Six Things We Love About Spring at Ellis

Spring is an exciting time for schools, and especially for Ellis, as we celebrate each student’s rise to the next grade level, prepare for a variety of special events in May and June, and bid farewell to our seniors as they embark on the next exciting step of their education. Here are highlights of some of the things we most look forward to each spring.
Lower School Musical: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
This year’s annual Lower School Musical is a fun and colorful way to teach a variety of valuable themes: honesty, practicing self control, treating others the way you want to be treated, creating balance in your life and being a good member of society. It’s also a full circle moment for the fourth graders; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was last performed at Ellis when these students were in Pre-K and they played the squirrels. This year, as is tradition, the fourth graders will lead the cast with starring roles.

“It’s been fun to revisit this show with these students because they remember it,” said Lower School Music Teacher Jayla Griggs. “It’s really this positive, culminating project that really ties together the fourth graders’ Lower School experience.”

Author Day
Author Day has been a tradition at Ellis since Sara Brooke became a librarian at the school in the 1991-1992 academic year. Each year since, with the exception of 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Brooke has coordinated a children’s or young adult author to visit the school, speak with the students, and talk about the writing process.

This spring, Ellis welcomed author and illustrator Don Tate, who shared his inspiring journey as an artist, writer, and creative, and discussed his work featuring little-known African Americans. He led an interactive drawing session with Lower School students, and signed books families could purchase through a partnership between the school and White Whale Bookstore.

“When kids see an author, they can see that it’s a possibility for them,” Ms. Brooke said. “It really encourages a love of reading and literature, and enhances the whole reading experience. It helps the kids understand who creates books, and what the process of writing, illustrating, and revising looks like.”

Rome Day
Building on the fifth graders’ study of ancient civilizations, Rome Day is a long-standing and beloved tradition that brings history lessons to life. Students learn how to wrap togas and wear them throughout the day, and can wear hairstyles and jewelry representative of the styles Roman women would have worn. There are chariot races—featuring the square scooters from gym class—and a Rome-inspired feast with food provided by parents. They will also learn about an encryption technique, the Caesar Cipher, that Julius Caesar used to send secret messages to his allies.

But there’s also a lively academic component that helps students understand an important part of Roman history: the aqueducts that Roman people invented and built to carry water into their cities. Students work in teams to build arches and learn about the engineering that went into these structures. Amy Sidari, Grade 5 Dean and Middle School English and History Teacher, said there’s a lot of value in bringing these lessons to life. Building the arches is an important opportunity for teamwork, but also helps students understand how advanced this ancient civilization was. She has been to Rome, and shows pictures and videos of what Rome looks like today.

“I think oftentimes when students picture Rome they think of the ruins,” she said. “But those historic sites are only part of the city. Right next to those ruins are hotels, restaurants, cars and people. Showing them what Rome looks like today makes it more real.”

Medieval Faire
Ellis’ sixth grade history class focuses on the middle ages and—much as Rome Day is a highlight in fifth grade—the two-day Medieval Faire is a much-loved tradition. This year, each student researched a woman from the medieval or renaissance period and gave a presentation to their class. Students could honor the woman they chose by incorporating some clothing or style elements that represented that person, within appropriate cultural context. The day will also include a non-combative jousting competition where students will aim a lance at a hoop, and a catapult competition which complements work they did in science class to build the catapults and learn about simple machines.

Middle School English and History Teacher Natalie Dixon Bell said she has worked to make the Medieval Faire more multicultural to mirror the history curriculum that focuses on this historical era in Asia, Africa, Mesoamerica, and Europe. Students will honor women from around the world, and food during the event will represent many countries.

“I think the most impressive thing for them is that they understand and realize just how big the world was in that time period,” she said. "To hear from their classmates about the different clothing, the different food, what people were doing in different places—it really drives home how much was occurring at the same time and how complex the world was.”

Mini Courses
Upper School students in grades 9-11 get to learn a little differently after final exams wrap up by taking a deep dive into a subject area through an Ellis favorite called Mini Courses. Held during the last two weeks of the spring term, Mini Courses—most led by Ellis faculty, but occasionally led by students—allow Upper Schoolers to participate in classes that highlight specific interests and content areas they might not otherwise explore.

The 2024 Mini Course schedule includes: American History Through Film; Beyond Geometry: the Beauty of Fractals; Birding in Pittsburgh; Busted: Expressive Portraiture in Clay and many more. There are also club and wellness activities centered around books, puzzles, vinyl records, nature walks, and foundations of leadership.

“What’s nice is that you get to take a bunch of classes that aren’t offered as electives,” said Ellis junior Zaitun Kirabo. This year, she will participate in Amplify Voices Book Club, a course that explores narratives from underrepresented voices in society, and Beyond Starbucks, a course that visits independent coffee shops to learn more about the businesses' sustainability practices and efforts to support the local economy. “These are things you don’t normally get to take,” Zaitun said. “One year I took Negotiating Like a Pro, which was cool. There’s a lot of variety.”

Celebrating Seniors
This time of year is bittersweet, as we celebrate all our seniors have accomplished while preparing to say goodbye. The Class of 2024 wrapped up their time at Ellis by completing a variety of unique Senior Projects, which you can read about in our article Ellis Senior Projects Explore Wellness, STEM Education, Sports, Art and More. Within the next few weeks, they will be recognized during Upper School Closing Exercises and the Lifers—those who have been here since the early years of Lower School—will participate in the Senior Lifer Reception. After graduation in June, the Class of 2024 is off to 16 distinct colleges and universities. See the list here!

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