When Cara LaRoche reflects on what it means to be a changemaker, she doesn’t only think of the outspoken leader in her classroom, but also recognizes the quiet, reflective student who leads by example. To her, this alternative style of leadership also embodies what it means to be a changemaker.
Using math is an essential skill in many fields to bring about change. Scientists, engineers, and other professionals apply mathematics to aid and clarify research. I teach math to grade 4 students as being comprised of two main components.
I had the wonderful experience earlier this winter of returning to Philadelphia for a second visit with our alumnae there. My first visit took place back in June 2017, one week before I was to start in my role as Head of School at Ellis. I remember returning from that June trip and telling my husband Peter that I was more excited than ever about starting at Ellis after meeting those Philadelphia alumnae.
I recently sat down with seniors Katharine Ference and Sydné Ballengee, who led the Upper School Varsity Basketball team to the playoffs for the second time in four years. Now co-captains, Katharine and Sydné joined the team in ninth grade and felt no pressure that year as five starting seniors led the team to the playoffs; they were there to enjoy the ride, but not as contributing members of the team.
In September, grade 1 teachers Betsy Gianakas and Caroline Lynett introduced their students to a classroom routine they would continue for the whole year: recording the titles of each book they read at school in a book log. Each girl was given her own book log, and the teachers demonstrated how the students would record the title and date after completing a book. I imagine that as the girls looked at the piece of paper with one empty line after another running down the page, they had different reactions.
In 1999, U.S. journalists and scholars selected the top 100 news events of the 20th century. As part of the grade 8 history curriculum at The Ellis School, students write their first scholarly research paper about one of those events.
Back in 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor at The Ohio State University, wrote profoundly about books being both windows and mirrors. The metaphor is elegant and true, and it has been used ever since to help articulate why diversity in literature is so important.
Last week I chatted with a grade 8 student working in the Middle School lounge as she was exploring some possibilities for her history research paper. She mentioned several topics she was considering, but noted that she knew she had found her #1 topic choice because “I feel like I’m reading a novel I can’t put down when I research this topic!” This anecdote illustrates the critical importance of a strong curriculum that emphasizes academic knowledge and skills and integrates rich opportunities for exploring individual interests and emerging passions.
I have always believed that all children are born with a great deal of natural curiosity, and one of the most important, and joyful, jobs for parents and schools is to feed that curiosity as children grow and develop. For those of us who enjoy campfires or wood-burning fires in our homes during these very chilly months, I think of our jobs as taking the small beginnings of a fire and continuing to stoke it with just the right fuel at various moments to create a strong and durable source of power, warmth, and beauty.
When my children were little, one of their favorite books was Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day. This mostly wordless book features Carl, a responsible rottweiler, who takes care of the baby and the house while the parents are out. As soon as my kids were able to string sentences together, they took over “reading” the book, using the pictures to tell their version of the story. I was reminded of the Carl book the other day when I went along to the Carnegie Museum of Art with the Lower School students.
In their senior year at Ellis, students expect to gain privileges, apply to college, and graduate ready for the next phase of their life. Beyond these rites of passage, students are also prepared to launch through several formative senior year activities: the Senior Project, Senior Thesis, and Senior Seminar. It is because of their engagement with these intellectual ventures that our students walk across the commencement stage well equipped to tackle their collegiate careers.
In third grade, we start off the year by reading a book about a young girl who meets an astronaut. The astronaut gives her this advice: “Big things are really little.” The girl comes to understand that this means she can tackle any big issue or problem if she takes it one step at a time. It is a great analogy for third grade.
The profile of many Ellis girls is that of a decidedly successful girl used to achieving at a high level. This makes these students wonderful to teach: they are motivated, want to move forward, and love to understand. Finding ways to challenge them in the classroom on a regular basis is a fascinating problem, but an important one.
There are many unique experiences and approaches at Ellis that foster the growth of self-confidence in our students. I believe this is one of the most important, and distinctive, aspects of the Ellis experience. We are particularly committed to this aspect of our work because we know it is vital to a girl’s sense of self-worth and happiness. At the same time, the larger culture does not always support this kind of growth, meaning we have an even more important role in this dimension of a girl’s development.
As I watched the Ellis Tigers approach the robot table a couple weeks ago at the FIRST LEGO League Grand Championship, I was impressed with their excitement and self-assurance. They couldn’t wait for their turn to run their mission in this coed challenge, and they were calm under pressure when their robot experienced some difficulty.
Recently, a group of fourth graders came to my office with a letter describing their dissatisfaction with the ice cream treats served in the cafeteria. Additionally, the letter included suggestions for improving the ice cream selection. This is not the first time I had heard complaints about ice cream.
One of my favorite times of the school year is the window of time right before winter break. I love the traditions of the Young Alumnae Ice Cream Social, advisory holiday parties, and Ellis Idol, our annual Upper School talent show. During this time, I’m sure to see recent graduates walking through the hallways, and their comfort in and familiarity with the Upper School makes it appear as if they never left.