Monthly Archives: June 2012

Growing Out of Over-Thinking

The following post was originally published in our Spring 2012 Bulletin. It was written by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw, a graduate of the class of 2010. 

20 mph sustained winds and 40 mph gusts twisted the disc through the sky in every direction. With winds strong enough to pick my entire Ultimate Frisbee team off the field, the disc seemed to have a mind of its own, making catching, never mind any semblance of strategy or “flow,” a hard task. It was a difficult day of Ultimate, and even under the warm California sun, my team – Disco Inferno, was growing frustrated. Then, in our fourth and final game, I found myself flinging my body horizontally through the air and landing with the disc firmly in my hands. In Ultimate, we call this “laying out” and while I had slid or tumbled across many fields in the past year and a half to catch a disc, there was quite a difference between these scrappy grabs and a real layout. Laying out wasn’t just jumping or falling any which way; it was its own graceful species. My catch didn’t win us the game; it didn’t even lead to a point, but for the next few days, every time I felt the soreness in my shoulders, I felt a little pride from that moment.

A week before traveling to this windy tournament at Stanford University, my coach had been reviewing proper layout form with our team. He had told us that if we constantly think, “I want to layout,” it will never happen in a game. Instead, we must stop thinking and start feeling only the need to catch the disc, whatever way we can. This was how layouts occurred. I can’t really say that my first legitimate layout was a profound moment in my life; but I can say that the more I pondered my coach’s words, the more I saw how his advice applied to much of my life these days.

When I was asked to write an essay about my own “growth” since leaving SBS, I tried to think of significant moments in the last two years, but my mind kept coming back to the present, to this semester. As a second year student at Brown University, many of my friends are feeling the stress and limbo-lostness of the “sophomore slump,” but I’ve found it hard to relate to these sentiments lately. I believe the growth I’ve undergone is realizing that the reason I’m finally able to throw myself across the field for a disc is the same reason I finally feel completely happy about how I spend my time and energy at college; I’ve stopped over-thinking. I’ve stopped trying to be the “college Bryna” I imagined for myself when I was a student at SBS, and am going after what makes me happy and fits the person I want to be today, instead, while using everything I learned at SBS.

From what I’ve heard, Stoneleigh Burnham is growing in many ways itself these days. I was so excited to hear that SBS placed second in the Green Cup Challenge, and that the school will be represented by Jane Logan in Australia, for debate and public speaking. These are things that make me so proud to be an SBS alumna. The new International Baccalaureate program is a tremendous sign of growth, and along with growing enrollment and changes throughout the school, SBS is moving in an exciting direction. But all of these changes also mean that every time we, as alumnae, come back to visit, this little school may be a little different from the one we remember. A year ago that may have made me nostalgic; today it just makes me excited to see what comes next. Real growth can’t occur without tremendous change, and though I admit I’m a little jealous the IB program didn’t exist when I was a student, I am so excited to see Stoneleigh-Burnham expand and change shape.

As I said before, the person I am now is very different than the one I imagined for myself two years ago. I thought making a positive impact in the world required that I be a serious person involved in “serious” pursuits. While I am an Environmental Studies concentrator and hope to work in this field, this is the first semester that I’ve given up over-thinking whether I’m doing the “right” things with my time. Outside of class I play Ultimate Frisbee, and though we take the sport seriously, we also wear sparkly “flair” to tournaments, play Zip-Zap-Zop with the other team during halftime, and value the Spirit of the Game more than the score. And these days, when I’m not studying or playing Ultimate, I’m writing and performing sketch comedy in Brown’s troupe Out of Bounds, or writing satire for our all-female comedy blog on campus.

I suppose I’m doing sillier things with my time than I ever imagined. But I’m also happy to see myself becoming someone who can take risks and make leaps without over-thinking exactly where she’ll land. I know I have SBS to thank for much of this, and I can’t wait to be back on campus for graduation, proud to be witnessing all the ways SBS and my fellow alumnae have grown in ways different, and better, than I may have imagined.

Bryna Cofrin-Shaw graduated in 2010. She is a sophomore at Brown University where she is concentrating in Environmental Studies.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, College Prep, Graduation, On Education, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Vigorous Love and a Frenzy of Renaissance

Spring is often an intense time of transition in kids’ lives as the school year ends, and as such is frequently marked by rituals such as the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony, Upper School Awards Ceremony, Vespers, and Farewell to Seniors at Stoneleigh-Burnham, Baccalaureate in my son’s school, and of course Commencement in both schools plus thousands of others. Another important marker of transition for young people of the Christian faith is Confirmation, and my niece went through that ritual this morning in her church. The similarities to some of our school ceremonies are striking but unsurprising – identifying and celebrating what makes each kid special, marking the bond they created with other, marking the bond their advisors created with them, and always looking to the past as the crucible which formed us as well as the future which shines with such promise. As these young people, only one of whom I had ever met (my niece!), shared memories of their baptisms, their journey through the year in Confirmation classes, and personal perceptions of their special gifts and how they planned to use them in service, the sense of community was striking.

In the deeply moving Baccalaureate speech he gave at Phillips Academy, retiring Economics teacher Carroll Perry said, “Good people who become intelligent, reasoned, thinkers are the key to what most of us want for our world. Many such young adults will walk across the great lawn tomorrow… My generation did not do what it might have to put you more at ease, and for this I am deeply sorry… [But] there has been progress, and there will be a lot more. The cynics forget that people like you are coming on to the scene, and that you view today’s challenges not as insuperable problems, but as your stewardship.” Jeremy Deason, a former Athletic Director, echoed a similar theme in his graduation address to the SBS Class of 2012 when he focused not on what the students have learned but rather on what the students have taught him. And I told one of my advisees at the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony that just as we in the middle school profited from her thoughtful ideas, “the world would do well to listen” to her. There is undeniably incredible power in teenagers for those who choose to see it and enable them to use it.

Various speakers in my niece’s church today spoke of how vigorously we love these kids, and how one day they will lead a “frenzy of renaissance.” Karen Suchenski, the Humanities 8 teacher, pointed out to me this weekend the important role teachers play in building community – in helping our students not only find their voice but also be their own best selves – in helping them become “Good people who [are] intelligent, reasoned thinkers.” During their time at their school, Stoneleigh-Burnham’s Class of 2012 (as well as that of Phillips Academy) have been just that. So when I look around me and wish we were making much more rapid progress toward a truly respectful and equitable society, I take comfort in seeing these young people moving out into the world. Those of us who have nurtured them will miss their grace and presence in our daily lives, but know our loss is the world’s gain.

And yet we do want a sense of permanence to the community we have worked so hard to build. So we join with Obehi Utubor ’05 in her beautifully sung benediction to the graduating Seniors, hoping and trusting they will indeed both “Go forth… and return safely.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Graduation, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

As Best We Can

I still have vivid memories of the first SBS Vespers ceremony I ever attended, 26 years ago. A graduate of a public high school, I was wholly unprepared for the depth of emotion, the sheer, inconsolable sadness some of these kids were feeling. When I graduated, we were all going off to parties afterwards and were still looking forward to a whole summer of fun together before heading off to our various colleges and life destinies. I knew our true separation was inevitable, but it still felt like a long ways off and was easy to put out of my mind. These kids, on the other hand, were about 14 hours away from saying goodbye to people who had truly become family to them, people with whom they had lived 24/7, sharing the ups and downs of their lives and relying on each other for the kind of deep down solid support you always seek but don’t always find in life. And now the Class of 1986 was saying goodbye with a virtual guarantee that they would never again be all together in the same place, and some of them would really and truly never see each other again. The closest friendships, of course, would survive, and others would be renewed at reunions. But caught up in separation anxiety, it was hard for them – and for that matter, for me – to keep that in mind.

I am writing this blog on Sunday night, May 27, in the town of Andover, MA. My car is crammed with stuff my son and I loaded out of his dorm room (not the first such trip this spring) in anticipation of moving everything else out when he graduates a week from today. As he was counting shorts and shirts to make sure he’d have enough clothing for the last week, I thought I detected a glimmer of disbelief. I know for sure that as he contemplated the very last academic task he would ever complete at Andover, especially given the incredibly intense pace he has been setting for the past few weeks, he shook his head slightly with wonderment.

Though it seems like a natural progression and just the right time for him to be graduating, I still share many of his feelings. Last night, after his final track meet, I drove in to “My Brother’s Pizza Place” where the owner, after greeting me, asked the ritual question, “Hot Veggie?” On my way out, the owner called, “Was everything fine?” and I responded, as always, “Excellent.” Tonight, I went to the Starbucks, the frozen yogurt place, and then to McDonalds. It seems I’m putting off going home, and I suppose I am. It’s reminiscent of two years ago when I dropped my son off after Thanksgiving break and made stop after stop until I had no more excuses to keep from going the rest of the way home. I wrote a blog about the evening, looking back on the day we first dropped my son off and moved him into the dorm for his first term as a boarder, and I read through it tonight. The big difference – then, I didn’t want to return to a house full of emptiness. Tonight, I don’t want to leave a town I’ve grown to love as a second home.

We focus hard on students as graduation approaches, and rightfully so. It is their day, celebrating their accomplishments, marking in many ways a passage from childhood to adulthood. Yet graduation is also a rite of passage for those of us caught up in the lives of these alumni/ae-to-be. For six years, as I’ve rounded the corner by the meeting room on my way back up to Jesser with coffee and a plate of food, I’ve met the smiling faces of the Class of 2012 on their way to lunch, and a lump forms in my throat as I envision the school without them. And if Andover is first and foremost my son’s home and a place to which he is likely return throughout his life, he is not the only one about to leave it behind.

But he will, just as the Seniors of Stoneleigh-Burnham will drive or be driven off campus on the afternoon of June 8. Over the summer, they will all visit each other, text each other, Facebook each other, send off pictures of what they are doing. The potential permanence of the threads that connect them will become more apparent. And as they head off in the fall to their first days at their new schools, the whole ritual will start all over again – for them as well as for us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, Graduation, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

What’s Simple Is True

The middle school recently celebrated Founders’ Day, a tradition initiated (logically enough) by the 10 founding students. Seven years ago this month, they asked if future middle school students could have a special day off just for the middle school, to have fun and feel special and to remember the Founders. Since then, traditions have built up and although MOCA (middle school student government) technically plans the day from scratch each year, the schedule generally comes down to breakfast and a movie, tie-dying t-shirts, a barbeque and an afternoon of fun and games. Each year puts their own stamp on those traditions, but the general outline stays pretty much the same.

Six year seniors.

This year, the students asked if they could invite the Seniors who were former middle school students to join them for Founders’ Day. We agreed to ask them to join us for lunch, and they joyfully accepted. So it was that I left the Garden Cinema early to zip back to school and ensure the barbeque was lit and food was ready to go. The six-year Seniors arrived at Bonnie’s House about the same time as I did with these huge smiles on their faces, and shortly later they were enthusiastically playing softball down on the diamond despite having neither bat nor ball.

Before too long, the first wave of middle schoolers also arrived, with Hank helping out at the grill while Andrea returned with the WAV to bring back another couple of groups of students as Ellen, Karen, and Tony helped keep track of everyone. It takes a while to feed four dozen students and their teachers, and as some students patiently waited for burgers (beef or veggie) to come off the grill, others who had already finished formed an impromptu band in Bonnie’s House, ran around on the field, posed for pictures with six-year Senior Big Sisters, and generally found ways to make their own fun.

Founders’ Day this year followed close on the heels of another day off, the all-school celebration of spring and the Earth that has come to be called Spearth Day. As that is the day when yearbooks get passed out, the realization that the end is coming all too fast settles in uncomfortably. For all we say time flies, the fact is there is a kind of timelessness to a school year and it seems, for better and for worse depending on the day (mostly for better), as though it will last forever. But of course it doesn’t, and signatures captured in yearbooks – and drawn in Sharpie on Founders’ Day t-shirts – are in a way an attempt to capture and freeze time itself.

Stoneleigh-Burnham School 7th and 8th grade students.

This year, the middle schoolers are somewhat more jittery than usual about the approaching summer vacation. All of the kids – this year’s 7th graders, the returning 8th graders, and new 8th graders have forged deep and lasting friendships, and the idea of giving up 24/7 contact can be really scary. One current 8th grader periodically looks at me with achingly haunted eyes and says she does. not. want. vacation. to. start.

I’m no different, really. As I was exercising this evening, I suddenly stopped in the middle of a jumping jack and ran upstairs to pull out a ten-year-old CD, recorded by the upper school rock band then known as PW Rock. I alternated between prepping and listening as the voices of Mary Dooley, Nancy Ko, and Katie McClary filled my living room. And then my eyes filled as they reached the chorus of Jewel Kilcher’s beautiful song, “What’s Simple Is True“:

The more I live
The more I know
What’s simple is true
I love you

Of course, these kids do love each other, and we love them as well. Rituals between now and the end of the year will help give expression to that love as well as providing plenty of opportunities to kick back and have fun. And of course, students are still actively involved in learning, with greater insight and sophistication than in the fall but no less energy and passion. Still, 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of June 8 will inevitably come. The campus will fall silent. And as I pick up the last few programs from the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony, I will start the process of moving forward, reviewing the year with the team and examining what we can learn from it, planning for next year and getting summer mailings ready to go. But first, I will read every name on the program one more time. I will look over to the corner where my Humanities 7 students started every class. I will pause and blow my nose and stare out into space. Then, and only then, I will turn and walk down the stairs and out the building.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumnae, Graduation, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective