Posted by: scotteckstein | December 17, 2014

Verbal Sparring

While this admissions thing takes up a majority of my time, I still think of myself first and foremost as a teacher.  One of the things that I prize about teaching at Solebury is the focus on discussion and discourse.  Students here learn to engage each other, to respectfully listen and to question, and to develop their ability to express their ideas.  These are invaluable skills and are a big part of why I believe our students are so well prepared for college and for their future careers.  Jared Levy, a terrific history teacher who has joined us this year, has taken this to the next level by creating a formal debate team here.

The club recently competed in their first competition at Princeton University’s High School Debate Tournament. Especially considering that it was their first tournament, they did a fantastic job.  Two students performed particularly well. The club’s President, Jenny Liang, made it to a “bubble round” for Novice LD (Lincoln Douglas). This means that in the sixth round of the debate tournament, Jenny was in contention to finish within the top 25 students of the field of 88 students who competed in the Novice LD category. Also, in her 3rd round, Jenny finished as the 2nd best speaker. Chloe Goolsby also competed in the Novice LD category and spoke very well for her first debate, finishing with a terrific average speaker score.
Good luck as you continue on Debate Club – I know great things are ahead for you!
Posted by: scotteckstein | December 9, 2014

Off and Running!

The winter sports season is underway, and it’s begun with a bang here at Solebury.  Both the boys and girls basketball teams had high expectations heading into the year, and they seem poised to fulfill them.  This past weekend, the boys hosted our tournament here while the girls played in the George School tournament.  Both emerged victorious.  The boys just overwhelmed both opponents, winning their first game by almost 50 points, and winning the championship by almost 40.  They look fantastic!  Senior Darvin Johnson won tournament MVP honors, after two terrific all around games, including a near triple double in the first game.  Juniors Curtis Thompson and Devin Matchett joined him on the all tournament team, but this was a true team effort with the entire team playing well. The girls team did a terrific job also winning both games by over ten points.  I was hoping they’d get to play George School in the Championship game, but George lost to Calvary Christian in the opener, so that rivalry will just have to wait for the matchup in January.  Sophomore Denia Campbell was named the tournament MVP, with Junior Max Brewington and Freshman Qiana Vigo joining her on the all tournament team.

All signs point to this being a tremendous season for both teams – it’s going to be a ton of fun to watch!

This is one of my favorite times of the year. There are a few days to slow down, to decompress, and to reflect. As hard as I try, I find it hard to do these things as regularly as I would like. From everything I read and see around me, I’m not the only one. The world seems to move faster and faster, the demands of work and the expectations of availability consistently increase, and as my own kids get bigger, they have more going on that further complicates the daily and weekly schedules in our house. Here we are though at Thanksgiving (amazing how fast the fall flew by!). I love this holiday and all it stands for. To be fair, I love it more since my mother moved down here and I’m freed from the battle with the Belt Parkway in New York, but I’ve always loved it. And while much of my life is directed by my stomach and my love of food, and while I do indeed love every piece of the Thanksgiving meal, this holiday is about so much more. Like everyone, I’ve had my share of loss and difficult times, but I try each year at this time to really focus on all the things in my life that are good and that I am thankful for. There is quite a lot in truth, and I feel very blessed by so much. In no particular order, they include:

1) A wonderful wife who understands, appreciates, and somehow seems to love me despite my various quirks, who is as good a friend, a partner, and a spouse as anyone could ask for.

2) Two amazing children who can always make me laugh with their zaniness and whose curiosity about the world gives me endless pleasure.

3) A mother who lives close by, who somehow has been able to forgive the times when I was a jerk, who loves my wife and kids, and who is an inspiration for how to continue to grow as we grow older.

4) In-laws who have always treated me as one of their own children and who I genuinely enjoy being around.

5) A sister, brother-in-law, and nephews who are all great people. And now my sister works here at Solebury which has been wonderful!

6) I get to live and work in an absolutely beautiful setting. The mist on the hills of campus, the beautiful trees, the open space, the way my kids can run free around the campus all are a gift that is almost beyond the power of words.

7) I work with an incredible group of people – both young and old – they push me on a daily basis to be as good as I can be in all the things I do here, and they make me laugh and smile as I go about my work. In the 22 years I’ve been here, they have without question helped me develop into not just the professional, but also the man, I am today.

8) In my work in admissions, I have the chance to meet such wonderful people – parents seeking the best opportunities for their child, children hoping to find a place where they can become their best selves, educators from other schools who are justifiably proud of the students they present to us, consultants who do such great work in helping match us with students and families who “fit” with us, and colleagues at other schools who are ethical, professional, and good people who I love getting to see throughout the year.

So thank you to all of you for helping make my life as blessed as it is! I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Posted by: scotteckstein | November 21, 2014

I Need More Cowbell!

Alright, no one needs more cowbell. I just loved that skit with Christopher Walken from years ago and felt like using it. In truth, the concert we had here at Solebury last Friday was terrific without a hint of a cowbell. The evening had our Universal Ensemble, our Musical Theater Dance Class, a monologue from a student in our Audition Prep Class, and our Chorus performing. It was a terrific night. The Universal Ensemble did two beautiful classical pieces – one from “The Nutcracker” that I thought was particularly good and which my kids were super happy about – and they did an original piece by our teacher Greg Lipscomb, who is a professional violist. The original piece had the ensemble playing with Greg and our college counselor, Tim Gallen, doing the vocals. Very cool!

One of the cool things about Solebury is that in addition to the incredible academic program kids are exposed to, there is time in the day for various art electives including dance classes. This fall, there was the Musical Theater Dance class mentioned above. Anyone, from very experienced dancers to beginners, can take it. They performed a number from Mary Poppins. It’s a tap number, and it’s amazing to think that some of these students had never tapped at all before this September!

Another art elective students can take is our Audition Prep class. This is to help students who are considering applying to performing arts colleges (we have maybe 1 or 2 a year out of our senior class) or students who love theater and want to improve their audition skills to enhance their chances of landing the parts they want. Senior Hannah Dorph did a terrific monologue as you’ll see in the video.

Finally, the Chorus took the stage. Our Choral director Phyllis Arnold had a mishap and hurt her back which has made it difficult for her to conduct. Our “Master Singers” (the select Choral group here) stepped up admirably and conducted all the numbers. While they certainly don’t have the experience that Phyllis has, they did a wonderful job handling something they generally have never had to do before.

As always, the concert was a ton of fun – thanks to all the performers and faculty for a terrific night! Enjoy the video!

Posted by: scotteckstein | November 12, 2014

I Wanna Rock!

Yesterday, Solebury School’s Rock Band had their fall concert. It was a great show! There were strong vocals (by several students and Solebury legend and Dining Hall Guy Extraordinaire Anthony Porter), great drumming, smooth bass, and awesome guitar solos. I’m in awe of the talent we have here as well as incredibly jealous. I’m a very mediocre guitar player, and to see the students playing with such skill and several of them doing so on several instruments throughout the concert is…well, frankly it’s a bit infuriating. But such is the life someone like me leads – surrounded by talent but with precious little of it in my own possession. The group also did the old folks like me a favor by playing some songs we knew like Hotel California, The House of the Rising Sun, and I’m the Only One by Melissa Ethridge. The first song in the concert was by a band I never heard of (more a sign of my age and inability to move past Bruce Springsteen than of their success). Cathy, who directs the Rock Band also teaches an elective on Indie Music which looks at the way independent artists and independent music production is changing the industry. She always skypes with several bands as part of the class and this band will be one of them this winter (just saying I never had the chance to take a class like this in high school). But back to the concert…man, it was fun! The crowd was rocking, and how could they not be? Check out the video below and you’ll see why!

Posted by: scotteckstein | November 11, 2014

A Tough Summer for Southern Folk

This past weekend was the fall theater production here at Solebury School. They did “Summer and Smoke” by Tennessee Williams. I’ve seen it before, and I was curious to see how our students managed it as it’s a sophisticated play with tons of dialogue including lots of long speeches. I was so impressed with them! The entire cast was terrific, but special kudos need to go to Jonathan Fleming and Sasha Scudder for their job as the two leads. They were really unbelievable! And the usual kudos to the crew who and to Director Shawn Wright who always do an amazing job! There’s video of a couple of scenes below, so enjoy. For those who haven’t seen the play, it’s not one that leaves you walking away smiling and skipping. It’s a tough story about some people in the south who are fairly unhappy and can’t figure out how to be happier. It’s a story of a love that never quite happens. While it wasn’t comedic, it was captivating.

This play also marked the last show before the renovation of our black box theater. Yesterday, the set was taken down and the renovations began. They will include some beautiful new telescopic seating, a reconstructed light and sound system and booth, and a repainting of the black box itself. After the summer renovations to the outside of the building and the lounge/lobby just outside the theater, this will complete a major overhaul of this part of campus and be a great facility for our students and staff!

Posted by: scotteckstein | October 30, 2014

I’ve been taken to funkytown

Last night was the first concert of the year by one of our music groups. This one was by our Jazz Roots Ensemble. I bring my kids to just about all of the concerts we have here throughout the year. One of the real benefits of living on a campus like Solebury is that I get to expose my kids to so many cool things and so much talent, but I can’t say they always go happily. So you know it’s a pretty awesome concert when at the end of it, both my kids say how good it was! It would have been hard not to enjoy it as there is some fantastic talent in this group on every instrument and on vocals. Cathy Block, one of our music teachers who directs the group, did her usual phenomenal job as well, so kudos to her too. One of the things that’s really exciting watching them is that so much of the group is young – a bunch of the students are in 9th or 10th grade. You can see some clips of each of the numbers the group played below. Check it out – I know you’ll enjoy it as much as my family did!

Posted by: scotteckstein | October 23, 2014

Let the Lights Shine on the Spartans!

Saturday night was the annual “Soccer Games Under the Lights” here at Solebury. It’s always a terrific night as the boys and girls soccer teams each have a game, and the entire community comes out in force to support our Spartans! Unfortunately the Girls team lost, but the Boys team capped the night with a hard-fought and well played victory as the crowd cheered them on. At halftime of the boys’ game, the Solebury Dance Team gave a wonderful performance – the girls on the dance team and the Spartan mascot all did a great job! After the game, there was a great bonfire for everyone to enjoy as well. I can neither confirm nor deny the rumor that I ate multiple pulled pork sandwiches, but I will confirm that whatever I ate was fantastic, so thank you to the parents who provided such wonderful food!

This is always one of my favorite nights of the year. Thanks to the soccer teams for their great effort and for making it so much fun!

Check out some pictures on our Facebook site:

Posted by: scotteckstein | October 21, 2014

The House is Where it’s at!

Three times a year, we have an event here that reflects the magic and beauty of the spirit of Solebury School as much as anything we do – Coffee House. Students and faculty sign up to play instruments, sing songs, read poetry, dance, and bring whatever talents are percolating in their souls to the stage of the Performing Arts Center. It’s a tremendous night in every way. There’s a ridiculous amount of talent; every time I sit in awe and full of jealousy at what they’re able to do. I sit equally in awe of their courage. I am still able to remember myself at 15-18, and I remember being scared of my own shadow and can’t imagine having been willing to get up in front of my peers and perform. Finally, I sit in awe of the way they support one another. Everything in the news today is about how kids bully each other, how mean they are to one another, the cruelty they are surrounded and threatened by. These nights however show why these young people (and us old ones) are so blessed. There’s emphatic support for everyone – unbridled applause and raucous cheers. While I’ve gone to over 60 coffee houses in my 22 years here, and therefore know it’s going to be this way, I am still blown away by it every time. So thanks Solebury, this was a special night, but what is really special is that in terms of life here, it’s not unusual at all. Enjoy the video!

When people ask what I do, my response is that I’m a teacher. This is despite the fact that I teach far less than I used to and that most of my time is taken up doing Admissions now. But I love teaching. I love working with students and seeing the spark that comes when they discover something amazing about the world or about their own capabilities. I am particularly blessed to work in a place that prizes intellectual curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking as it has allowed me to shape my own classes over the years in ways that have been as fulfilling and interesting to me as they have hopefully been to my students. Because of this, I’m inspired every day by the work my colleagues and the students do here. So for this post, I thought I’d share some of the wonderful things I’ve seen happening on campus, many of which demonstrate how amazing school can be if not confined to the four walls of a classroom.

1) Our Solebury Builders Club (A STEM club) just built amazing paper airplanes that stayed up in the air for over a minute – it was AWESOME! Check this out to see some video of them in flight:

2) Our Honors Environmental Science class is doing some very cool things! The teacher Jon Freer is having them blog for their assignments, so they can share their thoughts and reactions to the material, share links, video, or photos that encourages their classmates or others to investigate the topic further, and so they can learn how to effectively use this medium as an example of how to use technology well and how to communicate ones ideas maturely and effectively. Here is a link to one of the student’s blogs (I love reading this!):

This class also went on a great trip recently. There are some Princeton professors who in their “spare time” run mini-courses using a steamboat on the Delaware River right near campus (yet another thing for me to feel inferior about as in my spare time I’m working on making the ultimate plate of nachos). They talked about the local fish population, the ecosystem, the health of the river, and lots of other things. One of the cool things about this trip was that our Middle School also went as they are studying Environmental Science as well. So while they were certainly getting different things out of it, and were tasked with asking different questions of the professors, it was a great moment where kids of different ages interacted and worked together which is one of the things I love most about the way things work at Solebury!

3) Our Honors History Theory course (a Senior elective) is doing some really high level work. They’ve been studying advanced sociological and psychological theory such as Durkheim’s anomie theory, the work of Milgram on authority and how we respond to it, Zimbardo’s work on the influence of social pressure on identity formation, Nisbett and Wilson’s work on the “halo effect”, and Festinger and Carlsmith’s work on “Cognitive Dissonance.” I was a history major and studied these things in college and would have LOVED not only to have found something this interesting and challenging during high school, but I would have loved the head start a familiarity with these ideas would have given me in college.

4) As impressive as anything was what our Astronomy Club did recently. The students decided they wanted to bring a speaker to campus. One of them emailed a physicist at NASA and simply asked him to come. He said he’d love to (how cool of him!). He came yesterday and spoke to a couple of classes, to the Astronomy Club, and to the school as a whole. And while all NASA Physicists are cool, this was Dr. John Mather who won a NOBEL PRIZE!!! He was awarded his prize for his work using the COBE satellite to measure the heat radiation from the Big Bang. Dr. Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He is also a Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope.

There are so many things I loved about this event. Certainly the talk itself – Dr. Mather was just tremendous. He spoke in a way that we could understand (no easy feat when you’re talking about the cosmos), he was funny, he allowed ample time for the kids to ask questions, etc. I was so proud of the questions the students asked and what these questions say about their intellectualism and curiosity. They included “How do we know that the characteristics of life elsewhere in the universe are the same as we require – how do we know what to look for?” “How can we tell where one galaxy ends and another begins?” “What’s the difference between dark matter and dark energy?” Finally, I loved the fact that all this happened because of the efforts of STUDENTS! They formed this club (it was started by a couple of students last year); they emailed Dr. Mather; they made all this happen. Fantastic job Astronomy Club!!!


So thank you to all my colleagues here for doing such inspiring work and for helping our students’ minds develop in such amazing ways.  And thank you to the students for being not only up for these challenges, but excited about them!

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