

I was invited to talk at morning meeting in each Division and explain the “coins for kids” collection that would take place the week of our employee flu clinic.  I encouraged the students to check all the places that coins collect in their household and get forgotten about, such as in the couch cushions and the kitchen junk drawer.  I challenged every student and employee to try to find just 35 cents to add to the collection.  The students asked questions driven by generosity such as “Can I bring in a dollar bill from my piggy bank?”  and “Is it Ok to bring in coins that I got from the tooth fairy?”  Although they were promised nothing in return, our students wanted to help.

Picture1The jars were put out and the coins started coming in.  Ziploc bags of random coins and pockets of spare change arrived in volumes.  In addition, dollar bills were dropped into the jars.  With overwhelming enthusiasm, the Middle School collected over half of the total collection, filling their jars more than once.

Five days later a total of 66 pounds of coins, including over 4,000 pennies, and a thick wad of bills were taken to the bank using a cart.

I am proud to share that the Roland Park community collected enough coins to provide more than

2,000 vaccinations to children in need.

As I am writing this, I am thinking of how fortunate our children are to be growing up in an area of the world where their health and wellness are a priority.  And when given the opportunity, our students want to give to others in need.  Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

~ Dana Hamilton, School Nurse

Architects of our own Growing World

I live behind the opaque veil of my dimly lit iPhone screen, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m proud of it. While my parents grew up alongside a flickering television screen and a dusty typewriter. I grew up in parallel to the evolving models of colorful iPod Nanos, of shrinking laptops, and of smarter and smarter cell phones. Previous generations warn of the dangers of so much new personal technology – of over-dependence and laziness, of corruption and deception. But I’m proud to be a citizen of this era of communication, connectivity, and togetherness. The digital age is nothing to be afraid of – unless, of course, you’re a woman.

I live two lives. One of these lives plays out cinematically underneath a set of shiny Baltimore skyscrapers and dewy suburban houses, but the other is under a different sort of architecture: the cool, steely beams of the internet. In these beams, I see a reflection of my own outer life – my photos, memories, and friends – as well as a window into a deeper, more hauntingly personal universe. It is through the internet that I have been able to forge a place to connect with like-minded individuals all over the world who share my passions for music and art. It is through the internet that I have been given the opportunity to learn and access wisdom from inspiring women of all walks of life. It is through the internet that I have found a community of human beings dedicated to making our planet a better place for each and every global citizen. And yet, the internet – this second earth, this digital cosmos of inclusivity, power, and community – is not mine. It is not mine, and it is not yours. It belongs to men.

Your Instagram – it was created, founded, and built by a man. Your Tumblr, your Twitter, your Facebook and Snapchat and Tinder (although cofounded by a woman): the pillars of your online life, your second home, were molded and shaped by men. Your iPhone, your laptop – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. We are the teenage girls who have grown up in the warm cradle of the digital age, and we are the teenage girls who spend hours weaving our path between a tangled web of Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. We are the teenage girls, a primary user of modern media, but we are consistently ignoring the backbones of tech in favor of its easy conveniences. The digital world isn’t merely a dull reflection of the physical world: it is as much of the modern world as the physical skyscrapers and houses that surround us. And I’m shocked. I’m shocked that it isn’t a bigger deal that women have such a small voice in shaping the world we live in.

I don’t mean to find fault in the undeniably talented minds behind modern media. I am incredibly grateful for the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world for helping usher in this dynamic, exciting new era of human development (as well as a great movie in 2010). However, I cannot help but feel uncomfortable that the silent landscape controlling my life with such intense power has so little female influence, when it is so obviously marketed and directed towards women. I’m a seventeen-year-old girl. I will be eighteen tomorrow and it’s a bit unsettling to think that my place of comfort, a place created just for me, came from the mind and fingertips of a random guy, often just trying to make some money, in his twenties. The world was built for me, but it doesn’t belong to me.

We need more women shaping this new universe, a universe connected by 0’s and 1’s and small pixels on a cracked iPhone screen. In 2012, only 18% of computer science majors were women. In that same year, women only held 11% of executive technical roles in privately held, venture-backed companies. And yet, the technical field is an all-consuming force that grows each and every second in weight and power and influence. We deserve to be the architects of our own growing world; we deserve to be not only the consumers, but the producers of our own digital age. As women, we fought for suffrage so that we could play a role in government. As women, we fought, and continue to fight, for rights and privileges to be recognized by our country. As women, we need to uphold our stance in the world by engaging in the technological workforce. We deserve to have the same power and influence as our male counterparts, but today, we don’t have that power… but power is in numbers. And tomorrow, we can.

As I’ve said before, I love living behind my iPhone screen, as well as beside it. It’s a privilege to have been raised alongside the evolution of modern technology. However, it is my vision that one day, women will play just as large of a role in technology as men. Just as women deserve to take part in making the decisions that shape our country, it is vital that help to shape the online world. I’m not sure whether this is a rant, or a speech, or it’s just a topic that I was able to write about for an extended period of time without making bad jokes – but regardless, it’s a story I want to share with you. I urge each and every one of you to consider pursuing a career in technology and continue engaging in the digital landscape. Spend 10 hours choosing the perfect filter for your selfie. Refresh your Facebook profile picture like it’s 2012 and want to get over 100 likes. Tweet something that you’re probably going to be really embarrassed by in 4 years.

Embrace the digital age, and don’t let anybody tell you differently. This is your world, and you can make a difference for the community of human consciousness via the internet, a difference for the better. Support your sisters in technology – together, we can build a better world, both online and off.

~ Megan Schaller, 2016

How The Sweet Briar College Story Demonstrates The Power of Single-Sex Education for Girls and Women

This story has a happy ending and a new beginning.

Rebecca Hanson

Rebecca Hanson

I usually remember to silence my cell phone when I enter RPCS each morning, but for some reason on March 3 I forgot.  Getting ready to grade some papers I heard the little blip signaling an incoming text. Annoyed, I retrieved the phone from the depths of my bag to silence it and saw the news that Virginia’s venerable women’s college, Sweet Briar, abruptly announced it would close forever at the end of spring term. The news struck me like a thunderbolt not only because it was from my sister, a SBC alum who along with her husband is a professor at the college, but because Sweet Briar is close to my heart and my home-literally.

My previous history students will surely groan when I say, once again, that I hail from Virginia.  I grew up with Sweet Briar not only nearby, but its roots literally steps away from my family’s front porch. I took French lessons from SBC students who came out to my little country school to teach us in the shade of an old oak tree. Legions of SBC students taught dance in my mother’s studio and sometimes spent Thanksgiving or Spring Break with us. My friends were campus kids and I swam every summer in Sweet Briar’s beautiful lake. So when the news of its closure hit, it was like a piece of my life was gone.

So why am I writing this piece for our RPCS community? Because the story of the near death of Sweet Briar College and how it was saved by a tenacious group of women (alums) and a courageous woman who led the charge as Amherst County’s Commonwealth Attorney shows not only the power of women but also the power of single-sex education for women and girls.  Now it is really important to note that some really great men stepped into the fight to save Sweet Briar as well.  However all who took up the cause well understood the case for women’s colleges in the 21st Century.

My mother, who was born just 10 years after Sweet Briar College was founded, never got the chance to go to college.  She was one of those fierce southern women who refused to let life pass her by and she defied the gender and social conventions of her era (scandalizing everyone by wearing pants in the 1930s!). Having four daughters, she made sure each of us got a college education—in women’s colleges—and she herself was a fixture in Sweet Briar’s classes as an older woman. Being the ever defiant younger sister who was determined to “go away for college,” I attended Hollins University, which continues today as one of the oldest women’s colleges in the nation (1842.) Since college, my entire career has been in education of girls.  If I had a daughter I would absolutely want her to pursue much of her education in a single-sex school and I would really urge her to consider a women’s college.

So back to Sweet Briar.  Within days of the announcement of its closure, Sweet Briar alumnae from around the country, full of passion and fueled by sheer determination, sprung to action.  Using social media tools women who had never met each other formed a winning coalition with a “winning plan,” as the iconic suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt would have said. The college said it needed money? No problem, they said, they could raise $20 million by June 30.  Skeptics laughed; some publically scoffed that the alums’ efforts were fueled by emotion rather than reason (and you thought sexism was dead). The alumnae questioned the validity of the stated reasons for the closure (no money, enrollment, rural location, women’s college) and hired their own accountants to evaluate the finances. They debunked many of the “facts” cited as reasons for the closure. They hired a great legal team. They mounted a media campaign that kept the story in the national press every day for months.  And They Won.

In the process, the campaign to Save Sweet Briar stirred a national conversation about many vital issues, from the validity of a liberal arts education in the 21st Century to the relevance and importance of women’s institutions.  Furthermore it illuminated the importance of involving stakeholders in non-profit institutions and the need for transparency in governance. Those interested in the future of philanthropy were alarmed by the implications of the Sweet Briar Board’s closure decision for charitable giving and fundraising in the future. In short, the Sweet Briar story has lessons for us all.

For me this whole ordeal has given me a chance to reaffirm what I know in my heart and from my experience: that educating girls in a single-sex environment is empowering and vital—especially in the 21st Century.  At Hollins University I was free to be myself, I was taken seriously, I was pushed intellectually and I formed social relationships that have endured for 39 years.  I just attended my 35th Hollins reunion and it truly felt as though we were all just returning from summer break.  In my 30 years at RPCS, I have seen girls find their voices and their power.  And yes, while women have come so very far in the last half century, many barriers, some subtle and some more overt, still exist.  I am honored to teach at a great girls’ school which indeed stands as a model of how to change and evolve yet still retain the deepest core values upon which it is based. The SBC story, though a nail-biter at times, is a testament to the power of women to collaborate to move mountains, and that is the power of an education above.

 

Learn More:

Treat yourself to an inspirational message about the power of women and women’s colleges in this speech by Teresa Pike Tomlinson, SBC alum and mayor of Augusta, Georgia, given in May at Sweet Briar’s Commencement:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di8fzDzULxI

Read the Washington Post story about the June 22 settlement to Save Sweet Briar College: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/06/22/sweet-briar-survives-judge-approves-settlement-deal-to-keep-the-college-open/

~ Rebecca Hanson, Upper School History

 

Reflections on Sweet Briar

Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar College

On March 3, Sweet Briar College in Virginia announced that it would be closing its doors this summer and that the Class of 2015 will be the final graduating class from the institution which was founded in 1901 upon the mission of educating young women. For me personally, this news brought both shock and deep sadness as an alumna of the school about to reach the milestone of having graduated 25 years ago. For me professionally, I had to ask what does this mean for the fate of other single-sex schools across the country and the relevance of single-sex education in the 21st Century?

My reflections led me immediately to question the evolution of the historical role of women in society and the validity of stereotypical female characteristics vis-à-vis single-sex education. The Classicist in me jumps first to the historical interpretation: perhaps we do not need to go as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome, but if we consider the role of women at the turn of the century and in the earliest years of the 20th Century as the crucible for the emergence of both Sweet Briar College and Roland Park Country School, we recognize that formal educational opportunities for girls and young women accompanied the transformation of female roles as they expanded beyond the home into the predominantly male fabric of society and the workplace.

But now a century later for women who have moved through suffrage, through liberation into virtual equality, what purpose does single-sex education serve? My answer is emphatically: an important one! The evolution of women’s roles is not complete, and single-sex education for girls uniquely provides two critical opportunities – in leadership and risk-taking – that allow females to discover who they are and how they want to define their role.

At RPCS, the conversation around leadership has come to the fore. In every division, girls are reminded of the many paths to leadership, the many forms it may take, and the many opportunities they have to explore their personal leadership style whether it be as the costume-manager backstage for the musical or the class president, as the team captain or as the student who takes the organizational lead on a group project in class. Akin to leadership, risk-taking is a key value in our Education Above at RPCS. We encourage our girls to try something new (they might like it), to say something different (the answer is not always simply right or wrong), and to experience something that doesn’t work out (life will go on and we do indeed learn from our mistakes and disappointments). It so happens to be Women’s History Month in March, and when we look to the trail-blazers of the past and our role-models of the present, we recognize how important it is to instill a thirst for adventure, a comfort with individualism, and a spirit of resilience in our young women.

So with the importance of single-sex education now interpreted in an historical light, what about a psychological analysis: is an all-female environment preferable for female learning? Alas, I cannot draw upon my academic background to examine this topic, merely my experience. As I think of stereotypical female characteristics, the qualities of being caring and nurturing and having a rich emotional life come to mind, along with the importance of relationships, communication and community. A single-sex learning environment for girls and women embraces these characteristics as strengths and blends them with the content, skills and experiences of a well-rounded program in academics, the arts and athletics to produce an education that is both intellectual and emotional. As I tried to come to terms with the news that my college would no longer exist, it wasn’t the names of the academic buildings or the titles of courses that I took that flashed through my mind; there were less tangible sensations filling my heart: memories of friends and professors, a deep sense of place, a purposeful pursuit of knowledge, a comforting awareness of community… When asked what makes Roland Park Country School a unique place, students, faculty and parents alike cite the sense of community here. Many institutions are capable of building a sense of community within their walls, but when that sense of community (along with the intangible presence of nurture and support, caring and interpersonal connections) exists as a girl’s creativity flourishes, as a young woman’s mind grows, or as a student’s confidence matures, it is that magical alchemy of elements that produces the power of a single-sex education.

Schools like Sweet Briar and RPCS understand the synergies between emotion and education in the course of female development. And while Sweet Briar’s closing may demonstrate the harsh realities of competition among colleges, Roland Park Country School continues not only to fulfill a 20th Century mission to educate girls for their changing world, but it also strives to fortify the complex emotional portions of our 21st Century lives. In conclusion, I am not saying that single-sex education for girls in the 21st Century is just about providing para-intellectual support in female development, but I will say that schools for girls provide a value-added educational experience that is even more relevant today than it was one hundred years ago.

~ Beth Venn, Middle School Latin