Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stories from Alumnae

I thought I’d get an entry in each week but have disappointed myself as we rolled our way into a week of Board meetings, MLK, Jr. Day, the Inauguration, and an alumnae-focused trip to Florida. My husband, Hank, reminded me that I don’t have to enter a highly polished or long essay; I need to listen to him more often!

So what’s on my mind these days?!!? --So much, I think, that I’m having trouble deciding what to write about. However, since I’m currently in Florida visiting alumnae, I’ll choose that…

Today we were in Sarasota and met with a wonderful group of women, most of whom had graduated from Burnham in the late 50’s-early 60’s. Though we went to different schools, it always amazes me how similar we feel about our school(s). Perhaps it was the influence of the Emerson family that made both schools feel so similar at the core. One woman, Marjorie, left the school before she graduated but credits Burnham with having given her the confidence to know how to act in all social environments. After high school, she spent two years in a British “finishing school” (her words!) where 40 girls from around the world gathered to learn from each other. She mentioned that it was there she began to appreciate what she’d been taught at Burnham; girls from such affluent backgrounds enrolled in the British program that she would have been a fish out of water without her earlier training.

I was asked by another alumna if we still had Mensendieck classes (for those of you unaware of Mensendieck, it was a Scandinavian posture and health class every new girl was required to take). Of course, the 70’s – when all tradition was questioned - got rid of that tradition. Gail, though, credited that class as the reason she eventually became a fitness instructor. Because Miss Otteson’s Mensendieck was for years a program at both Burnham and Stoneleigh, I (originally a Stoneleigh girl) can remember the posture prize given out at each year’s graduation. I even remember that Robin Fowler got the prize in 1967, and I was slightly jealous – knowing that I would never in a million years be the recipient of that award!

Also in our company today were two sisters who had come to the school in 1958 from Puerto Rico. Their stories of travel to and from the school in those days were fascinating, and I couldn’t help thinking how many of our girls today make the same kind of effort going back and forth to school.

Finally, we had the company of Penny, Burnham ’40, who began at the school in the days predating Mrs. Emerson’s leadership. In 1937 the school closed, due to poor financial management, and Penny went to another school for a year. But she returned in 1938 when Mrs. Emerson had come on the scene and borrowed money through Penny’s father’s bank. Penny was the first student to enroll under the Emerson tenure and was asked to show her room to all prospective students. She graduated later that year as one of twelve seniors. I had never heard this story before and felt so grateful that she had taken the time to drive herself all the way down from Bradenton! She was lovely.

There were other alumnae at the event today, and I enjoyed talking to them all – graduates of Stoneleigh, Burnham and SBS. Now, though, I’m off to have dinner in Palm Beach with one of my big sisters. Can’t wait to see her!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Aesthetics Game

Earlier this week I was the sub in Bill Ivey's Humanities 7 class. The first thing we did was march to the school store to pick up their new book, Romeo and Juliet. As I walked through the hallways with the last girl out the door, she turned and asked me, "Is this your most favorite job you've ever had?" I asked why she was asking me that question, and she came back, "Because you always seem happy." I love middle schoolers! Of course, she's a perceptive young woman; I do love my job.

When back in the classroom, one of the activities in this extended period was to try out a game a few of the girls had invented. Based on "Apples to Apples," the Aesthetics Game was designed to identify degrees of different aesthetic qualities in a variety of categories. The game requires three teams - one to "go" and "be the judge"; the other two teams receive equally divided cards in a particular aesthetic category identified by the throw of a die. Each team chooses the card representing the most "whatever the aesthetic is" and hands it to the judging team to decide which of the two "mosts" wins and gets the next turn. Card topics range from animals to nature scenes to weather patterns, and so on. The girls had designed and made the board, the die (made of taped together paper), and the cards.

What was wonderful about this game was its value for girls. They appreciate meaningful connection and collaborative work, and the small teams of this game afforded each girl the chance to use her own mind and share ideas. As each group made its decision about the best choice it would present to the "judges," the sharing of ideas was admirable. I was impressed by the eloquence of argument as they went back and forth about the relative value of any one card's representation. They were having fun while thinking critically; in this case, the girls really did know what was best for them. Would that all adults would listen to each other as well and come to as well-considered collaborative decisions! I had a wonderful time being in the classroom again. Thanks seventh graders!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

I became head of Stoneleigh-Burnham School on July 1, 2008 and for as much work as I've been able to get done, there never seems to be enough time to interact with everyone in the school community. So my New Year's resolution has evolved...I will start a blog in order to share my thoughts and experiences with those who are interested, and I will hope that you'll use this as a means to share your reactions with me. I'll try to make an entry at least once a week.

As we moved into the winter break, a friend reminded me that this vacation will mark the first half of my first year as head of school - a shocking revelation! It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in the backyard of Coleman House with our newly formed administrative team, getting to know one another and making plans for the year. Of course, the work of schools is never done, and we all wish our vision could become reality faster than it does. However, I see much good work accomplished in these first six months, especially as I've had time this vacation to reflect on all that's passed.

If I had to choose one moment that encompasses these first months, it would be the October day when a junior wandered into my office to tell me, "It all feels very different, but it's a good different." I don't want to change everything, but I do want to take the school from one point in time and move it forward in positive ways.