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The Original Member of the Hawaiian Shirt Club

September 12, 2014

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I didn’t know Rob Jordan ’86, but the more I read about him the more certain I am that I would have sought him out at a Reunion had he not died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center 13 years ago. The many tributes to Rob since then reveal the kind of guy who looks impressive within the four corners of a resume, but all the more exceptional in person.

The 6-foot, 4-inch workhorse captained the Orange Coast College crew team before transferring to Cal-Berkeley at the beginning of his junior year. He rowed heavyweight for the Bears, majored in English and met his future wife, Elizabeth. Ten years later he had worked his way up to become a limited partner at Cantor Fitzgerald in New York.

I haven’t been able to find a picture of Rob where he’s not smiling, and the stories a few of his classmates shared yesterday place him within a long line of kindhearted and fun-loving Saints who breathed so much life into our hallowed halls. Read more…

Why We Gather Rocks

September 5, 2014

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Susan Kemer sent out a note a few weeks ago asking for help removing rocks from the organic garden she so beautifully maintains. In her note, she described how the soil in her mother’s native Serbia was dark and rich and free of rocks thanks to the effort of generations of farmers. “We can do this as a gift, and as a symbol of hope in the future of the School garden,” she wrote. “It has become my dream to see the soil here look that good.”

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to pick up rocks — to have generations of people labor for a future benefit they most likely will not reap. The halls of this place have been filled with such people. I went back tonight and watched Bill Amos’s Chapel talk at June’s Reunion. Mr. Amos is a rock gatherer of the first order and he shared the story of three St. Andreans who spent their lives picking up more than their fair share. For me, it was a good reminder to give thanks to the 2,000 or so of you who came before my time (what I’d give to meet Bill Cameron and have him edit this essay!) and a good reminder to make sure I’m doing my part. Read more…

Leading By Example

September 3, 2014

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Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher” argues that modeling can be extremely beneficial for student learning (p. 267 -268). When we show students what we want – exemplary papers, labs, projects, videos of exhibitions, intentional teaching of discussion and practices of rigorous, collaborative learning. The more we can demonstrate and model the excellence we seek, the clearer our expectations will be, as will the steps to that level of thinking.

During our recent fall athletic camps, I witnessed two examples of such modeling. At the end of their first volleyball practice on Wednesday afternoon, Gretchen Hagenbuch had her girls running a series of drills. When she asked them to practice a dive, some of the newer girls weren’t exactly sure what to do. So Gretchen dove across the court, bracing her fall with one arm, thrusting her other out for dig at the imaginary ball. She did it again, and then one more time, to make sure they girls understood. Then she did it with them to give them a final visual model to imitate. Read more…

A Plan for Planning Backwards

May 29, 2014

I always find myself amazed at the end of May that I’ve actually arrived “here,” the place I had planned and hoped to find at the close of the school year. I’m surprised, in a way, that the students have grown, developed as critical thinkers and writers – that assessments worked, that texts provoked them, that they became more independent in their learning. There is a certain leap of faith that occurs when we start out in September: I hope/pray/believe/think that the building blocks are in the right order, that the design makes sense, that the first floor builds logically on the foundation, etc. But right now, I can see the finished product clearly, and I can see how it was made.

This week I’m also receiving feedback from course evaluations, as students take their final exams, providing me with student perspectives on what has happened over the past nine months. Read more…

Welcoming the Class of 2014 to the Alumni Family

May 23, 2014

The Class of 2014 will receive their St. Andrew’s diplomas in less than 48 hours, but this week has been much more about giving. These 73 energetic young men and women have given thanks, time, attention, love, and care to just about everyone they’ve come in contact with, including the Dunkin Donuts cashier at 6:00 a.m.

I’ve struggled to put this group into words, but if I had to choose one moment that captured St. Andrew’s this week it would be watching Ben Bentil ’14, a 1st Team All-State soccer and basketball player, work with a young boy in the Special Olympics. The boy’s task was to dribble a soccer ball about 20 yards across the football field. For many, it would take seconds, but for this strong little boy, it took a herculean effort. He moved inches with each step, but he was never alone. Big Ben was there from the start firing him up, clapping, and cajoling. The two worked in rhythm together for more than 10 minutes before they reached the finish line with a joyous celebration. Read more…

Student Self-Assessments

May 22, 2014

At the end of an English 2 oral exhibition last night on “Pride and Prejudice,” I asked the two students involved to assess the oral. Usually I thank them, give them some general feedback on the paper and maybe the oral, but only recently have I started to ask them to self-assess their effort. I’m coming to believe this step is valuable for them and for me.

The oral began with Alexandra King asking questions to Taylor Jaffe about Taylor’s paper for about 20 minutes. Alexandra was totally prepared with her questions; Taylor did some good, new thinking. Then they switched places, with Taylor asking Alexandra questions about Alexandra’s paper. These 20-25 minutes took off; both students engaged in a highly sophisticated discussion of the paper and the book. I was hardly involved in the discussion.

When the oral concluded, I asked the students if they could identify why the second half was stronger than the first: both students agreed this was indeed the case. Alexandra felt that she stayed too close to her pre-written questions, while in contrast she could sense Taylor was asking her questions that mattered at that immediate moment, questions that were building off what they each were discovering. Taylor felt she was more grounded in the text during Alexandra’s oral, allowing her to ask questions that started in a clear place. Read more…

Reliving Arts Weekend 2014

May 16, 2014

Arts Weekend 2014 took on a life of its own well before Daniel Maguire ’14 and Brian Peart ’14 pulled their unsuspecting mothers up to the stage in the midst of their dance performance. The four jumped, jived, and lost themselves in fun under the bright lights and to the cheers of a raucous audience that responded to the music’s end with a standing ovation on Mother’s Day weekend.

It was a light moment in a swirling sea of equally great moments that included virtuoso performances (fast-forward to 8:05 to see Middletown’s own Aaron Chang ’14), short fiction and poetry readings, a gallery opening of student work, short films, the spring play in Forbes Theatre, and a groundbreaking collaboration on Sunday with members of the dance program, orchestra, and Choral Scholars presenting the opera Dido & Aeneas in Engelhard Hall.

Barry Benepe ’46 emailed me this week to pass along that the musician and Reverend Caroline Stacey of NYC’s St. Luke’s in the Fields once assured him that “There is a fine line between art and God.” Read more…