Author Archives: Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Women’s Film Series Project at SBS

Ever since I came to Stoneleigh Burnham School in 2010, my interest in Women’s Activism has grown rapidly. I have spent three years engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations with many talented and promising young women. This school understands the importance of guiding young women to express themselves and seek change outside of the classroom. My goal is to bring in ideas and perspectives that will leave a lasting impression. We, as SBS girls, may live in a place where our voices can be heard, but in the outside world, women are often silenced. The oppression of women is not just a foreign issue, but increasingly present in the United States, where supposedly, “all citizens are created equal.” My frustration towards our gender’s oppression has inspired me to spread awareness to the SBS community. When I was given the opportunity to create a CAS (Community Action Service) project for the IB program, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to harness my passion for women’s activism and use it to inform the school. Ultimately I decided to create a Women’s Film Series, in which I would air inspiring documentaries and movies about the struggles of women around the world and the women who have led in the fight for equality.

On January 12th, the first night of my film series began with a showing of the documentary “Miss Representation,” directed by Jennifer Siebel. This is an inspiring film about the misrepresentation of women in the media. The students who attended this showing were outraged by how women are often portrayed in movies, TV shows, magazines and newspapers. Even the most powerful women in the United States, and throughout the world, have been bombarded with disrespect and mistreatment. The students left the film, feeling the need to seek change. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start this Film Series.

In the coming weeks I will be showing the following films: “Iron Jawed Angels,” directed by Katja von Garnier, which depicts the struggles of Alice Paul, founder of the National Women’s Party, to achieve suffrage in the United States. I then will show “Half The Sky,” a two-part documentary inspired by the book “Half the Sky,” by Nicolas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This film documents the journey of author Nicolas D. Kristof and several celebrity activists into ten countries to tell the story of inspiring women. The women that they interview have lived in a world where forced prostitution, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence have taken place. The last film on my list will be aired during Women’s History Month. I will be showing the documentary, “Gloria: In her Own Words,” directed by Peter Kunhardt. This film chronicles the life of Gloria Steinem, a prominent figure in the Women’s Movement. So, when this Film Series has finished, I hope that this community will have been inspired to become women’s activists and strive to seek change around the world.

– Mary P., 2013




Filed under Gender, International Baccalaureate, On Education, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

From Calgary And Back: A Letter of Thanks From PB

The Owl has finally landed, and our three excellent speakers are back in the fold. In preparation for the competition in Calgary, our work actually began in July: Caroline Lord and Mary Pura enrolled in Debate Camp and spent the week writing, polishing, and rehearsing. Jane Logan spent a month acting in New York City and New Haven. They return to us with rave reviews, very high marks, and several awards. I am still receiving emails from other coaches about these three. They loved their performances, and they loved the way they represented SBS in Canada.


It starts with the Head of School, administration, and faculty—thank you for supporting their voices. An undertaking this large is never effected seamlessly, and I hope their return to Academia flows smoothly.

Karen Pleasant—thank you for navigating these waters. This trip threw you some weather challenges, but you communicated with all concerned parties, and you remembered all that was necessary. Your instincts were, in a phrase, spot on.

Kim Mancuso–thank you for your assistance with Jane Logan and Lillian Hellman’s translation of The Lark; your genius has now spilled over to our program. Bravo!


Mary Pura made the finals in After-Dinner Speaking. Jane Logan made the finals in both After-Dinner and Dramatic Interpretation.  Caroline Lord finished the week with a strong B+ average. There were 132 speakers and 44 teams from all corners of the earth.  Jane, for the second straight year, has been invited to join the US team which will compete, next March, in South Africa.

Thank you SBS—-it takes a village!

– PB (Paul Bassett, Debate Teacher)

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Filed under Performing Arts, School Happenings, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

You Are What You Read.

Don’t tell my students, but we’re two days from the start of school and I just finished my last summer reading book for IB English. It’s not that I’ve been lazy— in fact, the only thing I have accomplished this summer is reading books. All my usual ambitious projects— cleaning the attic, weeding through the outgrown baby toys and clothes, painting the fence— remain unfinished. I spent the summer chasing my kids, and reading. Usually I grabbed my chance for focused quiet during naptime and nighttime, but I have also become a master at reading over the sound of screeching or the “Dora” theme song (I figure if I’m going to ignore my kids at least they will see me reading a book, which sort of counteracts the television they’re watching, right?).

I grew up in a household of readers. Downtime on family vacations was spent in separate corners of rented houses, everyone getting lost in their own books, together. As a mother, among the things I frequently feel grateful for (My kids ate a green vegetable today! They are healthy and happy! No one snuck into my bed tonight!) is the fact that my children love books. At four and two, neither of them can read yet, but they each recite their favorite books, word for word, from memory. This is the earliest version of the intimate ways we absorb the books we love.

There’s a lot of research and writing about the effects on young people over the course of a summer spent reading or not reading. The simplified finding is that reading, like many other things, is a practice that students should continually cultivate, both in and out of school. I mean, it doesn’t take a PhD and a research lab to understand this concept: don’t exercise for three months and it will be really hard to run three miles on the first day of soccer practice; don’t practice math or French or reading over a long period of time and…you get the picture. And even more research is being done about the ways that on-line reading is affecting and changing students’ learning. Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, was my faculty summer reading book. Much of his research and discussion focuses on the in-depth learning that happens when you read a printed book from cover to cover. Reading an on-line text, he argues, often leads to shallow and distracted learning, largely due to our personal habits when sitting in front of a screen, and to the hyper-links that invite us further and further down the rabbit-hole and away from our original task.

One of the books I re-read this summer is Beloved, by Toni Morrison. I hadn’t read it since high school, and I was thinking about teaching it in my senior IB English class this spring. Now, I last read this book twenty years ago. I could have told you it was a good book; I could even have told you, at the most basic level, what it’s about: a former slave and her ghost baby. But that’s all I remembered. I still had my book from high school, so that’s the copy I began to read. Here’s what happened: as soon as I entered the book, I realized that I did remember it. But not remember it like I could recite the plot to you— not that kind of remember. Remember like a world I had once inhabited; a world that I used to know very well— from a distance it seems fuzzy, but once you step in, you realize, “I’ve been here before.” Morrison’s language— her descriptions of the forest and river and haunted house and the shed where her baby died (Dear God, the shed!)— it all felt like it was mine again. Of course it helped that all my underlining and margin notes and vocabulary definitions were still there (and my notes were good! No wonder I became an English teacher!). I don’t remember the class, I don’t remember the teacher, I don’t remember if I was forced to do all that notation, or if I did it on my own; but I do remember the book. This is what happens when you really read and absorb a book that you love: it becomes a part of you, forever.

I don’t need any amount of published research validating my work as an English teacher. You won’t find ebooks or hyper-linked texts in my classroom. All my students need is a book, a pencil, and an engaged brain. When they read a text from start to finish they learn how to follow a sustained argument or narrative; they learn how to find threads and make connections across 300 pages; they learn syntax and grammar and vocabulary; they learn, with in-depth study, that less truly is more; they learn to quiet their brains in this world that clatters so loudly around us. Not every student loves to read; but every student will learn from reading, whether she likes the books or not. My hope for all of them is that they discover those books— whether in or out of class—  that truly catch them; books that they don’t just read, but absorb, as I did, so many years ago with Beloved.

As I walk the long halls of our school, sometimes I catch myself marching in rhythm with my two-year-old daughter Willa’s voice in my head. “Each peach, pear, plum,” she chants. “…I spy Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard. Mother Hubbard on the stairs, I spy…”

I am a grateful mother indeed.

-Shawn Durrett, English Department Chair

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, On Parenting, The Faculty Perspective

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.

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

Horses we Love

The following was originally published in the Spring 2007 Bulletin. At the time, Samantha Pleasant ’02 was  Associate Director of Admissions and a riding instructor here at SBS. Her words still reflect the feelings of so many students and alumnae that we wanted to share them here with you. We hope that you enjoy reading Sam’s account of her own relationship with horses and what she observed in our students during her time here.

I was never fortunate enough to have had my own pony as a child, although I certainly spent enough time wishing for one. But every day, rain or shine, I had a barn of 60 horses ready to love at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Even before I was a Stoneleigh-Burnham girl, before I was a Bonnie Castle Camper…I was a girl truly in love with the sight of a horse. I spent every waking minute that I was not at school at the barn rolling wraps, grooming horses, hand-walking, doing turnouts and of course, riding. I had a favorite horse for every hour of every day: Stoneleigh-Burnham School gave me a thousand opportunities to call a horse my own.

As I grew older, I learned that horses recognized footsteps and I could count on my horse to be standing in the closest corner of her stall, ears perked and her soft whiskered muzzle pressed against the iron bars. Today it’s still the best moment of my day. Each afternoon I take the few minutes I have before I begin teaching to press my face into her chestnut side and let her wrap her neck around me as I lean into her steady shoulder. During summer evenings, I’ll walk to the barn after dinner – let the slow lazy sun sink behind the trees and enjoy the quiet. She’ll have settled for the evening, finished her hay while her eyes start to droop and she’ll wait for me. I can spend hours grooming her, loose her from her stall without seeing another person or hearing any other footsteps beside our own. She’s content to stand as long as I hold a soft brush to flick the hairs from her coat and and a carrot to thank her. Her dark chocolate eyes follow my movements, as she carefully watches me. She knows that I can be trusted, that I am here to give care, worry over cuts and nicks, and satisfy her needs. I know in that moment what connection is, I can understand the beauty of horse and rider. Secrets spoken aloud lose their power; I keep this time with her private.

Not every day is like this, sometimes time and real life can interfere with want and I find myself barely stopping by on my way to an appointment, or traveling will leave me without checking on her for days at a time. But the consistency of knowing that your horse will be waiting when you return, just as ready, just as eager, is testament to the quiet acceptance horses can grant so easily.

Horses love unconditionally and pass no judgement, and that quiet whoof of breath into your hand can make the minutes and the hours melt away. Your physical limitations disappear in a half pass or a soaring jumper course and there is nothing but appreciation for the body beneath you that has given you wings. I’ve learned compassion and patience from my horses over the years and even more from watching the strength they can inspire in our students. Girls spend their adolescent years searching for voice, purpose, connection and an individual sense of accomplishment.

Stoneleigh-Burnham is a place for girls to foster connections with these uniquely dignified animals. We are able to continue these traditions year to year because of compassionate people who understand the importance of the relationships between girls and horses. These people are our Director of Riding Mina Cooper, our alumnae and the patrons of the SBS Riding Program, and they continue to give of their time and their hearts to support a program that gives young girls purpose.

Our school is a magical place where adults can help students combine a love of learning and a passion for horses. As one student remarked on her senior page, “I wish leaving Stoneleigh was as easy as leaving the ground. Thank you…”

-Samantha Pleasant, Class of 2002

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Filed under Alumnae, Equestrian Program, School Happenings, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Biscuits and Gravy

I, like many of our students, left home as a young adolescent for a boarding school. I, like many of our students will, then continued this educational journey away from home as I went on to college. However, unlike many of our students, I never actually left home.

I grew up within the cozy confines of Rhode Island. My “leaving” for boarding school consisted of driving 40 minutes south of my hometown to Newport, Rhode Island. College took me just barely outside of New England for two years in upstate New York at Colgate University, a mere 5 hour drive from home. Yet, it was right back to New England (with a sigh of relief) for my final two undergrad years at Williams College, only 3 hours from a home-cooked meal.

So how, you might ask, did I end up in San Diego, California on the last day of our recent winter holiday? Well, I drove. I drove for four days. I drove from Greenfield, MA to Kentucky to Oklahoma to Arizona to San Diego, California. I drove for approximately 50 hours through 13 different states.

I drove in awe, looking at the changing landscape, terrain and climate around me. I grew up sailing, so the idea of seeing without limit in one (even all) directions was not new to me, but experiencing this on land was completely foreign. The road ahead seemed to stretch  to infinity- where were the trees, the curves, the hills?

As it turned out, the road (I-40 to be exact) did not go on forever, only to New Mexico.Immediately after crossing into New Mexico, the terrain became dynamic, rising into countless mesas. Flat topped mountains! A novel concept for the eyes of this New Englander. Furthermore, there may not be snow in Greenfield, MA right now, but I can tell you there is snow in New Mexico and Arizona. Never before did I think of snow when I thought of the Grand Canyon. And the Grand Canyon- this is truly something you need to see to believe.

Not only was this trip eye-opening for me in shattering some of my misconceptions regarding the geography of my own country, but really for the first time in my life, I found myself somewhere other than home. I can go pretty much anywhere in New England and feel comfortable. But that first stop in Kentucky- I was out of my element. Not only was I suddenly unsure of what to expect from the people, but there was gravy at the breakfast table!

I had this experience on a 3,000 mile trip across my own country. Not only are many of the students at Stoneleigh-Burnham traveling to us from different states, many are traveling a lot farther than 3,000 miles!

This week at Stoneleigh-Burnham School is International Week. During International Week, we celebrate the diversity of cultures that comprise the Stoneleigh-Burnham community. Our international students have shared with us the dance, the traditional dress and the food of their home countries. We celebrate all that our international students bring to the Stoneleigh-Burnham community, and it is wonderful.

However, having completed my recent cross country voyage I ask that we recognize something else too. Let us also celebrate the sacrifice, courage and confidence our international students demonstrate when they make the decision to leave home in order to attend Stoneleigh-Burnham. They aren’t just continuing their educational journey a few hours from home but on the other side of the world.

Sara, road trip day 3, Texas.

Sara Plunkett, Intern, Admissions Associate and Coach

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Filed under Admissions, School Happenings, The Faculty Perspective

10,000 Hours.

The following was originally delivered to students, faculty and staff at the opening of Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s fall Honor Roll Assembly. 

Thank you for allowing me to speak about why we are celebrating certain members of our community today. Honor roll is clearly about grades: certain grades either do or do not put your name on a list of academic achievement. That list, in turn, lands you at this ceremony receiving a certificate and applause by your peers.

Thinking about the nature of a grade is very confusing. How many of you have said one of the following: “I got a B on that last history paper”, “I got a C- on my chemistry exam”, “I got an A on my English oral presentation.”

As we have begun to police ourselves on the proper use of English grammar, I would like you to think about what I just said. I “got” an A, B, or C. “Got,” as if you were a submissive recipient of the grade.  I “got” an A, in grammatical terms, signifies that the “A” passively happened to you. As if you woke up on Christmas morning, ran downstairs, grabbed a present from under the tree, opened the box and exclaimed, “Look! I got an A,” as if it was a puppy or sweater or some other gift that someone had given you.

If we are exercising proper grammar usage, we should not say, “I got an A,” but rather I “earned” an A. That, I, as an individual, actively participated in my achievement. That little designation makes you think about that grade in a different way. So, with that in mind, what does it mean to earn a grade?

In 2008, Malcom Gladwell published a book called, Outliers: The Story of Success. In his book, he tried to explain why some people attain astonishing success, recognition and achievement. The book was fascinating to read and since I finished reading it, I have been thinking a great deal about Chapter 2: The 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell argued that a person, any person, could succeed if he or she had the time, resources and dedication to doing so. Gladwell argued that by dedicating 10,000 hours, or 20 hours a week for 10 years, to a single pursuit you could achieve success.

Think about that. 10,000 hours. It may seem like a life time, but it’s not. Since finishing the book I have begun to look at my own life in terms of 10,000 hours. For those of you who know me well, you know that I am successful in a lot of things. I am a competent, knowledgeable career historian, I am a professional cook, an elite nationally recognized athlete, a fairly competent photographer and I speak a second language, Spanish, more or less fluently. I know that none of these things were a gift. I had to dedicate years of time to all of my skills and interests in order to get to achieve the success that I have today.

I started studying history when I was in 7th grade. I remember that class vividly. It was mostly a civics class where we learned about the 3 branches of government and famous Americans. I loved it. There has not been a day since where I haven’t been studying, teaching or reading about history. Even getting up on a Sunday morning and reading the newspaper, listening to NPR on the car radio or turning on the TV news when I get home from work is an act of studying history. So when I think about whether I have spent 10,000 hours immersed in history, I think, yes, I probably have invested that much time. I agree with Gladwell that in 10 years of dedicated study I have achieved success as a history teacher. I have also realized that if there is anything in my life that I hope to master, that I can be successful in a new venture, as long as I am willing to put in the time and the effort of 10,000 hours.

Gladwell cites some interesting examples in his book. One that struck me was Bill Gates. Did you know that Gates started programming computers when he was in 8th grade? He was fascinated by the new technology and what it could do. He went on to graduate high school and matriculate at Harvard. In college, he really didn’t have a direction, but spent all of his time in the computer lab. Part way through his college career, he took a leave of absence to start a computer company, Microsoft. He never returned to Harvard. Gates, one of the world’s wealthiest and most innovative people, wasn’t given his success. He earned it through hours of dedication to his passion.

Clearly, I cannot fully apply Gladwell’s theory to all of you. You do not have 20 hours a week for each one of your classes, nor have you had the time to take all of your subjects for 10 years, although in some disciplines, you might be close. I cite the “10,000 hour rule” to illustrate to you that you can be a success in everything and anything you set your mind to, as long as you make a concerted effort and give sufficient time to your courses. You may not, for example, be doing particularly well in your 7th grade French class, but if you want to and you are willing to put the effort into your studies, by the time you graduate from college you could be headed for a career in the United Nations as a translator. Here in high school, you are in the process of achieving success.

So, what does all of this have to do with earning grades and being here at the honor roll assembly? Everything. The people we are recognizing today have put in the time and dedication to achieve high grades across the board. Although everyone may  have had an “easy A” class, in which earning a high grade was not a challenge, every one of the students honored here today also had a number of classes in which they had to work extremely hard and put in extra effort in order to earn success.

To be on the honor roll, each person who is going to come up here today has put herself on the path of the 10,000 hour rule and that is something that truly deserves recognition.

-Karen Levitt, Chair of the History Department

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, The Faculty Perspective