Experience the story of Spirit Week through the lenses of Cougar News Photography Interns Hayden F. ’20, Arielle B. ’21, and seniors Carly C. and Mason L. Their teacher, Donna Wilcox, was a fellow visual raconteur, chronicling Take A Child Outside Week. We would also like to thank Dr. Trout, Mrs. Trout and Mr. Lisk for contributing photos. Finally, we doff our hats to the senior class, who did primary colors proud by wearing red to victory in Color Wars 2018.
Chris Andrews ’12 had passed through El Paso and was somewhere just outside the New Mexico border when he lost his cell phone signal. He knew that ahead of him lay at least seven days of desert and technological desertion, and his reaction was visceral.
“When I walked into that silence, it was awful,” he said to the assembled Upper School. “It was withdrawal in the simplest sense. I was hearing phantom dings and rings. I was losing my mind and it was a basic, biological response.”
This was the most psychologically trying part of Andrews’ “Let’s Talk” project. From August 2016-March 2017, Andrews walked 3,200 miles from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, in an effort to connect with people one-on-one and to interrogate the effect of technology on ourselves and our interactions with one another. He set out with a three-wheeled cart with all of his possessions for the trek, and relied on the kindness of strangers to help him along, and to engage with him and his message. Over those eight months, Andrews conducted almost 11,000 interviews and, through them, came to better understand himself and his fellow Americans.
This quixotic voyage of American discovery began, ironically enough, in Scotland. Andrews was a junior at the University of St. Andrews and found that he “felt numb.” His days were interspersed with and bookended by long dives into social media that he came to recognize as a crutch. “Whenever I felt discomfort or boredom or exhaustion, I would reach for my phone,” Andrews said. “It was always in a moment of weakness.”
Andrews has given TED Talks about our relationship to technology, and the chronicling and broader message about his effort is on the web at www.LetsTalkUSA.com. In preparation for his visit, Upper School students were invited to go phone-less for a day, and then discuss the experience with their advisor groups before Andrews’ talk.
Betsy Heim sat in an eight-desk cluster with her advisees as the she talked about the experience with her kids who did and who didn’t participate.
“I personally believe I have healthy phone habits but I thought I should test it,” said Amelia S. ’21. “The thing I didn’t realize was all the little moments throughout the day when I look at my phone. Like, at one point I had to get up and go find a clock because I didn’t have my phone and that’s what I always look at to see what time it is.”
Heim’s advisees also talked about involuntary phone separation.
“There was a period of time when I lost my phone, and I learned how to bake and cook, and do a bunch of things I wouldn’t have made time for otherwise,” said Amelia S. ’21
Bella D. ’21 said, “I got my phone taken away for three months, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My friends told me what was going on, and since then, I’m not on my phone nearly as much.”
For Heim, running is her catharsis, the way she gets at solutions and separates the signal from the noise. “The harder the problem, the longer I run, or the faster I run,” she said. “Ms. Stuart does her best thinking in the shower and what our approaches have in common is that there’s nothing else to focus on in that moment, there’s nothing to distract you. When you’re running, you’re running; when you’re in the shower, the shower’s the only thing you’ve got going on.
“It’s OK to be bored, right?! Just go with it. See what you end up doing,” Heim said.
Back in the theater, Andrews was finishing up his talk before playing a song off his new record and fielding questions from one of the most enthusiastic and engaged Upper School audiences ever to assemble for a speaker. His message wasn’t some nutty Luddite preaching, but rather a practical prescription for navigating the modern world while freeing a part of yourself from it.
“Phones are great. They open up the world to us. But sometimes we sense that we use them more than we’d like,” Andrews said, before laying out his “reasonable and exciting way forward.” This consists of small steps such as using a dedicated alarm clock instead of your phone’s alarm, to setting aside time for thoughtful reflection and simple person-to-person interaction and contact.
“Fear is at the center of all this [dependency,]” Andrews continued. “Talking to people is scary and walking is slow but it blows technology away. You’ve got to remember to be vulnerable, and to listen to others and to yourself. Only then are we truly alive.”
Click below to read more about Chris and “Let’s Talk.”
On the second day of school, the Upper School decamped to destinations near and far for some lessons outside the classroom. The freshmen went on a scavenger hunt around Lancaster City, the sophomores headed to Heritage Creek Farm and Mt. Gretna, the juniors made for the Holocaust Museum and National Museum of American History in D.C., while the seniors hit up Refreshing Mountain Camp.
Seniors Kendall K. and Scarlett T. could hardly have chosen a more fitting song to ring in the 2018-19 school year than “Here Comes The Sun.” The morning had seen parents and students streaming through the misty haze of golden August sunshine into wide-open school doors, and would soon see those same parents lining Hamilton Road like paparazzi waiting for a glimpse of The Beatles.
“Your energy is simply electric. Welcome, welcome, welcome to the 2018-19 school year. We’re thrilled to see you here,” said Head of School Steve Lisk.
Between the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, the kids in khaki provided stomp-applause enough for the whole school, including the drumroll of footfalls that rang in the introduction of the senior class.
Student council co-presidents Lauren L. and Nick H. ’19 reassured returning students and their 107 new peers that though the first day of school can be hard, Country Day’s “inclusive and inviting community can help you feel at ease.”
Having the Lower, Middle and Upper schools under one roof nurtures this feeling of community that’s also “supportive and encouraging of striving for excellence,” they said.
The pair closed on a philosophical and inspirational note.
“The willingness to accomplish goals must be innate, and everyone in this room has the ability to accomplish his or her dreams.”
Then came the parade.
Hand-in-hand with kindergartners either beaming or looking like they’d just woken up on stage in front of a packed Radio City Music Hall and forgotten their lines, the Class of 2019 and 2031 walked through a tunnel of their peers to cheers and applause and kicked off the new school year.
“Every year when my students walk into class for the first time, they walk into the greatest opening bars of the greatest song ever,” said Glenn Whitman, hitting play on his laptop and standing back, smiling, as “Born To Run” cascaded down in all its anthemic glory on the Country Day faculty.
His point was a simple one.
“It’s a cue to students” about the tenor of the class, he said. “Even if the kids don’t love the Boss, they still get a boost when they hear it.”
Whitman is a teacher and coach, as well as the co-author of “Neuroteach,” and 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. All faculty at LCDS read “Neuroteach” as a part of their professional development in 2017-18. He was here Thursday, Aug. 16, for workshops with teachers, teachers and students, and to deliver an evening talk to the community about helping children achieve their full potential.
“We all win from our time with Glenn and our ongoing partnership with the CTTL,” said Director of Learning Services Rachel Schmalhofer, who arranged Whitman’s visit and is working to incorporate “Neuroteach” ideas into LCDS pedagogy.
Part of our partnership entails sending one administrator and one teacher from each division to a week-long workshop at the CTTL for at least the next two summers. This past year’s group consisted of Todd Trout, Lindsay Deibler-Wallace, Sue LeFevre and Joie Formando.
Classes ranging from Brenna Stuart’s World Civ II to 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 behind their efforts are a central focus of Whitman’s teaching philosophy, as well as the subject of “Neuroteach.”
“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.