Posted by: scotteckstein | May 17, 2014

So much more than test tubes, bunsen burners, and microscopes

One of the definitions of science in the dictionary is, “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” I remember science in high school, and with all due respect to my science teachers, I got turned off by it early and often. There wasn’t enough experimentation…it felt contained to a classroom, and felt too much about memorization of formulas and terms. That’s why when I see some of the things our science department is doing, I’m jealous for the experiences our students are getting. While our students get a great background in the traditional Physics, Chemistry, and Biology sequence (we are a Physics first school, which research says is the way science should be studied), they are challenged to think and to see the relevance of the material outside of the classroom. The work our Biology teacher, Jon Freer, is doing highlights this. His Honors Biology and Biology classes are using our greenhouse and our educational garden to design, grow, and build both Vertical Gardens (Biology) and Hydroponic Gardens (Honors Biology). All are up and growing (although a local groundhog has made a meal of some of the lower plants). The process included elements of design, construction, and science that resulted in some awesome gardens. Here’s what they look like:

Biology Gardens

The department as a whole just did another fantastic thing. It was recently National Science Week, and they celebrated this by running a variety of cool workshops and demonstrations for the community. There were experiments with electricity (some students and faculty may not need gel in their hair for a little while), the creation of some crazy substance that was liquid until pressure was applied to it at which point it became solid (this was nuts!), and a variety of other things. Check out this great video one of the teachers made of the different workshops and demonstrations:

Our Science Building has state of the art labs and some great work is done within them. However, I love the way the department doesn’t confine themselves within those walls. Whether it’s our 9th grade Conceptual Physics class, AP Chemistry, or one of the electives like Forensics or Human Anatomy and Physiology, the students get to see that science is a piece of the world they live in.

Posted by: scotteckstein | May 9, 2014

Let Creativity Run Free

Each spring, Solebury takes a week and highlights the arts with our annual Arts Festival. While normal classes still go on (after all AP exams are still a couple of weeks away), and the sports teams are still playing as they march towards the playoffs, we have a variety of events during the school day and in the evenings for the community. The opening of the Arts Festival was a concert by Solebury alum Langhorne Slim (class of 99). Slim (Sean Scolnick) was one of my best students in Ancient History back when he was at school, and we are incredibly proud of the success he is having. He was incredibly generous to donate his time and come back and do this concert. It was great to hear him play, but equally great to watch him engage the current students in the audience. A great group of alum came back for the show as well – here’s a photo of Slim, me, a couple of other faculty members, and some alum who were at the show.

Langorne Slim

During the week, there were workshops on an incredible array of topics for the community to engage in – everything ranging from silk screening t-shirts, to graphic design, to a songwriting class with the lead singer of a band named Goldspot. One of my favorite things about the workshops is that several of them are run by current students who get the chance to share their talents with their peers – it’s wonderful to see them take on this challenge. There was also a great concert by our Jazz Roots Group and Master Singers and our spring Coffee House (always a favorite).

The week was a huge success because of the efforts of lots of people, particularly Art Chair Erika Bonner and the rest of the Arts faculty – so huge kudos to them!

Posted by: scotteckstein | April 21, 2014

21st Century Feminism

I have always considered myself a feminist. While some of the clear indicators of sexism are long since gone – the restrictions on voting, land ownership, ability to work, etc., there are still too many places in our society and culture where we have a ways to go. There’s still not equal pay, there still are too many unhealthy messages put out by our culture about body image, etc. And that’s just here in the U.S., nevermind, the gender issues and inequalities that exist in other countries. While I believe I’ve always held these views, certainly having a daughter has made me even more conscious about them as I try to help her grow into an adult with all options available to her, and who is confident, secure, and healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Thus, I am incredibly proud when I see young women such as the members of the club Girl Forward here at Solebury being so active in promoting equality, and working toward a future where negativity and prejudice do not keep any of our daughters and sons from realizing their dreams. Girl Forward, which is Solebury’s chapter of the international organization Girl Up, has had a busy and terrific couple of weeks here running a few events. They organized a Skype chat with the Girl Up chapter at Gashora Girls School of Science and Technology in Rwanda. Then they organized a Saturday night movie here on campus where they showed “Wadjda”, a movie about a young woman in Saudi Arabia. They had t-shirts printed and have been selling them to raise money for Girl Up. Finally, they finished production on, and released a video they’ve been working on all year. It’s a great video and I’m so impressed with the job they did on it! You can see it by clicking on the below link:

Girl Forward Video

I’m sitting down with my both my children (I have a son as well) tonight to watch this video. As I often say, one of the many things I love about living and working at a boarding school is that my children get a front row seat to some amazing and inspiring things. And while I love that they get to see kids who are really talented in sports and music and theater and art, the thing I hope for most is that they wind up being adults with good hearts and good character who try to improve the world they see around them. Thanks Girl Forward for helping me get them there!

Posted by: scotteckstein | April 5, 2014

The End Game We Should Want for Our Children

This has been an exciting few weeks here at Solebury as our seniors have heard from the colleges they applied to. Just as it is at all schools, this time period contains a mixture of joy and disappointment. All our seniors have some wonderful choices including some of the top schools in the country such as Yale, Penn, Georgetown, Bryn Mawr, Bates, Bowdoin, Skidmore, etc. I couldn’t be happier for, or prouder of, them. Certainly this is one of the things that the students, their parents, and we as a school, think about a lot and a great deal of effort on everyone’s part (first and foremost the students) is spent to get to this moment. At times though, I feel like we as a society get mixed up. Certainly some colleges have better reputations than others, and having gone to one of the big-name schools, I can look back and see the way my alma mater has impacted my life. However, I’m 100% convinced that the impact is less than we generally perceive it to be, that what really determines success is an individual’s drive, and his or her ability to solve problems, to communicate effectively with others, and to think critically about the information presented to them. These are the skills I see among people who I would label “successful”. They go far beyond their ability to perform on a standardized test or many of the traditional metrics schools use to determine success.

This is why when I see some of the things that our classes are doing here I am so envious of the experience the students here are having, and so proud of the job my colleagues are doing. They’re dealing with real world issues; they’re solving problems; they’re taking things they see and trying to figure out how to make them better; they’re not simply memorizing things out of a book and figuring out how to regurgitate them. Here are a few examples:

1) Gretchen’s Honors’ Physics class was given a challenge – help Owen. Owen is Erika’s (the Head of our Art Department and one of our dorm parents) beloved pug and one of the unofficial mascots of the school. He’s got a physical issue that is making it more and more difficult for him to walk effectively (don’t ask me what since at my previously mentioned big name college, I managed to avoid getting any education in the hard sciences by taking Astronomy one semester). The class was challenged to create a mechanism or contraption that would allow Owen to move more easily and without pain. They developed a really cool prototype that, while it looks a little clunky, has really improved Owen’s quality of life and made Erika incredibly happy. Here’s a picture of it:

Owen

2) Four of the students in Lauren’s journalism class had their editorials published in local papers. They were insightful analyses of the society these students see around them and demonstrate an awareness, a maturity, and a sense of perspective that will serve them incredibly well as they go forward. Here they are (click on each name to read their editorial):

Eliot

Veronica

Michaela

Erika

3) In the 10th grade Honors Ethics class that our Head of School, Tom Wilschutz is currently teaching (he, the Head of the History Department, and I each do a trimester of it), they have been discussing the tension between modern capitalism and the desire/need to continue to progress, and the damage that this desire/need has caused to the environment. Every day in class, they are wrestling with ideas such as what role can an individual play in resolving this tension, what would it mean to be an “ethical” actor in this theater, and is it possible to find a new path forward that would allow for both progress and protection of the world.

4) Our Middle School just took a trip to the United Nations in NYC after studying it in class. Their interdisciplinary History/English class – called Identity, Connection, and Change – has been examining governments, decision making, the role that individuals can play in solving problems, etc. through social studies and literature. They’ve spent a great amount of time discussing utopias and dystopias, so they went to see what the UN is really like since it was very much the world’s attempt to move us closer to being a utopia, and further away from the dystopia that was World War 2 (we’re not there yet, but maybe someday).

I don’t remember a lot of specific things from Middle School or High School. What I remember are the moments where teachers did something unique, something that I could connect with – a group research paper I did my senior year on whether there was a racial bias incumbent in the SAT where a really diverse group of people had to figure out how to work together and present a unified viewpoint, the calculus problem that involved a traffic light dangerously swinging in a high speed wind, etc.
As a teacher I love imparting the knowledge I have to my students; it’s great to know things and one cannot be truly successful certainly without a strong knowledge base. However, what’s really wonderful is helping students develop the skills I mentioned in the beginning of this post – in short, to help them develop wisdom.

Posted by: scotteckstein | March 9, 2014

The Beginning of the End (and of a new Beginning)

One of the things that is most wonderful about working in schools, and particularly about my job here, is watching students change over time. You get to see them when they are very young, to see the seeds of who they will become, to imagine the different people they might grow into, and then you get to see them as they prepare to embark on the rest of their lives, brimming with talent, confidence, and excitement about their future. It is truly a magnificent thing.

There are a couple of nights a year when this is at the forefront of my mind. Graduation is certainly one of them. Another is our annual Senior/Trustee dinner. This is a great Solebury tradition where the senior class, the Board of Trustees, and the faculty have a delicious dinner catered by our chefs (and where the Middle School students serve as the waitstaff – god they’re cute when they do this!). The night has a couple of keynote speeches by students, but the real highlight of the evening are the toasts. There is a microphone set up in the dining hall, and anyone can get up and make a toast to whatever or whomever they would like. While some toasts are made by the faculty and the Trustees, the evening is really about the students sharing their thoughts about their time here. Below are two videos – one of one of the keynote speeches, the other a compilation of some of the toasts students made. Even though I’ve been an observer and a participant of the whole process of their education and development during their years here, hearing them speak about the impact the school, the faculty, the classes, and the relationships all have had on them almost brings me to tears each year. They are tremendous people, and while I, and the school as a whole, will miss them tremendously, I am so excited for them as they get ready to begin this next part of their lives. As you watch the videos, you’ll see why my colleagues and I are truly blessed to live the lives we do.

I am a child of the 80′s. It is a badge I wear proudly. I graduated from high school in 1989, so my formative years were this decade. So certain things hit a particular heartstring for me. “Footloose” is one of them. I remember seeing the movie vividly; I know the words to all the songs; if pushed, I might even be able to simulate some of the dance moves in the ending scene. Because of all this, I was particularly excited to see the production of “Footloose” here at Solebury School this past weekend. Not only was it nostalgic and endearing, but it was GREAT! The actors, the crew, the faculty who directed it, the wonderful parent volunteers, everyone involved did a fantastic job! It was particularly impressive given the obstacles that mother nature threw at them. Their rehearsal schedule was consistently interrupted and lacked the rhythm and regularity that is so helpful in putting a show like this together. However, our Director Shawn Wright, our choreographers (Faculty member Rebecca Wilschutz and student choreographers Lia and Ashley D’Alessandro), and our Technical Directors Chris Langhart and Mike Barocca all somehow got it to come together.

There were too many great performances to list, but there were a couple of really cool things about the production that I loved seeing:

1) There were six 8th graders in the production! I love the confidence they displayed and the future this portends for the theater program. It is such a great reflection of the way the Middle School Program here allows that group of students to stretch their wings and jump into all Solebury has to offer even before they get to the Upper School.

2) It was a huge cast – I believe over 40 people – with an incredible depth of talent. I’m still not sure how they fit everybody for the big numbers on the stage in our beloved black box theater, but they made it work.

3) While there are some people who I’ve known were theater junkies since they applied and who have been constants in the theater program here, there were some people who shocked me. In particular, I’m thinking of two seniors who have been here for four years and who had never been in a play. They’ve been wonderful contributors to the school in other ways, but they decided that they wanted this experience before they graduated. And they were fantastic! I love that they developed the confidence to get on stage, and that Solebury’s activity program and culture makes this opportunity possible – that the activities aren’t exclusively the property of those who have been participating in them since birth.

Again, to everyone involved, thanks for a wonderful performance and congratulations on a job well done! There’s some video below of a few scenes so you can see for yourselves how great it was.

Posted by: scotteckstein | March 1, 2014

Pizza and King Cake

While much of the campus’ energy this week was taken up by the final preparations for the musical and the preparations for the completion of the winter trimester next week, there were a couple of smaller events that were a lot of fun and which I wanted to share with you all.

On Friday afternoon, the French Honor Society hosted a Mardi Gras party. It was a lot of fun as students and faculty made masks, ate King Cake (a traditional Louisiana treat where baby Jesus figures are baked inside a cake – it’s apparently good luck if you get one), and had a great time. It was a wonderful way to unwind at the end of the week. Here are a couple of photos:

Mardi Gras 1

Mardi Gras 2

Mardi Gras 3

The other fun event this week was on Thursday. Once a trimester, we have a special extended lunch where advisors and advisees get to hang out, chat, and have some fun together. I have 3 senior, 1 junior, and 2 sophomore advisees, and it’s a great way to help them connect with each other. One of the great benefits of the advisee program is this inter-grade connection. As we meet regularly, these connections help them get advice from older students who have dealt with the same things – whether it’s how to handle that Physics test, how to balance your time, or simply to get encouragement to go to a club meeting, to try a new activity, or to take that class that you know will be challenging for you. For the advisor lunch, we get tons of pizza for everyone. As ridiculously incredible as the food our chefs make is (and it is indeed absurdly good), a change from the routine is always nice, and let’s face it, pizza is, well…pizza. Enough said. Here’s a photo of the van with all the pizza before we started unloading it – it was truly a beautiful sight.

IMG_3203

My group and I played Apples to Apples and had a great time as we ate pizza and enjoyed some donuts and cookies I bought them for a treat. I think they conspired against me to make me lose Apples to Apples – I didn’t win one round! Even in defeat though, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an hour.

Posted by: scotteckstein | February 20, 2014

Once a Solebury Student, Always a Solebury Student

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany our Advancement Staff to Washington DC for an alumni gathering they along with one of our alumni who lives in the DC area had organized. First of all, it was at the Cosmos Club which is the kind of place I don’t get invited to all that often. This was VERY cool. In the lobby, there are photos of past and present members of the club. As a history teacher, this was truly exhilarating! There were past Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, etc. I almost missed the event because I was giddy staring at the photos on the walls.

Reason prevailed however, and I did indeed go to the event and it was wonderful! There were alum from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s, the 00′s, and the 10′s. Personally, it was wonderful to see several former students and advisees and to hear how well they are doing (one of the benefits of having been here 21 years is that alumni gatherings become more and more fun each year for me). However, it was equally great to talk to some of the older alumni about their lives and their experiences when they were back at Solebury. In some ways, the true highlight for me was watching the younger alumni talk to the older alumni – comparing notes about Solebury through the ages and just getting to know one another. As I watched this, and as I saw business cards changing hands, it once again reinforced for me that this is one of the significant benefits of attending an Independent School. The connections you make and the networking opportunities that are available are a wonderful benefit that carries throughout your life.

Thanks so much to everyone who attended the event – as always it was wonderful to talk to you and to bask in our shared love of Solebury School. I’ll hopefully see you in May for alumni weekend if not before!

Posted by: scotteckstein | February 18, 2014

Wrapping up the Season

While the snow seems like it will never stop, the winter sports season is coming to an end (where is the year going?). It’s been a solid season here at Solebury as some of our long time athletes have capped off successful careers and lots of young talent has showed why I am so excited about the coming years for our teams. The Boys Basketball team will finish their season this week after a season where they took steps towards regaining the success the program has traditionally enjoyed. With no one graduating from the team this year, the future is very bright for them! The Wrestling team has fought hard all season – they too are young, but they’ve improved tremendously and I believe we will see great things from them going forward. The Girls Basketball team had a heartbreaking loss in the league championship against a very talented Girard College team after a terrific season. Several vans of students and faculty made the trip to cheer on the Lady Spartans in the game, and all of us were incredibly proud of the effort the girls gave that night and all season. One of the highlights of their season came a few games ago when senior (and my advisee!) Tavorsia Talley scored her 1000th point here at Solebury. This is a wonderful milestone to cap what has been an amazing career here, and Tavorsia will now join the other great players who have hit this mark on the banner that adorns the walls of the Solebury gym. Congratulations Tavorsia, and congratulations to all the athletes on a wonderful season – thanks for representing Solebury well in every way!

Posted by: scotteckstein | January 28, 2014

I love inter-cultural experiences, but…

Today was the third “Iron Stomach” competition here at Solebury School. One of our clubs is the Intercultural Student Association (ISA). It’s made up of a combination of international and domestic students, and throughout the year, they organize events to celebrate the different cultures our students come from. One of their events is the Iron Stomach. Faculty and students compete by eating foods from a variety of cultures. The competitors don’t know what they’re eating, but it’s stuff that is definitely unfamiliar in taste and texture to most Americans. Pig Intestines, 1000 year old egg, duck tongue, pigs ears, etc., etc., etc. Much to my wife’s chagrin (and probably embarrassment), I’ve participated all three years. Competitors had the chance to win points for their House (GO WASHBURN!!!) as well as WAWA gift cards (as much as I love a good hoagie, this was all about the points for me). It was a lot of fun. David Kuhn won the student competition, and Tim Gallen, our College Counselor, won the faculty competition (he was ferocious). While I can’t say I’m feeling my best right now, it was certainly a lot of fun…particularly since overall WASHBURN WON!!!

Thanks to the ISA for doing their usual awesome job with this event!

All the competitors

All the competitors

Iron Stomach 2

Iron Stomach 3

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