Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our Long Winter Weekend

Last weekend was our break in the long stretch of winter here in Greenfield. Most girls went home, a group of 30 or so went with Miriam Przybyla-Baum and fellow chaperones to Montreal, and several girls from far away stayed with relatively local family or friends. Two of those girls, Jet and Lisa, stayed with me. Because I worked on Friday and Monday, we really only had the "real" weekend to play; the girls had history term papers to work on so they operated on my schedule as well.

When I took them home on Thursday night, I told them the plan for the weekend -- we'd leave Saturday morning and head to New Haven to spend the weekend with my husband, Hank. I wanted to show them another part of New England and experience a few college campuses. We tend to make assumptions about what other people understand about our country; Jet and Lisa were anxious to learn even the smallest things. For instance, why can't you pass another car when there's a double line on the road? This is part of the education they won't receive in school!

As we headed down Route 91, we visited first at Quinnipiac University, stopping in the Admissions Office and walking around campus for awhile. Two people at school are graduates of QU and so it was interesting for the girls to see it. Five minutes away is our house; we unpacked and headed to New Haven to see Yale and grab a hamburger at Louis Lunch, home of the first hamburger in the U.S.
Lisa photographed everything, including the "toaster" where the burgers are cooked and our 3 hamburgers lined up on the table! We had a blast visiting Yale buildings, especially the Beineke Library and The Museum of British Art.
Then, of course, we had to do some shopping on Chapel Street and Broadway! Yale t-shirts and Chinese noodles were the popular items...

We did a few more fun things on Sunday -
walking on the beach and visiting a mall and, later, Ikea for errands - but my point in writing about all this is how much I got out of having Jet and Lisa with me. First of all, they were model house guests. Not only were they on time for everything and cleaned up after themselves and said thank you at every turn, but they also insisted on making me a Chinese lunch when we were still in Greenfield. Lisa was on the phone with her mother in Taiwan, getting instruction along the way (sorry, Mom!). It was delicious, and I learned a lot about how to cook some of their national dishes. We had such a good time sharing cultures -- I taught them some history of the New Haven area and new vocabulary; they gave me a lesson in Chinese so I now have some words and expressions saved on my iphone so I can practice. It's hard! And we all laughed uproariously. Though I have always been impressed by the girls who come half way across the world to learn and study here, my appreciation for their experience has been deepened by this weekend.

Thanks, Jet and Lisa; I had a wonderful time with you both!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Where Are We Now?

It's funny how the first half of the year was spent largely assessing where we are and where we want to go. Now that we're in the other side of the year, our focus has moved to what we are going to do to get ourselves there. I presented an update at the January Board meeting to give trustees an overview of the kinds of conversations that had taken place over the fall. Now it seems appropriate to share some of those here. By January, everything had finally coalesced into a clear view of what we need to do.

Last spring we launched our new website which has begged more of the question about how we present ourselves to the rest of the world (literally!). What is the language we want to use in order to best represent ourselves? Our first committee, the Marketing Committee, was formed and has been meeting regularly. It is for all intents and purposes the Advancement Team - Director of Development and Alumnae, Director of Communications, Director of Admissions, and me. One of our main thrusts has been to convince everyone on campus that it's important to relay whatever is happening on campus to these 3 offices so that they are aware of what's happening and talk about it appropriately. As Eric Swartzentruber, Director of Admissions, said to the faculty, "There is virtually nothing you do that I don't want to know about." As a community, I think we've improved drastically here.

Looking for language has also begged the question of what new language is "out there" in current research literature. What should we be aware of, and how does it inform what we do? The Administrative Team decided some months ago to divide itself into pairs, each one of which has chosen an area pertinent to working with girls and has read at least one new book on it. Pairs have made reports to the team which has engendered some excellent discussion and key questions for consideration as we move forward. Topics brought to light so far include: competition among girls and how to foster it in healthy ways, in both athletics and the classroom; the leadership style of Eleanor Roosevelt as a model of female strength and success; and relational aggression in girls and what can be done to mitigate it.

Much of our findings here have helped us understand that work in other areas of the school this year is on the right track. We have been working on creating broader academic help access to students and have created a plan most people are excited about. Starting next year the Academic Skills program will be housed in the Library, making it more of an Academic Center. In addition, two peer tutors will be assigned to each class period so students will be able to find help any time of day. Further, we will run a four-year weekly seminar program out of this Academic Center, providing each upper school grade a focus on particular skills building and self-reflection. This aligns nicely with some of the work already being done in the middle school.

A sub-committee of the Curriculum Committee has been looking at our current schedule and how it might change to afford us the time for much-needed work. This would include advisor periods, faculty and departmetn meeting times, and a tighter class schedule. We are also in need of better alignment between the middle and upper school schedules.