Tag Archives: Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Why I Came, Why I Stay

The other day at Open House, one of the attendees, a public school teacher, asked each of us present on a faculty panel to talk about how we ended up at Stoneleigh-Burnham, and why we stay. Our stories were as individual as we are. My own begins the summer I was getting married…

It was the summer of 2004, and my fiancée and I had just graduated from the M.A.T. program in the French and Italian Department of the University of Massachusetts. Each of us had completed all the requirements for Massachusetts State certification except for the French proficiency exam. My fiancée called up to find out details, and was told that there was a non-refundable fee of $75 and it would be given on one of three possible Saturdays in August, one of which was to be our wedding day. The exact date, she was told, would not be given out until no more than three weeks ahead of time, “for security reasons.” We were about to spend a year living in France anyway, so we elected not to register for the exam. That meant, when it came time to apply for teaching positions, we had no choice but to apply at independent schools. And that’s how I ended up at Stoneleigh-Burnham.

As for why I stay, I gave two reasons. One is that I identify as a gender activist rooted in feminist ideals, and working in a girls school feeds that part of my life. A second is that we know what research and experience tells us works well for kids, and ironic as it may be given that many of the best teaching models were originally developing in and for public schools, at this point in our nation’s history, independent schools are actually freer to apply those models than many public schools. I may deplore that situation, but that makes it no less true.

The person who asked the question quietly mouthed a “thank you” to me, and we moved on to hear Miriam’s story as she was sitting to my immediate left.

Essentially, of course, I was saying that I stay in teaching and I stay at Stoneleigh-Burnham because I believe deeply that what we do matters. I’m acutely aware that not everyone can say that about their job. Just one more thing for which I am grateful this November.

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Filed under Admissions, Feminism, Gender, On Education, The Faculty Perspective

“Are you in or out?”

(title credit from a song in the Disney movie Aladdin and the King of Thieves)

It’s a question 90% of us or more never have to ask. People who are both heterosexual and cisgender (essentially, being comfortable in a gender identity that matches the sex written down on our original birth certificate) never have to go in the closet in the first place. For the rest of us, though, the question may be somewhat stickier. And on National Coming Out Day every year, while some people come out or reflect on and celebrate their earlier coming out, others contemplate it, and still others hold tight to the door’s handle to ensure it remains firmly closed.

It’s a given, of course, that absolutely no one has the right to force the door open for anyone else. And it’s equally a given that when a person comes out to selected people, they need to respect if that person wants to remain closeted in other places. Family dynamics, workplace atmosphere, local cultural attitudes, and more can all can make it more or less risky to come out, and none of those contexts is absolutely uniform across all members of a given community.

Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day on October 11, 1988, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. (Wikipedia) On that date in 2013, The Atlantic published an article by Preston Mitchum entitled “On National Coming Out Day, Don’t Disparage the Closet.” He observed, “The coming out experience can be a precarious time in a person’s life, particularly when one belongs to multiple marginalized communities.” He acknowledges that “Ultimately, coming out is important because it makes the LGBT community more visible, particularly for black LGBT individuals…” but adds that “… focusing so intensely on coming out places the burden on the individual to brave society rather than on society to secure the safety of the individual.”

So how do we secure the safety of the individual? In particular, how can that happen when some religious traditions believe homosexuality is a sin and we also want to respect each person’s individual freedom of religion and their personal beliefs? The question takes me back many years ago to when I was teaching elsewhere, and one of the teachers assigned a project in which kids were to make a poster showing their own personal nine circles of Hell. One student placed homosexuals in her fifth circle, and as several of the students had gay or lesbian parents (no student had, to my knowledge, come out at that point in time), the faculty were concerned. One teacher agreed to talk to her, and it turned out that, while she did indeed hold the religious belief that homosexuality was a sin, she also felt (again, for religious reasons) that every single person deserved to be treated with love and respect.

We have seen the benefits over time of gays and lesbians coming out, serving as examples, and clearing the way for others, and we are currently seeing what seems to be the beginning of such a pattern among the gender non-conforming. Yet, not all of us were cut out to play that role, and we each need to make the best possible decision for ourselves in our own personal circumstances. With that in mind, if our entire country can agree to hold the core values that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and everyone is also entitled to be treated respectfully, that can be the starting point as we move forward toward the ultimate goal that all of us act upon those core values to the very best of our ability.

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, Uncategorized

A Conversation with Spanish Teacher Jess Durfey

(A conversation between Shawn Durrett, Dean of Faculty, and Spanish teacher Jessica Durfey)

You’re starting your 10th year at SBS. What has kept you here for so long?

jkC5Jp0QLPfCDSIP-y6X09QDfJhfbYnu-9LZKU0B-mklNm6h7FxJwhsNzyxMWk2FXwaT7ZV2VuVn1YRd_dhywBGbeYo=s190The community is so tight-knit and because of that there’s such a comfort… it makes teaching a lot easier and more rewarding.

What do you like about being a house parent?

I like having the opportunity to see the students outside of the classroom – it doesn’t necessarily have to be Spanish-related things, but it’s definitely a perk to be able to do Spanish activities and Spanish night with them. I like to get to know them as people. I think they also respect me more knowing me as a person.

Tell me how and when you first got seriously interested in Spanish.

I became interested in Spanish myself as a high school student, which is nice, because I can relate to students. I remember I had this really quirky teacher and it was the first time that it wasn’t just a class – it was people, it was a culture – to me it was more manageable than math, than problems out of a book. I actually don’t remember many of my other teachers, but for Spanish I remember every teacher. I loved Spanish so much that I applied to college as a Spanish major and started right away. I had some amazing teachers at the University of New Hampshire. I lived in Granada, Spain while I was studying. I ended up staying for another two years after college for grad school, and lived in Costa Rica during grad school.

What’s it like teaching Middle School beginning Spanish students?

In one word, it’s fun. They are sponges. They grasp it and go with it. Their energy makes it easy to do fun things. They’re creative.

On the other end of the spectrum, what’s exciting about teaching the highest level of Spanish in the IB program?

I love teaching IB because at that level, they do a great job communicating with the language. I love getting papers from them where they’re able to be critical and express their opinions. We can dive into some pretty cool topics. We just watched a movie called “The Mexican Suitcase,” about some negatives found in Mexico. The photos were taken during the Spanish Civil War, which was a very difficult time for the country and still remains a sensitive topic. My students did an amazing job reflecting on what this movie meant and it was great to see them take something away from it.

In your opinion, what makes SBS girls unique?

They’re not afraid to talk and say their opinions. It makes classes more genuine. People aren’t saying what they think others want them to say. They’re also very open-minded to seeing more sides of an argument, like when studying history or culture.

Tell us more about the trip to Costa Rica that you’re offering to students in March.

K-wSLRPVx5nrNWucIVlAJhIe_n_dEdb49XE7yQgP1iwV_TGGPYr2OhpO2g7NYJ0PawT81FF8oZIGmVXrS3Px8uGWCis=w1266-h547We did a trip to Costa Rica a couple years ago and it was so amazing that we wanted to do it again. We’re going to small town, Puerto Viejo, and we’ll try to immerse ourselves in the town. Girls will get to see how other people live. We’re going to go to a school and work with kids. Depending on what the SBS students want to do, we’ll do some sort of service project or work with animals. There’s a sloth sanctuary and a jaguar rescue center there. We’ll also go to the beach.

How have your international experiences impacted you personally and influenced your work as a teacher?

Living with families abroad was pretty intense. I put myself in a difficult situation and then saw myself through it. I basically became fluent there. I definitely realize that living abroad isn’t easy, and that it’s different for everyone. It’s helped me in my work with the International Program at SBS. I always try not to assume anything about the students.

What are some things you like to do when you’re not working?

I love to run, and we have a nice group of teachers who run together. And thanks to living abroad, I love to travel, and luckily my husband Dave does too. My biggest dream is to go to Chile and Argentina. That’s always on the list. Domestically, I’d love to go out to the West Coast to Oregon – check out the beaches and the forest, and go camping.

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Guest Post: “Believe the Bird” Commencement Address by Anna Schuleit Haber

This year’s Commencement speaker, chosen by the graduating class of 2014, was visual artist and MacArthur Felllow Anna Schuleit Haber. Ms. Haber has graciously given us permission to post her full speech here. “Believe the Bird” was delivered at Stoneleigh-Burnham School’s 2014 Commencement Ceremony on Friday, June 6th in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

 

BELIEVE THE BIRD

Anna Schuleit Haber delivers the 2014 Stoneleigh-Burnham Commencement Address.A squirrel appears on a lawn and sees a nut lying out in the open. Carefully, it looks around and assesses its surroundings. When it feels ready and safe, it moves into the open, aiming for the nut. It reaches it, scoops it up and hurries back to safety. In his book on the brain, “The Master and His Emissary”, Ian McGilchrist describes the kind of attention the squirrel uses here as “open attention”.

Later, when the squirrel sits down with the nut, to crack and break it down, it uses an entirely different attention, a kind of attention that can be understood as “narrow attention”. Both are needed to navigate through this world; both are indicators of the interactions between the two hemispheres of our brains: left and right. The right brain hemisphere is connected to open attention: our skill of taking in an entire scene and making sense of it. The left brain hemisphere is responsible for breaking things down and categorizing everything.

Dear graduating seniors, dear parents, trustees, faculty members, families, and friends — I am honored to be here with you today and to celebrate your graduation. For the past few days, I was sitting in the garden of a friend, thinking about this special day and about you, and I decided that I would speak to you about attention, and types of attention, intuition, about the time during and after high school, and—most generally—about happiness in life.

Walking across a campus like this reminds me of being a student like you. When I was in boarding school, an ocean away from my family and childhood friends, my days seemed to be made of nothing but school matters: assignments, books, late night studies, basketball practice, bakery duty, stacks of vocabulary cards, so many words that I didn’t know. High school in a boarding school, away from home, equaled more than high school had ever meant to me up to that point: it was a sense of school as pure possibility. An opening of the self. It was, to me, the highest version of high school: higher than any place I’d known before, a place of higher learning, higher knowledge, and high growth.

In boarding school I finally became a curious student. And you, too, might have been feeling this same progression in you: that over time you have become, in fact, the kind of student for whom this place was originally created, for whom it had been made ideal. For whom all these buildings had been built and for whom the curriculum had been developed. Each of you is a young woman with a full-fledged story from where you come, who your people are. A story with details, and details with facets of humanity, each one of you different from the next. This place was created for bringing life stories like yours together and making more layered, more evolved, more deliberate stories out of each of you, stories of conscious growth. A place for a community of girls, a place for you who graduate today.

When I was here last October and met so many of you, I felt that this was a special place. I loved your energy. It made me think that high school is truly a place that puts the student at the center of the universe and surrounds him or her with the possibilities of life and knowledge, a place for you to learn to embody the personal and to then to head out to touch the world with and through your life —your lives.

After today most of you will go on to college, and you might think it’s similar, but it’s not. College is bigger, less intimate, more speedy, more layered, crowded, and complicated. Somehow, as you move from high school towards the next step in your journey, you become a more public person. Your career starts. High school is the necessity on which everything gets built, but it isn’t your outward career yet. It is your private career, your chance to learn who you are. You’ve had a most exquisite chance here on this campus, of learning more than the basics. Now things will speed up, and speed you into the lanes of adulthood, which are speedier, riskier, and less neat.

And so I want you to pause here for just a moment longer, pause and celebrate inwardly and with each other, and then take the best of what you’ve been building and making here at this school, during this time, as an investment into the self that you are poised to become: take all these treasures with you as you start your career as an adult student, an adult woman, and a citizen of this world. Once you’re out there in the world, with your treasures of high school under your skin, all the details of your education thus far, I encourage you to make passionate choices that honor this foundation that you have created for yourselves. Choices of schools, friends, majors, direction, and — style. Why do I mention style? I don’t mean the way you dress, I mean the style of self: what kind of woman are you evolving into, what kind of mind are you cultivating, what type of personality are you beginning to be? Whatever the answer, whatever your style and your direction, your very own arc of a journey, I am happy to say that ALL of you will be needed.

That there is a place for each and every one of you out there in the world.

As you graduate here today, you are freer than you have ever been in your life before. More free to make your own choices. After today, you will be seen as adults in almost every sense. You will be expected to be responsible and mature, as people will rely on you. Strangers might ask for your help when you don’t expect it, more than before. The world will simply assume that you have gained the basic tools to navigate through this life, which is not basic at all, but complex.

As graduating seniors, your schedules had already became as full as you thought they could possibly be, and you made it through, and here we are. you have all been “big sisters” to younger students at the same time, you have been mature and responsible for and with others around you, as you grew to be the oldest. Now you will leave here and feel young all over again, in college, or in whichever job you pursue. You might realize that you’re the youngest again, actually. And life might suddenly appear quite large and vast and disorganized around you.

And it is.

So—when you find yourself in a tight spot or crisis, which sooner or later you will, I would like you to try something: try to practice a sense of open calmness before zooming in. Try to first collect and balance your mind and body for a moment, like the squirrel taking in the wider context. Locate yourself within yourself. Then step forth.

When, on the other hand, you find yourself hungry or tired, too tired to be glowing or helpful, don’t be ashamed to withdraw and recuperate. And to do so, you will have to learn to be clear: first with yourself, then with others around you. Clear about your needs, and then kindly straightforward. Learn to take efficient, simple care of yourself. Nobody will be better at this task than you.

And when, perhaps, you find yourself feeling lonely, try this: reach out to someone without expectation, rather than waiting to be reached for. Sit down and write a letter by hand. Go for a walk along a babbling creek, off the beaten path, without your phone. Notice your loneliness with that same open attention, and treasure it. That sounds very hard and strange, but it’s the truth: it, too, is one of your treasures.

When you find yourself bored, ever, try this: be curious about something outside of yourself. Pick something beyond your usual horizon and marvel at it. Divert your attention and let something unlikely into your mind, something to re-arrange your thought patterns and your mind’s habits. The writer Samuel Beckett pushed the boundaries of language, concept, composition in his writings. And he did so by positioning himself in a beginner’s spot: he wrote many of his works in French, rather than in his native English — and he attributed this to his “need to be ill-equipped.” Having been ill-quipped many times in my life as an artist, I can tell you that this is true: if you’re not quite certain of how to do something, but if you commit yourself to the process of it, you will, wonderfully inevitably, make discoveries. And making discoveries is a fundamental ingredient of creativity.

When I was a painting student at RISD I discovered that I enjoy the stretch of time that passes between having an idea, a plan, and realizing it. That the uncertainty of the journey of creating something, the lag between first motivation and later outcome, can be enjoyable, even thrilling. If you are on the path to becoming an artist, too, or any other creative job, I invite you to watch how other artists and makers, older than you, manage to stay true to themselves through that creative uncertainty, i.e. the interaction between right brain open attention and left brain focus and analysis. Look for smart people who know more than you, watch them and see how they work, how they move through the world.

And when something you’re witnessing is great, truly great, when the hair on your neck stands up in admiration for something or someone, make sure to take notice. Learning to pay compliments if inspired, is as important as learning to give honest feedback if asked. Try to become an athlete in your own field, however un-athletic it may be, and by that I mean dedicate yourself to practicing your stuff, over and over and over. When you need help, look around—ASK. Then offer your help back to others who cross your path needing help. They will. There will undoubtedly be times to give back, and it’s rarely to those who once gave to you, but usually to others, in other ways.

Three and four generations ago, our women ancestors in this country, and many countries around the world, began to fight for their right to vote and didn’t give up, a struggle that is hard for us to imagine today. We take for granted their then newly-won right to participate as equals in governments and society, and our natural inheritance of it. As women we all have been given the fruits of women’s struggles of the past, so I would like to ask you graduating girls particularly, to never miss an election: to go out and vote for what you believe in, who you root for, who represents you. Like so many other female writers and artists, Virginia Woolf struggled to shake off her sense of the confinement of her imagination, her creativity, asking herself: “What IS a woman? I do not know… I do not believe anybody knows until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill.”

Along those lines I want to invite you, in your lives, too—to go, if necessary, against the tide. The women who fought for our rights in the past, for us to vote and to be equals in the arts and all other professions, went against the tide. Conditions would never have changed if they had waited for someone powerful to make the changes for them. So don’t miss a chance to engage in dialogue about difficult things — and that’s usually not when difficult things are easy, but when they are difficult to discuss. Point out and pause for injustice whenever you come across it in your lives.

If necessary, go against the tide.

But truly, and most of all, and in all of this: I would like to invite you to be infectious with a good, open attitude. Having a good attitude is not a minor secret skill, something hidden under the surface of your personality, but it is completely and utterly visible to anyone who comes anywhere near you. If you don’t know how to do it, watch those who have mastered this art, and then practice it like the French Horn, or third level dressage. You can actually, really truly learn how to light up a room, and not miss a chance to be genuinely curious. A good attitude goes hand in hand with curiosity, with openness, and with a flexibility of one’s ego.

And even if you’re as considerate and humble and kind a person as you can possibly be—for as long as you can—you might still encounter incredible obstacles for long inexplicable stretches. Then I want you to trust: to trust that none of what you invest your heart and energies in will be in vain. The trick is to shape your destiny with your intentions but to expect nothing directly back—except to be surprised. In Buddhism this is called “the light of the world”: that the karmic fruits of your being will keep arising. But it is your responsibility to see the world with your best, open attention, as the squirrel does before it narrows its focus on the outcome of the nut. To learn to see the choices that you will make.

What lies ahead for you is a road of gains and losses, between which you will make your home. This making of a home will most likely be the most creative and individual act of your lives. Why creative? Because there is not realIy any kind of guidance for it other than your own, so you must use your intuition, intention, and practice. John J. Audubon, in the preface to his guide to birds in America, reminds us that “If the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.” Use your own inner light to shine your way, to stand straight, to stand right up, and stand light and firm on the ground you’re claiming for yourself, the self you are becoming. Take IN the whole scene of your life, as it unfolds. And, “I urge you” said the writer Kurt Vonnegut, “to please notice when you are happy.” Which means, to actually notice when all is well for the moment, when the air is clear.

It is my honor to remind you today, and to remind you to remind yourselves in the weeks and years to come, wherever you may be, that each and every instant is, in fact, a rare moment of creation. That sense of your journey can be, and I hope that it will be, your very own sense of happiness. As if he had known about the squirrel, and maybe he did, wonderful E. E. Cummings put it best:

“(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)”

Congratulations, dear Seniors.

– Anna Schuleit Haber
June 6, 2014

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

Quite a Way to Go

“That Rock Band,” a parent said, shaking his head. Clearly searching for words, he added, “Wow.” It was not an uncommon reaction, and when I emailed my usual post-concert congratulations to the group, I told them about the moment and noted, “Yes, you performed that well; you literally left people speechless.” It’s true, from the first notes pounded out on the piano as they slammed through “Yoü and I” by Lady Gaga, through the last, sweet harmonies held over a cymbal roll and an echoing piano chord as they ended “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars et al, they were amazing, all of them: Bonnie, Charlotte, Heather, Jin, Joy, Joyce, McKim, Molly, Natalie, Olivia, and Susan. And when I pointed out that the vocalists wrote all the harmonies themselves, the speechless factor among audience members rose even higher.

This is just our first performance, just a few weeks into the year. While six members of last year’s group returned and one moved up from the middle school band, four were brand new, and one of those was a complete beginner to her instrument. Yet, they came together so thoroughly and so rapidly that we chose and began working on our next two songs even before the first performance, something we have only rarely been able to do in the past.

As I looked back on the performance with pride, my mind jumped to an evening at the beginning of this past summer. I was at a coffee house in Amherst, and two baristas were working the counter. While one of them was preparing my drink, he commented to the other, “I don’t like it when chicks cover songs.” So many responses sprang to my mind, of which one of the more polite was, “Even songs written by, umm, women?” but I was technically not involved in the conversation and stayed quiet. The other barista was clearly taken aback; after a moment, she said what seemed to be the only thing she could think of in response: “Really? Why?” He paused, far longer than anyone who had just made such a flat declaration had any right to, and came up with, “There’s just something wrong about it.”

Well. There it is, then. That clears that up! The other barista paused a while and went back to wiping down the countertop.

Earlier today, a friend shared on Facebook a link to a video of Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart performing “Stairway to Heaven” at a concert honoring the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. In her posting, she noted that the performance was so good it made Robert Plant cry, and indeed part of what makes the video so moving, beyond the incredible performance itself, is the interspersing of shots of the group members’ reactions to the song with shots of the performers themselves.

I don’t know what that one barista would think of this performance, if he came across it – whether it would simply confuse him and he would think Robert Plant a wimp, or whether it might actually penetrate his male privilege-addled brain deeply enough to make him rethink some of his beliefs. One hopes for the second, of course, but he had quite a way to go.

Family Weekend at our school is in many ways about elevating and honoring girls’ voices as we share what we get to see every day with families who get to see the effects of what we do every day. While the Rock Band performances exemplify what the school is all about, in no way are they the only example. Far from it, in fact – which is part of what makes our school so special.

Which makes it all the more sad that there are still people so deaf to women’s voices that they are literally missing half of what the world has to offer, and have no clue. And so, as we support these girls in bringing their voices to the world, we also work to support the world in shutting up long enough to open their ears and truly listen.

Because sometimes, speechlessness is good.

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

Not Long Enough

Spearth Day was born of a series of compromises, but has become one of the key dates in the waning weeks of our school year. Many years ago, the students asked for a special day to celebrate the mailman who played such an important role in their lives (today’s students, for whom email is old-fashioned and texting is routine, would probably find this odd). We called it “M and M Day” for “Mail Man Day,” and besides presenting him with a card and gifts when he finally showed, we played an all-school game of Capture the Flag and found other ways to celebrate. Over time, M and M Day evolved and became more organized – for one thing, the tradition of the talent show was begun. Meanwhile, earlier in the spring, Earth Day remained a day off for service – cleaning up local parks and rivers, clearing trails, and so on. The two days were eventually combined into one, and the name “Spearth Day” comes from “Spring-Earth Day.” We spend the morning doing various service projects on- and off-campus, have the Talent Show after lunch, follow that with games and booths organized by classes and clubs, dedicate the yearbook and pass out copies, and end with a barbecue. This year, for a special treat, there will be a dance performance by the Senior IB dancers.

Excitement always run high right before Spearth Day, especially when Wednesday immediately precedes it as that is our half-day of classes. The 7th graders spent Morning Meeting somewhat nervously tying up the few remaining loose ends in the preparation for their booth while the 8th graders set up a coverage schedule and worked hard to ensure they would have everything they needed. Early morning notes on the white board suggested the Community Service Club had done much the same the night before.

Sports are winding down (another reason for excitement as this is a major marker the year is actually starting to come to a close), and so Sophie and Clara, two of the 7th graders, were available and eager to accompany me to the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. They laughed and sang and talked all the way there, assuring me they had to be the loudest group I’d ever taken (they weren’t far wrong, actually!). There wasn’t much to do on site, but they were cheerful and positive even when just folding laundry, and took the time to make friends with some of the cats. The ride back was just about as high energy as the ride out.

When we returned at 5:30, the school was sheltering in the basement as a tornado warning had been issued. So when the Wednesday night group of the Middle School Rock Bands showed up 20-25 minutes late for rehearsal (dinner had opened half an hour late and hey, they had to eat!), energy was even higher than usual – if possible! – for a Spearth Day Eve.

For the Spearth Day Talent Show, the group is performing “Microphone” by Martha, a second-year 8th grader. The song has rather whimsical lyrics (sample “Microphone, / You have a big head. / You have a cord. / And it is long.”) and a melody to match. At our first rehearsal of the song, I suggested a series of chords to which everyone agreed, and Aliana (who had played drums before during this year) taught Subin (who hadn’t) an appropriately whimsical drum part (Meredith on bass, Molly sharing vocals with Martha, and Ellie on marimba round out the group; Aliana is covering the piano part). The song is a little bit short, so at our previous rehearsal, we had rearranged it so the final chorus was repeated three times – once with instruments, once a cappella, and once more with instruments.

We ran the song twice – the second time because I had forgotten to time it, just to be on the safe side as we are limited to three minutes (lots of acts in this Talent Show!) before sailing into “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane, which we are doing next Thursday for the annual Middle School Music Performance. It is a beautiful piece with subtly shifting block chords in the piano anchored by a relatively straightforward backbeat. Subin was drumming again, Martha had shifted to the marimba, and though I normally play bass on this piece, I had to cover Molly’s piano part since her team was late back from a game. Somehow, Ellie, Aliana, and Martha had contrived to cover Meredith’s vocal since her Team Night had begun way late due to the tornado warning and so was going way late. Still, even with me faking the chord shifts that Molly alone knew by heart, and even with one less voice on the harmonies (which the girls themselves wrote), the song sounded gorgeous and as it sunk in that I had only two more nights with this group before they were done for the year, tears sprang to my eyes which I tried (successfully) to cover up because the girls were having so much fun.

In the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride,” Steve Martin in the title role tells his daughter on the night before her wedding, “Well, that’s the thing about life, is the surprises, the little things that sneak up on you and grab hold of you.” (IMDb) I know tonight is only the first of many such moments we’ll experience over the next two and a half weeks. It’s a way to mark how much these kids come to mean to us, and to each other. Of course, even those who are graduating and moving on will live on in my memory and in my heart. And they will have good company there, kids both past and future.

And meanwhile, I will savor every moment of the rest of the year. I know how lucky I am. And I am determined not to take it for granted. As, I am quite sure, are they.

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Filed under Graduation, In the Classroom, On Education, On Parenting, Performing Arts, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

A Moment of Peace

132 – Kristin. 134 – Kim and Francie. 136 – Donna and Jenny. 138 – Amanda and Hillary. And so on.

Those were some of the kids on my first corridor, way back in 1985. Of course, those kids would be in their mid-40s now, much closer to my age than to the age of the kids currently living there. But the memories are still fresh. For example, the time there came an unmistakable meow from one of those rooms as I was doing check-in at the beginning of study hall. A little investigation uncovered – you have perhaps guessed – a cat, its container covered by a tapestry so I wouldn’t see. Suddenly, several kids from the corridor were all in the room, begging me to let them keep it. It had been lonely, lost, wandering around. It needed a home. It needed love. I asked where they had found this poor, lost, homeless cat. The parking lot in Friendly’s, the old one on Federal Street. The one, I pointed out, smack in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. I convinced the kids, not without a fair amount of effort, that the cat might actually have a home and that those people might be worried. I drove it down to Friendly’s and, waiting for an opportune moment so no one would see me and think I was abandoning it, released it, hopefully indeed back to its home.

rachelcourtneydorm_72dpiI moved off that corridor in 1988 to a bigger apartment (actually, not very much smaller than my current house), by request taking what by then was the 9th grade corridor with me to “the Extension” over the library. I stayed there for most of the remainder of my 12 years of houseparenting. Four years later, I would be in France attending a friend’s wedding on the first weekend of the year when I first learned of the unique character of that particular corridor. “Bill, you wouldn’t believe it. They all shaved their heads on the first night.” my friend and co-houseparent told me over the phone. A slight exaggeration – they had merely shaved the lower half of the back of their heads, and not quite all of them. But the moment was a foreshadowing. This would be the year that Lilah would absolutely refuse to sleep in room 65 for a solid week, assuring me one of her relatives had confirmed malevolent paranormal activity in the room. The year where I learned I would have say “good night” last of all to Kerry, who found a way almost every single night of the year to engage me in challenging something about the school – except for the night where she taught me the “A Pizza Hut. A Pizza Hut. Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut…” song. The ritual turned out to be her way of calming down at the end of the day so she could fall asleep. And of course – she could laugh about it as a Senior, by then an RA on her old corridor – Mary Ellen, several nights a week, knocking on my door about half an hour after lights-out. “Bill. I can’t sleep.”

Yesterday in housemeeting, I made the following announcement during the “Weekend Activities” portion of the morning: “I’m going to be on duty on middle school corridor. Since this is the first time I’ve been on weekend duty… this century, please feel free to offer suggestions for what you’d like to do.” I had done some coverage on middle school corridor during the last week of school, hanging out during Vespers and Farewell to Seniors before we found ways to help the kids create strong enough connections to the older kids that they began – successfully – demanding to attend these formerly Upper School events. But this would indeed be my first weekend on duty as a resident since 1999, when my family and I temporarily abandoned our house for a year to live in Ferdon.

Similarly, last night was my first on-duty night during a normal school night in quite some time. It proved to be easy, fun, and “relatively smooth” as I wrote repeatedly in my Duty Notes for the night. Around 7:30 p.m. up in Jesser, where we are holding study hall during the two-week-long period of Quiet Hours due to IB testing, several people said, “Oh, we need to talk to you after Study Hall.” Feeling the old familiar sense of uncertain anticipation, I nodded yes, and everyone quieted down quickly – occasional bursts of conversation and laughter from the Humanities classroom notwithstanding (“Every time!” one girl lamented. “Every time, you catch me!”). A little after 9:00 p.m., back on the corridor (Middle School Study Hall only lasts 90 minutes, reflecting the lesser amount of homework they get and their developmental needs), a group of approximately 11 students (they waited patiently while I punched all their names into my phone to make a list) surrounded me as I sat at the duty table. “Okay,” I said turning around to face as many of them as possible, “What do you want?”

It turned out that what they wanted was for me to drive them up to Cardigan Mountain School on Saturday. For the second straight year, Cardigan had invited us on a harbour cruise in Boston to celebrate the end of their year, and the girls wanted to be able to see the boys who had thus entered their lives once more before Cardigan graduated, Saturday being “Eaglebrook Day” when the two rival schools would have multiple games in multiple sports. They knew it was one hour and 41 minutes door to door, they knew the game schedule, they knew I would have to find coverage to staff the dorm in my absence, and in general, especially considering how badly they must have wanted it, they presented their proposal calmly and thoughtfully and in great detail. I explained what would have to fall into place for me to be able to do this, promised to write the necessary emails setting the process in motion, and promised to let them know when I knew for sure if it could work out.

At 10:00 p.m., Susan, a Rock Band student of mine and one of the RAs in the Middle School, joined me in walking the length of the corridors telling everyone “good night” and ensuring their lights were out. This was always one of my favourite rituals as a houseparent, and not at all because it signalled the impending end of my active duty for the night, but more because it was a chance to connect, to read the moods of everyone on the corridor, to provide a little touch of home. “Good night. Sleep well. See you in the morning!”

I had determined to hang out an extra half hour, just to be sure things remained calm and nothing bubbled up suddenly. Whatever her reasons, Susan sat next to me by the duty table, talking in Chinese to somebody – her mom? – and, her face split by a wide smile, showing me a picture she’d just been sent of her dog running outside outside all happy it was spring and it was warm. Later, I would ask her if she’d read the excellent article by Nafisatou, a four-year-Senior, in our latest Alumnae Bulletin. She hadn’t, but she began talking about Nafisatou’s journey toward one of the hardest colleges to get into, “harder than Harvard” she said, eyes wide. And then her attention turned to her own college search and her worries and misgivings. What is there, I thought to myself, about the quietness of a corridor that brings out these moments? Although no one else was visible, we were surrounded, I was acutely aware, by several dozen people, with many more elsewhere in the building. Often, I think back on my houseparenting days, and that comforting sense of being connected to so many people even when most of them may have fallen asleep. I did my best to reassure Susan that everyone finds their place, and let her know most Juniors feel the way she does at around this stage in the college process. I walked her through how she would start to find what college would be a good fit for her. This time next year, I assured her, you’ll know where you’re going.

10:30 p.m. rolled around. I hit “Send” (well, technically “Envoyer”) on my phone to send out my Duty Notes, bid Susan good night, and walked downstairs and through the drizzle out to my car, looking back up at the dark windows where my students slept. Tomorrow, the familiar ritual of a Wednesday. But for now, a moment of peace.

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