Monthly Archives: May 2011

CD Collection

I placed an order for a CD today. On the face of it, not a particularly compelling event, although increasingly unusual in these days of iTunes and mp3s. This CD is special, however. It includes six songs written, arranged, and performed by Zoë, one of the six-year seniors.

I remember her as a seventh grader, seated on the stage behind an old keyboard, accompanying herself on an original song she had written for that year’s seventh grade play. Lurking in the shadows was a character who would steal that song, present it as her own, and attempt to use her minions to face down any possible challengers. But in my memory, it was one of those moments when you suddenly develop tunnel vision and it is as though a spotlight illuminates one person only and the rest of the world ceases to exist. One of the smallest kids in the class, Zoë nonetheless brought a simplicity and a bravery to that performance that commanded attention.

At tonight’s performance, one of the audience members asked her how long she had been writing songs. “Since elementary school,” she said, “but they weren’t very good.” I think back on that long-ago seventh-grade song, and I do remember it as being simple melodically and harmonically. At the same time, I remember the melody as being beautiful, singable, something that would stick in your mind and keep a smile on your face. Was that song as complex and original as the songs she presented this evening? Not even close. But was it good? I think so, anyway. And even Mozart had to start somewhere.

A lot of good music does get created here. I have a number of CDs going back to the 90’s covering music created at this school. Most of them feature the rock bands and other instrumental groups I’ve taught, but there are also some Octet CDs as well as solo recordings. At this time of year in particular, I well remember all these kids, some of course now grown up with kids of their own. I remember the bond we created and the music we made as if it were yesterday. The other day, the Cranberries song “Zombie” came up on my Pandora stream, and I was shocked and sad not to hear the rat-a-tat of drums that Hilde brought to transitions, or the aggressive hiccups of Cass ’s vocal as she sang “Zombie – ee –ee; what’s in your head?” I had completely forgotten what the original sounded like, and I genuinely believe it pales in comparison. I have similar experiences listening to “Hands” by Jewel (where Kate’s vocal was extra inspired due to the autographed picture of Jewel our bass player had given her), “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn (where Mary’s soaring reprise of the chorus was spot-on perfect), and “Venus” by Bananarama (you simply haven’t heard this song until you’ve heard it with Katie’s plastic toy saxophone solo). And so on.

I can envision Zoë’s parents, beaming with pride as they listened to their daughter’s live performance Tuesday night, flowers cradled in her father’s arms. I can envision other audience members, whose broad smiles told me they would have enjoyed the music no matter who was performing it. For those of us (like her parents) who remember her as a seventh grader (and younger), of course there was an element of nostalgia. But bottom line, the songs are genuinely good, complex and sophisticated, and Zoë’s voice more than up to the challenge of performing them. These are the kinds of songs where the more you listen, the more you hear.

During the question-and-answer session, Zoë’s mom asked if she envisioned a long and rich career such as Bob Dylan is celebrating as he turns 70. Knowing that the answer wasn’t necessarily expected of her, Zoë nodded and said she thought she would. So I’ll confess, I’m buying this CD in part as a photograph of a moment in the career of a promising musician. I’m buying this CD in part as a reminder of her personal journey at our School. I’m buying it because I know I will simply enjoy listening to it. And I’m buying it to continue to add to my collection of unparalleled musical memories here.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

1 Comment

Filed under Performing Arts, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Every Single Day

The general consensus is that this year’s Talent Show was perhaps the best in recent memory. There was over an hour of acts – mostly singing and dancing. After the school’s Big Band and Upper School Rock Band opened up the show, one of the next performers was one of the seventh graders, singing Adele’s current hit “Rolling in the Deep” and accompanying herself on piano. Unfortunately, there were issues with her microphone, and she ended up deciding to stop. Greg Snedeker, our instrumental music teacher, got her set up with a new mic, and, to cheers and applause and cries of her name, she started in again from the beginning as though nothing had ever gone wrong.

In faculty meeting, looking back on the day, several teachers commented on what an amazing moment it was, how good she sounded, what poise she had, and how supportive the students had been. Jeremy Deason, our Athletic Director, leaned down toward me and, knowing I would understand the full context of his remark, said, “Every day,”

As expected, I let my thoughts fly back to a day earlier in the year when two of the middle school students were making a presentation to the faculty requesting the right of the seventh graders to vote in elections for the Student Council President. During dicusssion prior to voting our approval, several teachers commented how impressively articulate, well-spoken, and able to think on their feet these students were. Jeremy leaned down and said to me, “Every single day. That’s what we see in the middle school every single day.”

This year, we split the annual Middle School Performing Arts Presentation into two nights. Friday night, May 20 was for the dance and music classes, and the Theatre 7 class will present their three original one-act plays on Tuesday, May 31. Every student takes all four performing arts (including both instrumental and vocal music), though fall is for Theatre 8 and Dance 7, while spring is for Theatre 7 and Dance 8.

Friday night, the show opened with the Dance 8 group performing in the Bollywood tradition.  I was up just in front of the stage waiting with the seventh graders in Rock Band for our turn, so I could see them up close. As they wove their arms together and apart, spinning and swirling and morphing into different configurations, moving together and apart, I could see not only the complexity of a long dance but also the smiles on their faces as they went through their combinations. They were most definitely having fun!

The Rock Band, Ensemble, Combo, and Guitar Ensemble all did a great job, with an eighth grader’s saxophone solo in the Beatles’ song “Day Tripper” a particular highlight. Just before the Select Vocal Music group sang their final selection, Tony Lechner, their beloved director, turned to share with the audience that the next song, “Find the Cost of Freedom,” has been written by Stephen Stills following a visit to a Civil War battlefield, and that it seemed well suited to current times. If you know the song, you know how powerful it is under normal circumstances. I am quite sure I was not the only one with misty eyes who didn’t ever want the song to stop.

The full Vocal Music group sounded amazing as well, and more parents than I can count told me how impressed and moved they were. One father wordlessly embraced Tony before finally finding voice to thank him, and then turned to express amazement and admiration to Greg on getting every single student on stage playing an instrument and sounding so good together. I’m sure Ann Sorvino, our dance teacher, also got many compliments for the Bollywood dance, and the Rock Band also received due praise and plaudits. Being privileged to be part of the Peforming Arts Department, I know how much time, effort, and care it took to put this show together, on the part of both students and teachers.

On repeated occasions this week, I have seen teachers from various other schools express the desire to work “in Bill’s school,” and I certainly understand why. Part of it, given the context where several of the remarks were made (a webinar with Teacher Leaders Network on non-core assessment), is the work we’ve done in designing our assessment system, and part of it is the fact that we don’t think in terms of “core” vs. “encore” but rather in terms of one unified program.

But the biggest part of why we are such a strong school comes down to students. As some visiting teachers observed about the Theatre 7 class, “They’re so self-possessed!” And as Tony said in thanking parents for sending us these wonderful kids, “They’re talented, they’re smart, they’re nice, and they’re fun to work with.”

Every single day.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

Leave a comment

Filed under On Education, Performing Arts, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Total Fail

Several weeks ago, as I was leaving the Performing Arts Department meeting, I was nearly struck by a flying Coke can with two-inch-wide triangular paper wings and a tail barely an inch high. “It’s for study hall!” shouted an 8th grader as she ran by, closely followed by a friend. “I, umm, I don’t doubt it,” I said. “But what exactly are you doing?” “I’m trying to make an airplane. But it won’t fly.” Her friend, examining the tiny tail scotch-taped loosely to the back of the Coke can, suggested she make it bigger, and they ran off to make the adjustment.

The next morning, she saw me right before homeroom, immediately slumping her shoulders and looking more dejected than I would have ever thought possible for such a generally happy and optimistic person. “Bill,” she said, “My airplane was a total fail.” “Not necessarily. Did you learn anything from it?” I asked her. Momentarily surprised, she told me, “No.” I responded, “Then you’re right. It was a total fail. I’m sorry.” She looked at first shocked, then pensive, and we continued on to our respective homerooms.

As it happened, it was later that morning that Liz Feeley emailed me the speech she had delivered at the Upper School Honor Roll Assembly. Her theme was that she had constantly taken risks but had never ever failed. “Uh-oh,” I thought to myself, thinking of the 8th grader and her airplane. “What have I done?” But a close reading of the speech suggested that Liz was using the word, “fail,” in a very specific way.  What she was really talking about was how she reacted to setbacks, how she used them to create new opportunities and as a springboard for growth. For her, to fail seemed to have one primary meaning: to accept a given event as failure. It reminded me of an old saying about Bobby Layne, the great Detroit Lions quarterback from the 1950s, as mentioned in Paper Lion by George Plimpton. Layne, it was said, had never lost a game, really. Time had just run out on him a few times.

Similarly, Robert Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that “The TV scientist who mutters sadly, ‘The experiment is a failure; we have failed to achieve what we had hoped for,’ is suffering mainly from a bad script writer. An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don’t prove anything one way or another.” When Catherine (Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School teacher) teaches scientific method to her Life and Physical Science classes, she works hard to communicate this basic truth: the goal of an experiment is not necessarily to have your expectations confirmed, but to learn something going forward.

Still, I can’t help but think that the 8th grader whose airplane never did fly had probably learned more than she realized. If nothing else, she had presumably learned that paper wings can support a paper airplane better than a metal Coke can. Perhaps, if we hadn’t both been focused on being on time for homeroom, we would have had time to pursue the conversation further. However, that moment of pensiveness she exhibited gives me hope. Maybe as she continues to grow up and make her way through life, she will take with her the concept that whenever you learn, the experience is not a total failure. Maybe, in short, our conversation itself was not a total fail.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

Leave a comment

Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

Taking the Plunge

This posting is adapted from a speech given at an Upper School Honor Roll Assembly by Liz Feeley, Associate Director of Development and Alumnae Relations.

If I were a student here, what aspect of the SBS culture would captivate me?  What would my story be?  I fully appreciate the importance of finding one’s voice, and I hear stories from alumnae about their experiences of discovering their  own voices.  But in my case, you need to understand that I grew up one of seven children, so if I didn’t learn quickly to have a voice I would never have survived in my family, let alone the real world.

What I truly love about the culture here at SBS is that you are encouraged to take risks. That is my story. Taking risks and never failing.  Did you hear me right?  Did I just say never failing?  I did.  Let me tell you why I believe this to be true.

After 12 years of Catholic schooling, I guess you could say I had learned to play it safe. I was an A student, an accomplished athlete, and a friend to everyone. All of these things seemed to come easily, naturally for me. However, I can’t really say I was living on the edge or stretching myself.  I guess you could say I was the proverbial big fish in the small pond.

So one summer day before my senior year, while on vacation in New Hampshire, my father, four siblings and I were climbing out onto a jetty, a row of rocks that jutted into the surf.  At this point, I had an epiphany: I never take any risks.  So despite my fear of the ocean (rarely having gone in above my waist), I stripped down to my bathing suit, handed my clothes to a brother, and dove in.  My family was amazed.  But now that I was in the water, I had to swim to shore!  I started to simulate swim strokes, but it probably looked more like flailing.  I swam and swam and swam towards shore and eventually I got very tired.  But I was only half way there.  My dad shouted out to me, “Are you OK?” “Yeah. I’m tired though,” I breathlessly responded. He said that I should just stop and get out. “I can’t, it’s too deep and I’m scared,” I shouted back as I continued with my struggling strokes.” “Liz, just get out of the water!” he shouted again.  “I can’t, it’s too deep and I’m scared.”  Exhausted by his own attempts to reason with me, he finally yelled, “Liz stand up!”  I was confused, but I listened and I stopped haphazardly splashing at the water and I stood up.  The water, embarrassingly enough, was below my waist. My siblings were roaring with laughter, and I eventually joined the chorus.

So, I took the plunge, then I stood up.  And I was still here.

Clearly, this turned out to be a safe risk, but I didn’t know it when I took the plunge.  And life is kind of funny that way.  We need to realize that the risks we take don’t need to be life-threatening to be scary.  We might fall short, or shallow, of our goals, but that is when we can learn the most.

Taking a risk can involve knowing when to go towards something, but it can also mean knowing when to leave behind what might be perceived as the holy grail. After college, my first job was at the University of Notre Dame. I was 23, I didn’t even have a driver’s license and I had landed this incredible opportunity as an assistant coach.  This job was supposed to pave the way to a lucrative head coaching career in big time basketball.  However, after one year I risked losing that lucrative career and decided it was time for a change.  I never did make it to big time basketball, but I didn’t fail.  I found my niche in smaller colleges where I spent the next twenty years coaching college basketball at outstanding academic institutions.  I took the plunge, I stood up and I was still here.

One early morning, in the fall of 2006, I was out for a walk and passed by a house where they were building a beautifully structured addition.  I said, “That is what I want to do: build things.” Eight months later, I retired from coaching and opened my own business in home renovation and design.  I still had my beautiful home, but I sold my cool car and bought a truck, my fine clothes were traded in for jeans, and I learned a great deal along the way.  People hired me for some amazing projects over the next two and a half years. But then business slowed down as the economy tanked, and I needed to close the doors to my business.  I took the plunge, I stood up and I was still here.

Now what do I do?  I had given up a secure career for a short-lived business.  Lo and behold, less than two miles from my home, was another golden opportunity.  A small independent girls’ school was looking to fill a position in Development and Alumnae Relations.  Once again, I didn’t know a soul and it was going to be a great challenge to learn and adjust to an entirely new career path.  But I took the plunge, I stood up, and here I am at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Would anyone dare say I failed?

I hope I didn’t make all of this sound easy. Because it certainly was not.

I believe there are key elements to taking risks and never failing:

  • You need to surround yourself with good people – I have been incredibly fortunate in that department.
  • The harder you work, the luckier you get.
  • Prepare yourself and do your homework. These were not blind risks I was taking. I was always learning from the incredible people around me.
  • It is OK to be uncomfortable. Learning is uncomfortable in an exciting and weird way.
  • There is a difference between being prepared, and being ready – I’d rather be prepared.
  • The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.
  • I learned this last one from Pete Carill, a legendary men’s basketball Coach I worked with at Princeton University – “Whatever you are doing is the most important thing that you’re doing while you’re doing it.”

So I encourage you; take lots of plunges, keep standing up and you will still find yourself here.

I need to leave you with a poem.  I had this poem on my wall in my office as a very young coach, and with every risk I take I continue to learn more and more about what it truly means.

Risk
Anonymous

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.

Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;

The optimist expects it to change;

And the realist adjusts the sails.

Congratulations to all of you who took risks this past trimester.  Whether you made honor roll or not, if you took risks, stood up and are still here, you did not fail.

– Liz Feeley, Associate Director of Development and Alumnae Relations

1 Comment

Filed under Alumnae, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Valuing the Feminine

Several weeks after I started 7th grade at Amherst Regional Junior High School, one of my friends tapped me suddenly on the shoulder and whispered urgently if kindly, “You’re carrying your books wrong.” I glanced down at the books nestled securely in the crook of my arm, and wondered what he meant. “Look!” he said, pointing ahead of us. I looked. Every single boy was carrying his books held against his hip, while every single girl was carrying them in the crook of her arm. I wondered how I had missed the “boys vs. girls” memo that clearly everyone else had received, and transferred my books to my hip. As my muscles tightened in an effort to stabilize the rickety load, I understood what this was all about. “I’ll do it,” I said to myself, “but the girls’ way is still better.”

On a recent Thursday, in reaction to an online flap over a J. Crew ad depicting a mother playing with her five-year-old son who had his toenails painted pink, in response to a blog posting I wrote on that topic, and in support of those of our students who show a range of gender expression, many faculty and staff members painted their own toenails pink for the day. Students certainly picked up on it, and in my experience were uniformly (and in the case of my Humanities 7 class, vociferously) supportive. I had had a similar reaction several years ago on a “Dress Like a Student” day when, following my advisees’ advice on how best to look like Lenna, the randomly-chosen advisee like whom I was dressing, I wore blue fingernail polish.

On the face of it, I thought at the time, wearing nail polish should not really be that big a deal. So what was going on? Oddly enough, a long-ago youth baseball game provided insight. My son’s 11-12-year-old summer ball team had suffered several consecutive frustrating losses, and as the players put increasing pressure on themselves to perform, some began leaking tears if they struck out or dropped a fly ball. One day, a parent showed up with a dress belonging to his son’s sister, and informed the entire dugout that the next player to cry would be made to put on the dress. “If you’re going to act like a girl, you might as well look like a girl.”

For all the progress we have made in many ways, our society still does not value the feminine. There’s the ongoing and widening gender-based wage gap that flies in the face of the increasing number of women enrolled in and graduating from college with topnotch records. Furthermore, from both sides of the political fence, one of the predominant criticisms of Barack Obama has been his leadership style. People call on him to take a stand and bend people to his will. People lament that he spends too much time listening, taking in information, and working to bring people together. People, in short, criticize him for adopting what has been termed a “female” model of leadership rather than the more traditional “male” model.

Meanwhile, Sally (our Head of School) is praised for many of the same leadership qualities for which President Obama is being criticized. Of course, she is a woman. But beyond that, our school, in elevating girls’ voices and in encouraging our students to become their own best selves, does by its very nature value the feminine.

What exactly is meant by “feminine,” of course, is another question altogether. Earlier this year, I asked the Humanities 7 class to brainstorm words associated with “woman” and with “feminine.” Only, unbeknownst to them, I had switched the order on half the sheets. The results were striking. Every single word but one associated with “feminine” had a negative connotation when students thought about that word first, but when the word came second, the students’ brainstorming brought forth positive and negative connotations in approximately equal proportion. Similarly, the overall view of women was more positive if not preceded by thinking about the word “feminine.”

These are girls whose grandmothers brought forth awareness of the feminine mystique, whose mothers grew up in the Title IX, who take it as a given that women and men are and should be equals. Ask them point blank if there’s anything wrong with being a girl and see how they react. I would strongly suggest posing the question over your shoulder with your back to them, wearing a good pair of running shoes, having already stretched and warmed up. And yet, deep within them, without their even knowing, is some level of mistrust of that which characterizes their own gender.

<long pause>

Need a tissue? I did (good thing I’m not a player on my son’s youth baseball team).

What can we as a society do to create the context these girls need in order to truly, fully and completely become their own best selves? I think it has to begin with valuing the feminine. There’s nothing wrong with listening, collaborating, and bringing people together, or with liking pink and wearing make-up. I myself do four of those things regularly. Note too that by valuing specific behaviors rather than “a woman’s leadership style” or “girly girl fashion” we also open them up to anyone. Valuing the feminine, ideally, will eventually lead to valuing a range of behaviors regardless of the gender of the person exhibiting them.

So when their teachers wear nail polish, the students instinctively know that in order to make this statement protesting pointless gender stereotyping, we first have to be willing to be perceived as “feminine” by the majority of society. I think that’s one of the reasons why it means so much to them – solidarity not just in breaking down barriers but also in joining them on their side of the barrier.

However you carry your books.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

1 Comment

Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

On the Same Page

As I reflect on the year, I am surprised to realize how few conferences I’ve attended. Professional Development is an integral part of my daily life, but these days 95% of it or more takes place on my phone. For all the derision it draws from various quarters, Twitter has become my most valuable tool. I manage quite nicely to avoid the inane, and find more links to articles and blogs, more thoughts and observations on teaching (and also on social justice), than I could ever hope to read in one day. “Teacher in a Strange Land,” the EdWeek blog by Nancy Flanagan, and anything ever written anywhere by José Vilson would on their own make the service worthwhile. Fred Bartels‘s work in starting OPuS1, the Online Progressive unSchool, is fascinating and inspiring, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach‘s work with passion-based learning is also years, perhaps decades ahead of its time. And I come into contact with so much more, deliberately including a range of viewpoints so I don’t get seduced by the echo chamber of my own instincts and opinions. I try to give back, too, sharing links to my own blog as well as to particularly thought-provoking pieces.

However, this May is the exception that proves the rule as I am attending not one but two conferences. I already went to “Sharing Best Classroom Practices,” held recently at Andover, which my son attends. And I am preparing to attend a special Symposium on the history and future of the middle school movement which is being held in Georgia.

The notion that young adolescents need and deserve to be taught differently than older teenagers actually dates back to over 100 years ago, when the idea of a Junior High School came to be. However, the middle school movement itself sprung up around 1960 based on the revolutionary (at the time) idea that simply adapting high school teaching methods wasn’t good enough; we needed to start from scratch and develop a newer model that responded more holistically to the actual developmental needs of young adolescents. In the words of Rebecca Dickinson, the Founding Dean of our Middle School, we need to remember that they are not “little high schoolers.”

At the forefront of the movement, then as today, was John Lounsbury. He has to be seen to be believed. Over 80 years old now, he remains vital, speaking off the cuff so gently yet convincingly that you can’t imagine any caring person would do anything other than what he is advocating for, until you suddenly realize he has just indicted the Federal government and half the school boards in the country for educational malpractice and outlined a plan for reform so visionary that only a handful of teachers anywhere are currently doing half of it.

One of the biggest professional thrills of my life, that didn’t directly involve students anyway, was when a book came out this year including quotes from John and me on the back cover (here’s a webpage that includes both quotes). Just to be mentioned on the same page as him was more than I could ever have hoped for. So when I got a personal email from him in late March, inviting me to the Georgia Symposium and suggesting they needed my voice there, I was stunned. I describe it as the equivalent of a Betty Friedan calling you up and hoping you would be willing to participate in a conference with her on the future of feminism. After staring at the screen for several minutes, I shook myself and called my wife to ask her if she agreed I could in no way turn down this offer. She agreed.

In typical John fashion, the portion of the Symposium that honors his own accomplishments will be kept to a minimum. A new book on the history of the middle school movement will be unveiled the first day (all participants receive a free copy), and then we will move on and get to work for the remainder of that day plus the next two days. Small groups will discuss a carefully selected succession of topics, formulating ideas and recommendations for the profession and, most critically, teacher preparation. I will have to leave before the closing ceremony, when everyone signs a copy of a final statement based on our collective work; the Middle School Performance is that evening and I need to be there for the opening curtain. I know I will nonetheless leave inspired and brimful of ideas for the future. Look for at least some of them in this space beginning Wednesday night, May 18.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

1 Comment

Filed under On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

That Age

I do not usually wear a jacket and tie to chaperone duty, but this was a special occasion.   As Greg Snedeker (our instrumental music teacher) and I approached the Capen Room at the appointed meeting time of 5:45, it seemed awfully quiet. But when we walked in, we saw one of the Juniors and her father; one raised her arms and pumped her fists while the other clutched a camera and smiled at us. Soon, students were milling about and taking picture after picture, often drawing cheers and whistles as they entered the room. It was Prom night at Salisbury School, an all-boys school in Connecticut.

Mr. Larson, our Dean of Students, had ordered a bus for us, and one student had brought the sort of music player that takes D batteries, not those wimpy AAA things. Conversation somehow managed to flourish above the music, except when an irresistible sing-along song came on. “It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…” I’m not quite sure even the school’s Rock Bands are that loud (though to be fair, equally enthusiastic). Cheers filled the bus at the first glimpse of Salisbury, Greg and I noted a sudden influx of perfume, and soon I was sprinting toward the hockey rink to ask a random Salisbury student where exactly we were supposed to go as some of the students applied last touches to make-up.

Two students that I knew of had dates, and as they hugged and one was putting on her wrist corsage, Rita, the Student Activities Director from Salisbury, greeted us warmly as usual (you get the feeling from her that anyone who works to bring joy to the lives of teenagers must by definition be a good person). She mentioned that she had only been able to persuade about three students from her school who didn’t have dates to come nonetheless. Greg and I assured her that was probably not going to be a major issue. It wasn’t. It seemed that half or more of the kids on the dance floor were from our school at any given point in time, in clusters of various sizes.

Somehow, the students knew when it was 10:00 and they all flooded the lobby outside the room. Instead of just checking in and running away as you might expect, they hung out together for a bit until some internal alarm clock went off and they all went streaming back into the room.  They would be equally prompt at 11:00, theoretically our departure time though Greg and I first gave them an extra 10 minutes and then let them run back inside to grab strawberry shortcake or chocolate cake when they realized dessert had been put out. Touchingly, one of the girls there with her boyfriend was the first to ask if it was time to go (probably a factor in the kids getting those extra 10 minutes). And the other girl volunteered to leave her boyfriend temporarily to go fetch stragglers.

The ride back was uneventful, and it took a moment to unload the bus as several students tried with mixed success to wake up enough to be functioning and others worked to pick up as much trash as possible. As they streamed by the bus driver, the Thank you’s flowed unbidden, each one drawing a corresponding “You’re welcome.” One day student, wrapped sleepily in a blanket, returned to ask if she could stay overnight, worrying that she didn’t want to disturb anyone. I told her I could text Mr. Deason, the night’s Administrator-on-Duty, and she looked relieved and turned to go into the school.

As Greg as I watched them dancing, putting their hands up in the air sometimes, nonstop smiles lighting up their faces, I was transported back to a time when I used to feel sorry for adults, suspecting they simply weren’t experiencing life as fully as teenagers. “You know,” I said, “I totally get why some people say they would never want to be that age again. But I still can’t help but feel they’re forgetting moments like this.” “All ages are good,” responded Greg, and I readily agreed. Still, we had to feel lucky that we get to work with teenagers, especially the ones who go to our school.

See flickr for pictures of our girls all dressed up and ready to go!

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

Leave a comment

Filed under School Happenings