Monthly Archives: December 2010

Remembering 2010


December 15 – 5 Minutes

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

(Author: Patti Digh)

Confession, I cheated on this post. I gave myself more than 5 minutes…but the initial brainstorming, when I made the list of things I wanted to include…that I only gave myself five minutes for.

If the schools collective memory for the 2009-2010 school year was going to disappear (and thankfully it’s not!), there are a few things I think the alumnae, students, faculty and staff would like to remember.

1. The All School Sleepover.

The night before Spearth Day last year found all 120 of our students (international and domestic) together in Geissler Gallery playing games, eating yummy food and watching movies. The sense of community was indescribable – I have never seen our students so connected and excited. It was a wonderful, albeit exhausting, experience for each and every one of our students and one I know they are looking forward to repeating this year.

2. The Gymkhana.

It’s not every day you see students running with carrots…with horses in hot pursuit. The gymkhana is a fun way for all our riders, competitive and not, to spend an afternoon “horsing around” with the animals they love. Every rider attends…even if they don’t participate and it’s a great time to head down to the barn and watch the antics…even if you don’t know anything about horses, it still promises to be a fun time!

3. The Middle School Overnight.

I will always treasure the memories from the Middle School overnights I have attended. It’s an amazing time when the girls get to know each other…and the adults who will be most involved in their life. From the late night chats to the early morning breakfast…the middle school overnight is a rewarding experience. The best part of the whole two days? The look of confidence and triumph on the girls faces when they conquer the high ropes courses. There is nothing like it!

4. Vespers.

A bittersweet occasion, vespers is our seniors chance to say goodbye to the school and the community. It is poignant and refreshing to hear the girls talk about all the things that are most important to them. Each year the community gathers together the night before graduation to honor the exceptional members of our senior class and help them say farewell. It is touching, heartfelt and usually, there are at least a few laughs.

5. The Night After the Storm.

Last spring Stoneleigh-Burnham, and the greater part of Western Massachusetts was hit with a terrible thunder storm. The school was without power for many hours and the fields and woods our girls call home were devastated with downed trees. During this time of crisis the community banded together and students, faculty and staff worked to help clean up the campus and return it to its usual beauty. To read more about the storm, check out the post here.

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

Not Your Mother’s Feminism

It’s now been nearly a year since I wrote “Not Quite Post-Feminist” examining what author Susan J. Douglas calls “enlightened sexism” and how it could be seen in the attitudes of Stoneleigh-Burnham students. Enlightened sexism, for those who haven’t heard of it, can essentially be seen as feminism in fishnet stockings and high heels – the idea that, having won all the major battles, women can now be free to enjoy the power that comes from… sexualizing themselves.

Forgive me for not cheering.

Though she doesn’t use the term, Susan Faludi’s recent article in “Harpers,” “American Electra: Feminism’s ritual matricide,” offers an interesting historical context for the development of enlightened sexism. She notes that the history of feminism is like the ebbing and flowing of the tides, with a period of regression often following a major victory. In the 1920’s, with the passage of the 19th amendment, advocates of women’s rights had just won one of their most significant victories, and it was followed by one of the most major regressions. Fueled by the rapidly developing advertising industry in the United States, young women pulled skimpy dresses on over flimsy underwear and went out to dance in ways thought to be way too suggestive by their parents. In the process, for the first time in the history of feminism, mothers and daughters were placed, and placed themselves, in opposition to each other. This pattern would be repeated again and again.

Indeed, Faludi argues that feminism has never fully recovered from this splintering – even Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which is often thought to have ignited the modern era of feminism, was written in a spirit of daughters observing the quiet despair of their mothers and not wanting at any cost to have that happen to them. In the centerpiece of the article, Faludi describes the recent election for the president of the National Organization of Women as more than just a choice between candidates but rather as a battle for generational supremacy and, in the process, a referendum on what the very nature of feminism ought to be. During the build-up to the election, older members described what they saw as a refusal of the younger generation to respect all they had worked for, while younger members wondered openly whether they themselves would ever be taken seriously. Older members wondered why younger members were wearing exactly the kind of clothing they struggled for years for women not to have to wear, while one young woman told about how she didn’t even realize she was a feminist until she attended a talk given by another young woman in, yes, fishnet stockings and high heels. Older members expressed concern over those younger members who, rather than working to open up possibilities specifically for women, wanted to throw out the gender binary altogether.

As with so much of public dialogue these days, one is left feeling there is way more common ground than is being acknowledged. All these women wanted to be respected, not to be forced to conform to someone else’s concept of what they should look or act like, and to work for equity and equality. Yet somehow, the differences are getting emphasized, and in the process communication is being undermined.

Upset by how she was portrayed in Faludi’s article, “Courtney,” a young feminist, offers the following response: “If you want to find feminism-in-action, you need to go where some of the most dynamic work is–environmental justice meetings where young leaders are talking about the disproportionate effects of climate change on women of color, safe houses for former sex workers where young women are helping one another get out of “the life,” veterans who are bonding together to fight back against military sexual assault etc. There are young, feminist-identified women doing community and political work every single day, aware of their legacy and confident about their future.” [ ] Many people of my generation have spent years working toward the day when what truly matters is who you are and what you do rather than what you look like. In that context, it would seem counter-productive if not downright paradoxical to mumble complaints about what shoes are being worn by women doing such vitally important work to bring respect, equity, equality, and the right to determine one’s own destiny to girls and women.

Last night at our annual Winter Solstice Presentation, I watched the members of the Upper School Rock Band take the stage, and I mean take it. They walked up like they owned the place, made darn sure everything was set to their liking before beginning, and then crashed their way without any visible inhibitions through Blink182’s “I Miss You.” I would challenge anyone of any generation to deny the power of these girls. Indeed, anyone who attempted it in front of them would do so at their own risk.

Personally, I will confess I still don’t 100% understand the perspective of young feminists who have bought into enlightened sexism, and I continue to believe that teaching media literacy is of the utmost importance. But I also continue to believe in the power of simple, honest and respectful communication. In that context, as I open my eyes and really look around me, I am beginning to think that maybe there is something to cheer about after all. I once again hold the hope that we are indeed a bit closer to reaching the goal I mentioned a year ago: “achieving a genuinely enlightened and post-feminist era in which people of all genders can simply live their lives as the people they were always meant to be.”

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Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby. Sort of.

“But two years ago, a year and a half ago, my oldest daughter, who was 4 ½, and my husband were watching UConn men, playing on the television in the living room, and my daughter walked in the room and looked at the TV and said to Steve, ‘Are those boys playing?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And my daughter said, ‘I didn’t know boys played basketball.'” – Rebecca Lobo

The UConn women’s basketball team has a long, strong tradition of excellence and is inarguably one of the driving forces in popularizing women’s basketball over the past two decades. Rebecca Lobo is a major part of that tradition. After graduating, she was one of the founding members of the WNBA, the longest-running professional women’s league in U.S. sports history. She now works for ESPN as an analyst focusing on the WNBA and women’s college basketball  and was inducted this year into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Born in 1973, she is one of the first generation of girls to grow up in the Title IX era. In many ways, she epitomizes the progress that has been made for women athletes over the past four decades.

As many of you may know, the current UConn team has won 87 games in a row. That includes two staight undefeated seasons and an average margin of victory of 33 points. Back at win #71, they broke their own record for the longest winning streak in women’s college basketball history, and they are now closing in on the longest winning streak in college basketball history period – 88 games  set by John Wooden’s UCLA men’s team from 1971-1974.

So I was delighted to see a recent copy of “TIME” magazine had an article on the streak and quickly flipped the pages to read it first. I was stunned, shocked, and appalled. The article on one of the greatest teams in basketball referenced no less than five men, including a baseball player, before finally including a woman in the 6th paragraph. Renee Montgomery, the star point guard who now plays professionally for the Connecticut Sun and TEO Vilnius in Lithuania, was quoted on… PMS.

As Jeremy Deason, SBS Director of Athletics, succinctly put it: “Ugh.”

In her blog article “Sports Authority,” Teacher Leaders Network member Nancy Flanagan muses on an unlikely connection, the sports and edublogging worlds, stating, “Sometimes, ed policy world feels like the jocks’ table in the cafeteria, however–men tossing out stats, men wrestling with contrary views , men confidently making strong opinion plays and engaging in a little verbal back-slapping.” and continuing to quote and analyze a variety of sports metaphors in what I saw as as tongue-in-cheek attempt to quote-unquote “get the guys’ attention.” Ironically, one of the men commenting on her blog wrote, “your lack of background knowledge of sports caused you to miss my point,” detouring the conversation away from the role of gender in both sports and blogging, calling her out for not being a sports expert  and in the process unintentionally making one of her points.

So it all comes down to women’s voices. Girls’ and women’s sports have indeed come a long way, and there is lot to be proud of. That Rebecca Lobo’s daughter takes it for granted that girls play basketball well is just one example. But as long as the sports world continues to be dominated by men’s voices (75% of ESPN viewers are male) and as long as many of those voices, whether consciously or unconsciously, diminish the achievements of female athletes and exclude female fans, we still have a long way to go.

references [the TIME article online]
Twitterers can follow Renee Montgomery at @Da20one

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Filed under On Athletics

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

It’s my first December at SBS – and wow – we certainly get into the holiday spirit here! With gingerbread houses, secret snowflake gift exchanging, and hilarious faculty skits, SBS dives right into the holiday celebration and the barn is no different.

This past Wednesday we held a “Ho-ho-holiday” Gymkhana for the girls (I came up with the Ho-ho-ho part). Mina dressed up as none other than jolly ol’ St. Nick, leading Moon (our little white pony) around, loaded with saddle bags of Christmas presents for all the good little girls and boys. Marilyn and I donned elf hats and turned Sweetie and Treasure into Christmas reindeer to become Santa’s little helpers. For several hours the barn was filled with laughter and cheers as the girls played individual and team games on horseback (such as musical stalls, sit a buck, and relay races). It was lots of fun for all involved, whether riding or simply watching!

On Saturday, the Community Riding program held their own little holiday party. First they played some gymkhana games followed by a potluck party to which everyone was invited. It was a far less rambunctious gathering than our gymkhana on Wednesday, but it was a great party nonetheless and it was fun to meet and talk to more community riders than I normally have the opportunity to see.

In my last post I mentioned our upcoming IEA show and our home hunter/jumper show – I am sure you would love to know the results! IEA was a great success and the girls were the reserve champion team of the day! Our hunter/jumper show was a lot smaller than the last show, but many of our girls took to the show ring to demonstrate their skill and talent. In most classes, a Stoneleigh-Burnham girl placed in first or second (or even both).  We are very proud of our riders – they always represent our school so well by performing at the highest level and by demonstrating superb sportsmanship and horsemanship!

Many wishes for very happy holidays over the next few weeks!



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On the Importance of Making Misteaks Mistakes

In a recent article in the New York Times, “Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School,” a teacher at New Canaan Country School speculates on what would happen if they wrote, “Mistakes are made here often” on the school sign. Of course, the presumption is that no family would go near the school. “But,” the teacher asked rhetorically, “Why not?”

Part of my job is to talk with students who have been late for a commitment. One such girl had been late for a rec skiing fitness class, and her explanation was that a friend in the class had forgotten her sweatpants and she stayed with her until the problem was solved. Understanding her good intentions, I still wanted to make the point that her friend’s problem (one that, after all, was not that serious) didn’t have to make her late, too. I was surprised to see her push back, affirming that she didn’t really care whether or not she got into trouble, that her friend had needed her and that came first. At some point, you have to trust your instincts. After all, she wasn’t blindly following her friend into risky territory and almost certainly would not have done so, she just wanted to help her find a pair of sweatpants to borrow and as a result showed up five minutes late for sports. So I decided to leave her with one last, “Well, just do your best to meet your obligations,” and left it at that.

The incident stuck with me, so I shared it with Catherine who, as it happens, is the rec skiing coach. “Oh,” she said upon hearing the student’s explanation, “that’s fine. All they had to do was tell me.” Instantly, a million alternative scenarios for the conversation I could have had with the girl went swirling through my head. In particular, what if I had thought to simply ask, “Well, did you tell Catherine about the sweatpants?” I resolved to find the girl, let her know how Catherine would have wanted her to handle the situation, and also let her know that I admired and respected her for sticking up for herself and affirming what she valued in her life. That conversation, brief as it was, went well.

When I first became a parent, my father and I used to have long conversations about how much I wanted to do the best job possible in raising my son. He said of course he had felt the same way with me, but also warned me not to be too hard on myself when I inevitably failed. “If you do a perfect job in raising him,” my dad said, “he will be completely unprepared for an imperfect world.” Recently, one of the SBS teachers, hit with several near-sleepless nights in a row, was getting down on herself and having all kinds of self-doubts about how good a job she was doing with her own child. I shared my dad’s words of advice with her, and the tension instantly drained from her body as she thanked me.

So maybe it worked out in some ways that I didn’t handle the situation perfectly with the girl who was late for rec skiing. If I had, perhaps she wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to stick up for herself, to advocate for the importance of friendship, or for that matter to hear an adult affirm and express respect for what she had done. Moreover, in seeing me acknowledge my own imperfections and seek to make things right when needed, maybe it will be easier for her to do the same when she needs to. Perhaps we don’t want to write “Mistakes are made here often” on the school sign. And clearly, some mistakes have far more serious ramifications than others. That said, I see every reason to acknowledge and embrace the “right kind” of mistakes. For after all, it is only when we make mistakes that we know we are taking risks, stretching, and working to become our own best selves.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education

Beautifully Different.

There is an annual event and online initiative, started in 2009, called #reverb10 that challenges bloggers (new and old) to reflect on the year and consider what’s next. Each day they provide bloggers with a prompt to help keep the creative juices flowing. While I have not been actively participating (we’re already on December 10th and although I’ve known about the project for awhile, I’m just starting now) I have been watching the site for inspiration and ideas.

As I checked out the prompts that have been offered over the last ten days the one from December 8th caught my eye:

December 8 – Beautifully Different

“Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful” (Author: Karen Walrond)

As I think about all the things that make Stoneleigh-Burnham School different I am struck by how true the statement is. It really is our differences that make us “beautiful.” It is the comfort you see on the faces of our girls in the hallway, the fact that we are all girls to begin with, the size of our community and the connections between students, faculty, and staff . These are the things that make us Stoneleigh-Burnham School, these are the things that makes us different and the things that make us beautiful.


We know how to work hard

and when to have fun.

We know when to take ourselves seriously,

and how to foster strong relationships between our students and faculty.

We know the importance of recycling.

We are an international school...and we like it.

We recognize our talents. (Student work: Mikae Sasano '01 "Monkey")

We embrace our traditions. (Stoneleigh-Burnham Sweater Girl)

We are the Owls, we are Stoneleigh-Burnham School, we are beautifully different.

Photos courtesy of Anna ’13 and Bree ’12.

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The Roots of Pride

December is always an odd month for schools with boarding programs. We have less than three weeks of classes, not even enough time to complete a full unit, and it seems that students are filling out travel forms for the next vacation before they’ve even completely transitioned in from the last. The month is especially difficult for many middle school students, as young adolescents tend to thrive on routine, and the feeling of unceasing change can unsettle them even more than older teenagers.

Yet it is also a festive time. Several students announced the first day of Hanukah, and one of them passed around bags of chocolate coins. A student turned 13 and became a teenager, sharing chocolate chip cookies and receiving congratulations. Another student announced Saint Nicholas Day and described her family’s traditions for that occasion which include putting out shoes the night before in the hope they will be filled in the morning (they were). And as one student who was Christian began a countdown to Christmas in the “Non Sequitur” folder for semi-random email announcements, another student who was Jewish began to post messages explaining which night of “(C)HAN(N)UK(K)A(H)” it was in a friendly point-counterpoint.

Students have been signing up for Secret Snowflake, and will shortly draw names to see for whom they will anonymously be making cards, getting little gifts, and generally doing acts of kindness all through the next week. On the way to volunteer at the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society on Thursday, one of the 8th graders reminisced about every single present she’d received last year – and every single present she had given. I myself still display a beautiful origami bird mobile by my desk, a present from a Snowflake many years ago. In less than one week, perhaps still laughing from the annual holiday faculty/staff skit, students, faculty and staff will mingle together in the Capen Room craning their necks to find the person to whom they will have been giving presents while wondering if the person shyly approaching them is their own Snowflake. That evening, we will sit in awe at the dancing, acting and musical skills in the Winter Solstice presentation, which this year will include middle school music groups for the first time ever.

One of the annual rituals of the school is for Student Council to “Adopt-a-Family,” which is often a single mother with young children; the students raise money to purchase both holiday presents and food for a special dinner. This year, we decided to extend fundraising by a week, which was fortunate since the middle school had only raised a minimal amount as of last Friday. Knowing these kids, and knowing the age group, I was pretty sure this was not how it would end up. Most years, in fact, fund-raising in the middle school for Adopt-a-Family starts slowly and rapidly builds as the week progresses. This year was no exception, and yet this year will stay in my heart for always.
As of Monday, the middle school had donated $1.75. On Tuesday, I announced a challenge grant, offering to match up to $30 in middle school donations. This called attention to the $1.75, and several students felt so embarrassed for the school and so badly for the family that they went scrounging in their pockets for whatever small change they could find, assuring me they would be back with more when they could. By the end of the day on Tuesday, they were up to $4.25 (not including my matching grant). On Wednesday, they more than doubled their total again, reaching a somewhat more respectable $8.90.

After lunch on Thursday, one of the middle school Student Council representatives told me, “This is pathetic. Can I make an announcement?” I told her she could, and she began to write a message on the white board. But while she was writing, three students came up to me with huge smiles on their faces. “Here, take this,” one of them said, and handed over $15. All three of them had taken out a significant portion of their weekly allowances in order to be able to make a donation. They started a sort of run on the bank, and before the end of study hall, our total donations had far exceeded $100; by the end of the day, we had accumulated nearly $160 (not counting my challenge grant nor Catherine’s own willingness to add a contribution). This is more money than the middle school had raised in the six previous years combined. The students happily erased my own messages from the past three days and filled the portable white board we use for announcements with updated figures with multiple exclamation marks after them and with multiple messages expressing their pride and delight.

I had the chance to speak to a former middle school parent tonight at the Community Holiday Party. Her daughter is now a sophomore, and frequently seen in front of Housemeeting either making announcements or, in her role as a Class Officer and member of Student Council, running the meeting and/or participating in various skits about topics such as recycling. She told me her daughter, along with several other members of her class who began as 7th graders, takes a fierce pride in her status as a future six-year Senior; the girls are already planning to walk in to graduation all together, arm in arm. When introduced to a pair of 7th grade parents, she said nostalgically, “Oh, seventh grade.” and for a quick moment both of us were lost in memories.

Each class year has its own formative moments that help define the character of that group. For the Class of 2013, one of them was an attempt to set a world record for the longest Duck-Duck-Goose game, and we spent a long Sunday afternoon that spring with two video cameras running constantly as students circled the group tapping heads, signing out and back in on a sheet of paper meant to serve as proof that not one of them took a break for more than five minutes per hour. Near the end, they turned so that they could be giving each other back rubs while waiting to see if they would be the next “Goose!” and as we all counted down “10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1!!!” they began a wild and happy dance I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye. While they never did receive formal recognition for the feat as some of them never did return the parental permission form (an important lesson for me for the future), they did learn something about perseverance, taking a strong pride in their accomplishment.
I predict that as the Classes of 2015 and 2016 progress through the school toward the day when they will walk down the aisle for their own graduation, this year’s Adopt-a-Family drive will be serving as a similar defining moment. Both groups, each in their own unique way, have always shown a generosity of spirit and a fierce insistence that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, and this year’s Adopt-a-Family drive will always be there for them as a reminder that, when push comes to shove, their big hearts and generosity of spirit can make magic happen.

Happy Holidays!

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