Monthly Archives: September 2009

Early Impressions of the Year

We’re at the end of our third full week of classes, and it feels – in good ways – as if we’ve been here for months. I thought I’d fill this entry with quick snapshots of some the moments we’ve experienced.

  • We had an alum speaker at one of the first Housemeetings. She had just returned from a two-year Peace Corps stint in a Senegalese village and shared photos and insights with us.
  • Natalie (academic dean) had her baby! Jack Hudson Demers was born on September 21st and is now home learning how to live with two huge dogs…
  • A rousing 64 students and faculty have volunteered to walk for cancer research. We’re divided into teams and will be doing some fundraisers in order to have the money needed to participate. I feel very proud of the number of our students who’ve come forward to help, and I have to say that my team is the best! No favoritism, of course…but we have already made jewelry and cookies to sell.
  • In the middle of week 2, Mina Cooper, director of riding, Regina Mooney, director of development, and I traveled to Charlottesville, VA for an alumnae event at Hyperion Farm, owned and operated by alumna Vicky Castegren. It was an incredible event on an incredibly beautiful piece of property with incredibly gorgeous horses. Vicky showed us some of the babies born on the property and demonstrated what she looks for in a good horse. We are thrilled that Vicky has agreed to run a clinic at SBS on February 20th! Among a few others we met while there was my classmate Karen van Lengen who has been dean of the school of architecture at UVA for the past 10 years. It was wonderful catching up and catching her up; Karen has agreed to come speak to our students sometime soon as she is currently on sabbatical.
  • At the Fall Horse Trials, our seventh grader Franny was remarkable getting people to buy SBS items. She even approached one guy to suggest that our water bottle would match his car well!
  • Two of my advisees wanted chocolate chip cookies for our advisory period snack this week; one wants potato salad! I accommodated both requests…
  • I heard great feedback about one of our new teachers. The girls love her class and think she’s a great teacher. (I passed along the kudos.)
  • While we go through our daily routines, some of us are behind the scenes working on finalizing budgets and planning for next year’s dates.
  • We are also planning for the upcoming Board meeting and have just added two new members and two new trustees emeriti. Great additions!
  • We’ll be “testing” a new format for our Family Weekend this fall — putting the arts performance on Friday afternoon so parents may take their daughters out for dinner and/or overnight.
  • Past parents Vicki and Jeff Palmer hosted a wonderful cocktail party at their home in Greenfield to which all current and past parents in Greenfield and neighboring towns were invited. It was wonderful to meet so many enthusiastic people and to have the opportunity to tell them what we’ve been up to at SBS.
  • I was just AOD this past weekend and witnessed Friday night Laser Tag on the first floor and video games in the Red Room on Saturday night. Lots of crazy fun…but lots of girls in the library working as well. Sunday was a quiet day filled with room clean-up and study time, though there was a college fair some of the girls attended.
  • Our Chinese teacher has finally arrived! After more than a month of going back and forth with the Department of Homeland Security, we secured the permission for Chia-Jung (Sara) Tsou to get her visa. Sara just finished her master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, but she is from Taiwan and had to go back in order to do this paperwork. Her students are ecstatic and we are all SOOO happy she’s here! She made a big hit last Thursday when she offered us Moon Cakes during our weekly faculty meeting; it is time for the Moon Festival in Taiwan and China so she brought these goodies to share with all of us. She’s a smart woman!
  • Next thing you know, it will be time for Mountain Day so stay tuned!

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The First of Many

It’s 9:30pm on a typical Wednesday night. Middle School hallway is quiet…except for the strains of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” coming from the Ipod attached to the hip of one middle school student. Clad in her “spring pajama pants and Halloween pajama top” (this particular middle schooler has specific descriptions for each pair of pajamas she owns) she announces that she will now be making her entrance.

She ducks behind the swinging double doors at the end of the hallway and the students and I wait in quiet anticipation.

Suddenly, she springs out from behind the doors in full Michael Jackson impersonation. Arms flailing and legs twitching she begins her choreographed trip from one end of the hall to the other. She says she is showing us the “Thriller” dance. She promises that later we will see the “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” choreography. When she’s finished I Smilerealize they all look strikingly similar to me. She insists they aren’t.

The music playing from her Ipod is so loud that we can hear it from our seats at the opposite end of the hallway. You can tell by the smile on her face that she’s ecstatic.

If you’ve never experienced life on a residential hallway at an all girls school it might be hard to imagine this scene. After all she is basically in public, wearing mismatched pajamas, Ipod tucked into the waistband of her pants performing for a growing audience.

Here’s the thing about SBS though, the embarrassment that normally makes you duck your head when you trip or say “never mind” because you’re afraid people will laugh, doesn’t exist here. At SBS it’s accepted, if not encouraged, to dance in the hallway in your pajamas, sing loudly to your friends or lift your head, look someone in the eye and laugh out loud when you trip.

Flashback to the Saturday before.

It’s the first official weekend of the school year. The middle school students have already spent two days bonding in Becket, MA at Camp Chimney Corners and they have finished their first official week of classes.

I’m driving a bus (a short one, but a bus nonetheless) down Route 2 to take them go-carting. There are 12 of them piled in the back, laughing and joking with one another. We arrive at our destination and they all tumble out of the bus, shouting “Thank you Laura!” behind them as they run for the token counter.

I follow them in and overhear someone say “I’m only going to buy one token and ride the go carts once.” I’m momentarily disheartened. I planned for this activity to last all afternoon.

Five minutes and one whirlwind go-cart ride later the girls are running back to the token counter.

One student comes over and tells me she’s bought five more tokens. She chats easily with me as she waits outside the go-cart track for her “driver”. She tells me she needs one because she doesn’t know how to drive yet. I point out that none of them actually know how to drive. She shrugs and grins at me as her “driver” comes bounding back to the waiting area. The two link arms and head inside the gate to pick a car.

To an outsider, it would seem impossible that they’ve known each other for barely more than a week.

The afternoon flies by and soon we’re headed back up Route 2 towards Greenfield.The ride home is much quieter than our earlier trip. Exhausted from the adrenaline of driving cars all afternoon the girls are ready to relax before heading to the bonfire planned for later that evening.

Saturday night.

It’s 8pm and we’re ready. The cider is warm and the fire is just getting started. A number of students and faculty gather on the back field to share stories, s’mores and hot apple cider.

Bonfire.The middle schoolers are excited about the bonfire. Many of them are having their first campfire experience with us.

We huddle together around the fire as the air grows cool around us. Laughter and chatter cut through the silence of the woods and fields.

At the end of the evening we head back to the hallway for check in and the girls return to their rooms. As I stop at each room to wish the girls goodnight, we chat about go-carts, bonfires and the trip we will take to go apple picking tomorrow.

I smile to myself as I listen to the quiet sounds of giggling and whispered conversation coming from each room. For these girls this is only the beginning. There are many more memorable weekends to come.

– Laura Lavallee, Associate Director of Admissions & Public Relations Coordinator


Filed under School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

The New School Year

It’s hard to believe that we just opened the year and that I am embarking on my second year as head of school. Of course, I know so much more this year! And that includes people — it feels good to welcome parents and students back to school and be able to call them by name. I’ve had multiple returning students talk to me about their commitment to making the year a positive experience for all. It is equally wonderful to see all the new families who come with great enthusiasm and expectation of a super year. I don’t think we’ll disappoint.

Something happened as we opened the year. It started at the faculty meetings when I could feel our hulk of a ship start to turn; we were all heading in the same direction and it felt good. With the work we did last year around how we view ourselves and the language we use to talk about the school, we were able this fall to present where we are to the faculty, first, and then to each set of parents as they registered their daughters. Finally, I shared it all with the students at Convocation. We will do the same with the trustees when they are here in October (though they have been kept abreast of our conversations along the way). We know where we’re going; we know what we’re about; and we know that we like it. That feels very good!

As we went through registration days, Convocation, and then bonding trips and pre-season, the buzz among faculty has been what a great student body we have. The girls have worked to know each other and to get ready to start working in all kinds of directions. One girl came in my office last night to say that she LOVES the new schedule (kudos to the scheduling sub-committee of last year). Several of the new international students, most of whom don’t get to see the school before they arrive, have remarked that they are so lucky to be in a place that’s this beautiful (wait ’til the foliage season!).

No more time for a longer entry. Suffice it to say that we’re off to a great start!

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And so it begins.

Blue Key 2Monday, September 7, 2009. Labor Day.

8:45am: The first Blue Key Tour Guide arrives on campus and so it begins. Shortly thereafter, another arrives and by 1:00pm we have 20 exuberant girls playing an enthusiastic game of “Move your Feet” in the Oval.

“Move your feet if you’re excited to be back at SBS” I shout. They all run to a new spot in the circle. Blue Key

The opening of school is always exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. You never know what to expect when you welcome 125 teenage girls to campus. The student body will be different than it was the previous year. The seniors have graduated and are already beginning their first year of college and all across the world new students are nervously awaiting the day they are scheduled to move in.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009.

9:00am: Our first new international student arrives. She comes with her family in tow and slowly climbs out of the car they rented at the airport. She’s nervous until the Blue Key Tour Guides begin calling to her.

“Welcome to SBS, what’s your name?” they shout, nearly in unison.

The common bond shared by teenage girls, the one that makes them think that dancing around in their dorm rooms and shopping on weekends is fun, takes over and soon our new student is whisked away to registration and her dorm room.

“That was hard and we’re tired but she’s all moved in,” the Tour Guides tell me when they have finished helping her carry her belongings to her new room on one of our residential hallways. “We’re going outside to meet someone else and help her move in.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009.

4:30am: Our Athletic Trainer meets some of our new students as they arrive by shuttle. He greets them and gets them settled into their rooms. Late (well, early) arrivals are a hallmark of Opening Week.

8:45am: The Blue Key Guides flood campus and we open registration a The Luggagebit early. Our new students look excited and nervous all at the same time. The luggage pile near the front door slowly turns from a molehill to a mountain. With the arrival of each new student it grows a bit more.

11:30am: One of the Blue Key Tour Guides helps me fill water balloons for one of the activities scheduled for that afternoon. Shrieks of laughter emanate from the 1st floor bathroom we’re using to fill the balloons.

“This one’s a monster” she yells…before dissolving into giggles as it pops in her hand and explodes all over her. These are the sounds of the new school year.

2:00pm: All our new students are gathered in Emerson Hall. It’s new student orientation and nervous energy fills the gymnasium. I introduce myself and the Blue Key Guides helping me run the event.

“We’re going to play games and I promise we’re going to have fun,” I tell them. Their faces indicate that they doubt I am right. We begin tossing around the Finding Nemo beach ball that I’ve covered with “getting to know you” questions. One of our international students catches it.

“What are you most excited about for this year?” She pauses. “Being a member of this community and school.” She tosses the ball into the air.

Blue Key 1“What do you want to be when you grow up?…Either something with horses or on T.V.” I smile and tell her maybe she can become a reporter who exclusively covers horse shows. The girls giggle a bit and tell me that’s silly. I can tell we’ve broken the ice.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

10:00am: I meet our new students in the library. We’ve got another morning filled with orientation games and activities. We head outside to the fields beside the tennis courts. I instruct the girls to count off by four. It takes two attempts and lots of giggling, but finally we’ve got four groups of 10 girls each. I explain the human knot to them and watch as they duck and dive through each others’ arms to untangle the knot. Laughter fills the autumn air as they try to figure out who has to go where.

“You go under — then we’ll be able to untangle…ahh! My arm can’t bend that way!” Gone is the nervous silence that filled the gymnasium yesterday.

11:00am: The halls are filled with shouting and laughter. “Hey, how was your summer…I missed you!” one student calls out as she runs toward a friend.

6:00pm: Everyone is gathered in the dining hall for the first Formal Dinner of the year. The first Formal Dinner has always had the same theme—it is the first time many girls will officially meet their “Big Sisters”. After dinner we adjourn to the Capen Room for the first Housemeeting of the year where each member of the senior class introduces her “Little Sisters”. This evening is just the first of many traditions our girls will take part in over the course of their time here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

8:00am: We have gathered in Geissler Gallery for Convocation, the official opening of the 2009-2010 academic year. It is during this ceremony that we sign the honor code, the document that reminds us we must have respect for ourselves, respect for others, respect for academic honesty and respect for property. Head of School Sally Mixsell opens the ceremony.

“Welcome to the 2009-2010 academic year! We have been working hard to make this the best year any of you returning students has had to date, and the best first year any of you new students could possibly experience…It is not your job just to be here and to do school; it is equally your responsibility to develop an understanding of who you are and where you’re going. We will help you find your voice and use it appropriately to navigate your place in the world.”

Soon after, Kim Balk, Senior Class President and the first official speaker in the Paul Bassett Speaker Series, steps to the front of the room.

Kim Balk“During the summer Sally Mixsell emailed me asking if I would speak at convocation. I, a person who is really nervous when it comes to giving speeches, first thought I should say no–but then I realized this was something I had to do…I realized this is something that our school prepares you for.”

Convocation comes to a close and the recessional begins. Students and teachers alike nervously return to their classrooms for the first period of the day.

As the day draws to a close, gone are the quiet hallways and empty dorm rooms. Instead the halls are filled with laughter and excitement as the faculty breathe a collective sigh of relief. First-day jitters are gone and Opening Week has ended. A new year has begun.

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