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.

 

LCDS Holds 110th Commencement Ceremony

By Michael Schwartz ’98

The proud and the smiling parents and grandparents filed in from the rain, their spirits bright and immune to gloom of any stripe on this May Saturday. In 15 minutes, their sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and siblings would process into the fieldhouse to cap their lives’ first act, and embark on the second with affirmation and love filling their sails.

On Saturday, May 19, the 53 members of the class of 2018 graduated from Lancaster Country Day in the school’s 110th commencement.

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“On the whole, you see before you a profoundly interesting, impressive and easy to like collection of individuals,” said Head of School Steve Lisk in his introduction. “The value they have placed together on appreciation of difference in one another is, in my view, among their real strengths. This quality, I confess, gives us reason for hope in our future as a people, as a country and as a world.”

The class of 2018 “won acceptances to 83 different colleges and universities [and] … will scatter to 39 separate campuses across the United States and Canada,” Lisk continued. “I know I speak on behalf of the faculty and staff here who know you so well when I say: We are big on your future.”

Chosen by her peers to give the class address, Clare J. delivered a delightfully droll and self-aware monologue.

“If you’re looking for a commencement speech full of clichés, you’re going to be disappointed today,” Clare began. “At no point do I plan on telling you that your world is an oyster, or any other kind of shellfish. I will not say, “We made it!” and I definitely won’t say “It’s called commencement for a reason.” I also won’t quote “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” but that’s only because Dr. Seuss’ copyright people are vultures and I’m 100 percent sure there’s one of them in the audience with us today.”

She gave her class three nuggets of wisdom: Take your work seriously, take others and their feelings seriously, and don’t take yourself too seriously. To this last point, she tacked on an addendum: Do your best to be humble.

“I’m the perfect person to give this advice because I am amazing at being humble. Not only that, I’m smart, I’m beautiful, I’m funny. … If any of you guys need advice on how to be humble, come talk to me in the lobby after the ceremony. I’m really easy to talk to,” Jackson said with impeccable comic dryness to peals of audience laughter.

The graduating class also chose mathematics department chair Mary Turner to give the faculty address, both an honor and a challenge, but one to which Turner rose with poise and eloquence.

“As you move through life, you will cross paths with many new people, new ideas, new opportunities. It’s always imperative that you remember the lessons of arithmetic: You must determine if these things are adding to or subtracting from your quality of life. Treasure those that add, and don’t be afraid to dismiss the ones that subtract,” Turner said.

“In turn, your impact on the lives of others is equally important. Be a force for good. Multiply your good fortune. … Be a multiplier, not a divider.

“Throughout life,” she continued, “I can guarantee that you’re going to face some problems — challenges — the word problems of life. Some will be small and some will be immense. Everyday we can allow ourselves to be swallowed by the enormity of it all — grades, jobs, money, success — or we can remember the lessons we learned in math. Focus on what’s important, put aside what is not, forgive our mistakes, face life head on and persist.”

Senior class co-presidents Dory B. and Lauren M. delivered a speech titled “What Makes Us the Class of 2018?” The pair told their peers, “You have been role models, comic relief … and you have made a difference. … Every time you took charge of an issue, someone younger was watching.” They closed on a note of gratitude, observing that, “The people in this room love us.”

While the day belonged to the students, they didn’t have the market cornered on prizes and recognition. Board of Trustee Chair Bernadette Gardner presented The Trustee Emeritus Award to Vicki Zuckerman, who “has served on the Country Day board for the maximum 12 years allowed in the bylaws.  I say maximum because we would keep her for more if we could,” Gardner said.

Gardner then saluted Director of Admission and her predecessor on the board, Sandi Abraham. She is “Country Day’s own Renaissance woman,” Gardner proclaimed, before presenting her with the Life Trustee Award and leading the seniors in a hearty chorus of “Happy birthday” for the mother of three lifers.

Fourth-grade teacher Crystal Meashey was awarded the Marcia L. Hubbard ’53 Endowed Faculty Chair, an honor previously held by the man who presented it: Assistant Head of School Todd Trout. In introducing the winner, Trout described Meashey as a versatile and dedicated teacher who has — and continues to — enrich the Lower School.

Diane Wilikofsky’s invocation and Genevieve Munson’s benediction echoed similar philosophical sentiments.

“Be courageous and compassionate as you create new and indelible marks on the wide world. We hope you fondly remember your LCDS community as we will remember you,” Wilikofsky said, invoking a maxim of Henri Matisse.

Munson mined her wisdom from the rich depths of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Quoting the Transcendentalist, Munson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy … [but] It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate … [in order] to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

“Class of 2018, I hope that you find work that is real, that feeds your sense of purpose, that continuously pushes you to be honorable and compassionate, and that makes a difference — wherever you go,” Munson said.

Awards and Prizes

The Trustee Prize: Awarded to the senior with the highest cumulative grade point average. Winner: Matt L.

Ruth S. Hostetter Award: This award is presented by the Alumni Council in the memory of a Shippen School graduate from the class of 1931. It recognizes a senior who, over an extended period of time, has worked selflessly and enthusiastically to enhance the school community. Winner: Katie W.

Ann Musselman Award: Given in honor of Ann Musselman, an LCDS English and history teacher who enriched the lives students and colleagues for 30 years, this award is given to the student who best exemplifies personal qualities Ann cherished and modeled for others: enthusiastic curiosity; the courage to take intellectual risks; joy in a lifetime of learning; and a desire to pack the most living possible into each one of life’s “precious minutes.” Winner: Emma S.

Faculty Award: Given to a student who embodies of what the faculty most respect in a scholar and a person, someone who has a true love of learning, contributes to the intellectual life of the school and is a model citizen. Winner: Sam D.

Head of School Award: Presented by the Head of School, recognizing the seniors who are most deserving of special recognition for having qualities such as leadership, school spirit, persistence and civic virtue. Winners: Lauren M. and Cristian T.

Departmental Awards for Excellence Presented at the Awards Assembly May 18

Music Award–Sarah F.
Karen Stork Memorial Award/Theatre–Delphi A., Clare J.
Visual Art Award–Cristian T.
English Award–Matthew L.
Elizabeth Ross Award–Delphi A.
Foreign Language Award
Latin–Maya M.
Spanish–Lauren M.
Chinese–Daniel L.
lancasterhistory.org Award–Lauren M.
History Award–Calvin B.
Mathematics Award–Matthew L.
Science Award–Michael E.

Athletic Awards
Female Athlete of the Year–Emma S.
Male Athlete of the Year–Matthew L.
PIAA E. Jerry Brooks Award–Nicholas L., Matthew L.
PIAA Fackler-Hower Sportsmanship Award–Emma S., Samuel N.

Spring Arts 2018

Photos by Mrs. Wilcox, Lauren N. ’19 and Carly C. ’19

Last week’s Spring Arts Festival was a celebration of all things creative at LCDS, featuring more than 200 pieces of student-curated art, performances from Middle and Upper school dance troupes, Sarah F. ’18 on harp, the Finley and Jonathan clarinet duo, Poetry Out Loud and jazz band.

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Sondheim Meets Saturday Morning Cartoons in ‘Putnam County’

Of Director Kristin Wolanin’s myriad strengths, enthusiasm containment doesn’t rank toward the top.

“We’ve never done anything like this before, where the show is literally different every time, so the people who come to the Thursday night performance can come to the Friday night performance and come away with two unique experiences.

“It’s just such a fun show to do!” Wolanin said.

The curtain rises on the spring musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door.

“Putnam County” tells the story of six Middle Schoolers negotiating the minefield of adolescence and home-life baggage while keeping their eyes on the spelling bee prize. Running the bee are two adults whose shared history doesn’t stay in the past and one who hands out juice boxes to losing spellers in his role as “Official Comfort Counselor.” And, making a brief but meaningful cameo, is Jesus Christ.

“This has been freeing for the cast to go back to their Middle School roots,” said Wolanin. “There’s been a lot of self-discovery, a lot of personal growth and a lot of coming out of shells.”

The pushing themselves that Wolanin described happened both on and off the stage. Senior Clare J.had never sung on stage before. In the booth, Alex A. ’17 and Justin K. ’20 are in charge of sound and lights, respectively, both for the first time.

Like the troupe’s last play, “Almost, Maine,” this show features an ensemble of major characters rather than a protagonist or co-leads. This time around, there are nine principals and they all sing.

The New York Times described the songs as suggesting “a Saturday morning television cartoon set to music by Stephen Sondheim,” a characterization Wolanin agreed with.

“What these songs have in common with Sondheim’s is that from the outside, on first listen, they sound simple, but once you go in and spend some time with them you recognize how difficult they actually are.”

For this show, Heather Woodbridge is reprising her role as music director and Wolanin’s consigliere.

“Working with Heather is just so awesome,” Wolanin said. “There’s a mutual respect there and we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m so grateful to work with her.”

“The show is a glimpse into Middle School life,” Wolanin said. “For how funny it is, it’s also serious and real.”


“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Tickets are $7 in advance and available here, or $10 at the door. Music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin.