Too True to be Good

By Amelia L. ’21
Photos by Abigail G. ’20 and Konrad L. ’19

To a tourist, the city of Cape Town feels like a city that is almost too good to be true. It boasts the majestic vistas of Table Mountain and the stunning beaches of Muizenberg. When I first arrived, I was in shock at how beautiful the scenery was; it felt like I had stepped into a storybook.

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However, a few days into staying in Cape Town I began to realize the pain the city, and the country as a whole, continues to face due to the lingering effects of apartheid.

As part of this institutional segregation, blacks were forced to live in areas away from cities called townships; they were not allowed to work or even travel to certain sections of cities; and they were not only censored in their ability to express their pain, but censored from communicating with the rest of the world as well.

While whites lived in well-policed estates and went to good schools, blacks were relegated to a substandard education and life in crime-ridden areas.

Everyone seemed to be distrustful of one another. Every single building, office, restaurant and home had some kind of fencing around it, shutting it off from the rest of the world. These realities shocked me, because this level of racism and segregation had never been a part of my daily life before.

I started to realize the parallels between South Africa and the legacy of Jim Crow in the United States, and was finally able to empathize with what had been in front of me all my life.

I began to ask my fellow students at Herschel Girls School about apartheid, and soon realized how helpless the youth felt. They felt that, despite their best efforts, there was ultimately little they could do about the discrimination blacks face because it was built into the system they’d grown up in and so deeply rooted in South Africa’s history. How could they possibly undo this tightly woven shroud of racism that covered nearly every aspect of daily life?

Despite these daunting hurdles, the students did everything they could to change the status quo, from community service to political activism. They wrote to their representatives and sat in on parliament to understand the decisions that were being made that affected them. They also had many clubs dedicated to speaking of racism, discrimination and current events in South Africa, and effecting positive change in all those areas.

I’m so thankful that I was able to go to South Africa and discover this all for myself. It was truly an eye-opening and life-changing trip.

Upper School Field Trips

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.

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The First Day of School 2018

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.

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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.

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.