How is Portland treating you?
Really well. We’re definitely still tourists. The other day I was able to navigate from my house to Sauvie Island and back successfully. I’m beginning to understand how the 405 freeway loops around. Every week we try to do something new, which is easy here.
I hear you are a dancer. Tell us more.
I love to dance for that feeling you get when movement takes over. My husband and I met at a salsa club, and we used to go salsa and merengue dancing a lot. We choreographed and practiced a dance for our wedding reception. Dancing is a big part of who we are. Lydia loves to dance. [Lydia is Barbara and Carlos’ toddler.] One of my favorite moments during Discovery Days was square dancing with 6th graders. It was great to see them take the risk, especially given the whole boy-girl dynamic at that age.
Can you reflect on a couple more highlights of your time here at Catlin Gabel?
Two Fridays ago at assembly a group of teachers—Tom Tucker, Deirdre Atkinson, Mark Pritchard, Spencer White, and Brendan Gill—played musical instruments and led 185 kids and 30 adults in a community sing. The high level of participation and incredible vibe was impressive. I’m going to make sure we have many opportunities for group singing.
Another standout moment was at Back-to-School Night. I tried to get around to see bits and pieces of all the teachers’ presentations. I sat in the 6th grade classroom filled with parents listening to the teachers talk about their work with students, and the real trust that we ask of parents. That was inspiring. And hearing about the teachers’ expertise and experience, not just the teaching and pedagogical experience and all that good stuff, but the life experience, too, kind of brought me to tears. I’ve really joined an outstanding faculty.
The spirit of team work and shared responsibility for everything we do—which is something I philosophically believe in—is a highlight that repeats itself over and over multiple times on any given day. Everyone pitches in, and there’s no sense that it’s any one person’s show. We're doing this together for the benefit of the kids.
What is your educational philosophy?
At the core I think the purpose of school goes much further than teaching reading, writing, math, and science. The fact that our students spend the great majority of their waking hours here on this campus with us implies a responsibility not just as educators but also as mentors in guiding young people to become socially responsible adults. The job of every teacher in our community is to engage with students and help them understand that they can pretty much do anything they want, but that they need to understand that there is right and wrong and they have a responsibility to each other. Maybe 96.12 percent of the time it’s not what you do but how you do it.
Our goal is to engage students in fully participating in everything we do. You’ll never have 100 percent participation, but schools should create an atmosphere where students can take risks, even pretty high-altitude risks, and feel safe trying.
This morning we saw a great example of high-altitude risk taking. A 6th grade girl had the lead part in a skit at assembly. I thought, wow, here’s a girl who’s been in this building fewer than 3 weeks and she’s putting herself out like that, not just in front of 6th graders, but 7th and 8th graders, too.
In terms of curriculum the idea of progression and partnerships is vital. Sixth, 7th, and 8th graders are all in such different places. Great schools and great educators meet kids where they are. It’s about the progress, not necessarily about the final outcome, because each one of our 7th graders is starting at a different place and ending at a different place. It’s about knowing our students well enough to recognize where they started and to give them support and kudos as they grow and progress.
We also need to teach kids that we’re not perfect, and everyone isn’t great at everything all of the time. It can be hard to give kids that kind of honest feedback, but that’s life. The bottom line is that we’re preparing these kids for life, not just for the next grade level. Sometimes people choose independent schools for the bubble it creates, and that makes it even more onerous on us to prepare them for life. Competition exists, and you’re not always going to be the best at what you’re doing. The way students can grow and really become better is through the critical feedback we offer them. It doesn’t serve anybody to always hear that they’re doing a great job. We can create an atmosphere where hearing supportive and empathetic criticism is the norm because our students understand everyone wants you to improve. Catlin’s narrative reports are a good piece of that, and I’m just discovering what those look like.
What are the academic tools Middle School students need for success in high school?
The ability to put thoughts together and connect ideas, which leads to critical thinking and comparisons. The ability to analyze, speak, and write clearly about ideas. The ability to put things together, figure things out creatively, and use core scientific inquiry skills, which of course includes math. The ability to be thoughtful in everything you do.
How do we reach students who have a wide range of skill levels at a stage in their lives when their maturity levels are so varied?
You need to meet students where they are. We can’t have the same expectation for every single 7th grader, because some kids will end up feeling like failures. No two people are the same, and if we don't recognize the individual child as the unit of consideration then we’re doing them a disservice. If they’re writing an expository essay about a hero in their life, for instance, and we know where that child started and ended, we can provide effective relevant feedback about their work. If they don’t feel like we are taking the time to really see what they’ve produced and offer them immediate feedback, then they wonder why are they really doing this.
Commenting about where a student started and ended is meaningful to them. At this age you really need to be concrete. You can’t just say, “Great job.” You have to say things like, “I’m impressed by how you used alliteration,” or “I noticed you connected this unit of math to what we did three months ago.” It’s very important to be specific both in accolades and in comments for improvement.
With all the distractions of adolescence, how do you keep Middle School students focused on school work?
You have to get them engaged. If they’re not bought into what is going on then it’s not meaningful. So the real question, and the challenge for each of us, is how to make something meaningful for a kid—especially in Middle School! You can make a student sit down and do 26 million math problems and lose their attention, or you can ask them to work out five math word problems that bring in things they actually care about. Then they’ll be interested and think through the problem. In language classes, you could have them fill out worksheets where they enter the right verb, or you can make their learning relevant by asking them to write about what they’re going to do this weekend. Connecting academics to their interests is something we really need to keep in mind, because Middle School students perceive themselves as the center of their universes. We need to be very clear about what we’re asking them to do, or the academic engagement isn’t meaningful to them. Does that mean that every single assignment in every single class is going to do that for every kid? No, that’s not realistic. But that should be our goal and our constant aspiration as educators.
What do you think of the myth that our math and science programs are not as strong as our writing and humanities?
Our math and science program is really strong. We need to do a better job of talking about what it is and being very clear about what we do in classes. I’ve noticed it’s a little ingrained in the culture of our teachers to be very humble about the work they do with kids. What’s happening in classrooms is amazing—and that includes math and science. There’s always room for improvement, but one of my goals this year is to tease out and share the excellent work we’re doing in math and science.
Do you have thoughts about our 8th graders considering other schools for their high school experience?
It would be my hope that all of our 8th graders move on to our 9th grade. While the school is broken up into four divisions—and appropriately so for children’s developmental stages and from a teaching and management point of view—I really hope that people see Catlin Gabel as a preschool through 12th grade program. I see it that way! It’s pretty amazing to have a place where you can be one school that is connected and interconnected in so many ways while appreciating the differences of age and what that brings.
As an aside, I am really impressed that the Beginning School is its own division. Science tells us there is a significant developmental difference between kindergarteners and 1st graders. That was one of the things I found very attractive about the school and its thinking about what’s best for kids.
Getting back to the 8th to 9th grade transition, it’s important to recognize that Catlin Gabel, just like every other school, may not be the right place for every student. The desire to look around at alternatives is something that’s probably natural to some. But I really caution against making decisions around assumptions. I’ve already had conversations with a number of 8th grade students and their parents where they have inaccurate assumptions about the Upper School.
Families that are considering other options need to keep in mind a few things. Don’t make decisions about what you think our Upper School program is. Look at our Upper School program and make informed decisions. Talk to US teachers, talk to me. Research Catlin Gabel as well as you research the alternatives you’re considering. Also, the decision to leave should not be solely made by the student or by the parent. Decision-making at this age really needs to involve parents and students in a way that all voices are heard. Parents must try to understand why students want to leave and consider if the reasons are good ones, and visa versa.
What is your hope for our graduates?
My dream for all seniors going to college, not just Catlin Gabel students, is that they are fully prepared, they know how to carry themselves, they understand how they learn, and they understand the space they take up not only in their school, city, and state but also in the world. We teach those things extraordinarily well and differently than other places. What is it to be a global citizen? Answering that question well is a really important 21st-century skill.
John Mayer’s students had a conversation about how they think the brain works as they launched into a lesson about neurons, dendrites, and axons.
"I know there are different sides of the brain. Maybe it's that all the stuff you do know is one side of the brain and all the stuff you don't know is on the other side. So then the more you grow and learn, it's like a wave goes over your brain from one side to the other."
"That’s right. There are sides of a brain but I think it's different. It's like you do reading from here, riding your bike from there, and like math from over here (pointing to different spots all over her head). So it's like a highway between cities to connect them. Sometimes there might be something on the road…"
"Or the road got washed out."
"Yeah, or the road got washed out and that's the stuff you don't know. Then maybe you learn stuff and the road gets fixed."
John: "Hmmm… I guess we have a lot of thinking to do. Should we start by trying to figure out more about how our brains are put together?"
Five seniors have been named semifinalists in the 57th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. The students are Ilana Cohen, Zoë Frank, Holly Kim, Dylan Shields, and Jeremy Wood. They are among 16,000 semifinalists nationwide who are eligible to compete for 8,300 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $34 million that will be offered in the spring, according to a release from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
To qualify as semifinalists, about 1.5 million high school students took a qualifying exam during their junior year.
From those, the highest-scoring entrants from each state, who represent less than 1 percent of all U.S. high school seniors, were chosen. The number chosen per state is proportional to the state's percentage of the national total of graduating seniors, according to the release.
To be considered for a scholarship, semifinalists have several additional steps to complete. Each must be endorsed and recommended by his or her high school principal. Each student and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application including the student's essay and information about his or her participation and leadership in school and community activities, the release states.
About 15,000 semifinalists will be notified in February that they have been granted status as finalists. Scholarship winners will be selected from this group.
Jonathan sailed his 14-foot rig alongside the top 113 boys and 52 girls from 48 countries including Japan, Peru, and Australia.
By Nance Leonhardt
From the Summer 2011 Caller
Create , Perform, Respond
The Space to Collaborate and Connect
Nance Leonhardt teaches Upper School media arts.
From the Summer 2011 Caller
In this issue you will meet some of our most creative and talented alumni, all of whom found their time at Catlin Gabel important to their creative development. Creative freedom takes place in the science lab as much as it does in the painting and drawing studio. The way the robotics team comes together to map out their technical strategy for competition is akin to drama students coming together to write, cast, stage, and perform their annual one-act plays. And the thought process a student uses to troubleshoot a buggy line of code in computer science class involves the same set of synapses as when that same student tries to figure out why her timing is off in her original film score.
THE CREATIVE ARTS CENTER
CREATIVE ARTS CENTER HISTORY
MORE ROOM FOR CREATIVE ARTS
LAUNCH OF THE NEW PROJECT
James E. John Construction
By Lark P. Palma, head of school
From the Summer 2011 Caller
Classes for kids of all ages!
Review our catalog (below) for course descriptions.
Enroll today! Tell your friends!
Contact Len Carr, program director, for additional information.
Summer Programs ~ our difference is learning
Catlin Gabel students helped paint a mural to welcome First Lady Michelle Obama to Botswana. The First Lady visited the Botswana-Baylor Centre for Children’s Excellence to highlight the organization’s efforts to develop a new treatment and counseling facility for HIV+ teens.
Thirteen students assisted local artist Lesedi to sketch and paint traditional Botswana figures, designs and backgrounds on a 30m concrete wall. The group also developed educational play activities for HIV+ youth awaiting treatment and counseling appointments.
In addition to the Baylor Centre, Catlin Gabel students provided support to the Maru-a-Pula Orphans and Vulnerable Children Fund, SOS Children’s Village, a health clinic in Thabala, and high school students in Gumare. Students met with Dr. Ava Avalos of the Ministry of Health and Thobo Mogojwe of PING (Positive Innovation for the Next Generation).
The Botswana-Baylor Centre is one of many partnerships between the Ministry of Health and international organizations, part of a coordinated, national effort to combat AIDS. Approximately 30% of all adults in Botswana are infected with HIV.
Each year, Catlin Gabel welcomes one Maru-a-Pula exchange student to Oregon. Catlin Gabel students are currently traveling through Botswana as part of the school’s global education program.
On Friday evening we honored award recipients Brenda Miller Olson, David Shipley '81, Roz Nelson Babener '68, and Angel Foster '91 followed by a festive dinner in the Barn. Unfortunately, Angel Foster was unable to attend the event, but she accepted her award via audio recording sent from Tunisia.
Despite steady rain on Saturday, the alumni soccer game in honor of retiring coach Mike Davis drew a crowd of players and fans. Lunch in the Barn was a drier affair.
Members of the class of 1946 came together for Sunday brunch in the Dant House.
Click on thumbnail to view images at larger size and download pictures.
Teachers and students challenged one another to a lively Frisbee game on the day before school ended in June 2011.
At the end of the school year annually, our kindergarteners enjoy their own Olympics with many fun events. The sun shone on them in 2011, and they had a great time.
Student panelists: seniors Henry Gordon, Rebecca Kropp, and Josh Langfus.
Alumni panelists: Leslie Nelson ’10, attending Pitzer College; Rivfka Shenoy ’09, attending Washington University St. Louis; Riley Gibson ’04, BS in business management from Babson College and co-founder and CEO of Napkin Labs; and Peter Bromka ’00, BA in anthropology from Tufts University and a design researcher at IDEO, a global design firm.
Moderator: Rukaiyah Adams ’91, BA from Carleton College, JD and MBA from Stanford University, consultant for Plum District and Regence Blue Cross/ Blue Shield.
Catlin Gabel has helped found a new nonprofit organization called the Global Online Academy (GOA), a consortium of ten leading independent day schools that will offer online high school courses beginning this fall. We are honored that our own PLACE urban studies class, taught by George Zaninovich, has been selected as one of the five inaugural courses. Lakeside School in Seattle led the effort to found the academy and will hire the director.
Students may choose to take an online class to pursue academic study in a subject that we do not offer, to study with students from other parts of the country and the world, or to experience a format of instruction that they are likely to encounter in the future.
We will explore the potential for online learning in a Catlin Gabel education, while investing modest resources and enrolling only a handful of students at first. Upper School department chairs will determine student eligibility requirements and course credit policies. We expect the academy to grow quickly, as new member schools join and more students enroll in classes.
Catlin Gabel will play a special role in the online academy by demonstrating our brand of experiential education, which we have honed over decades. “Learning through experience” may form the foundation of the best quality of online instruction.
Albuquerque Academy | Albuquerque, NM
Catlin Gabel School | Portland, Oregon
Cranbrook Schools | Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
The Dalton School | New York, New York
Germantown Friends School | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Head-Royce School | Oakland, California
King's Academy | Madaba-Manja, Jordan
Lakeside School | Seattle, Washington
Punahou School | Honolulu, Hawaii
Sidwell Friends School | Washington, D.C.
Thanks go to our faculty and staff who are leading the way
Lark Palma, head of school: GOA director search committee
Michael Heath, Upper School head: academic policy committee
Richard Kassissieh, IT director: GOA board member and Catlin Gabel liaison to GOA
Dan Griffiths, science teacher: curriculum and accreditation committee
Jim Wysocki, math teacher: technology and professional development committee
George Zaninovich, PLACE director: instructor of an inaugural GOA course
Lauren Reggero-Toledano, Spanish teacher: attended the academy conference
Paul Andrichuk, Middle School head: attended the academy conference
The mission of the Global Online Academy is to translate into online classrooms the intellectually rigorous programs and excellent teaching that are hallmarks of its members schools to foster new and effective ways, through best practices in online education, for all student to learn; and to promote students’ global awareness and understanding