Admission News

Chris Skrapits selected assistant coach of the year

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Congratulations, Chris! You make us proud.

The Oregon Athletic Coaches Association has selected eighth grade science teacher and ace cross-country coach Chris Skrapits as the assistant coach of the year in Oregon for all sports categories in the 3A classification.

PE teacher and coach John Hamilton submitted this nomination:

Chris came to Catlin Gabel in 1996. He had been a cross-country runner during high school and college. Not long after starting to work on our campus he connected with me to see if he could participate in our team workouts. He became a frequent participant in many of our on campus sessions, and eventually began to join us for trail runs.

In 2004 we lost our assistant coach, and invited Chris to become an official part of our program. He was more than ready, and eagerly accepted the offer. Having him become a permanent member of our [coaching] staff has proved to be a huge boost to the program on many levels. He helps me organize the overview of the full season training schedule. He in charge of all our team warm-up drills prior to all training and racing sessions. This means his voice is the only one that the racers hear as they enter the chute on race day. He has continued to be an active participant in most of our training sessions and leads all the abdominal work at the end of each training session. I will ask him to step out of a session when I need his help with timing, or watching for form and tactical adjustments we might want to make. The entire team loves the energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, experience, and the joy he brings to the team.

During the eight years Chris has been with the team we have grown from 24 participants to 38, a 55% increase. More than 14% of Upper School students are on the cross-country team. During Chris’ tenure as assistant coach, the program has achieved a level of success that we had never before experienced. The team won seven out of eight district titles. Racing in Eugene at LCC, the Catlin Gabel team has finished in the top two for consecutive years, runners-up four times, and state champions four times.


Collins Foundation awards $200,000 for Creative Arts Center

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A big step closer to goal!

We are proud to announce that the Collins Foundation grant of $200,000 brings the total raised for the Middle and Upper School arts building to $4.27 million, or 62 percent of our total $6.9 million goal.

“The community support for this project is exhilarating,” said Lark Palma. “As one of the premier foundations in Oregon, the Collins Foundation’s endorsement of our quest to provide an innovative hub for creativity is most gratifying.”

The school must raise $1.25 million more to reach the magic 80 percent mark when we can break ground.

Stay tuned!

Read the article in the Oregonian.

Dan Griffiths selected to lead Upper School

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Letter from Lark Palma, head of school

I am thrilled to announce that Daniel Griffiths, PhD, is our next head of the Upper School. Dan, who is currently the US assistant head and dean of students, was selected with my full support and the unanimous support of the search committee.
Since joining the Catlin Gabel faculty as a science teacher in 2007, Dan has emerged as a skilled and visionary leader, energetic advocate for students, persuasive public speaker, innovative teacher, and superb colleague.
Dan stood out among a stellar pool of candidates from across the nation for the position of Upper School head. His Cambridge and Oxford training in behavioral science and education align with his natural leadership skills to make him a first-rate observer and evidence-based decision-maker. He is the right person to lead the Upper School.
 “I am overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from this community of great families, students, and colleagues,” said Dan. “I am excited by the challenge of implementing the new US schedule, nurturing the Knight Family Scholars Program and other innovations, and demonstrating the excellence of the Upper School. I look forward to working with faculty, students, parents, and alumni in my new role.”
Please join me in congratulating Dan and thanking the search committee members: Kate Grant, Barbara Ostos, Lauren Reggero-Toledano, Bob Sauer, Peter Shulman, Tony Stocks, and Miranda Wellman.

Tuition on the Track photo gallery

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The inaugural Tuition on the Track walkathon for financial aid was a huge success by every measure. Students of all ages, faculty-staff, alumni, and parents came together to walk, run, skip, talk, laugh, boogie, and pledge donations in support of our school. We surpassed the $25,000 goal with donations still coming in. Once calculations are complete, we'll share the final total.  

Thank you, sponsors: Twist Frozen Yogurt Lounge, the Portland Knee Clinic, Lamer Edwards Interiors, James E. John Construction, Sports Medicine Oregon, Frito Lay, and Hotlips Pizza.

Thank you, organizing committee and all seniors, for giving us the gift of your can-do spirit, sense of fun, and deep commitment to Catlin Gabel. We have no doubt you started a tradition!

If you were inspired by this incredible community event, please make a direct gift to Tuition on the Track. All gifts made to the walkathon support the Annual Fund designated to financial aid.

Tuition on the Track triumphs

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The inaugural Tuition on the Track walkathon for financial aid was a huge success by every measure. Students of all ages, faculty-staff, alumni, and parents came together to walk, run, skip, talk, laugh, boogie, and pledge donations in support of our school. We surpassed the $25,000 goal with donations still coming in. Once calculations are complete, we'll share the final total.  

Thank you, sponsors: Twist Frozen Yogurt Lounge, the Portland Knee Clinic, Lamer Edwards Interiors, James E. John Construction, Sports Medicine Oregon, Frito Lay, and Hotlips Pizza.

Thank you, organizing committee and all seniors, for giving us the gift of your can-do spirit, sense of fun, and deep commitment to Catlin Gabel. We have no doubt you started a tradition!

If you were inspired by this incredible community event, please make a direct gift to Tuition on the Track. All gifts made to the walkathon support the Annual Fund designated to financial aid.

This letter from the event organizers reflects the enthusiasm everyone felt.

Dearest Class of 2012,

Wow. Tuition on the Track was absolutely amazing. And we couldn¹t have done it without you. Before adding in food profits, sponsors, per-lap pledges, and Twist's donations, and we will keep you posted with the numbers as they come, we are already above our goal of $25,000!!! So, the biggest THANK YOU goes out to all of you. Thank you thank you thank you. Everyone participated, everyone did their jobs perfectly, and we had FABULOUS SPIRIT. We could not be more pleased with how this event was run and how everything came to be.

It does need to be said, though, that many of you stood out for your extraordinary work during this process. For some, it was jumping off the stairs and running laps with firsties, punching holes or serving food for hours, or creating age-appropriate music options during your busy lives. But Tuition on the Track simply could not have taken place without the diligence and dedication of the core committee. Together, Lauren, Logan, Jared, Cydney, Taylor, Qiddist, Lizzie, Grant, Sarah, and Julianne have worked since last spring on logo designs, logistical organization, middle and lower school communications, food, activities, sponsors, setup, and incredible moral support, among other jobs. This crew is absolutely phenomenal.

Thank you hole punchers, thank you food team, thank you attendance, thank you music, thank you jazz band, thank you dance club, thank you captains, thank you committee members, thank you set up and clean up crew, thank you track and field trip participants, thank you ALL!!!!! It was a fantastic day (with SUNNNNN) and we hope all of you had some fun out there.... Especially with our firstees. Pretty special and memorable day!!

Also, thank you to all who have pledged!

Again, we are so so sooo impressed and we wanted to say that we have a pretty darn special class.

If you have any additional comments or questions, let us know.

Oh my goodness, we cannot say thank you enough!

Kate and Brooke


Freshman Violeta Alvarez chairing citywide youth summit against violence

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Freshman Violeta Alvarez is chairing the 2012 citywide youth summit against violence on April 21. She and her sister, junior Perla Alvarez, are active members of the Multnomah Youth Commission, which advises the county and city of Portland on issues that impact the lives of young people.

The first part of the summit is for youth only to caucus, build community, and consider youth driven policy recommendations. Invited elected officials and community leaders are welcome between 2:15 and 3:45 p.m. to listen to youth’s stories of violence and engage young people in dialogue about how youth and adults can take steps to reduce violence in the community.

The goals of the summit are to:

Provide resources for youth to deal with violence they experienced and/ or currently experience in their lives

Inform policy makers with the experiences youth face regarding violence and provide potential policy recommendations to be considered

Educate youth and adults about Our Bill of Rights: Children and Youth and the importance of its implementation into all decision making arenas in the community

Bring diverse youth from across the region together to share ideas and experiences regarding violence and build a youth movement for social change

» Link to more information about the summit

» Link to Oregonian article

CatlinSpeak named best online high school newspaper

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The Upper School newspaper, CatlinSpeak, finished in first place in the best website category for the 2012 Edward R. Murrow High School Journalism Awards Competition. Junior Fiona Noonan won 3rd place in the best column category.

Each year, the competition recognizes the best student journalists at high schools in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska. This year the committee received dozens of entries from high schools across the region. Washington State University sponsors the competition.

» Check out the current issue of CatlinSpeak

» Read Fiona's award-winning article

Knight Family Scholars Program update

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Five students selected

We will launch the Knight Family Scholars Program in the fall with an outstanding first-year cohort. Interest in the program exceeded expectations. More than 100 inquiries resulted in more than 50 talented applicants from top middle schools. The program goal of widening Catlin Gabel’s reach in the community is off and running. We’ve also seen an increase in the overall quality of Upper School applicants.

Program dierctor Chad Faber and the selection committee narrowed the field to 13 finalists with notable academic, athletic, and leadership qualities. Ten of the candidates enrolled for next year, five as Knight Family Scholars.

Our first group of Knight Family Scholars wonderfully represents the ideals of the program. The four rising freshmen and one rising sophomore show exceptional promise in academics, athletics, leadership, and service. The scholars include a nationally ranked figure skater from Colorado with extraordinary academic talent, a member of the Portland Timbers Academy who supports an NGO in southeast Asia, a regionally ranked tennis player who is well versed in computer programming languages and several foreign languages, a three-sport athlete with multiple leadership awards from her current school, and another three-sport athlete who is a Young Professional at the Oregon Children's Theatre. All five Knight Family Scholars come from public schools.

In addition to a regular course load in the Upper School, the scholars will enroll in a seminar designed to take learning to the next level with integrated coursework and expert guest teachers from off campus. The 2012 fall semester seminar, "Road to the White House,” is a course about American politics and the presidential election. As a prerequisite, students are required to volunteer 10 hours for a major party presidential candidate or a voter registration and education foundation. The seminar is open to all Upper School students as a history elective.

» Return to April All-School News

Robotics team qualifies for world championship

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Congratulations, Flaming Chickens!

The Flaming Chickens robotics team won both the field competition and the top honor, the Chairman's Award, at regionals in Oklahoma City. They will compete for the international title in St. Louis April 26–28.  The video below is part of that Chairman's submission.

Two CG students selected to compete in Intel International Science & Engineering Fair

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Oregonian article, March 2012

Two Catlin Gabel students have earned spots to attend the prestigious Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in May in Pittsburgh.

Freshman Valerie Ding won one of five spots as an individual high school finalist at the Intel NW Science Expo on March 23 with her project, "Shining Like the Sun: A Quantum Mechanical Study of White-Light LEDs."

Junior Terrance Sun earned a spot on 28-member Team Oregon, consisting of students who had won in six regional fairs in the Northwest Science Expo System.

Both middle school and high school students competed in the Intel NW Science Expo at Portland State University with 583 projects, and they were from from 87 schools and organizations statewide. Congratulations, Valerie and Terrance!

Read the Oregonian article.

Catlin Gabel News, Winter 2011-12

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From the Winter 2011-12 Caller


Michael Heath, head of the Upper School and assistant head for co-curriculars, is leaving Catlin Gabel in June to become head of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, South Carolina. Among Michael’s accomplishments since arriving in 2007 are realigning the grading structure, examining and adjusting the homework load to better serve students, encouraging cross-disciplinary teaching and collaboration, insisting that the ethical and moral lives of students are central to the school’s mission, and providing leadership in bringing the Knight Family Scholars Program, PLACE, and the Global Online Academy into prominence. A search process is in place for his position. Look for the next Caller for more about Michael and this year’s retiring teachers.


Catlin Gabel will miss the three teachers who are retiring this year, and wish them well in this new stage of their lives: Laurie Carlyon-Ward, Upper School art; Véronique de la Poterie, Upper School French; and Wally Wilson, Middle School Spanish. Said Wally, “Life at Catlin Gabel is a lot like St. George. There’s good, positive energy at the start, some star will always unexpectedly shine, and you leave feeling great at the end.”


Joan Gardner joined the development team as major giving officer. Her 15 years experience as a fundraiser and wealth manager includes work with Smith Barney, the Berry Botanic Garden, and the University of Oregon School of Music. . . . Eric Adjetey Anang, a Ga fantasy coffin sculptor from Ghana, was artist in residence in November. He and students from all grades worked together on the Barn deck to built a coffin shaped like a woodworker’s hand plane. . . . Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, visited CGS this fall as a Jean Vollum Distinguished Writer. . . . Poets Carl Adamschick, Jae Choi, Matthew Dickman, Emily Frey, Endi Hartigan, Michael McGriff, and Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen visited Upper School for two days, reading their work at assembly and teaching workshops and classes. . . The Diack Ecology Education Program awarded 7th grade science teacher Pete Ritson and his students a grant to study Balch Creek and measure, record, and identify macro-invertebrates, then analyze their data.


In January the student staff of CatlinSpeak, the Upper School student newspaper, conceived of, planned, and executed one of Portland’s finest mayoral debates. The three front runners who debated praised the students for their organizational skills and perceptive questions.


The Catlin Gabel Roboticons—Robin Attey ’17, Jasper Gordon ’17, Matt Maynard ’17, Grace Wong ’17, and Sage Yamamoto ’17—won the first place inspiration award at the state FIRST Lego league robotics competition in January. . . . Hannah Rotwein ’13, Zoe Schlanger ’13, and Kenny Woods ’13 are Gold Key art winners, the highest regional award given in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program, sponsored by New York’s Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. . . . Julien Leitner ’16 and Allie Rosenfeld ’17 were featured in the Oregonian for their philanthropy projects. For more student achievements, read the All-School news, compiled by Karen Katz ’74.


Both the girls cross country team and the girls soccer team placed second in state. Ella Turkot ’14 was named league MVP for soccer. Senior Zoë Frank was accepted into the Guinness Book of World records for breaking the world record for balance board. Zoë took on the challenge as a fundraiser for a women’s clinic in Zambia. . . . 6th grader Isabel Larson won 1st place on vault in the 2011 women’s compulsory gymnastics state championships.   


Giving a Helping Hand to First-Years

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From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Sue Phillips and David Zonana

Students new to Catlin Gabel, as well as those arriving from our Middle School, find a perfect opportunity to reinvent themselves in their freshman year. While the adults in the Upper School community welcome this reinvention, we know that teenagers find this change both exhilarating and frightening. Fortunately, the freshman team made up of teachers and staff are there to support the students through their first year, cheer them on, and help them when they struggle.

The Freshman Toolkit

This year we reinvigorated the five-year-old Freshman Toolkit. Our 9th graders typically have, for the first time in their school lives, several unstructured free periods each week. To help them establish habits that will support their success, a group of Upper School faculty developed the Toolkit curriculum, which includes structured skills sessions and supervised study time. During the weeks between the beginning of school and Thanksgiving break, freshmen attended two Toolkit sessions each week: a skills session, and a supervised study session managed by a rotating group of committed faculty and staff. The skills sessions taught students strategies for keeping a calendar to manage their assignments, meetings with teachers, sports practices, and after-school activities, and emphasized managing multi-step assignments that require work over the course of a few weeks.
Other skills sessions focused on students’ learning styles, working effectively with an academic adviser, and developing a plan for fulfilling community service hours in a meaningful way. Our freshmen met a second time each week in their groups, and followed a protocol of reporting on the homework they planned to complete during that time. The overall purpose of Toolkit was to help our 9th graders understand how to organize and prioritize their lives so they can get their work done in time to enjoy dinner with their families, have a chance to socialize with friends, and get enough sleep to be ready for the next day.
Our learning specialist Cindy Murray is a key supporter of Toolkit, and was central to its establishment this fall. She says that it’s effective because students have learned how to start to take responsibility for their learning in ways that allow them to become successful. While the program will evolve based on feedback, we anticipate continuing to offer it next year.

The freshman class trip 

The freshman class trip is an important first step in helping our 9th graders become part of the Upper School community. During this three-day experience, new freshmen get to know each other, connect with faculty, gain understanding of the culture of the Upper School, and begin to form an identity as a cohesive class. For the last three years, this trip has taken place at Scouter’s Mountain, a woodsy camp where students sleep in rustic boxcars and teepees. The setting of the retreat and the activities that fill each day are designed to provide a context for the development of strength of self and community that will be important for students’ happiness and achievement in the Upper School. The values, support from upperclassmen and faculty, friendships, and willingness to put oneself in some new and uncomfortable situations provide a starting point for the open-minded and resilient traits found in many of our Upper School students.
The freshman class trip is made up of a variety of activities, from the simple, practical tasks of preparing and cleaning up meals for over 100 peers to an evening of square dancing called by Dave Corkran, retired history teacher. Students on the trip participate in a day-long community service project in collaboration with the National Forest Service. This year, the class of 2015 spent a day in the sun planting hundreds of trees and completing important habitat restoration work along an old road in the Mt. Hood National Forest. The on-site ropes course provides another afternoon of group and individual challenge, and a setting for problem solving and bonding. Simple challenges, such as one that requires the group to pass a carabiner from one end of a rope to another, become moments of intense focus, communication, and collaboration.
Students also take part in quiet activities, such as nature sketching, writing workshops, and community values discussions. This year, international mountaineer Willy Oppenheim came to give an inspiring talk about his most recent trip to Pakistan, where he combined research on girls’ education with an attempt to scale an unclimbed Himalayan peak. On the final morning of the trip, students draft letters to their future selves that we give back to them when they enter their senior year. We end the last night of the trip with a talent show around the fire. This year, as spirits were high on this final evening, and many members of the class of 2015 had already shared songs or silly acts, freshman Matthew Bernstein came to the front of the group with just his guitar, voice, and a thoughtful original song and captivated the entire audience. We will remember that for a long time.

Support from older students

This year we’ve had some of the strongest leadership ever by older students on behalf of the new 9th graders. Each spring, the faculty nominates seniors for leadership roles on the freshman class trip. These students consistently impress us with their commitment as role models, camp counselors, dynamic leaders, and gentle confidantes to their younger peers, both on the trip and afterward. For many freshmen, this is their first experience of having an older, established student as an ally and potential friend, and the experience is powerful. Seniors have a vested interest in transmitting all that they find best about the culture of the school they have grown to love, and they’re cognizant of their responsibility as mentors and role models.
Last spring, junior Ella Bohn called a meeting among members of her class to gauge interest in establishing a junior mentors program. Nearly half the class turned out and signed up to help, and late this past summer Ella met with us to match each freshman with one of the juniors. The mentors met, planned, and reached out to the 9th graders one on one to ask how they were doing. Ella said she had realized that “it might have been helpful to have someone to talk to about all the things people think you are supposed to know” by the time you arrive in the Upper School. Juniors have been here for three years, and they are a friendly, approachable group who “know how things work.”
The freshman class may not realize the framework that has quietly been constructed to support them through their first year in the Upper School. We are proud that their team of advocates includes not only teachers and staffers, but also trusted older students who are more influential than they recognize. Their peer-to-peer mentoring creates caring, supportive, and respectful collaboration with the 9th graders, and importantly, encourages the transmission of Catlin Gabel’s values and ethos to this next generation of younger teens.
Sue Phillips has been the Upper School librarian since 2004. She is a research geek who loves to laugh, work in the garden, and play early music. David Zonana is an outdoor education teacher who has long held an interest in the potential of adventure for growth and learning. Since 2006 he has led students on mountaineering, rafting, backpacking, llama packing, rock climbing, and sea kayaking trips.   


Mathematics Where Students Learn by Doing

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Upper School students learn to solve new math problems by applying what they already know

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Jim Wysocki

In a progressive school, the methods by which courses are taught will often differ greatly from what we teachers experienced as students. One such method is problem-based learning in mathematics, a popular example being the Harkness Method, which originated at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Catlin Gabel’s goal of producing young adults who are independent learners and resilient students can be seen in many aspects of this problem-based learning method. Asking questions, both by student and teacher, is a fundamental component of this method. In that vein, there are several questions to consider when introducing it. What is problem-based learning? How is it uniquely used at Catlin Gabel? How is it similar or dissimilar to the way other schools are approaching it? How can it help students become more successful mathematics students?

“What do you mean, we have to do the problems before you teach us the material?” asks a student at the beginning of a course taught in a problem-based format. This is then followed by, “Wait, we have to present the solutions? Aren’t you going to teach us?!” the next day. Students initially struggle with the method because they have come to expect certain practices in a math classroom. Although this is an overgeneralization, many students have come to expect, rightly or wrongly, that a math classroom is about taking notes, writing down procedures, and then practicing those procedures. Even when they have not been successful with such an approach, they cling to it because it is familiar.
However, in problem-based learning, students learn content and skills through their application—rather than apart from it. Whereas students already do this often in English, history, or modern languages it is less common in mathematics, where the assumption is often that you must learn skills before applying them. Imagine English classes that teach students about language decoding, grammar and syntax, and the writing process maybe years before they begin to actually read and write. The approach to problem-based learning being used at Catlin Gabel right now is to present students with an ongoing series of problems that alternately introduce, provide practice for, and ultimately apply mathematical concepts to new and different problems.
No matter what method is used, two primary components of the problem-based method are the importance of asking questions and the development of the skill of transfer. While getting students to ask questions in the beginning is difficult, they come to recognize their value. One student recently wrote, “It is always better to ask a question than not know its answer.” While questions are an essential part of the method, the ability to apply knowledge to new and different problems, on a regular basis, is fundamental. This is the nature of problem solving, and although challenging in the beginning, the students adapt. One student commented that problem solving “comes very naturally now, and I think that in many cases it seems like after working through it for a bit I understand it well enough to have learned it from a teacher.”
Problem-based learning is used right now in Upper School in courses that include Year Two of the integrated program, Accelerated Precalculus, and Calculus 2. Each of these classes approaches the method in similar, yet different ways. The Calculus 2 curriculum is a set of over 400 problems, organized in a logical progression of skills and concepts. Although they are not arranged into units, certain themes come and go throughout the course. In the Year Two and Accelerated Precalculus courses, the problem sets are much more explicitly unit-based. Because of the nature of Catlin Gabel’s own curriculum we create the problems ourselves, using our experience in teaching many of the topics as well as considerable resources gathered over the years. In addition, other techniques help students adjust to the method, including returning to traditional lecture format periodically to “wrap” things up and allow for specific review of topics before assessments, and the use of material they developed as part of previous courses.
It is becoming more commonly accepted and realized that students need to have an opportunity to work through ideas with feedback from others in order to master concepts. This does not merely need to be feedback from the teacher, although their role is critical to the success of the method, but from the students as well. In fact, as the year has progressed our students are beginning to recognize the value of their peers’ feedback, and their ability to provide it. As one student said, “I like how in class we share our work on the board, because I like to see how other people decide to do different problems. It gives me insight on other possible ways to do something, and I learn a lot.”
Learning mathematics in this way builds students’ confidence and resiliency. One student said, “I have learned to jump into any problem and try anything I can to make a dent in it,” and another, in commenting on classroom presentations felt that “when I have to explain something, I have become more confident with this throughout the year.” Resiliency can be summed up in one of two ways. First, it is the willingness to persist in the face of frustration and adversity. Secondly, it can be thought of as the ability to learn from failure. When students learn math as a “recipe” of algorithms to be applied given the right circumstances, they become accustomed to the idea that they can only solve math problems that look a certain way. In addition, if they do not produce a correct answer, often with minimal work, they give up and wait for someone to show them how to do it. As we know, any math that most of us encounter outside the school setting often bears little resemblance to anything we did in school other than perhaps basic arithmetic, as in counting money or determining a tip. It just is not possible to teach students all the little ways that math intrudes on our daily lives and give them an algorithm for it.
Problem-based learning recognizes this, and thrives on it. Not all the problems are “real-world” ones, but students are given a carefully designed set of problems they have the tools to solve, without necessarily having learned an algorithm for them. One student’s comment was reflective of her efforts when she said, “I think over the course of these months I have become a more creative thinker.” And, in recognizing that the teacher’s goal is to develop independent learners, one student realized what was behind the teacher’s willingness to give students room to think and work by acknowledging that “it means that we almost control our education.”
Jim Wysocki, chair of Catlin Gabel’s Upper School math department, has been at the school since 2010. He previously taught in California at Chadwick School and the Irvine Unified School District, and was a Math-Science Fellow with the Coalition of Essential Schools.


Creating Positive Change in Our Athletes

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An athletics program based on character

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Sandy Luu, Catlin Gabel athletics director

Character development is my top priority as I guide Catlin Gabel’s coaches and student athletes—and I would like to see excellence in all athletic programs at Catlin Gabel. In my career I have seen many coaches who taught physical skills—but thought that the development of character would just naturally arise from being part of a team. To develop athletes of character, we need to intentionally teach the skills that will help them make choices based on beliefs and principles. Our job is to build habits in our athletes that will help them make tough choices, and to consistently follow through with them.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be great athletes and win every game we play? Unfortunately, just like other areas in life, it’s not always easy, and we have to work at it. When athletes have to sit on the bench for the first time, they learn to be better teammates. When they have to battle injury for the first time, they learn to push themselves harder than they have before. The resiliency we learn through sports will last a lifetime. Take our boys varsity soccer team, for example. Last year they won the state championship and graduated 11 seniors off that team. This year they had a new coach, Roger Gantz ’89, and only three seniors. At the beginning of the season I watched these three seniors as they rallied their young teammates, learning what it takes to become leaders from Roger and from one another. They had tough losses, but they learned more about each other as they went through the semester. I was pleased by the growth that I saw as this team came together and learned to trust and rely on each other.
Our primary goal in athletic programs is to love and care about the kids we work with. I learned its importance personally, in my first experience with high school sports. After my father died when I was in 8th grade, one of the many changes in our lives was that I had to go to a new high school as a freshman, in our town near Sacramento, California. I had just grown five inches and turned from a confident athlete who was a leader on the court to a nervous, awkward new kid on the block. After the first volleyball practice, the coach cut me from the team, saying, “Sandy, unfortunately, you don’t have a future in volleyball.” He didn’t know about the difficult transitions I had gone through; he was only worried about having the best team out on the court. I learned that I had to be resilient and not feel sorry for myself. If I was going to make it happen, I had to work hard. I ended up playing junior and senior years on the varsity team (and also played basketball and softball) and received a scholarship to play at Concordia University. If I had listened to that first coach and stopped playing the sport I loved, my life would be very different today. I want to make sure we don’t have any kids who are made to feel the way I did. In one of the schools where I worked before Catlin Gabel, we had a sports team that was dysfunctional on and off the court. We made a difficult decision to replace the coach. I told the new coach that I hoped to see character growth as his number one priority. After losing the first three games, he came into my office, dispirited, slumping in his chair. I assured him that the team would improve as soon as he helped them learn to be better friends and teammates. Over the next two years, he helped them grow into one of the best teams that school had ever seen. He held them accountable for any negative behavior and taught them how to be good basketball players, but more importantly, to be athletes of character.
Coaches are the key to creating positive change in our athletes. This begins with modeling respect and responsibility. Coaches share their vision of what is right, teaching confidence, commitment, and the importance of fulfilling obligations. The daily lessons we teach about being ethical are as essential as the training we do in each sport. Developing these lessons such as honesty and responsibility will last much longer than any championships Catlin Gabel wins.
During my last year at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, the new head baseball coach’s team lost their first nine pre-season games. I told him that, even if it was difficult, to exude as much positive energy as he could muster. I asked him to remember that it’s great to win, but that winning is the icing on the cake—that character development was our goal. He went back and told his team that he believed in them, and he stayed optimistic. It paid off in the end: they went on a winning streak and ended up only one game away from making playoffs. The boys never gave up, and I was really proud of that. These athletes learned to overcome, rather than hanging their heads low and blaming the new coach, or each other. It’s easy to fall into that trap, but we want to teach our athletes about resiliency.
I am tremendously encouraged by what I have seen at Catlin Gabel during my first year here. I spent the first half of the year observing our teams and our coaches. I asked questions about character, and I have been impressed with the answers. The coaching staff has impressed me with their ability to relate with the athletes; it is clear that they truly care about our kids. The athletes here have a strong work ethic and show a tremendous amount of trust and care for each other.
I would love to see our students participating and contributing to our program all year long. It is important that we build a strong connection to younger students so that they feel more connected to our program.
To make Catlin Gabel athletics the best it can be, we need the best coaches guiding our athletes, great athletic facilities, and students willing to become athletes of character. One head coach said it best—we should strive to make Catlin Gabel athletics as amazing as our academic program. It’s wonderful at Catlin Gabel to see alumni coming back to campus to shoot around with their coaches, attend games, and spend time with current athletes. Our coaches understand how important it is to find the connection and build on it. I’ll definitely be part of continuing this tradition. I look forward, as the years go by, to hearing about our students’ successes—and their important challenges—as they go through their lives.
Sandy Luu has been athletic director at Catlin Gabel since August 2011. She played volleyball, basketball, and fast pitch softball during her years at Concordia University and earned a master’s in athletic administration from Ohio University. She taught and coached in China, Vietnam, and Taiwan for 13 years while she lived there with her family. In Taiwan, she served as athletic director for middle and high schools.


Resilience: How We Foster an Important Life Skill

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A roundtable with counselors Kate Grant (Upper School), Kristin Ogard (Middle School), and Jonathan Weedman (Beginning and Lower School)

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

What is resiliency?

Jonathan: Resiliency (or resilience) is the ability to bounce back from hardship, which is part of life. Things happen all the time. Resiliency is about what you do, or what’s around you that helps you bounce back and move on.
Kristin: When I talk about resiliency with kids, they look at aspects of their personalities: Do I have a sense of humor? Is the glass half full or half empty? Am I able to try something else when my approach doesn’t work? It’s crucial for students to know which attributes they possess so they can use them when they’re stuck.

Is resiliency an innate trait?

Jonathan: Research dating back to the ’50s tells us that resiliency is built in. Some of us get it quicker than others, but eventually we all figure it out. Our goal as counselors is to teach children specifically how they’re resilient now and what they’re good at so that they can use those tools here at Catlin Gabel, and in college and their work lives. Just like we teach math and writing and reading, we teach resiliency skills. There are two kinds of resiliency builders: our innate, personal traits, and the things and people around us, what we call protective factors. With both those components in place, we can handle every hardship we encounter.

What we can do as a community to help children recover from hardships?

Kristin: Our first job is to recognize their strengths and nurture them, and the second job is to put in place the external factors that support our children. When you consider the big picture, focusing on strengths is more effective than focusing on what’s wrong or a person’s weaknesses. We can all overcome adversity.
Jonathan: When life coach Dr. Kathy Masarie spoke here she talked about the idea of the fragile “teacup kid.” Many kids have a sense that you get what you need from life, and everything’s going to be fine. But you have to go through hardship to be resilient. So I spend a lot of time helping kids understand that it’s a normal part of life and help them understand how they handle hardship--so when those difficulties come, they don’t fall apart.

Kristin, how do you teach Middle Schoolers about resiliency?

Kristin: We begin with every 6th grader figuring out his or her personal resiliency traits, and then their parents do the same exercise at home, and then they compare the responses. Back at school, we fill out a worksheet on “What are my strengths and how can I use them here at school when I get stuck?” The students put it in front of their binder for the whole year as a focus and a reminder of their strengths.

Kate, do we have that kind of training in Upper School?

Kate: We talk about resiliency in the 10th grade health class, and there’s a lot of self-reflection that goes on in Upper School. In English classes, there’s the “Who Am I?” essay and the sophomore “Embarrassment” essay and reflection on the writing process as a way to improve. In a way resiliency is filtered through different parts of the Upper School curriculum and, of course, in the college process. We want students to know they can grow and change and gain a new perspective. The faculty talks a lot about how to foster resiliency and to support its development.
Jonathan: In the Lower School we trained all the teachers in the resiliency curriculum, we have a bulletin board about it, and we talk to kids individually to pinpoint how they’re resilient. Recently a 5th grader helped me rewrite the resiliency builders so that kids would understand it better. It’s about really making it live here every day. When a child has a conflict or a problem, I always start our conversation with, “How do you bounce back?” or “How are you resilient?” Or I’ll say, “I notice you use your humor a lot. That’s a great way to bounce back.” Or “I notice how flexible you are. That’s a great way to be resilient.”

Is resiliency connected with bullying and victimhood?

Kate: It’s a huge part of our bullying discussions. It’s about how you keep going in life. You’re always going to face people who might push your buttons even if they’re not fighting you or hitting you: it’s often more subtle. But you do have to come up with your own resources, take a breath, see what you really feel and think, and decide how to react in the moment and in the future. We teach our students on both sides—both bullies and victims—how to get help from adults and how to think about their behavior.
Kristin: My students and I think about non-defensive strategies for responding to verbal put-downs—like using humor or ignoring it, always being honest and assertive. A genuine response to someone making fun of a sweater would be, “Oh, I like this sweater. My grandmother made it, and it’s important to me.” So they’re being genuine back, and not defensive, which tends to just stop the teasing.

Do you see kids building confidence when they learn how to cope?

Jonathan: A great example from a few years ago involved one 5th grader who failed a test and was very upset, but I knew he was a really positive guy. So I said, “What can you say that’s positive to bounce back from this?” And he said, “Well, you could say that it’s a practice, because I’m not taking a real test until 6th grade, and I guess I’m learning, because I’m here to learn.” After only 10 minutes of talking he said, “I feel so much better!” And I said, “Now you know what you need to do.” He came back a week later, and said, “I used that again! It really helps!” We know our kids really well, so we can talk to them specifically about how they can bounce back.
Kristin: In 6th grade we start out talking about superheroes, and their resiliency factors—Transformers, and the ability to be invisible or fly. Then we shift our focus to famous people who are resilient, and next we talk about resilient people they know personally—like their parents, coaches, or grandparents. In the last part, we talk about our own resiliency traits.
Kate: It’s important for parents to support their children’s resiliency. Kristin has this expression, “Don’t interview for pain.” Instead, support the growth and the lessons they’ve learned.
Jonathan: The biggest thing parents can do is interview for resilience. So when a kid comes home and says, “So-and- so was mean to me,” instead of saying, “That must have been horrible! Tell me more about it!” you say, “What do you want to do about that?”
Kristin: And that empowers them. They’re getting a subtle message from you that you believe they can take care of it.
Kate: What we know about brain research is that you can train your brain to think differently. So if you have enough practice, instead of thinking, “Wow, I’m just a dork,” you can think, “This experience was hard, but it can really help me.”
Jonathan: It’s super-important for parents to model their own resiliency for their kids. Parents can say, “I had a really rough day today. So I called my best friend, and now I feel so much better.” Or, “I’m just going to be flexible and change how I operate.” Kids pick up on everything we as adults do. They don’t miss anything.

Can resiliency be confused with just letting kids fail?

Jonathan: Sometimes failure is a part of the process. But we don’t just let kids fail and say, “Too bad.” We say, “Okay, so that didn’t work out. Let’s talk about how you bounce back from that.”
Kristin: Sure, there can be failures, but we also have protective factors in place. When things fail, it’s important to examine what you can try differently. And then you try again.
Kate: To keep it in perspective, most of the situations our kids encounter are not life altering, but their attitude toward them may be. So when they run into something difficult, they’re better able to say, “This is really awful. But I do have some inherent strengths to deal with this.” People can turn even small failures against themselves if they aren’t interpreted in a way that helps them think, “Ah, this is an opportunity for me to learn something.”

What do we do well as a school to build resiliency in our students?

Kristin: Oh, we’re great at protective factors! For one, we started the Freshman Toolkit, which is great for students in a vulnerable time. (See the article in this issue on Freshman Toolkit.) We also have C&C advisers, who track kids carefully.
Kate: We have a small student-to-faculty ratio, so students can learn from thoughtful adults and older students. When we have freshman and sophomore trips, we take upper-class students along so they can model self-reflection.
Jonathan: Our teachers use their first names, which speaks to adult support and mentoring. Opportunities for meaningful participation are also protective—like Experiential Week in March, student council, the outdoor program, service, and Campus Day. It’s also good that we set high, but not impossible, expectations for our students. That gives them a message that we know they can do it, and we know we can support them in that. And we all teach important life skills.
Kate: During Experiential Week, students who haven’t had the sense of shining in other areas get to shine in their own areas. They develop some sense of their own strengths and worth.
Kristin: We have a huge playground at school, if you will, with ways for kids to discover their strengths. And we do a really good job of celebrating them.
Kate: What’s important is that we give students more than one chance. Students are not known by one action here, but by a lot of different actions. Adults are always waiting for a kid to make the right decision here, and that helps them think, “I did make a mistake, but I can get beyond that.”
Kristin: I’m working with a student right now who is not resilient in many areas, but she excels in the arts. We jump on those moments immediately to reinforce and praise our kids— because that’s where the shift takes place.

So if they feel successful, it becomes easier to carry on.

Kristin: When they see evidence of what they can do one day, and we praise it, there’s the suggestion that they might be able to do it again tomorrow.
Kate: I was struck once by what a student’s mother had written in his application to Catlin Gabel. She wrote, “I hope that my child will have enough growing self-confidence and enough successes to appreciate the success of others.” We wish that for all our students.
Kristin: I have to keep coming back to the importance of resiliency, because research shows that when you’re focused on something that’s positive and strength based, you will shift more quickly in that positive direction.
Kate: A part of this is taking responsibility for what you could have done differently in a difficult situation, because it helps you both realize that it wasn’t just that other person. We have to help kids feel strong enough to both take care of themselves and optimally to take care of each other, if they can. We want to help them recognize an inherent strength that’s different from all the other things going on in their lives.

Does the focus on resiliency tie into overprotectiveness?

Jonathan: Yes, because we’re seeing products of what happens when kids are super-overprotected: they fall apart when they go to college on their own. It’s instinctual for parents to feel they should protect their kids, but there’s a balance. It’s not about protecting them from every single thing, but it’s also not just about throwing them out there on their own. Unlike the ’50s, when you could go out and ride your bike . . .
Kristin: “See you when the sun goes down!”
Jonathan: Often kids feel like that they can’t leave the house, because something bad’s going to happen to them. They pick up on this message of “I can’t do anything, and the world is not safe. If no one gives me the tools to deal with it, then I’m not able to deal with it.”
Kristin: “And I’m not effective. I’m a victim.”
Jonathan: So now we need to check in as a society and a community to say, “Whoa! Overprotection was not the answer. Completely throwing them out there on their own was not the answer. What is the answer?” The answer is to let kids fail a little bit, and then we’ll show them how they’re resilient, so they can learn from that.
Kate: Sometimes, when kids are down, I ask them if anything, even something small, has changed for the better. Then we explore what inside them allowed them to change.
Kristin: One of my students had a great sense of humor about her skills. She said, “Oh, I am so half-empty, I think of everything that way.” But she could laugh at herself, and she was very flexible—so even if the day looked horrible, she could make the shift and move on.
Jonathan: It’s really not about having about all the personal resiliency builders. It’s about having a few of them, and knowing what you can use.
Kate: And it takes the focus away from being stuck. Since our brains are plastic—especially when we are young—we can learn to shift how we think about things. So we can start early on having kids think they have some agency in life and can think about a situation in a different way, instead of thinking “The world is out to get me.”
Jonathan: If you’re faced with adversity and say, “Here are all these things I know I can do. I’m doing something,” you feel empowered. This approach works from everyday little things to big, tragic things. And any time someone feels like they can do something, they feel less desperate, less down, less miserable.
Kate: To me, the whole point is that life presents challenges to us all. It’s going to throw everyone some curveballs. So in the same way we educate our students to figure out a math problem or delve deeply into literary analysis, we want to be able to teach them how to live in a way that will sustain them. To me, resiliency is a huge piece of that learning.
Kate Grant has served as CGS college counselor, US dean of students, and counselor since 1997. She holds an MEd in counseling and consulting psychology from Harvard University and an AB from Smith College. Kristin Ogard has been teaching and counseling for more than 22 years. She came to CGS in 2001 and received her MA in counseling psychology from Lewis & Clark College. Jonathan Weedman joined the Catlin Gabel community in 2008.
More on personal resiliency builders and environmental protective factors


Sophomore Lawrence Sun advances to U.S. Physics Team semifinals for second consecutive year

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The American Association of Physics Teachers has announced the top students chosen to advance to the semifinal round of U.S. Physics Team selection. Approximately 3,000 students participated in the first phase of the selection process, the Fnet=ma Exam. Lawrence is one of 390 students nationwide to make it to the second round. He awaits the results of a second exam that is used as the basis for selection of the 20 members of the U.S. Physics Team.

Go, Lawrence!