The Titan Talk blog gives the faculty and staff at St. Timothy's School a chance to post relevant information to our community. Feel free to leave comments or questions for our bloggers!
“Mr. B, my pen pal said he plays floorball. What is floorball?”
I responded, “It is a popular sport in Europe like floor hockey. It was really popular in Prague while I was there this summer.”
“What does my pen pal mean when she says, ‘I go to school walking, between fire by bike?’”
“I don’t know, maybe Vantaa, Finland is like a post-apocalyptic world where there are random fires in the streets that the students have to weave and dodge their way through on their way to school.”
Of course, the students do not have to walk or ride between fire by bike in Finland, but that statement did provide a fun learning opportunity for both Antti, the teacher in Vantaa, and myself, as to the shortcomings of Google Translate.
I met Antti through a website that facilitates teacher connections with the intent of developing a pen pal relationship between students. When I reached out to him, he was very excited at the opportunity to connect the students he teaches in Finland with our students at St. Timothy’s School. We developed topics for the letters like what the typical school day is like, what books and movies are favorites, and describing a favorite home cooked meal.
Antti was one of three teachers I connected with. His class is paired with Ms Jernigan’s class in fourth grade. I connected with a teacher in South Korea, and another in China. The teacher in South Korea is from New Jersey and teaches English. She has been a great resource to get a non-native perspective of a culture the students, and I, know little. Her class is connected with Mrs Mense (formerly Ms Lynn). The teacher in China had so many students interested we ended up being able to connect 3 classes, Ms Donohue, Mrs Pfeiffer, and Mrs Scully, with various classes in her school.
The idea behind developing pen pals came out of my summer travels in Prague with a group of 20 teachers from NC. We traveled with two professors from NC State and another from Auburn. The goal of the Saturday classes leading up to the trip, and the trip itself, were to help teachers appreciate and experience other cultures and learn how to help our students connect with other cultures in a meaningful way.
Make, a middle school elective, blends technology and art with a focus on the design process. The ultimate goal of the course is for students to build confidence in their ability to create for themselves and others. Empathy is one of the most important elements of good design, but it also is one of the most challenging. Creating something for a “customer” requires a designer to focus on the needs and wants of another, often setting aside their own preferences completely. The development of empathy was at the heart of a recent design collaboration between the seventh grade Make class and a class of third graders.
One of the benefits of being St. Timothy’s Media Specialist is that I get to teach across a wide range of grade levels, and sometimes I get the opportunity to provide a chance for them to work together. This fall, while the seventh grade Make class was in the middle of a unit on empathy, I realized that I had the perfect group of customers in Mrs. Boardman’s third grade class. So I asked them to imagine their perfect pencil pouch. Where would they keep it? How many pencils would it hold? What would it look like? After thinking through their options, they sketched out their ideas and made notes about the elements they would like it to include. I had no idea what kinds of designs they would come up with, but I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness and creativity!
The next day, I assigned each Make student a third grader, and they set out to try and bring to life the ideas on the paper. At first it was a struggle. Some of their “customers” had sketched big wonderful dreams, and figuring out how to realistically create something was a challenge. But everybody worked together, feeding each other ideas, taking on an aspect of someone else’s project that they could help with and, in the end, I was completely astonished by what they accomplished.
Side by side the design sketches and the realized products were wonderful examples of how empathy informs design. While some of the pencil holders looked exactly like the original idea, others had required alterations in order to “work” properly. In those products, you could see how the Make student had still tried to stay true to the overall vision of their young designer by using a different material but keeping the same shape or adding little aesthetic touches that were reminiscent of inclusions that hadn’t been possible. Every single pencil pouch was a thoughtful rendering of a design that was not their own, but that they had made come to life. It is an understatement to say that I was crazy proud of them.
In the end, the third graders loved their pencil holders. Watching them run straight towards their designs, knowing immediately which was theirs, was incredibly fun. It also was a poignant lesson. Designing with empathy may be a challenging experience, but as demonstrated by the results of the project, it became absolutely clear that it is a rewarding one.
In place of the traditional sermon, on our annual Episcopal Schools' Sunday each October, I have an opportunity at the 8:30 and 10:30 St. Timothy's worship services to share a meditation for our parish and school. I'm happy to share with you my 2018 message, "Thoughts and Prayers."
A story came to my mind as I read the selections from the Epistle of St. James and the forty-second chapter of Isaiah that were recommended for Episcopal Schools’ Sunday today. You might have heard some variation of it before:
A man who lives all alone is watching TV and the weatherman comes on and says, “A terrible flood is coming. Everyone needs to evacuate immediately.”
The man, however, remains on his couch, and says, “No, sir. I’m a religious man. My faith is all I need to protect me.”
But the flood does come, and so the man eventually climbs up on the roof of his house as the waters rise. His neighbor comes by in a rowboat, and invites him to flee.
The man smiles and says, “No, thank you. I’m a religious man, and my faith is all I need to protect me.”
So the neighbor rows away.
The waters get even higher than the roof, and the man is forced to tread water when a National Guard helicopter flying overhead spots him and drops down a ladder. The pilot shouts down to the man that they’ll lift him to safety.
But the man shouts back up, “No, thank you. My faith is all I need to protect me.”
Shortly after the helicopter flies away, the man becomes exhausted and drowns.
When he arrives in heaven, he is confused, and he says to God: “God, I’ve always had the deepest of faith, and I’ve never doubted you. Why didn’t you protect me?”
And God replies: “What do you think the weatherman, the rowboat, and the helicopter were?”
Faith… faith can be tricky. Faith is important. Faith is powerful. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. How many sermons have you heard in church about faith? It’s probably a better question to ask how many sermons have you heard that weren’t about faith?
I don’t have the qualifications to offer a sermon. I haven’t read the Bible enough. I’ve never taken a theology class, let alone know much about the nuances of Greek or Hebrew translation--particularly when it comes to some of today’s readings and what seems to me to be one of those really big, complicated topics in Christianity--the interconnection of faith and works.
But I do know that there is an interconnection between the two. Yes, St. Paul was very clear that we are saved by grace through faith alone, not by our works; we can’t “earn” salvation based on our good deeds and actions.
However, let’s ask ourselves: How much shorter would our Bible be if it didn’t have any parts in it about how we ought to act and behave? A Bible without works in it would be more like a pamphlet. It would appear St. James recognizes the interconnection, too:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Last year at Episcopal Schools Sunday, I shared with you about how strongly I believe we all have a calling towards an agape, action-oriented, sacrificial love towards everyone, even our enemies… even if we’re “not feeling it,” we are still called to selfless, loving action.
I’m starting to wonder if faith is similar in that regard, too. Faith, as I understand it, is not some simple feeling. Faith is complex, and it requires action, or else faith is dead. Greg Morse, a Christian Blogger put it this way: “‘Not feeling it’ is the problem to overcome, not an excuse to disobey.”
If I asked you who you thought to be the most deeply faithful Christians of the last century, I suspect Mother Teresa would probably come to mind pretty quickly. She exemplified Christian devotion in ways few others ever have.
But even she often struggled with feeling God’s presence--and not just for a few moments here or there, but rather for whole stretches of years. For example, in 1959, she wrote in a private journal:
Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? [...]
I call, I cling, I want -- and there is no One to answer -- no One on Whom I cling -- no, No One -- Alone. The darkness is so dark -- and I am alone. -- Unwanted, forsaken. [...]
Where is my faith? -- Even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. … I have no faith.
Saying Mother Teresa “wasn’t feeling it” puts it lightly. And yet, without ceasing, without pause or break, the very days she privately penned words like these, Mother Teresa never stopped personally caring for and ministering to the hungry, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lepers--the ultimate unwanted, unloved, “least of these” among all of humanity.
“‘Not feeling it’ is the problem to overcome, not an excuse to disobey.”
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
As I’ve said, I don’t know Greek, but I wonder if one other modern interpretation of St. James’s message here might be a criticism of “thoughts and prayers” when someone is in need. Don’t get me wrong… “thoughts and prayers” can be a good and appropriate thing. But if no action accompanies our “thoughts and prayers,” it’s important to honestly ask ourselves if we’re using them as a cop out. Is it obliviousness masquerading as faith? Or worse yet, is it laziness?
During those “thoughts and prayers,” might we be praying something like: “Lord, I have such deep faith in you that you would never let this man drown in this flood. Yes, I know I have a boat, but Lord please send him someone else with a nicer boat...a bigger boat… a more conveniently located boat. I have such great faith in you, Lord, I know you will deliver him. Please send someone to deliver him.”
What would our world look like if every faithful person prayed that someone else be called to help those in crisis? When we’re paralyzed by fear, do we risk becoming paralyzed by our own faith?
In writing about today’s selected reading from Isaiah, the Reverend Dan Heischman, the Executive Director for the National Association of Episcopal Schools, made an interesting observation. He wrote:
The prophet Isaiah clearly has a threat in mind as he speaks to the people of Judah in the opening of his book--the imminent, impending threat of an Assyrian invasion, a potentially cataclysmic event...
But, Heischman notes, Isaiah had a very telling directive in response to this existential threat:
… Instead of hunkering down … Rather than retreat into performing sacrifices or praying for deliverance … undertake a reorientation away from evil toward good, to seek justice, and defend those who are oppressed … threatening times call for God’s people to broaden their reach to those on the margins.
Not thoughts and prayers. Action. Isaiah tells us: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.
Bishop Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, also wrote about this particular passage in preparation for today’s Episcopal Schools’ Celebration. He suggested we notice that very first word in the phrase… learn.
“Doing right” is often not our natural tendency. We are woefully imperfect people. We can be selfish. We can be lazy. We can be oblivious. To overcome this, we must learn to do right.
I’m mindful of Proverbs 22:6: Train children in the right way, and when old they will not stray.
So much of who we adults are today--our sense of what “doing right” is all about, our inherent sense of obligation to genuinely help those in need--it was shaped in our earliest years. It began in preschool, continued through childhood--ages 5, 7, 10, 12--crucial formative years where our communities, the examples, the experiences and the lessons we learned ...not just big ones, but the little day-to-day ones, too...were all so consequential for the people we have become, the values we now hold, and the lives we now lead.
This is why I’m so grateful on this Episcopal Schools’ Sunday for our parish day school. My own three sons’ lives are being forever, positively shaped every day by our St. Timothy’s community.
We are an imperfect place, and we have a mightily imperfect headmaster. But one thing for sure, we always have been… and always will be… a place of action-oriented faith. We model it, and we practice it, we surround our children with it every chance we get.
As we all watched the tragedy that unfolded for our friends and neighbors down east after Hurricane Florence, we extended our thoughts and prayers. But we also took action. Our students and parents led one of the largest food and toiletry drives I’ve ever seen--with carload after carload of supplies delivered to the Food Bank. Our Student Council donated all sales from their Fall Festival dunk tank, and our parents’ association donated all proceeds from Cupcake Days, to Episcopal Relief and Development.
But you know what really moved me was a single email I got from one of our students. She wanted to find a church or school to help, and also children to whom her classmates might send notes and drawings of encouragement--anything they could do to lift the hearts of strangers in need. Two of her teachers began brainstorming with her. It’s now turned into not just a note-writing initiative, but also a plan for this student, her teacher, and her classmates to head out to a farm in Johnston County on an upcoming Saturday morning and harvest and deliver sweet potatoes to those in need out east.
That’s what learning to do right is all about. This student was inspired to do this in the first place because her class last year at St. Timothy’s connected with a small Episcopal School in Texas that had been devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Students exchanged letters and drawings, and the Texas school turned our students’ notes of encouragement into a large prayer chain they put up to inspire them, and no doubt to remind them of their own obligation to seek out others in need.
It’s this kind of action-oriented faith (…and hope …and love) that we hope to model and inspire in our students every day.
It’s what inspires our tooth fairy tree for our youngest students, where children, when they lose teeth, may bring in dental supplies to donate to those in need.
It’s what inspires our fourth graders to do extra chores to earn money and then go to the store to buy extra groceries that they can pack for “Backpack Buddies” that help local children in need.
It’s what inspired our sixth graders in their Service Learning class last year--who, with one single food drive, immediately placed St. Timothy’s School in the top 10% of all-time donations to Urban Ministries.
It’s what inspires our eighth graders every year when we do our September 11 day of service--working at the Interfaith Food Shuttle farm last year, or at the Goodwill Farm and donation sorting center this year.
It’s what inspires our partnership with another St. Timothee’s Church and School in the mountains of Boucan-Carre, Haiti. Our friends in Haiti are never far from our thoughts and prayers; we pray for them weekly in chapel services. But we do so much more than thoughts and prayers. We have visited St. Timothee’s, worked with their children, served them food, delivered school supplies. When our middle school girls learned that a lack of hygiene supplies for their students was keeping many girls from attending school, they got to work making their own homemade hygiene supplies and sent them on to Haiti. We’ve raised money that has provided the children there with regular school lunches--often the only full meal they get--and huge strides have already been made against malnutrition.
We’re equipping our friends in Haiti with computers and wireless internet so we might do classroom-to-classroom, student-to-student communication soon. And later this month, we’re bringing Eudras, our liaison with the school in Haiti, here to St. Timothy’s to meet our community and visit with our children. We’re doing this because as our children learn to do right, it’s also important that they learn to do right for the right reasons--not building up good karma, not earning salvation from God, and not some sense of noblesse oblige… but rather because part of our faith is a belief that we are all equally created in God’s image, equal in dignity, equal in humanity, equally deserving of--and called to offer--love and respect.
On this Episcopal Schools Sunday, I thank everyone in our parish and school community for the role you play in helping us help our children learn to do right and offer them a place of action-oriented faith. Thank you for your ongoing thoughts and prayers, certainly, but also for your actions, big and small. Thank you for our work together on our Haiti partnership, transforming lives both here and in Boucan-Carre. Thank you for the work of so many from the church this August in our Back-to-School BBQ. Thank you for joining us in campus clean up each spring. Thank you for helping to bring Deacon Kopp into our community--what an incredible blessing he has been to our children, to our teachers, and to me, personally.
As I think about our parish school and reflect on all that has been, and all that is, I’m inspired and hopeful to think about all that can be, and will be, if we continue to pursue action-oriented faith, hope, and love in our community together. Please continue to hold St. Timothy’s School, our administrators, our teachers, and especially our students and families in your prayers. And let us all please seek ever more ways to join together in faithful action for the betterment of our community here, and especially for so many others who we together might positively impact for years to come… in Raleigh, or in Haiti, and well beyond.
In May of 2018, STS Spanish Teacher Lisa Lowrance and STS Fourth Grade Teacher Kathryn Donohue traveled to Boucan-Carré, Haiti to visit our partner school, St. Timothee's. Below is Mrs. Lowrance's blog describing this trip and the continued efforts to forge ahead in our partnership with St. Timothee's School. Join us for a reception welcoming Eudras Ceus to St. Timothy's on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. Come meet, greet and learn about our Haiti partnership. More information to follow!
By Lisa Lowrance, STS Spanish Teacher
A 2 hour drive through the colossal mountains north east of the Port-Au-Prince airport is a small community known as Boucan-Carré. This area of the country, called the Central Plateau, is home to nearly 50,000 people. Most of the land is made up of mountains and deep valleys. Many locals travel primarily on foot as well as by donkey, motorcycles and the occasional crowded truck. This is a very welcome change to the infamous traffic jams in the capital city of Port-Au-Prince seen below.
To get to the heart of Boucan-Carré, travelers and locals alike must turn off of the paved roads made by the European Union long ago, to mountainous terrain. Traffic varies, but one thing is certain, you must wear a seatbelt and stay alert. There are many bumps, potholes, rocks, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, cows, people and places where creeks and rivers run through the road. Currently, a bridge going over the shallow river that crosses the road to Boucan-Carré is being constructed; however, it is unsure as to how long this project will take. In January 2018, we saw the beginning of the construction process. When we visited again in May 2018, there was no visible progress on the bridge. Without said bridge, drivers must be confident in their ability to navigate this difficult section of the road. We start out straight and then have a very sharp left turn followed by a quick right in order to ford the river at the shallowest point. We are forced to drive quickly to have enough momentum to cross the river while simultaneously avoiding hitting locals gathering water, bathing, and washing off their motorcycles. (It is my favorite part of the drive.)
Once through this section, on Mondays, we are treated to the awestriking site of Market Day in Boucan-Carré. Each town has their own market day so as to spread the wealth and goods among the Central Plateau. To get the full picture, you must first understand that the roads we are travelling on are almost, but not quite, large enough for two cars to drive opposite one another. Though, most of the time, one driver slows for the other to pass. On any other non-market day this is not a big problem due to the lack of car traffic. (We were quite an attraction in our car once we left the city.) When the shops are set up, they are done so on both sides of the already narrow dirt road. Locals wander from stand to stand in search of their necessities. Pickup trucks arrive filled to overflowing with goods to trade and sell. Families have blankets laid on the ground or rudimentary tables laden with local foods, crafts and old clothing mostly left by Americans. We enjoyed reading T-shirts from universities, sports teams, the YMCA and chain stores. The women of Haiti are known for their regal posture. Even in a ripped sports t-shirt and an old skirt they walk proudly and pull it off like royalty. The market is not set up with drivers in mind and you are forced to travel at a snail’s pace, often having to get out to assist the driver or ask someone to move their goods to the side while you pass. The cacophony of sights, sounds and smells is enough to send you into sensory overload.
Moving on past the market, the roadsides are lined with people leading goats and donkeys, pedestrians carrying live chickens tied to their waists or in baskets on their heads and children walking to school in their colorful uniforms. Men and boys are carrying enormous bags of charcoal for cooking, containers of water, or giant stalks loaded with bright yellow and green bananas. Babies and small children are running around naked enjoying the hustle and bustle of daily life in the country. Occasionally we pass a truck overloaded with supplies for the village.
As the road and the location become more and more remote, we finally reach the turn off for our destination! Our hearts warm as we prepare to see the friendly faces waiting for us at St. Timothee’s School. It is a privilege to go to school in Haiti and this privilege is not lost upon their students. Though there are at least six different classes being held simultaneously in the church’s sanctuary, the students are engaged and the teachers are focused on their lessons. As we quietly enter the room we get quiet sly waves, smiles and looks of recognition from the children and teachers who recognize our faces.
A little background information...
Due to limited communication, language barriers and iffy internet service, we are never sure of what we might find when we arrive. The first team STS sent in January 2016 consisted of Father James and Mr. Tinnesz. They immediately identified the need of desks for the children. They came home with the plan, with the help of Friends of St. Timothy’s, to send money to assist with construction of bench-style desks that can be turned around and used for pews during church services. Our partnership was young and we depended upon blind faith that the money would be put to good use. A year later, our group returned to Boucan-Carré and were immediately rewarded with the vision of classes in session using their new desks/pews. Later that same evening we met the builder as he was hard at work building more. A shared vision, financial support and sweat equity were coming together as our partnership grew in strength.
After this second visit we were able to identify more strengths as well as needs at St. Timothee’s School, Boucan-Carré. There was no shortage of children at the school. The teachers were teaching, the students were learning, everyone seemed content to be there and the day to day course of events looked and sounded very similar to what you would see in many classes across the world. Through observation and talking with the small group of faculty and church leaders, we did identify some needs that were hard to ignore: food and water. Those basic needs that we take for granted at schools in the U.S. were not being met. The lack of a bathroom is worth mentioning, but at this point it is nowhere near the top of the list. Through conversations, we learned that the children do not eat during the school day and often do not eat much outside of school either. We were able to fund a school-wide lunch of rice, beans and chicken both days that we were there. The Haitian cooks we brought up the mountain with us made a makeshift kitchen and fire to cook on behind the church and prepared a lunch for around 150 people. We had the honor of helping serve all the children on disposable plates that they shared between them. If they had a cup, they could dip it in the bucket of water brought up from the creek for a drink. It was a VERY hot and humbling job. After the children ate, we crowded into the small office and ate the same meal with the teachers. It was delicious. The two school days we spent observing, doing the crafts we brought and playing with the children was all at once heart-wrenching, heart-warming, physically and mentally exhausting and super fun. With the help of school and church staff we were able to identify two top needs/wants; school lunches and purchasing the lot of land immediately behind the school to expand classroom space. We returned to STS Raleigh with a plan and--with the help and advice of our friends in Haiti--a budget. Now we had to figure out how to make it happen financially. Through word of mouth, our plan was shared and donations arrived without asking. Through generous and unsolicited financial donations, we were able to help STS Boucan-Carré. It was up to them to put in the time, coordination, planning and the sweat equity. We also had to once again rely on blind faith that this would all come to fruition.
In January of 2018 we returned. What a beautiful reunion it was! Upon our arrival, everything appeared the same. The church and school consist of the sanctuary and one wing. The wing has two classrooms and the church office. The sanctuary holds all of the other classes. We heard the typical sounds of school and children reciting lessons. Due to the lack of pencils and paper, most of the learning is oral and aural. However, as we walked around to the back of the church we were greeted by surprise after surprise. This first was that the preschool/kindergarten class was being held in an outdoor classroom on the newly acquired land! We immediately sat in on the class with beaming smiles on our faces.
Surprise number two about knocked us off of our feet. We were told that the children had been receiving lunch at school but we were TOTALLY surprised that they had also built a kitchen! The kitchen has two rooms. One is for cooking and consists of three charcoal heated cooktops. The other room is a small storage area for wood and charcoal.
There was one more surprise in store for us - RUNNING WATER!!!! With the purchase of the land came a spigot attached to the creek down the hill. They had also purchased small water purifier hand pumps to clean the water for cooking and drinking. So much had been accomplished through their hard work over the past year.
We also had a few surprises up our sleeves. The children are fascinated by looking at pictures of themselves taken on our phones. Before our arrival, we printed out many of the pictures and had them laminated. The students at STS Raleigh made and decorated frames with messages of friendship and inspiration. After lunch one day, we fashioned a gallery wall of photographs of our students and their students on the school/church office wall. Both teachers and students had a great time looking at and commenting on the pictures. This was a bigger hit than any of us had expected! After yet another successful trip we left celebrating positive development and a clearer picture of future goals. St.Timothee’s Boucan-Carrè would like to build another building with more classrooms, an office and a bathroom on the new land to better accommodate their students.
In May of this year (2018), Kathryn Donohue and I returned with the sole purpose of fleshing out more details on our partnership and having a face to face meeting with the church administration and architect. After many discussions, research, both reading the book Toxic Charity and speaking with others in our community, we knew that we needed to go into this partnership with a clear vision and understanding. We want to do our best to make this a reciprocal partnership by identifying and working with their strengths, being culturally sensitive, helping with sustainable development, and making real friendships without creating dependency. We promised each other that we will do our best but recognize that there will be bumps along the way. We flew down to Haiti with many meetings on our schedule and a long list of goals to accomplish. This would be no trip for the weary! Of course, we still had a few surprises up our sleeve.
Mr. Tinnesz has always expressed his desire for better and more constant communication with STS Boucan-Carré. This is very difficult with sporadic (if any) electricity in the school. If there is electricity, it is mostly used on Sundays for music. This is made even more difficult because they are located way out in the country where cell phone service is weak at best. Kathryn and I were in search of a solution. Mrs. Sanders let me know that she had about 20 old computers in her science lab that were not being used. Mr. Tinnesz agreed to let us have them for Haiti. Mr. Cocker agreed to install clean, licensed systems on 4 of them before we left. This is about all we could fit in our bags anyway. If we can figure out an internet solution, they can have a computer lab! We are already having visions of Skype meet and greets and pen pals with our students.
Our students in Raleigh always like to hear about the students in Boucan-Carré. One day I was talking and showing pictures of the oldest students to one of my 7th grade classes. I was asked why there were only 2 girls. Well, that is a touchy question to answer. I closed the door and told them that they were ready for this information. Once girls “come of age” it is very difficult to leave the home during certain times of the month. Missing this much school makes it very hard to keep up and most of them quit. That did not sit well with a group of 7th grade girls and they decided to take action. We spent the next three months making something called luopads, which are washable feminine pads for the girls to wear during school. My mother-in-law, Brenda Lowrance, had made these for women in Africa. She and Mrs. Parrish volunteered many hours with us after school cutting and sewing towels and sheets and installing snaps. We managed to finish 15 packages of undergarments and 6 pads each before we left. Those girls worked hard! We are hopeful to see more girls at school in the future!
Back to the original story…
We are pulling into the school in May of this year after the almost hour long drive from our hotel through curvy, crowded, steep, bumpy roads eager to lay our eyes on the children. As we arrive we see that all is well! Classes are underway and everyone is going about their school day. This is the first time that we have visited during the rainy season which makes the new makeshift classroom of sticks, tarps and blankets behind the school unusable. The youngest students are inside and the oldest have been moved to the covered area across the dirt road at the deacon’s home. We quietly walk through the school observing the day and with a wink put our fingers to our lips to keep the children quiet as their eyes light up when they see us. The air inside the school is still and oppressively hot and with no walls to separate the classes each classroom is on display. There are simultaneous lessons on math, grammar, reading and history going on in the very same room. I sit in on one class and am able to decipher enough French and Haitian Creole to know that they are learning about Christopher Columbus’ arrival to Hispaniola. Another classroom is practicing spelling in their typical beautiful cursive handwriting. The headmaster is seated in a chair at the front of his class with a group of young students crowded around him as he reads a story. In the corner an older group of students is learning French grammar. The self-discipline the children possess is incredible.As it nears lunchtime we venture around to the back of the church to visit the kitchen. A new sight greets our eyes! The last time we were there, the children were sharing any kind of dishes or spoons they brought from home or sharing disposable styrofoam plates. On our last visit, we gave a cash donation to the church deacon to buy some reusable plates and spoons for the children to use at lunch. We walked around the corner to see a group of children washing dishes in big buckets while the cooks prepared the meal. They school now had a complete set of tin plates, spoons and serving spoons for school lunches and all the children rotated lunch duty jobs! When the lunch was prepared another group of children arrived to help serve plates. Meanwhile, the other students waited patiently with their class to receive lunch. Though we probably hindered and slowed down the well-oiled machine, Kathryn and I of course jumped in to help serve plates and fill buckets with beans and rice.
After all of the children had eaten, a bucket of beans and rice and the onion/vinegar sauce was brought to the school office. We were also pleased to see a basket of cold bottled water and the local cola. We enjoyed a meal with fellow teachers and then brought out the surprises that we had to share. They were very excited about the computers and we began the discussion about how to get internet and wifi to the school. We shooed the men away and had a lively conversation with the two women teachers (translated by our male guide, Eudras) about the sanitary bags for the girls. As Eudras good-naturedly translated and acted out what we were telling them, the two usually very serious teachers broke into a huge fit of giggles. It was infectious and soon the little girls were running in to check out the commotion.
Kathryn and I spent the late afternoon in the hotel talking with our thoughts swirling about everything we had experienced during the last few days. Through several meetings with the church rector, the architect, the deacon, teachers and the headmaster, we came home with a clear wish list, costs and had them in prioritized order. We said a warm farewell to our Haitian friends with the hopes to see them again sooner than later.
What about the future...
Where are we now? Thanks to more generous (and unsolicited!) donations, we are pleased to be able to realize some of our shared goals. We are continuously and constantly humbled and amazed at the generosity and kindness our community has shown towards our friends in Haiti. We are fortunate that with a small-scale one-to-one partnership, each dollar and act of service goes directly to St. Timothee’s, minus the 10% that goes to the Episcopal Dioceses in the Haitian Central Plateau. Father Alphonse, who hosts us for dinners and lives in the rectory in Mirebalasise, is the Archdeacon of the 16 Episcopal churches in the Central Plateau including St. Timothee’s. We have been fortunate enough to accompany him to church services and have ¨broken the bread¨ with him many times. This past May we were a small group and Kathryn, Eudras, Father Alphonse and I ate dinner together each night. Our final evening we had a lively dinner laughing, practicing Creole, telling stories and ended the evening with a walk to the main church in Mirebalaise. In his quiet and unassuming manner, he greeted and introduced us to many people along the way. He is delightful and I have confidence that he uses the 10% well.
We left Haiti in January with these 5 future goals:
- Continue and increase school meals for students
- Provide funding for wifi services at STS Boucan-Carré
- Assist with their fund for building a new school wing
- Host Eudras (our Haitian translator and guide) at STS Raleigh to meet students, faculty and families
- Return with a group of school faculty in 2019 with the purpose of completing one of the following recommended projects:
- Chickens and coop for egg production for school meals and revenue
- Water purification system to sell and provide clean water for students
After reviewing our budget, we are happy to say that we are well on our way towards realizing these goals! We are able to continue with meals, and we are hoping for a report any day of wifi at STS Boucan-Carré. A new school/church wing will be a shared venture of fundraising between STS Raleigh and STS Boucan-Carré and will take years, but Haitians have a long history of hard work, patience and working with what they have. We plan to have a staff/faculty group travel with a purpose and ready to get to work in 2019. Perhaps one of the most exciting developments for us is that Eudras is coming to visit!!! He will be here in late October to meet our school community, share about life and his work in Haiti, and teach future travelers a little Haitian Creole. Stay tuned for specific dates, and we hope that you will join us as we welcome him to STS Raleigh!
Lisa Lowrance, STS Spanish Teacher
Join us for a reception on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 7 p.m. at STS as we welcome Eudras Ceus to St. Timothy's. Come meet, greet and learn about our Haiti partnership and St. Timothee's School in BoucanCarré. More information to follow!
We are always looking for ways to capture the esscence of what we do here at St. Timothy's School. Bruce Ham, parent of 3 STS alumnae, recently shared his story at our Founders' Day 60th Anniversary Celebration. Here is his experience in his own words:
When I was a kid, there was no such thing as a helicopter parent.
For most of my friends, day 1 of school meant walking to the bus stop alone or with whoever else happened to be traveling in that direction.
Shoving through the group of high schoolers who shared the same vehicle, some of them smoking... cigarettes, some smoking but not cigarettes and figuring out how to get yourself into the school and to your classroom without dying.
My brother did it. My neighbors did it. But…
I was a whimp.
Therefore, on my first day of first grade, my mom made an exception and drove me to Walker Spivey Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC, where I grew up.
I DID NOT want to go, and I had made that VERY clear to mother.
Thus her willingness to escort me – just this one time.
When we got to Mrs. Hawk’s class, I took hold of my mother’s left leg and held on as if I was on an upside down roller coaster and her limb was the lap bar.
Mrs. Hawk pried me off as the other students watched with great interest and my mother hustled away.
Mrs. Hawk got me situated into a seat and when she turned her back, I quickly got my butt out of the chair, ran out the back door, and bolted toward the front of the school where my mother had parked. Sort of slow motion.
As I made my way around the side of the school, I saw my mom in a glass hallway having a conversation with the school principal and at that point, I knew I’d beat her back to the car.
When she finally arrived, she was surprised to find me in the front seat.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m not going,” I responded.
She grabbed a wooden paddle from the back seat of the car – why my mother had a paddle in the car, I’m not quite sure.
She put it in the side pocket of her purse with the handle hanging out so that I could see it.
And she said, “Oh yes you are.”
Her nonverbals told me that she was threatening to beat the starch out of me if I didn’t comply.
Her nonverbals were also telling me she wasn’t beyond beating me right out in front of the school for anyone who happened to be driving or walking by to see.
She sat behind me in class for a few minutes until she could see I was mesmerized by the teacher’s words.
At which time she slipped out without me noticing. I’m guessing she booked her behind back to the car and caught some rubber as she pulled away.
I continued to pull this sort of insecure behavior until I finally found myself in college unable to get back home to my mother.
I was a good kid, but just didn’t have the confidence to push myself to do anything beyond my comfort zone – a zone that was about the size of a kernal of corn.
Perhaps that original insecurity is genetic.
My oldest daughter, Bailey, who is here with me tonight, was unfortunately cut out of similar cloth as me.
She had the grip of death on her mother every morning at drop off for the first year of her elementary school career here at St. Timothy’s.
My middle daughter, Lucy, was not quite as bad, but she wasn’t leaping out of the car with joy on her first day of school either.
Annie T. my third child was more a bit more compliant, but sucked her thumb, her security, fairly regularly through about third grade.
And yet, by the time St. Timothy’s School finished with these three tentative children, we had: one head cheerleader for the Titan basketball team, a soloist at 8thgrade graduation, and the President of the student body.
My oldest just returned last week after sailing around New Zealand for the semester.
My middle daughter just returned from Ethiopia last week after a week participating in mission work and my youngest, the thumb sucker, just returned from Outward Bound.
Sort of hard for me to believe.
I can’t boil it down to any one specific thing that this school does to build our kids.
Of course, the academics are strong and the teachers are incredible.
The options for extracurricular activities are immense and the small classroom size makes for more targeted attention, but I’d say it is something intangible that makes this place so special.
I don’t know what makes up the secret sauce here, but I can give you several examples that support my claim.
Many of you know that my wife was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2009 and died in February of 2010.
At the time, my daughters were ages 7, 9 and 12.
All were students at St. Timothy’s.
It was, to say the least, a very, very difficult time for our family.
One day in November of 2009, Annie T., my youngest, came home from school and said, “Dad, look at my new tennis shoes!”
I looked down at her feet and asked where they came from.
She said, “Mrs. Sanders.”
Annie T. was in first grade that year, and Mrs. Sanders was her Teacher’s Assistant.
I asked, “Why did Mrs. Sanders buy you new shoes?”
Annie T. said, “Well, the bottom has been coming off my shoes for a while now, and it fell off today when I was on the playground. I went and showed it to Mrs. Sanders, and she said not to worry about it, that she would fix it. And then, after lunch, she gave me these new shoes! They are the exact right size and look just like my old ones except the bottom is still there.”
I had another question for Annie T. “Honey, why didn’t you tell me your shoe was breaking?”
And she said, “I did Dad. You just didn’t hear me.”
You see, this school looks beyond scholastics.
They look beyond herding kids through to the next class – or clumping them all in the same category.
They look at individual situations, individual needs, and they work to meet children, and families, where they are.
For us that day, it was a pair of tennis shoes because dad was overwhelmed.
For others it may be remediation in a specific subject, or giving a kid a chance to lead, or talking through a problem a student is having with another kid.
There is a very special spirit in this place.
The first Christmas after Lisa died, I got a call from a friend who offered to help me pick out Christmas presents for the kids’ teachers.
I didn’t know that we gave Christmas presents to teachers.
Because I so wanted to be self-sufficient, I declined the offer and instead took the question to the family at the dinner table that night.
My brother-in-law, Hayes – a twenty-something year old, was living with us at the time.
“You guys, apparently a lot of the parents take Christmas presents to the teachers at school,” I explained. “What do you think we should do?”
I was too cheap to buy gift cards, they had 17 teachers in all, so we discussed several other options, when someone on Team Ham suggested we take them doughnuts!
We then concocted a plan to write a song, have Uncle Hayes go with us to play his guitar, to carol throughout the halls to each teacher they had and give out doughnuts and hot chocolate.
I remember the song well:Dashing through the halls
In a Lands End uniform
Each morning you greet us
With smiles so big and warm
We thank you for the things
You teach us every day
We know that grades are coming soon
We hope we get straight A’s
Oh Thank you ma’am
Thank you ma’am
Thank you Mrs. Jones
Thanks for all you do for us
We thank you Mrs. Jones
You can’t do that at just any school.
Imagine my brother-in-law and me showing up at [a large public middle school] playing a guitar with kids in tow belting out a homemade Christmas Carol.
It just wouldn’t work.
It did at St. Timothy’s because this is a safe place.
As I walked through the halls of school that day with the teachers being so supportive and the other students joking and laughing with us I remember thinking for the first time, “They don’t feel sorry for us. They think we’re a cool family.”
It was a milestone for me, and I think for my girls.
There is a very special spirit at this place.
You know your child has matured when they come home and insist that you take her to school early so that she can sticky note her history teacher’s car.
Yes – Annie T. covered Mr. Scheer’s car with sticky notes one morning… tons and tons of sticky notes. And her sisters and I helped.
That may not seem like a mature thing to do, but at St. Timothy’s, Annie T. found her voice with adults.
Not in an inappropriate way, but in a way that allowed her to feel comfortable asking questions and expressing her opinions to her teachers.
Each of my children had relationships with their teachers. The ability to interact with adults has translated, for all of my children, into confidence as they have gone out into the world that doesn’t always encourage young folks to express their opinions.
They don’t have to be asked to do so now.
They just confidently and maturely initiate conversations with adults and work to get their needs met.
There is a very special spirit in this place.
My kids entered this school as timid kindergarteners.
They left changed for the better.
Each had varying personalities and talents, and each was challenged.
Each left this school feeling as if she was capable of tackling the world.
When my family was at our lowest, the St. Timothy’s community surrounded us – wrapping us in safety.
St Timothy’s not only hired the teacher who bought Annie T. new tennis shoes but they also hired:
- The art teacher who still meets my sophomore in college for lunch when she returns to town.
- The literature teacher who confessed that Lucy was one of her all-time favorite kids.
- And the teacher who shared with my child who wet her pants one day at school that she sometimes did the same.
- And the one who brought To Kill A Mockingbird to life
- And the one who texted me with excitement when my kid cut 40 seconds off her mile in track.
St Timothy’s let my girls, and me for that matter, be us – supporting, giving space when appropriate, and holding kids’ and a father’s hands when needed.
I’m not sure, but I can’t imagine there are many schools that so readily allow kids to feel so safe, so comfortable that they can truly be themselves.
St. Timothy’s has done just that for my girls.
I am forever indebted.
I want to give back to this school because of what this school has done for me and for my girls. I want to give back to this school because I want future generations to have the same opportunities that my kids had.
I hope you feel that way too.
“That's when I feel most alive, when I'm helping people.” Paul Farmer
Ever since the beginning of the partnership between STS and St. Timothee’s School in Haiti, I had a strong desire to be part of it. It may have been a calling, or just me wanting to serve these beautiful people and see the land and school that I imagined.
Traveling up a long and winding, dirt road filled with people, we arrived to St. Timothee’s School. The staff greeted us with open arms, while the children’s faces expressed more curiosity and perhaps apprehension. Seeing it for the first time, gave me pause. The building is rudimentary and is not surrounded by much, but I had a feeling what was inside was going to change me forever.
The first day, our goal for the group of five was to observe and gain trust. Within no time, the children began to come up to us asking us questions in their beautiful Haitian Creole. The language barrier was there, but human interaction with gestures and facial expressions helped us begin to form a connection. Away from phones, cell service and any devices, we began to interact. Getting down on the level of the smaller children, we quickly found smiles, laughter and a people that are happy in a way that our society here has trouble finding.
Lisa Lowrance, Spanish Teacher, who has been on this trip before, squealed with delight when she saw the small, concrete building that serves as the school’s kitchen, which was built since her last trip. For some of us, we had no reference, but Lisa began to explain to us that on the last trip, the school had to cook their meals outside on an open coal fire. This new kitchen showed progress, which creates hope, and sometimes hope is all people have. After the last trip to St. Timothee’s in Haiti, the three teachers that went on the trip returned asking that we help provide at least two meals a week. It was wonderful to see that the meals were being provided due to our efforts. The meal of rice and beans that we served is sometimes the only meal these children get that day.
Still, much progress is to be made. The smaller children are in an outdoor classroom where wooden beams hold tarps that cover their wooden benches and makeshift desks. If there is inclement weather, they either pack inside with the other children, or just do not come to school that day. During the meals we served, there was a shortage of reusable plastic bowls and utensils. We had to reuse the bowls without water to wash them, and some children simply ate with their fingers and others just borrowed a spoon or fork from a friend. After witnessing this shortage, we decided to donate money we had for discretionary items for them to buy more bowls and utensils at the local market.
In addition to providing money for the utensils, we also took several suitcases full of supplies given by STS parents to donate to St. Timothee’s. On the second day, we presented these items to the head of the school and staff. The older students received red St. Timothy’s bags filled with pencils, composition notebooks, and pencil sharpeners. We also left them school supplies, soccer balls, air pumps for the balls and other donated items. The students and staff were very grateful, and the students clamored around to see the items. Playing games, assisting with a school activity, and in general watching the dynamics of our group interact with their staff and children gave me a sense of optimism and excitement. I feel this is the beginning of a long and wonderful bond and partnership that STS will have with this school.
When I left, it was with a sense of unfinished work. Knowing it might be some time before we see them again, I did feel heavy hearted and a bit helpless. Wishing I could stay to continue to serve as needed, I resolved to hopefully return. However, watching them kick a soccer ball instead of an old, plastic bottle means that every small chance we get to help, will be one that helps these children grow and learn. Being a part of St. Timothy’s School in Raleigh has meant working and having my children at a place where nurture and kindness abounds. The children of St. Timothee’s in Haiti exhibited such happiness, and care for one another, it confirmed for me that there aren’t that many differences between our students and their students. School is a safe place for learning and play. STS can help ensure this continues for not only their generation, but for many generations to follow, and I am beyond grateful to have been a part of such an experience.
For more on this trip, read Fourth Grade Teacher Kathryn Donohue's online travel journal.
From time to time, I'm asked to speak about the benefits of attending private or independent schools. Below are the three key points that I normally share... but first, two acknowledgements:
We support our public schools, too; the strength of our community and local economy is dependent upon their success. The Wake County Public School System has many talented, dedicated, hard-working teachers, leaders, and students who are our friends, neighbors, and family.
What is the difference between "independent" schools and "private" schools? Independent schools are non-public schools governed by an independent board of trustees. Private schools refers to non-public schools who might have some wider variations in their governing structure (including those governed by religious institutions and nonprofit or for-profit corporations).
Here are what I consider to be three benefits of a private/independent school education:
1. Autonomy, Predictability, Stability
Any parent who wants to better understand the rationale for a particular curriculum choice or policy, or to help improve/shape any policy, can simply come in and talk to the teacher or an administrator—there are no “higher ups in the system” or bureaucratic complexities that factor in. The private/independent school head of school has total operational authority for every aspect of student life, teaching and learning, admission, hiring, and school culture. This also means that private/independent schools experience little-to-no impact from partisan election shifts, policy debates, or state curriculum changes. Private/independent schools are remarkably stable places; a parent enrolling their child in first grade can reliably and comfortably predict the education they’ll experience many years later.
The Wake County Public School System is the largest in the state, the fifteenth largest in the country, and among the fastest growing. The public school population has tripled since 1980 and is expected to increase by 9,000 students by 2020 (http://www.wcpss.net/domain/100). Responding to this growth requires constant new construction, reliance on voters approving new bonds, regularly revisiting student assignment and busing protocols, and temporary classroom space. Private/independent schools fully control their own “growth destiny”, carefully maintaining school sizes to ensure that each student will always be individually known and cared for, without concern for reassignment, elections, lotteries, overcrowding, redistricting, or busing.
2. Teaching Excellence
One of the hallmarks of any private/independent school is its diverse and outstanding community of teachers. Every private/independent school is small enough to determine on its own what constitutes the “best teacher”- there is no need for a one-size-fits-all teacher qualification requirement. St. Timothy’s classes are taught by—among others—a former UNC professor, a former attorney, a successful entrepreneur, a professional musician, an off-Broadway actress, and a West Point graduate. Our head of school is a two-time valedictorian with a Georgetown graduate degree whose AP Government class was once named by College Board as the top in the nation... who discovered the private/independent school world when he was told he “lacked the proper credentials” to teach in public schools.
In a private/independent school, teachers have great autonomy, flexibility, and opportunities for creativity and innovation. They get to design special projects and whole classes according to their (and students’) interests and passions. Each school sets clear curriculum benchmarks and assessments to measure student growth, and uses nationally normed testing to ensure students compare favorably with their peers across the country. However, there is not an over-reliance on testing—teachers are not under pressure to “teach to the test.” This draws some of the most talented and creative educators to private/independent schools.
3. Transparency and Accountability
There are a number of high-quality regional and national agencies that accredit private/independent schools. Every five years, St. Timothy’s receives dual accreditation from AdvancED (the same body that accredits most colleges and universities) and the Southern Association of Independent Schools. Accreditation requires that a school meets key benchmarks for governance, legal compliance, financial oversight, and transparency. Most private/independent schools administer one annual standardized test (ERB CTP IV, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the Stanford Achievement Test) that compares each student’s performance with all students nationally to ensure appropriate skill acquisition and growth. Finally, because private/independent schools receive no taxpayer support, there is clear and unambiguous accountability to the tuition-paying parents—who must always remain certain of the school’s benefits in order to justify the financial sacrifices every family makes to pay tuition.
Josette Holland, STS Fifth Grade Literature and Grammar Teacher, recently gave the commencement address at Kents Hill School in central Maine. In her address, she shared words of wisdom from some of her STS fifth grade students, and we thought it was worth sharing with our STS community.
May 28, 2017
Good morning. Thank you Mr. McInerney, Mr. Chairman Edward Lane, distinguished faculty, proud parents, and honored graduates.
It’s good to be here with you on The Hill. You look beautiful, and you look ready. Your parents look happy, and they also look ready. You’ve done a lot of hard work, put in a lot of meaningful hours, and you’re ready to move on to summer. If you can forgive me for standing between you and your diploma, I have a few words to share.
You might be wondering who on earth I am. What with all these celebrities giving commencement addresses, and Joe Biden speaking last weekend down the road at Colby, you’re probably thinking “Wait now...WHO is our speaker?” Joe Biden is so charming, smiley, distinguished...whatever. I mean, I love Joe Biden as much as anyone, but oye--the crowds! The traffic! Route 17 couldn’t handle the traffic anyway. So who am I and why am I here. I’m here because I love Kents Hill; I worked here, made lifetime friends here, and even met my husband here. I grew up in Maine and I now live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and my life’s work is “school”. Teaching in some, leading in others; advocating for change, writing, and speaking up for kids has been what I do. I’ve taught in Africa, ushering children through the English language and introducing developmental psychology to nursing students.
It’s important for me that my children come to Maine regularly to visit my parents, and over the years through this travel experience I see how the Kents Hill spirit plays out in the different personalities of my children. For their whole lives, every summer I take all three of them on a series of flights from North Carolina that gets us up to Maine. My husband is usually needed at the hospital, so I fly solo with three kids. They are excellent travelers and have always been: quiet, helpful, and attentive. On one particularly stormy July afternoon many years ago, the four of us were flying through Laguardia up to Portland. If you know anything about flying through Laguardia in July is that a) traveling in July does not lessen the seriousness and sacredness of business travel for any New Yorker and b) you’re going to experience a life-threatening thunderstorm. It was in one of these particularly hairy storms that the Kents Hill spirit came out of each of the children, each in their own unique way. As the tiny puddle jumper bumped and jostled us, spilling everyone’s purse contents into the rolling aisles, the lights flickered and every button started blinking. As a mom, I was outwardly composing soothing rhymes and songs, but on the inside, I was writing our obituaries. Yet, it was amazing to see how each of my children reacted to what I was sure was the beginning of our end. Child #1, the 7-year old, cautiously kept his eyes out the window, giving me status updates. “The cumulous clouds look pretty big, mom. There goes some more lightning. We are almost through it.” He was the data-seeking care giver, the leader who keeps everyone informed of the situation. Know anyone like that? Then there was Child #2, the four year old, the servant leader, who deftly picked up all the nearby passenger’s items that kept spilling and bouncing in the aisles and returned everything to its proper owner “Here’s your New Yorker magazine. Here are your reading glasses. Here’s your shoe.” He’s my servant leader, helping others by literally picking up the pieces. Know anyone like that? Child #3, the two year old, had her own reaction. When we hit the largest bump in what I knew was soon to be our shortened lives, she put her hands up and yelled “AWWWWW YEEEEEAH!” and just like that, the small cabin full of nervous business travelers started giggling. She’s my sunny-side-up, full of joy kind of leader that everyone, including me, is going to want to follow. Know anyone like that?
But today, class of 2017, I am here to celebrate YOU and your Kents Hill spirit. I was asked to speak with you perhaps because the school knew that this particular class, with all its talent and drive and humor and friendship, needed a speaker who knows that you are a special group. Maybe the school knows that you need a speaker who won’t drag you into her own political agenda but rather will focus on you and your strengths on this very special day. I am not sure but for whatever reason, I’m here. You’re here. Let’s talk.
Lately, I’ve been hanging out with 5th graders. My fifth graders know a lot about you, class of 2017. Not in a creepy way, but in an admiring way. They see Kents Hill posters in my classroom and I read articles to them about you in the news letters. I show them your artwork, they see your huge smiles and how you love your new dining commons. They know how, when the sky is just right, students can see Mount Washington, and when the sun sets bright orange amidst the trees in October, the campus looks magical but that the real magic comes from the feeling of community here, where each student is met with unconditional regard. They hang on my every word when I tell them about my trips up here four times a year for board meetings. You are like movie stars to them.
It wasn’t too long ago that you were in 5th grade. Parents--can’t you just picture your child when he or she was in 5th grade? Tiny! Spirited! Goofy! The year was 2010; Kesha was tick-tocking (you know you had it on your iTouch). Mark Zuckerberg was The Person of the Year for inventing this thing called The Facebook, and Canada won the gold medal in hockey. IPads were rolled out. Girls, you were probably wearing pigtails and shirts with glitter on them. Boys, you were probably just starting to pick out your own clothes and you thought that wearing all your orange clothes at once looked really cool. All of you still snuggled with your parents.
But, oh, even then as a 5th grader, you were wise. Ten years old meant 10 thousand watts of energy. Your confidence was sky high--you could do ANYTHING. Fifth grade happens before the world can get to us and tell us that we can’t do things: that we’re not smart enough, that we’re not from the right part of town, or that we are not strong enough. In fifth grade, ambitions are facts. You probably wanted to be professional football players, pop stars, astronauts, race car drivers, or the President of the United States. The world was a great place. In 5th grade, political cynicism hadn’t reached your little ears.
My fifth graders are at that same confidence peak, where their voices are loud and proud, and their hearts are wide open to the world. The other day, I asked them to give you their best wishes, and perhaps offer you some advice for your journey. What poured out of them was comical, thoughtful, and remarkably insightful. I’ve chosen four pieces of advice to pass along to you today.
Kennedy is a bubbly musician whose pigtails flip around when she laughs. She wants you to always remember to take care of the little guys. Some of you might still think of yourselves as ‘the little guy.’ I’m here to tell you that as of today, you are no longer the little guy. Your presence lifts children. If you look a little person in the eye, you’ve just acknowledged her as a human being, you’ve just taken her seriously or you’ve just given him a voice. The reverend Daniel Heishman wrote that the most important pivot point for a young person is when she realizes that she matters, that her voice matters, and that she is not invisible. Did someone ever do that for you? I’ll bet they did and you know exactly who that person is. So when you take care of the little ones, you’re helping to create a generation of people who will remember you and, in turn, make the world a better place. Do this on an everyday level (for example, if you see a lemonade stand and there’s a kid running it, stop. Buy some lemonade) or as a hobby (mentor a middle school student when you’re in college) or on a life-changing level (you could build a dining commons for the school that you love).
Next I heard from Mya, a quiet, strong, peaceful girl who writes: be nice to your teachers. Not so hard at Kents Hill, where your teachers live, eat, play, dance, and laugh with you. I can only hope that your future is filled with professors and teachers as inspirational as they were here on The Hill. But in the future it might not be so clear who your teachers are. It is likely that you will encounter people who you might not recognize right away as your teacher. Your roommate, a maintenance worker at your school, the classmate who fixes your computer at midnight when it breaks….all theses people might not have the label ‘teacher’ but if you listen just right, you can learn valuable lessons just the same. Lessons about life, about your place in it….and you might find a connection that you can come back to one day. So...be nice to people; be nice to your teachers.
Connery is strong, athletic, and smart. He’s quiet and respectful; he’d rather listen than talk. In fact, he would rather run and chase a ball more than anything. He says “Trust your gut.” That’s it.
Moving right along...Hailey is a ballet dancer who twirls into class. She has a big laugh and she’s a leader. She says: when you get rain, look for rainbows. While I think she might actually mean for you to go outside and look for rainbows (“they’re so pretty!”) and that she might secretly believe that you might find a unicorn on the other side, it could be that she means that you should try to find the silver lining when life seems tough. For example, take friendship, your class theme. You’ve lived into it for the last four years. Leaving the Hill today, it won’t ever be as easy as it’s been to see your friends. Yes, you can Facetime each other, but I’m talking about the stick your head down the hall and yell “who’s hungry?!” kind of see-your-friends. The kind of messy hair, no make up, Saturday morning kind of time when you actually see, hear, touch and absorb your friends. Friends with whom you can hang out without anything to do, to be lazy together, to pig-pile on each other, and to laugh together. Kents Hill gave you that space. For those of you who spent your time hanging out in Sampson, Jacobs, Davis, Reed or Wesleyan, or who have spent countless hours in the art space with a friend or in the bookstore or on the ski hill freezing your buns off, you know what I mean; you are leaving a time in which the ease of friendship is greatest. And today, you’re leaving. Cormac Mcarthy says, “some events divide your lives into the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ ”. So, when you say goodbye today to your kindred spirits and you enter into your ‘after’, it might seem heart wrenching. It’ll feel like rain. Remember that Hailey said to LOOK for the rainbow. She didn’t say “the rainbow will fall in your lap”. Perhaps she means that you need to find it yourself. Being positive is an active choice; it takes work and it’s not always easy or apparent where to begin. Maybe you start with the simple realization: you are lucky to have such good friends to miss (says Winnie the Pooh). Or if you can’t find the rainbow after a healthy amount of looking….make it. Make plans. Plan to see each other and stick to it. Come back to The Hill. Meet up with each other in your home countries and in your home towns. Travel together. Take a road trip and visit each other in college. Go to each others’ big life events. Seeing friends is like nourishing your soul resume, and you’ll never regret it. So if you get rain, look for the rainbow; if you can’t find a rainbow, make one.
Tons of advice poured in for you from my class. Each fifth grader gave you a piece of advice--much of it had to do with not dropping your fidget spinners in the dirt, with eating balanced meals, how to tie your shoes under pressure, how not to get lost (and other such practical advice) and so I’ve had to save it for later. In a wonderful balance of life, you, also have taken some time to give me some advice for me to take back to them. You, too, have learned a thing or two here, and I’ll return to North Carolina and share your wisdom. They’ll be waiting for me Tuesday morning. Here’s what some of you shared about what you’ve learned during your time on The Hill:
Ellie Keeley, a four-year senior, the daughter of a teacher, says “Stop wanting to grow up because it'll happen faster than you think. Embrace your innocence and desire to learn. ” Ellie, being a faculty child wasn’t always easy. You had to share your parents with a whole student body. I’m proud of you for being so wise and sharing what you’ve learned. Hanging out with older kids sometimes makes you want to act older, but thank you for pointing out that all good things come in time.
Anicia Gillespie, a four-year senior says “Nothing is the end of the world. You might think that what is now defines what you will be, but it changes, so be open to growth.” Anicia, your advice tells me that you take lessons from the good and the bad. It tells me that, even though things seem tough, that you are acutely aware that burning toast is one thing but burning bridges is another, and if we can keep our connections to the people who love us and if we can forgive each other and ourselves for our mistakes, nothing is the end of the world. You’ve said that our mistakes are not what define us. You, my dear, are right. If we are open to the growth afforded to us in reconciliation, our bridges grow stronger than ever. Anicia, Wellesley is lucky to have such a bright, wise person headed their way, and your bridge back to Kents Hill will always be here. We are all grateful to count you as one of our own.
Drew Blackstone, a young man whose time here was short but whose impact will last long into the future, says “Don’t do stupid things!” That’s it. Drew, well said. I suppose when you’re on the mountain bike you have to make hundreds of quick decision all the time, yes? Your wisdom comes hard fought, I’m sure. Just like my little quiet Connery, you understand that your gut is another word for wisdom. The kind that Shel Silverstein wrote about when he wrote
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you--just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.”
Drew, your wisdom will help these kids with both the long term decisions that are so difficult for kids, but also for the short-term, spur of the moment decisions that could ultimately save their lives. I know that my little Connery will savor your brief but impactful words.
Nolan Smith a four-year senior from Massachusetts says “When you are a 5th grader if you had the “sick” shoes you were cool. When you are a senior you care less about what people think of you.” Likewise Isabel Charland, a 4 year senior from Maine says “Try your hardest not to worry about what other people think. Just be yourself, I promise that you will be a lot happier. The people who accept you for who you are are the people that matter most.” Nolan and Isabel, it only took you a short time to learn what many adults in the world have yet to learn. That it’s what’s on the inside that counts, that the people who criticize your appearance or tell you you’re not measuring up (or down) don’t really matter because they are the people who always need someone to put down. You two are among a class who knows that it’s what you do that matters. Kindness is an action, and kindness is true strength. That’s what matters. Nolan and Isabel, keep being strong, and keep insisting on what matters most.
Santa Takahashi, a four-year senior who like many of you, showed courage and independence when he came from far, far away to a tiny school on a hill in the middle of Maine, says “Be respectful to your parents.” All the times that your parents sat in the recital hall, listening to your music, or all the times your parents sat on the sidelines praying that you catch the ball, or the mornings that they woke up at 5:00 to take you to the rink...this is not ordinary. This is, in fact, extraordinary. Your parents spent all that time there not because they like the GAME….they spent the time there because they love YOU. So be gentle with them today because today is a transition day for your parents, too. An end of an era for them. Your high school days are over for them, too, and your new grown-up parent-child relationship is about to begin. In grown up child-parent relationships, of course y’all love each other, but it’s important to work on being LIKEABLE, even with your parents. Santa, every parent seated here today thanks you for saying that.
Michael McCarthy a post-graduate from New York says “As much as time seems to be moving slowly, enjoy it. Time flies, and although it may be tough, embrace the difficult times, because when the day comes for graduation, you realize that all those times--that’s what made you the person you are today standing on this stage.” Michael, your kind words are as strong and graceful as you are on the football field. You chose to spend a PG year on The Hill, which was a forward thinking, long-term decision. It is just one of your many experiences which are going to be put together into your very own Michael-mosaic and that will make you an even more wonderful adult.
And finally, the words of Katie Sprague. Katie, you’ve lead this class this year as Senior class president, and I can see why. Your advice sums it up, embodies the Kents Hill values, and will stay with my 5th graders for a long time. You said “You won’t believe me now, but years in school go by so quickly. Be sure to smile, get off your phone and spend time experiencing real life, do what makes you happy, spend time with people you love, be kind to your parents and teachers, learn as much as you can, and most of all, enjoy it.” Katie, the people sitting here believe you. Munro Leaf said “Wherever you go with a smile and a wish to like people, you’re going to find someone who is glad you’re there.” When you’re at Wake Forest next year, you are going to make such a difference. You’ll take your Kents Hill values to Winston-Salem. I’m not far down the road (I’ll be your stop on the way to the beach!). But I’m also there if you ever need me.
So, Class of 2017, thank you. Thank you for inspiring little kids down in North Carolina. Thank you for taking care of each other with your words and with your actions. Thank you for being ALL KINDS of leaders, whether you’re the leader that serves, that connects, or that makes everyone laugh with your joy of life. You’ve made your mark on this old, wise school, and your story is part of us now.
I’ll close with a prayer from the Reverend William Sloan Coffin that I say to my students at the end of the year. This prayer reminds me of YOU, what you’ve done on The Hill, and what you are about to do with your beautiful lives:
May God give us the grace never to sell ourselves short, the grace to risk something big for something good, and the grace to know that the world is now too dangerous for anything but the truth and too small for anything but love.
The art of reading to and with your children is sometimes a lost art in this day and age. With the rise of technology, students are often interested in reading as quickly as possible so they can move on to posting photos to their Instagram accounts or to creating Musical.ly videos to share with friends. However, students can gain much from reading to and with their parents or other expert readers at home throughout the week. Below is just a short list of some of the benefits of reading aloud together at any age.
Children can hear proper expression, prosody and fluency.
Beginning and intermediate readers need to hear proper reading modeled for them. When children read at home with older siblings, parents or grandparents, they are afforded the opportunity to hear from expert readers. They can hear how you stop appropriately at end punctuation. They can hear how you create rise and fall in your voice. They can hear how you stress certain syllables within words. They can hear how you add happiness, sadness or excitement in your tone when the narrator calls for these things. Modeling expression, prosody, and fluency for a child is always important, as these are critical components to creating an expert reader. Furthermore, these components also help build and strengthen comprehension skills.
Children can follow along with you in the book, and can continue to create a link between the letter symbols and letter sounds.
Understanding the various sounds vowels, vowel teams, and letter blends make can be challenging for any reader, but especially a reader who is just beginning to hone their craft. When reading together at home, it is important to have your child look at the book and track along with you. By doing so, the child is both seeing the letters and words on the page at the same time s/he is hearing the sounds you are making. While following along with you, s/he is strengthening the link between the sounds and symbols on the page. A child listening while following the text is as effective as a child reading a text independently. Furthermore, s/he is able to see how you break apart multisyllabic words and how you link sounds to the different pieces of the word on the page. This is a skill that becomes increasingly important as a reader becomes more and more advanced, encountering larger and more unfamiliar words with greater frequency.
Parents and children can work together to strengthen comprehension.
One of the greatest reading shifts that occurs is the shift from learning to read to reading to learn. No longer is the main focus on decoding the words and letters, but also on deepening a child’s understanding of what those words are saying. When reading together, parents can help question children about the story along the way to gauge their understanding of the text. (Lexile.com has a number of great questions you can explore and use when reading with your children. Moreover, many authors will also post discussion questions related to their novels to their websites.) If a child is lacking understanding at certain points in the book, parents can model quality reading strategies a child can add to his or her reading tool belt. If a child forgets important information or does not remember important information, parents can remind him to re-read. Moreover, parents can help ensure children summarize information along the way to keep information fresh in their minds. Finally, parents can even encourage the child to jot notes of important information along the way so that the next time you read together, the child can review the notes and have an immediate reminder as to what just happened in the plot. Not only can a parent model how to best read, but a parent can also model how to best understand.
Books allow parents and children to more easily access important societal themes that are relatable to a child’s everyday life.
Today’s books access many topics and themes in our everyday world; friendship, bullying, peer pressure, and self-confidence are just a few themes that come up repeatedly in fiction. Reading is an incredible way to follow a character’s journey and discuss both the actions and ideas of the text in a less personal way to a child. While it is always important to know the daily happenings in a child’s life, a book with relatable themes may open the door to more open and honest discussions at home.
If life gets in the way, there are some great online reading tools that can still help with expression, prosody and fluency.
Today’s world is a busy place, and there may not always be time to read and discuss reading together. If this is the case, Storia by Scholastic, which St. Timothy’s has a subscription to, has a “Read to Me” feature on many of their online books and articles. Audible.com, powered by Amazon, is an incredible source for over 180,000 books on tape. They offer a free 30-day trial, and have a minimal monthly fee should you end up really liking it. Finally, Storyline Online (storylineonline.net) is a great website full of famous actors and actresses reading children’s books aloud.
Over the summer, try to find some time to grab a blanket and a book, and do some reading outdoors together!
The interactive flat screen has been a wonderful and exciting addition to our second grade classroom. Over the past few weeks, I have noticed more than just excitement to learn. My students have a reignited passion for participating in lessons and learning new information. I contribute this passion to the recent integration of technology. Allowing students to use this technology has provided my class with more opportunities to take ownership of their learning. Just recently, we completed a spelling lesson in which students taught the class spelling rules and helped their peers understand vocabulary. In addition to this, having an interactive flat screen in the room has allowed our class to reach an infinite number of resources and manipulatives. Recently my math class has been using a tool called the number machine. This tool helps students create number sense, compare numbers, and extend their understanding by leveling the activity as they go. This resource would never be possible without this technology.
In second grade we complete a presidents project each year. Thanks to the interactive flat screens, we were able to reinvent the project this year using technology. Each second grader used a chrome book to research their president. To aid in the research process, we used the interactive flat screen to model good and safe research skills. Along with this, we were able to turn our flat screens into a “green screen”. This green screen allowed the children to look like they were standing in front of the White House! We are having so much fun in second grade integrating technology!
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