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.

Born to Learn

“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.