‘Possibilities We Can’t Even Envision’

On his first trip to China and India as Country Day’s emissary, Head of School Steve Lisk experienced a taste of the rich cultural bounty open to students.

While this was Lisk’s first trip to Asia on behalf of the school, it was the ninth for Special Projects Administrator Shelly Landau and International Student Liaison Helen Najarian. In addition to reaffirming existing relationships in China, the trio also deepened our newest one, with an independent school in India. The goal was to expand Country Day’s connections to schools abroad, increasing the opportunities for LCDS and international students to benefit from the exchanges. The resounding success yielded “possibilities we can’t even envision,” Lisk said.

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Candles — Prime!

“We want to build out our Global Program depth to offer our students a richer experience as they go through LCDS, and foster increased trust between schools and understanding between cultures,” Lisk said.

As part of that effort, Lisk’s first destination was Shanghai, home of one of our global partner schools, SMIC, as well as the parents of several current international students. One of the things that struck Lisk most in meeting our Chinese parents was the similarity to the value our American parents put on education.

“These families recognize that our [school] system is vastly different than theirs. The strength of American universities and colleges is also well understood and so parents who want to provide their children the best undergraduate opportunities know that attending a secondary school like Country Day is the best way for them to accomplish this. The Chinese families feted Lisk with gifts and meals, and conveyed gratitude and warmth about their children’s experiences at LCDS.

“One of the things we have going for us as a school, and there are many, is a remarkable name brand,” Lisk continued. “The word-of-mouth advertising that happens among similarly education-minded families is an asset that you can’t put a price on.”

He continued, “Trips like this one in October are emblematic of the evolving role of independent school heads. The rising tide of globalization has made foreign travel and education attainable for an ever-increasing number of people around the world, and Country Day is poised to reap that benefit both for our own students and those of partner schools as well.”

Our newest partner school is the Navrachana International School Vadodara, in Gujarat, India. NISV shares values and a mission remarkably similar to Country Day’s, though Lisk was fascinated by the many ways those shared fundamentals animated a distinct and different school experience.

Our introduction to Navrachana came thanks to Peter and Leigh Rye, parents of Caitlin ’06 and Oliver ’13, whose international business gives them close ties to the area. This beginning with NISV continues a tradition of serendipitous global connections for LCDS, beginning with John Jarvis’ alma mater Kelvinside Academy and continuing with the retired headmistress of SMIC, who happens to be Najarian’s aunt.

On the last Friday of their trip, Lisk, Landau and Najarian took in a genuine treat.

“We’re sitting in the audience and they’re staging a performance of ‘Don Quixote’ with a thousand students on a stage made of bamboo and rope. The feeling of community was overwhelming and the show of school spirit was truly impressive. It just drove home that people around the world live lives of meaning, but it’s different, it’s rich and it’s enriching. I’m excited for our students who’ll be exposed to this wider world,” Lisk said.

He wanted to give special praise to Shelly Landau and Helen Najarian, or “Shelen” as the globetrotting pair are affectionately known. Without their efforts, whether driving students to visit colleges or calling on families half a world away to let them know their kids are in loving hands, the school would quite simply be a different place, and not for the better.

“They’re extraordinary. It’s hard work what they do, and they take on their roles guided by a clear love of our school,” Lisk said. “I’m incredibly grateful for both of them.”

Making the Audience Squirm, but ‘Funny Squirming’

“I love him,” Wolanin swooned. “In undergrad I first fell in love with him and I saw ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ and ‘The Misanthrope’ and, of course, ‘Tartuffe.’ ‘Tartuffe’ is my favorite. It’s just…”

With that, Director Kristin Wolanin trailed off in smiling reverie. The “him” she fell in love with is Molière, one of the French language’s greatest playwrights, whose comedies have remained popular since the 17th century and continue to grace stages around the world.

The curtain will rise on the Lancaster Country Day theater troupe’s production of “Tartuffe” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 1-3, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Nov. 3. Advance tickets are $7 and available here. They will be $10 at the door.

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Written in 1664, “Tartuffe” has left a lasting impression on both French and English, with the name of its main character entering the lexicon as a byword for a religious hypocrite or someone who puts on ostentatiously virtuous airs.

“Tartuffe is a piece of work,” Wolanin said, going easy on the play’s titular pious fraud, who cons and swindles and attempts to corrupt every other character in the play. “He’s selling salvation and the rest of the characters so blindly believe that this guy is their salvation. Until they’re forced to learn otherwise.”

In bringing to life a story written in another language more than three and a half centuries ago, the cast faced a daunting challenge, but the main difficulty came neither from the translation nor cultural distance. What makes “Tartuffe” particularly tricky to perform in a naturalistic way is that the entire play is composed in rhyming couplets.

“Getting the rhythm of the dialogue right has been probably the hardest part for everybody, but when they get there and it just flows and they’re comfortable with it, it’s beautiful,” said Wolanin. “I love that it was written in 1664 and still feels timely. And timeless.”

One thing that’s not timeless is fashion, but for this production, Wolanin opted to be true to the period, decking the cast in full Louis XIV-era regalia. To help get the look right, the school partnered with Millersville University for its costumes, which don’t skimp on the powdery wigs or frilly frocks.

A skill that was vital for the actors to master, and that will be just as important for the audience, is listening closely. While someone in the course of regular talking could speak in iambic pentameter without it sounding stilted, the odds of that person communicating in extemporaneous rhyming couplets are decidedly slimmer.

But Wolanin promises that the audience’s close listening will be rewarded.

“I want people to come away thinking about whether they’re being Tartuffed somehow,” Wolanin said. “It might make people squirm. But funny squirming.”

“Tartuffe,” 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 1-3, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Nov. 3. Advance tickets are $7 and available here. They will be $10 at the door.


“Tartuffe” Cast & Crew

Cast:

Orgon — David W.
Elmire — Kendall K.
Damis — Laurel M.
Mariane — May B.
Madame Pernelle — Mira H.
Valere — Hayden F.
Cleante — Ben K.
Tartuffe — Thomas W.
Dorine — Adrien W.
Flipote — Amelia L.
The Officer of the King — Tess M.
M. Loyal — Frannie T.

Crew:

Production Stage Manager — Malia C.
Assistant Stage Managers — Kylie D. and Joan M.
Sound Designers — Grace F. and Piper S.
Sound Run — Piper S.
Props Mistress and Run — Gaby N.
Props Crew — Mira H., Tess M., Maya R. and Linnea W.
Props Run — Linnea W.
Lead Set Design — Carly C.
Set Crew/Stage Crew — Julia B., Riyley E., Amelia L., Piper S., Adrien W. and Linnea W.
Publicity Chief — Charley W.
Costume Mistress and Run — Katrina F.
Costume Crew — Julia B., Sam L., Sarah H., Amelia L., Christopher M., Julia N., Sadi S., Frannie T. and Adrien W.
Costume Run — Amelia L., Christopher M., Julia N. and Sadi S.
Master Electrician and Run — Justin K.
Box Office Manager and Run — Amelia S.
Box Office Assistant and Run — Sophie M.
House Manager and Run — Maya R.
Ushers — Julia B., Carly C., Riley E., Sam L., Grace F. and Sarah H.

Learning How to Learn

“Neuroteach” co-author Glenn Whitman will speak at Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, about helping children achieve their full potential. The event is free but tickets are required. Click here to register.

Last year when Rachel Schmalhofer walked into a workshop on learning and the brain, she was curious. When she walked out, she was converted.

“I was just blown away at how fun and charismatic they were, and how easily they took meaty scientific research and made it accessible. As soon as I left the workshop, I knew we could apply what they were talking about across the whole LCDS community,” said the director of learning services.

“They” are Ian Kelleher and Glenn Whitman, and the pair distilled current research on mind, brain and education science into an eminently readable and practical book called “Neuroteach,” which every teacher received a copy of at the beginning of the year.

“This is just the jumping off point,” said Schmalhofer. “LCDS has made a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of mind, brain and education research and our efforts will continue to grow every year. What we are doing is a really big deal and represents an effort to create a culture of learning not just for our students, but for our teachers and parents as well. We want to practice what we preach.

“It’s different because it’s an undertaking that engages the entire community: teachers working to use current research to inform their practices, and teaching students to become more efficient, effective, motivated learners; parents continuing the conversation at home; students developing their abilities to be reflective about their learning and to approach learning from a mastery orientation rather than a performance orientation,” she said.

Classes as disparate as Brenna Stuart’s World Civ II and Sheryl Krafft’s preschool have embraced the idea that understanding the brain, the organ of learning, is critical to learning, and they’ve seen it bear fruit. The profound — if occasionally just plain common sense — ideas animating their efforts receive  thorough and engaging explication in Whitman’s “Neuroteach.”

Whitman is the director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) at St. Andrew’s School, with whom Country Day has become a partner school. Other partners include Johns Hopkins and Harvard. Whitman is coming to Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, to speak with the community about helping children achieve their full potential. Click here to register.

Part of the partnership entails sending one administrator and one teacher from each division to a week-long workshop at the CTTL for at least the next three summers. This year’s group consists of Todd Trout, Lindsay Deibler-Wallace, Sue LeFevre and Joie Formando.

“Why are we doing this? Because we always want to be the obvious best choice for your child’s education,” Schmalhofer said.

The Never-Ending Essay

For the last three years, the kids in Stuart’s World Civ II class have started off the year with an assignment that, if it were a movie, would be terrifying and star Boris Karloff: The Never-Ending Essay.

Students start in September and, this year, they finished in February.

It’s pass-fail with four phases. The first is Argument, the second is Organization, the third is Support and the fourth and most difficult for student and teacher alike is Clarity. In this last section, students have to shorten their essays

The minimum number of drafts is four; most kids do 12.

Stuart’s rationale for pass-fail is that, “Grades are a primitive form of feedback and this takes the focus away from grades and puts it on the feedback, which they can put into practice almost immediately. And it also allows me to completely individuate the instruction,” she said.

“So I’ll say, OK, your essay is this many words, make it 20 percent shorter. Find every instance of some form of the verb ‘to be’ and change 70 percent of those to active verbs. Sometimes the result is genuinely elegant, and I’m like, ‘Go read this to your mom!’”

“At the end of it, are they better writers? Yes. And they take ownership of their work in a way they didn’t at the start of the year,” Stuart said.

Emphasizing the value of feedback to further students’ learning is a critical idea in “Neuroteach,” that aligns perfectly with the book’s goals, that is, “research-proven foundational principles of effective teaching,” Schmalhofer said.

“It occurred to me that coaches have a different relationship with their players than teachers do with their students, and they can be hard on them in a way that drives them.” Stuart the Crypto-Drill Sergeant finally cracked the code, however, because the “essay puts me in the position to coach. It changes the relationship,” she said.

Filling Up Little Toolboxes

In the preschool classroom, Sheryl Krafft is putting another “Neuroteach” lesson into practice: the idea that a mistake is an opportunity to learn and try again.

“Mistakes are part of being a person,” Krafft said. “I want to show kids that when something happens, it’s not the end of the world. You just make a new plan. I want to strengthen their resiliency and fill up their toolbox so they have strategies for when things go wrong.

“I want to enable them to feel capable and to feel confident knowing they have a hand in solving problems, that they can do things on their own and make them come out the way they want if they stick with it and see their mistakes as a natural part of accomplishing something,” Krafft said.

Schmalhofer held up Krafft’s work as another model that exemplifies a “Neuroteach” principle.

“What Sheryl’s doing is laying the groundwork for students as young as 3 to approach learning from a mastery, rather than a performance orientation,” Schmalhofer said. “It’s a foundation that our teachers will be able to build on for the rest of their time here at LCDS.”


“Neuroteach” co-author Glenn Whitman will speak at Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, about helping children achieve their full potential. The event is free but tickets are required. Click here to register.

 

Enjoying the Right to a Speedy and Public Mock Trial

By David W. ’18

On a crisp February morning, seven sharply dressed men and women flowed into the Lancaster County courthouse, through the security checkpoint and up to the seventh floor, toting the full complement of lawyerly accessories: briefcases, legal pads, and loose papers, pens and folders.

They walked briskly down an empty hallway toward Courtroom 19, where a bailiff ushered them through the two large wooden doors. They took a seat at one of the two counsel tables and arranged their case materials while they waited for the judge and jury to arrive.

The seven looked the part and acted the part, and they cut an impressive professional figure. Except for the fact that none of them were lawyers.

The dapper group consisted of six LCDS students and one teacher, and made up half of the school’s Mock Trial team. More likely than not, we looked less important and impressive than described. Still, narrative license aside, we walked with confidence.

“Mock Trial is performative,” said Jack K. ’19, an attorney for the LCDS Mock Trial team. “You need to look confident. The other team, the judge and the jury will think you know what you’re doing.”

Mock Trial is certainly a performance, and the preparation required to put on a good show is demanding. The class is a single-trimester elective course that begins in November. Students receive case materials shortly before Thanksgiving; by the end of the month, they have been assigned to either the Plaintiff (in a civil case), the Prosecution (in a criminal case), or the Defense, and they begin preparing for a trial.

Come early February, students compete against another team in front of a real judge and jury. They call witnesses, they make objections — they are in control. LCDS sends two groups to the courthouse on two days every year. This year, the Plaintiff team went first on February 13 and the Defense team followed a week later.

“It’s an incredible course. At the end of the day, we have to take a giant packet of course materials and condense them into a presentable, believable case that the jury can get behind,” said David D.T. ’19, a veteran of Mock Trial.

The case materials include jury instructions, a memorandum and opinion, witness affidavits, and around a dozen exhibits. The LCDS Mock Trial team must craft a legal argument around these papers. Each year, the Pennsylvania Bar Association provides the material for a civil case, giving three witness affidavits to both the Plaintiff and the Defense. On each side, three students play the role of witnesses and three others play the attorneys.

The class appeals to a diverse set of students with a variety of interests. Some take the class out of a passion for debate; others as a way of pursuing theater beyond the stage. Many share an interest in the law, and Mock Trial provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore both legal research and litigation.

However, the class is much more than Practical Lawyering 101; much of the curriculum is deeply rooted in philosophy and history. Students must have a basic understanding of common law in order to grasp more complex topics in the legal code.

To prepare for the final show, students comb through the affidavits and exhibits to gather evidence and draft questions for direct examination (in which an attorney asks questions of a friendly witness) and cross examination (in which an attorney demands answers from a hostile witness).

They read the Mock Trial Rules of Competition as well as the Rules of Evidence, which are taken nearly verbatim from federal evidentiary code. They research objections and prepare to defend their evidence at trial. The case is fiction, a contrivance of the PA Bar Association, but the process is very much real.

At trial, one attorney from each team makes an opening statement, followed by the Plaintiff beginning their case-in-chief. They call witnesses and ask direct questions. After direct, the Defense begins the cross-examination, using sharp logic and biting language to discredit the witness and undermine his or her testimony.

While a direct examination is more narrative, on cross-examination, the witness and the attorney fight for control. The lawyer backs the witness into a corner; the witness takes the question, spins it, and turns it back on the attorney. So it goes.

Throughout the entire process, opposing teams object to questions, evidence and procedure. The judge sustains or overrules every objection, and all the while the jury ranks the performances of witnesses and attorneys.

After the closing arguments, which are largely improvised and argumentative, the jury deliberates, tallies up the points, and announces a winner.

This year, LCDS Mock Trial posted its best performance in its decade-long history. After years of frustrations and learning experiences, the team has found its strength. “In past years, we spent a long time focusing on the substance of our argument. We’re still doing that, but this year, we rehearsed decorum and procedure. I think that’s what got us points with the jury,” said Matt Kelly, a local attorney who has run the Mock Trial program at LCDS since its inception.

“There’s a Mock Trial Council, complete with a Board of Directors and member students, that manages much of the class. I teach and advise, but the students have a lot of control over this operation.”

The competition culminates in a statewide championship trial in Harrisburg, with the winner advancing to national competition. Next year, David D.T. ’19 predicts, “We’re taking it to nationals. That’ll be our year.”

Artist in Residence Performs with LS Students

Prolific children’s musician Steven Courtney has been working with students in preschool-fifth grade to put on a unique performance for parents and other friends in the audience. The animated and eclectic show featured Courtney’s own compositions, such as “Banana the Rhino,” as well as Bob Marley’s laid back anthem “Three Little Birds.” Project Arts made the special event possible by underwriting the Artist in Residence program that allowed Courtney to work as closely with the students as he has.

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