‘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.”

The Great Outdoor(s) School

By Nisha M. ’25
Photos by Mrs. Noecker

Over two exciting nights, the sixth grade learned about many different aspects of nature, in addition to team-building skills and how to work together on our trip to Outdoor School at the Penn State Nature Center at Shaver’s Creek.

The class, counselors, and teachers all ate together, “family style,” passing plates and serving others. At the beginning and end of every meal, we sang songs about the Earth and gardening.

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We went outside at night for activities with our cabin groups that required a lot of collaboration. The cabin groups would work together to figure out how to complete the challenge. This teamwork is not only an important social skill for us to know now, it is also a vital, long-term skill that will help all of us later on.

In our learning groups, we went to the creek to learn about the water cycle. We learned all about pollution by inspecting the water to find small creatures who are either pollution-tolerant or intolerant. Afterward, we made Soil Soup, whose broth was creek water and into which we added moss, crushed rocks and more. Then we were told that it wouldn’t be finished for at least 100 years, because that is how long it takes for soil to develop. This activity helped everyone learn about the importance of the tiniest bit of soil, as well as erosion.

Another particularly memorable experience was a visit from a broad shouldered hawk named Tea. We learned about the characteristics of raptors, while the hawk flew around and was rewarded with rabbit meat.

This fun and thrilling day ended with a nighttime hike. To learn about nocturnal animals that largely depend on their hearing, like owls, we played games where we had to rely on hearing only. At the end, a counselor performed the calls of three owls native to Pennsylvania, to see if any would call back. Although no owls answered the calls, we still had a blast.

We went back in time to the 1800s to learn about different jobs people did out of necessity in the past, such as making butter, weaving and woodworking. The counselors, all Penn State students, dressed up to match their profession. Some showed us old wooden toys and games, while others were contemporary archaeologists, trying to better understand the lives of people from a long time ago, based on the artifacts that remained of their presence.

Our trip to Outdoor School was a wonderful learning experience for all of the students. It was a great way to become more independent and self-reliant, while also having fun the entire time.

Echo Hill: A Final Salute to the Class of 2023’s Fall Retreats

By Luke B. ’23
Photos by Mrs. Wilikofsky

This past week, the eighth grade went on a fun-filled yet educational trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School, on the eastern shore of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. After a two hour bus ride, we arrived at the school. It was cold and wet, but the weather could not dampen our spirits. The counselors greeted us at the dirt road leading up to the dorms and dining hall, and as we lugged our bags through the winding trail, we could not help but wonder what was in store for us over the next few days.

We were not disappointed.

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Every morning, we were woken up about an hour after sunrise by a large metal bell outside our dorms. The concept of time wasn’t relevant in this secluded region of the bay. There weren’t any clocks on campus, and if you inquired what time it was, the counselors would most likely respond, “It’s Echo Hill Time.” The idea was to help us enjoy our three hour activities rather than constantly be checking our watches.

After enjoying a delicious breakfast of cheese omelets, bagels and more, we would receive our schedule for the day. We would spend the majority of each day with our tribes, each made up of 10-12 students and a rotating roster of counselors. We might start off with an adventure class, where we swung 50 feet above the ground in pure ecstasy, or climb a 70-foot tower with our classmates cheering us on. Maybe we’d just play dodgeball, laughing as foam balls whistled past our heads.

And then, after a lunch of chicken, cornbread and mashed potatoes, we might walk the circuitous paths of the farm and visit the goats, feeding them and watching them interact as we discussed survival instincts of herbivores and how they have been biologically conditioned to avoid an untimely demise.

To follow up on the theme of survival, we walked down to the beach and learned how to build fires and small, wind-resistant shelters using only the resources around us. We’d use pine needles and twigs as kindling, and dry wood to build our shelters. We realized that submerged aquatic vegetation was useful for blocking out the wind, and since we were feet from the bay, it was quite blustery.

We’d walk in complete darkness at night, reveling among the nocturnal wildlife and watching the high tide twinkle with the lights of Baltimore from across the bay. Or we’d go canoeing through swampland that had been preserved for more than 70 years, while vultures and small animals looked down at us imperoiusly. After our evening activities, we’d reunite each night at a campfire, where the counselors would serenade us with guitars and lively tunes.

Echo Hill was an experience none of us will ever forget. We bonded as a class, and the class consensus is that it was an amazing final Middle School trip for our grade to enjoy together.