Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Tribute to the Emerson Family

When I was a student at SPH and then SBS, Mr. and Mrs. Emerson (the "E's) ran the school together. They were wonderful, and many of us stayed in touch with them until they died some years ago. When I was a senior Stoneleigh Prospect Hill, we merged with another girls' school in Northampton, The Mary A. Burnham School, thus becoming Stoneleigh-Burnham. Mr. E's sister Miriam Peters ran Burnham, following in the footsteps of her mother, Mabel Hood Emerson (ironically, I received the award in her name when I graduated). When the schools merged, Mr. E was the head and Mrs. Peters worked somewhat in the backdrop, orchestrating a fantastic trip to Paris for 5 weeks. I went on that trip, the ultimate inspiration for my becoming a French major in college, and ultimately a French teacher.

By the time I became head of SBS, Mrs. Peters was long retired, but she still lived in the area. Last summer she (and we) celebrated her 100th birthday. On October 29th of this year, 1 day shy of her 100th year and 4th month, Mrs. Peters passed away. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit with her several times in my first year of headship. She, like her brother and sister-in-law, has been an inspiration to me, and I marveled with each visit at her sharp mind - yes, even at 100.

Mrs. Peters' funeral service was a few weeks ago in Danvers, MA at the family burial ground. I only learned recently that she was a descendant of Israel Putnam, Revolutionary War general, and had grown up in the general's home in Danvers. The Putnam Family Burial Ground is a lovely, serene plot of land now wedged at the crossroads of Routes 1 and 62, behind the state police barracks: a sharp reminder of what "progress" has done to a once bucolic setting. It was a lovely ceremony, punctuated with a program and music that Mrs. Peters had chosen.

Three of my classmates - Deb, Carol and Jennie, as well as a few other Burnham alumnae, also attended the service. Though we felt somewhat like interlopers at this mostly family ceremony, we also represented the school family that Mrs. Peters had raised. I wondered if all those Emersons understood how deeply so many of us students feel about these Emersons, now buried here in this spot for their final rest. We could go on for hours about them, their influence on us, the stories of their families.

I learned that day that Mabel Hood Emerson didn't start her professional career until she had raised her children. Apparently her husband was about 15 years older than she and he, a very successful manufacturer, lost everything in the Great Depression. Mrs. Emerson, at 52 years old, went to work teaching school. Eventually, she bought a little school in Exeter, NH and named it the Emerson School for Boys.

Mr. E, her son Edward, eventually ran that school before he moved to Greenfield in 1950. While Mr. E was in Exeter, his mother went down to Northampton to look into buying her alma mater, The Mary A. Burnham School. Somehow she convinced a local banker to loan her the money, and sometime later she also bought Stoneleigh Prospect Hill. By the time I came along in the mid-60's, Mr. E was running Stoneleigh and Mrs. Peters (Miriam Emerson Peters) was running Burnham. Their brother John (now 95 and the last remaining Emerson of that generation) was the long-time business manager for Burnham. He was also instrumental in the family's opening a summer school, Burnham-by-the-Sea, in what are now buildings belonging to Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. Another brother stayed in Danvers and opened the Putnam Pantry candy shop which is now run by his son.

I thought then, and still think now, that the story of Mabel Hood Emerson is remarkable. Here was a woman who had raised 7 children before she found a career and provided for her family with it. Her children were all well-educated and well-traveled. I remember that Mrs. Peters and Mr. E always took a trip together during Spring Break, usually overseas. Mrs. Peters had studied at the Sorbonne and taught French early in her career; it was her enduring love affair with Paris that inspired our trip there my senior year. Though the family clearly endured some hard times, they also led a privileged life at many levels. Mabel Hood Emerson and her children Edward, Miriam and John left legacies behind that are still felt today at the school and that I am stubbornly committed to perpetuate.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Nice Surprise at the End of A Busy Week (and Weekend)

Last weekend we ended an intense week of Admissions Open House, Board of Trustees meetings and Family Weekend. It was all wonderful, but the pace of the week was fast and furious. I went to sleep very early on Saturday night when the campus fell quiet again! That said, I do have some impressions of the week that are probably worth sharing:
  • Open House is always fun. I get to talk about who we are and where we're going; girls and their parents get to try out this environment to see if it feels right. I love to see the reactions of parents as they try to imagine their daughters in our school, and of the girls interacting with our students. Any prospective student is lucky to have parents who are seeking the right match for the right reasons. We get to do it again on November 11th.
  • Going through Family Weekend in Year Two is so much more gratifying this second time around! Finally, I know most, if not all, of the parents and can interact comfortably them. I love talking to them about their children's growth and development, and now that I've been here for awhile I have witnessed that growth first hand and can speak about it specifically. I remember going to a soccer game last fall, chatting up what I thought was an SBS father on the sidelines -- only to discover in short order that his daughter was on the opposing team! A real first year foible. By contrast, this year I have only had to work at getting to know the families of our new students. A nice change.
  • I have to comment on our performing arts presentation that happens perennially on Family Weekends. This fall the performances were particularly impressive, given our scant 5 weeks of practice before the performances. Kudos to the arts department for inspiring our students to such heights in so short a period of time. I'm still singing Fly Me to the Moon in my head and remembering Quincy's strong voice belting it out. We all imagined we were in a smoky cabaret at midnight -- and it was only 1pm in the afternoon!
  • Our Board of Trustees is terrific, and the school is fortunate to have so many people who care so deeply for it. They worked hard through their two days of meetings, and in between sessions emerged to interact with the school community. Formal dinner on Thursday night was a lot of fun with the students, and coffee and Richardsons' chocolates were served after dinner in the Blue Room for trustees and faculty/staff. Delish. Since my arrival last year we've brought on four new trustees in all, two last year and two at this most recent meeting. All told, they bring expertise in finance, investment and development, key areas of our work these days. I am grateful for the support and guidance this board has given the school.
I headed off for Boston the Monday after Family Weekend in order to attend the Heads' Summit sponsored by the National Coalition of Girls' Schools. It was a day at the Simmons College School of Management with other girls' school heads, focusing on strategic thinking and goal setting related to finance. While these sessions, led by two Simmons professors, were interesting and timely, it was just as edifying to share experiences with our fellow heads of school. Many of them I already knew, but there were several others there who were new acquaintances.

I went back in to school on Tuesday, and Kate - a new ninth grader and alumna daughter - made my day. She sauntered into my office and presented me with this, her own rendition of our school logo:

I'm still not sure how she did it with such precision, but it now adorns my front stoop and is lit up each evening for all to see. These are the little moments that make a day fun. They are the things that define a place and are so hard to quantify when families come to find out what we're about. Kate went home to Vermont after her parents came for Family Weekend, but she still was thinking about Stoneleigh-Burnham while away. That's when she carved her pumpkin. I love that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Early Impressions of the Year

We're at the end of our third full week of classes, and it feels - in good ways - as if we've been here for months. I thought I'd fill this entry with quick snapshots of some the moments we've experienced.
  • We had an alum speaker at one of the first Housemeetings. She had just returned from a two-year Peace Corps stint in a Senegalese village and shared photos and insights with us.
  • Natalie (academic dean) had her baby! Jack Hudson Demers was born on September 21st and is now home learning how to live with two huge dogs...
  • A rousing 64 students and faculty have volunteered to walk for cancer research. We're divided into teams and will be doing some fundraisers in order to have the money needed to participate. I feel very proud of the number of our students who've come forward to help, and I have to say that my team is the best! No favoritism, of course...but we have already made jewelry and cookies to sell.
  • In the middle of week 2, Mina Cooper, director of riding, Regina Mooney, director of development, and I traveled to Charlottesville, VA for an alumnae event at Hyperion Farm, owned and operated by alumna Vicky Castegren. It was an incredible event on an incredibly beautiful piece of property with incredibly gorgeous horses. Vicky showed us some of the babies born on the property and demonstrated what she looks for in a good horse. We are thrilled that Vicky has agreed to run a clinic at SBS on February 20th! Among a few others we met while there was my classmate Karen van Lengen who has been dean of the school of architecture at UVA for the past 10 years. It was wonderful catching up and catching her up; Karen has agreed to come speak to our students sometime soon as she is currently on sabbatical.
  • At the Fall Horse Trials, our seventh grader Franny was remarkable getting people to buy SBS items. She even approached one guy to suggest that our water bottle would match his car well!
  • Two of my advisees wanted chocolate chip cookies for our advisory period snack this week; one wants potato salad! I accommodated both requests...
  • I heard great feedback about one of our new teachers. The girls love her class and think she's a great teacher. (I passed along the kudo.)
  • While we go through our daily routines, some of us are behind the scenes working on finalizing budgets and planning for next year's dates.
  • We are also planning for the upcoming Board meeting and have just added two new members and two new trustees emeriti. Great additions!
  • We'll be "testing" a new format for our Family Weekend this fall -- putting the arts performance on Friday afternoon so parents may take their daughters out for dinner and/or overnight.
  • Past parents Vicki and Jeff Palmer hosted a wonderful cocktail party at their home in Greenfield to which all current and past parents in Greenfield and neighboring towns were invited. It was wonderful to meet so many enthusiastic people and to have the opportunity to tell them what we've been up to at SBS.
  • I was just AOD this past weekend and witnessed Friday night Laser Tag on the first floor and video games in the Red Room on Saturday night. Lots of crazy fun...but lots of girls in the library working as well. Sunday was a quiet day filled with room clean-up and study time, though there was a college fair some of the girls attended.
  • Our Chinese teacher has finally arrived! After more than a month of going back and forth with the Department of Homeland Security, we secured the permission for Chia-Jung (Sara) Tsou to get her visa. Sara just finished her master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh, but she is from Taiwan and had to go back in order to do this paperwork. Her students are ecstatic and we are all SOOO happy she's here! She made a big hit last Thursday when she offered us Moon Cakes during our weekly faculty meeting; it is time for the Moon Festival in Taiwan and China so she brought these goodies to share with all of us. She's a smart woman!
  • Next thing you know, it will be time for Mountain Day so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The New School Year

It's hard to believe that we just opened the year and that I am embarking on my second year as head of school. Of course, I know so much more this year! And that includes people -- it feels good to welcome parents and students back to school and be able to call them by name. I've had multiple returning students talk to me about their commitment to making the year a positive experience for all. It is equally wonderful to see all the new families who come with great enthusiasm and expectation of a super year. I don't think we'll disappoint.

Something happened as we opened the year. It started at the faculty meetings when I could feel our hulk of a ship start to turn; we were all heading in the same direction and it felt good. With the work we did last year around how we view ourselves and the language we use to talk about the school, we were able this fall to present where we are to the faculty, first, and then to each set of parents as they registered their daughters. Finally, I shared it all with the students at Convocation. We will do the same with the trustees when they are here in October (though they have been kept abreast of our conversations along the way). We know where we're going; we know what we're about; and we know that we like it. That feels very good!

As we went through registration days, Convocation, and then bonding trips and pre-season, the buzz among faculty has been what a great student body we have. The girls have worked to know each other and to get ready to start working in all kinds of directions. One girl came in my office last night to say that she LOVES the new schedule (kudos to the scheduling sub-committee of last year). Several of the new international students, most of whom don't get to see the school before they arrive, have remarked that they are so lucky to be in a place that's this beautiful (wait 'til the foliage season!).

No more time for a longer entry. Suffice it to say that we're off to a great start!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hong Kong for another 24 Hour Visit, and then China!

From Taipei we flew to Hong Kong in order to get to Shenzhen, China. Though we have a few alumnae in Hong Kong, none of them were available when we were going to be there. Still, we had to spend one night in the city in order for me to get my visa to enter China - finally. Andy and I had both applied before we left, but I was denied. The father in Shenzhen who "sponsored" our visit had not written his letter on official letterhead. So while whoever read Andy's application found nothing egregious, whoever read mine was in a bad mood. I had to deal with it in Hong Kong.

Our student Shiyun '11 had been staying with me for the month of June, before going to a summer program at Andover during July. She and her parents were incredibly helpful in planning the trip to Shenzhen, and her father once again helped out when it came time to deal with the visa problem. A friend of his in the Immigration Office expedited the wait for me, and it was a quick (though frustrating, still) affair. By 11am the morning after arriving, I had my visa and was ready to go to China. Shiyun and a driver had picked us up at the Hong Kong airport and dropped us at the hotel; they picked us up again the next afternoon. Shiyun had spent the night with a friend she'd met at her summer school. Andy and I took a bit of a walk and I got a few pictures of the dramatic landscape of Hong Kong:

Unfortunately, the weather from Taipei on was nothing but rain and heat and humidity. It didn't make for very inspired photos, but I still shot away. Certainly, the photos of Hong Kong are much less impressive than what it really looked like.

When we drove into China, a mere half hour or so from our hotel in Hong Kong, we could sense we were entering somewhere different from the rest of our stops. Shenzhen is a city of 6 million people that was begun only 30 years ago; as you can imagine, all the buildings are new and tall.
We stayed in a hotel not far from Shiyun's family's apartment, and we relied on them to help us get from one place to the next. I should start this excerpt by saying that where Lisa and Chi-Hung left off in Taipei, Shiyun and her parents picked up in Shenzhen. They were unbelievably hospitable, and we are so grateful for all that they did for us. Not only did they host the reception, but Shiyun had personally called every student, new and returning, to encourage her to come to the event. We were stunned when 5 new girls and their parents joined us, one even flying in to attend the reception! Everyone at school is going to love them all.

Just as in Taipei, we had a mere few hours upon our arrival before the reception. Shiyun and her mother took us first for a "hotpot" meal which we enjoyed tremendously. Because her parents speak little English, Shiyun was called upon to translate everything for the days we were there, and she did an excellent job.

Our reception was in a lovely restaurant where we had a dedicated room with 2 sections: one with a giant, round table for our meal; the other with chairs and a screen for our "talk."

We were delighted to see the mother of Rebecca '10 arrive with a translator. Rebecca couldn't make it because she was in Beijing doing community service, but her mother, whom we have never met, made the effort. She was very helpful to the new families in understanding the "unspoken realities" of SBS life. ("When your daughter tell you this, think that..." and so on!) We had an amazing meal with I-don't-know-how-many courses; to us, it seemed the food just kept coming and coming. It was such a delightful time that I forgot to take any pictures of it! I did, though, take a picture of my beautiful bouquet of roses that all the parents bestowed upon me (and a similar one upon Mrs. Patt). These were wrapped in a kind of burlap and meshed fabric that held the flowers in water during our entire stay in China. They were amazing!

The next day we joined Shiyun and almost all the new girls (Jane had to go home) as well as two mothers at a nearby Chinese Cultural Folk Village, an instructional, hands-on place where visitors can learn about Chinese history and culture. (l to r: the mother of Selma, Selma, Phoebe, Kathy, Icey, Mrs. Patt, Shiyun's mother, Shiyun)

We had a wonderful time walking around, getting to know each other and laughing quite a bit. We also visited two performances, one an impressive horseback exhibition detailing the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another; the other a beautiful dance performance representing each of the provinces of China and its traditions.

One tradition is eating a favorite of all Chinese children, a mountain of frozen crab apples covered in candy coating (not as sweet, though, as our candied apples). It was delicious on a steamy and humid day!

We also stumbled across a poet-calligrapher who made a poem for us about SBS; we've brought it home and will have it framed when we can get a translation done to accompany it.
We ended our day with a lovely Brazilian dinner in another impressive restaurant, hosted by Mr. Wang, the father of one of our new students. We were seated at the table once taken by the president of the republic and his wife. Andy and I were meant to sit in those two seats! The meal was delicious, and we ended the day feeling like we know our new Chinese students and their parents very well, as they do us. It was a perfect day.

The next day we met Shiyun and her mother for brunch and enjoyed some food we had never seen nor tasted before. One of our favorites was a kind of angel food cake with soft egg yolk inside. Sounds disgusting, but it's not.

We also got the definitive lesson on eating with Chinese utensils and put the food in the bowl and the scraps on the plate. As in other places, we laughed and shared stories, despite our language barrier with our hosts. Our final night of the trip (except for our plane ride home) was spent with Shiyun's entire extended family - aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. They were all upbeat, wonderful people who showered us unnecessarily with gifts and love. We enjoyed a meal together in a private room at a restaurant that specializes in Cantonese cooking where we had one of the best meals of our entire trip. Seated around a giant, round table with a lazy Susan in the middle, we were fed rounds and rounds of delicious food.

We were also serenaded by regional music sung and played by musicians who came in and got Andy and me up dancing and singing with them (only Shiyun's family can ever use this to blackmail me!).
We were also solicited to officially cut a piece of roasted goat and spray some wine into the sky and onto the ground to signal good luck. It was a very special occasion for us, and we thank Shiyun's entire family (here, not quite in its entirety) for making us feel so appreciated.

There are so many things to say about this trip. In sum, though, Andy and I both felt privileged to represent the school to so many wonderful people. Our alumnae in Asia are no different that those elsewhere - they appreciate the experience they had at SBS and have gone on to lead incredibly interesting and meaningful lives. Our current parents, especially those who have not been able to come to the U.S. to see their daughters at school, really need for us to bridge the gap and help them know us better. Our students need for us to know how much we enjoy and appreciate where they come from, in any part of the world! And we need to continue to educate ourselves and talk with our consitutents along the way about our learnings. We need to continue building global understanding and to take every opportunity to help our girls cross cultural boundaries. We look forward to returning to Asia in the future and say thank you - Arigato - Gansa Hamnida - and Shishi - to everyone who helped make this a successful trip for SBS!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thwarted by the Typhoon, but we finally get to Taipei

Twenty-four hours after being sent back to Seoul, we headed once again to the airport and finally got to Taipei. We were so happy to be greeted by Chi-Hung '09 and Lisa '10 who took us by car into the city. Chi-Hung and Lisa told us a lot about the city while we were traveling to the hotel. When we asked what we should try to do, given our less-than-24-hours, Chi-Hung said, "Taipei 101." I thought she was so clever to suggest that we get in a quick, survey "course" of the city...until I realized she was referring to one of the tallest buildings in the world - Taipei 101 which has 101 floors. We had a good laugh over that!

We loved the Landis Taipei Hotel and the people in it. They could not have been more accommodating, especially given our delay and thwarted reception. The hotel staff quickly put together a much smaller and intimate area where we could greet the few people who were still able to come see us. Lisa's parents had thoughtfully sent us a beautiful basket of Taiwanese fruit some of which Lisa cut up for us to taste as we got settled in our hotel room. It - Asian pear, dragon fruit, assorted melons and so on - was delicious! When we had unpacked a bit and tasted our fruit, the girls took us out again so we could see a bit of the city. It was raining (remember, there was a typhoon hitting the southern part of the island!), and we had just about an hour to zoom around Taipei. We didn't even get out of the car, but we were able to gain an impression of a city we thought we'd love to return to see more of. Here are some "rainy" views:

We got back to the hotel just in time to change for the reception and greet our guests: current students Eudora '11 and her mother, Sara '11 and her dad, Lisa and her parents, and Chi-Hung. We were also wonderfully happy to see two alumnae, Alice and Flora , and Flora 's mother, Bernadette.

It wasn't the size group we had originally anticipated, but we were so grateful to those who were able to attend. We enjoyed everyone there and learned a lot about Taiwan, business in Taiwan, and the life of teenagers there! Thanks, especially, to the two fathers there - Mr. Hsieh and Mr. Cheng; it was Fathers' Day in Taiwan that night!

Lisa, Chi-Hung and Eudora insisted that we join them after the reception for a trip to the Night Market, an invitation we couldn't resist! And I am so glad we went; it was a riot. First, a trip to the incredible food area where one can buy any kind of food you can think of. We tasted some fried chicken and an oyster omelet, both of which were delicious. Of course, the girls bought some requisite Bubble Tea.

From there, we headed to the many rows of shopping booths -again, where you can seemingly find anything you can think of. My favorite part of the evening was when we took pictures of ourselves in a little booth and then decorated our creations in another machine. We did four pictures, but I'll just share my favorite -- Andy almost guffawing while Lisa was teasing her. Take a look:
On top of all this, there were Lisa and Chi-Hung waiting for us again the next morning at 7:30am in the hotel lobby as we were about to depart. They escorted us back to the airport and bid us adieu. There is no question that our brief trip to Taiwan would never had had so much meaning if it weren't for these two. We are forever indebted. Shishi, girls! And a big shishi to everyone who came to our event; we are very appreciative!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Backtracking, again...Seoul, Korea

We're back! And after being blocked from Blogspot in Taiwan and China, I will pick up where we left off in Seoul -- what at this point feels like a month ago! A public thank you to my husband, Hank, who tried to let everyone know that we were alive and well, albeit in a more highly controlled environment.

The day after our alumnae and family event in Seoul we spent some time with a couple of consultants in the morning and early afternoon. We enjoyed conversation with them and feel that we learned a lot about the lives of Korean students. One of the consultants also runs an "academy" (after-school or summer-school programs to teach English, primarily, and SAT / TEOFL prep). By coincidence, she had the English Dept Chair from Deerfield teaching for her this summer, and so we all had lunch together at a wonderful restaurant nearby. It was interesting to hear what his experience had been like this summer and to learn more about these "academies" in Korea from an American educational perspective.

Our late afternoon and evening was spent with our student Moon Jung and her family. Moon Jung took us to a beautiful imperial palace right in the middle of Old Seoul, an area we had not yet seen and were happy to visit. Suddenly gone were the big business buildings we'd grown familiar with on the other side of the river, and everything looked more like what we expected from an old city such as this.

Chungdeokgung Palace was a wonderful place, filled with all kinds of interesting views and insights into the life of the Korean royal family. We walked around the grounds for several hours, and I just kept clicking away. Both the buildings and the grounds were beautiful. It was hot, but we persevered, and saw most of what was there:

We went from Chungdeokgung Palace to a charming area of Old Seoul with antique shops and a charming tea room where we each enjoyed a bowl of unique (to Andy and me) tea. It was all delicious with an order of some rice pastries, and we loved the ambiance of the place.

Once done with the tea, we sauntered along the street, entering shops that appealed to us. Andy and I bought a few gifts for family members, and we were on our way to meet Moon Jung's parents and interpreter for dinner.

Moon Jung and her parents thought we might like some familiar food, having now been in Asia for some time. We therefore dined in a beautiful Italian restaurant that was a part of a hotel, and it was perfect. Despite any language barriers, we enjoyed lively conversation, lots of laughs and a wonderful meal. Moon Jung's father was very kind in offering us gifts for our husbands as he figured they were lonely at home without us. That was just so sweet (and both husbands really appreciated being thought of!). Her mother was as good an audience for her husband as we were, and we all would hang with anticipation on the translator's words as he told another good story or joke. Here we all are, fully sated:

Many thanks to the Choi family for a wonderful memory of Old Seoul and fine Italian dining. Gansa Hamnida!
(I'm not sure why the writing is suddenly blue and underlined, but I can't seem to change it...)