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!

Posted by: scotteckstein | October 2, 2014

There’s No Place Like Home!

This week I’ve been traveling throughout New England visiting some of the Junior Boarding Schools. These are really cool places that are boarding schools for kids in 5th through 9th grade. I take this trip every year to recruit students from these schools. I love going to them. Seeing the younger kids at these schools is always a ton of fun – they have great energy. I’ve gotten to know some of the faculty at these schools, particularly the placement people, and they are terrific people who I love working with and talking to. And I love the places themselves. While they are all different, they are all beautiful; some have a simple elegance, others have incredible facilities. I’ve seen five schools in the last three days and met with some amazing young people at each one. I’m so excited with this potential group of applicants and can’t wait for the chance to get to know them further! It’s been a great trip in every way (including some great meals and some beautiful runs among the fall foliage up here).

However, I miss being home and am so excited to get back there tomorrow to see my wife Lauren and my 2 children Ali and Josh. I miss putting the kids to bed each night, reading the Percy Jackson series to them, having dinner together, just talking to my wife, etc. And as much as I love seeing these other schools, I miss Solebury; I miss my school. I miss my students and their energy, their banter, and their talents. I miss talking to my advisees. I miss teaching my class (the way the schedule rotates, I’ll only miss two class days this week and they’re working on a paper in case you were curious). I miss my colleagues and friends, many of whom I’ve worked with for over two decades. And while some of these campuses I’ve seen are incredible, I miss MY campus – the beautiful farm-style buildings, the walk from my house to work, the sprawling lawns, the deer running around in the evening, the fog that sometimes lingers on the campus in the early morning, the beautiful weeping willows around campus, and the fantastic food Carmen, Joe, and Pablo make for us in the dining hall.

I try never to take how blessed I am for granted; however, in the hustle and bustle of life there are moments where I know I don’t fully appreciate it. One of the things I love about these trips is that it always brings back to the forefront of my mind how lucky I am to work and live where I do. So one more night in a hotel, one more complimentary hotel breakfast, one more school to visit, and one more drive, and then I’ll be back on campus. See you soon everyone – particularly you Lauren, Ali, and Josh!!!

I wrote in a previous post about students leading. It’s an important concept and one which I actually think is overlooked too often in education. To allow someone to lead, you need to trust them, to give them the space to make decisions and take action, and you need to acknowledge that giving someone this space to lead may mean things don’t work quite as they might if you were in charge. In fact, you need to accept that the other person may blow it. This can be incredibly hard to do, particularly when the someone else you could allow to lead is a young person. After all, the media, films, tv, etc. all tell us every day how irresponsible the youth of today are, how self-absorbed, how lazy.

I’ve worked as a teacher for 22 years now, and I can tell you without any hesitation whatsoever that this characterization of young people is false. And not just at Solebury, although it is certainly false here. I travel to other schools a lot, I meet a lot of young people, I hear about life at other schools. There are lots of good young people out there who are being underestimated and hindered from great things because of this stereotype.

One of the things about Solebury that I am proudest of is that one of the core values of our philosophy runs counter to this stereotype. We believe there should be a mutual respect between teachers and students. This means that we believe students to be capable, to be good at heart, to desire to do well. While we take our role to supervise and guide them very seriously, we also put trust in them to live up to these perceptions. Our recent Convocation was a clear example of this. The whole school gathered on the main lawn where graduation is held and our Head of School addressed the community, in particular the new students, on what it means to be part of Solebury and explained the values we hold dear. It was not a long speech, for this was not the main piece of the event. When he was done, each new student was escorted by a member of the senior class from the gathering (they walk the same path they will walk at graduation but in reverse) and they go to the Performing Arts Center. Once there, the seniors and the new students sit down, the doors are closed, and they have a conversation. The seniors lead it by talking about what they value about the school, what about the school they hope the new students will ensure carries on after they graduate, what they wished they knew when they started at Solebury that they know now and what new students can do to get the most out of their time here. I’ve never been in the room, as I said it is a closed meeting for students only, but those who have told me it is a powerful moment. Whatever is actually said in there, the format of it sends a clear message to all. It communicates to the seniors in no uncertain terms – we trust you, you are the leaders of the school, we know you can do a great job here. The new students see this too, and to them the message is equally clear – this school believes young people are good and are responsible and the event practically screams at them to live up to that trust.

Young people will never learn how to lead if they are not given the chance. They will never grow as much as they might unless we give them the room to take on “adult” roles and moments, and other kinds of challenges. Some of the best moments I’ve had at Solebury involve watching students do these things: watching a dorm proctor take a young student under his or her wing and help them, watching our students tour prospective families around campus, seeing how our students interact with adults because they know how to do so, teaching a student in a class they pushed to take even though people cautioned him or her was too hard and watching the student rock it.

I’m a type-A guy and it is hard for me to give up control at times. However, every single day my students remind me that they are more than up to the task.

I’ve worked in schools for over twenty years now,  and I’ve become convinced that one of the key ingredients  of successful schools is having strong student  leadership.  Having students set a tone for others,  help new students form an appreciation  of,  and an attachment  to,  the school’s  values,  and demonstrate  that putting yourself out there and being involved in school is THE cool thing to do, can make all the difference.  I’ve always been proud that Solebury  gives students so many ways to seize the reins of some piece of the school.   Three of these were on display recently.   Our Peer Leader program which has selected students run weekly groups of new students to help them get settled,  meet others,  and handle the transition,  began today.   In preparation  for this,  the peer leaders  went camping with two faculty members to do some training.  They had a wonderful (and productive) time from what I’ve heard.   I watched them working with  the new students today and was so impressed with their energy,  their maturity,  and their ability to make new students feel comfortable.   Here are a couple of photos of the groups working.



A second great example of this was last Monday  night when our Intercultural Student Association  celebrated the Moon festival (a very important day in China  and other Asian countries) on campus. It was a ton of fun with students preparing great food (see the shot of students at the grill below)  and students from every background there.  A ton of day students hung around for the event which was great to see. Here are a couple of photos



The other great recent example of students showing other students the way, happened last week during our annual club fair.  During a break in the morning,  each club on campus (approximately  20 right  now) sets up a table in the center of campus and everyone can walk around check out what’s out there and see who else might share an interest of theirs.   It might be a concern for diversity issues,  or a love of chess,  or astronomy,  or debating political issues,  or reading great books… There’s so much for students to explore.   Even more  importantly,  students see other students passionate  and engaged and that sends a very  direct and clear message that this is a good way to be and that in fact, it is the way one should be at Solebury. Here are come pictures of the students at the club fair.






So thank you students… For being a constant reminder to me that it is you,  your energy, and your talent that makes school in general,  and Solebury  in particular,  so special!

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 11, 2014

We don’t just enroll students, we enroll families

Part of what I value about working in an Independent School is the chance I have to get to know the parents of my students. At Solebury, our goal is to have parents be part of the community. We enjoy having them on and around campus, we are incredibly appreciative of their willingness to help in a variety of ways, and we believe firmly that education works best when a student, teachers, and parents are working in concert. This is why last night was so much fun for me. It was our Annual New Parent Gathering – a lovely dinner put together by our incredible chefs and a chance for the parents to talk to each other and to a bunch of faculty and staff and share stories about the first week of school. It’s always a night filled with good energy as the pre-school jitters have settled down and kids have begun to adapt to the schedule, to their classes, to boarding life, and to the general culture here (it’s jarring sometimes for kids when everyone around them is suddenly nice!). This year’s event was particularly wonderful. I have said in a previous post how excited I am about the group of students we have here this year, but I have to say that I’m equally excited about the parent body! They are a wonderful, warm group of people who I love talking to and who I’m thrilled to have “enrolled.”

So on behalf of everyone here, thank you to the Solebury parents out there! Thank you for sharing your children with us, and for partnering with us on this grand adventure of educating and raising young people into adults who can go forward with confidence and positively impact the world.

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 8, 2014

The day I’ve been waiting for!

For me, and for I imagine anyone who works in Admissions, the first day of school is truly wonderful. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of work. For months, the image of the school community has been only in my head – I see what each grade looks like, I picture the dorms alive with the students we have, I envision looking up at the student body assembled as one. Finally, on the first day of school, there they are, all the new and returning students, all in one place, the community I’ve only been able to see in my mind. It is an incredible feeling seeing all of them so excited to be here and begin to get to know one another. I see friendships that I’ve had a hunch might form begin to do so. I see the excitement on my colleagues’ faces as they get to know this talented and special group of young people.

We have just finished the second day of classes, and are fresh off the first weekend of activities. A great BBQ put together by one of our amazing chefs, and a concert that I’m not sure I was hip enough for organized by our Student Activities Director Nicole kicked off the weekend. A trip to Six Flags, a movie on campus, and much more rounded out the weekend. While it will take a little time for everyone to settle in, to learn the schedule, and to feel completely at home, everyone seems well on their way. So thank you to all you Solebury students, for being who you are, for finding your way to us, and in advance for what I know will be an amazing year to come!

Old friends back together!

Old friends back together!

Some fellas hanging out in the newly renovated Student Lounge.

Some fellas hanging out in the newly renovated Student Lounge.

Some of the Middle Schoolers enjoying some cake the chefs made on the first day.

Some of the Middle Schoolers enjoying some cake the chefs made on the first day.

the whole school leaving the welcome assembly and heading off to afterschool activity.

The whole school leaving the welcome assembly and heading off to afterschool activity.

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!

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