Posted by: scotteckstein | March 11, 2016

How I Launched My Online Magazine, Nyota

By Guest Blogger and Solebury School Senior Carol W.

carolwIt’s almost the start of senior year. There are college applications, scholarships and recommendations to manage. There’s summer work you haven’t touched, Cotillion practices to prep for, and you’ve already deemed senior year the most stressful of your high school career. Yet, one day you wake up and decide to start an online magazine. Last summer, that is exactly what I did.

When my online magazine Nyota (which means “star” in Swahili) first launched, we focused on emerging talent in music, fashion and culture. Once I began my second year of Teach2Serve (a one-year public service program or two-year social entrepreneurship program at Solebury), as part of my work for the program, I decided to add a section to magazine that featured an inspirational person, or people, who are creating positive change in their communities. I am hoping it inspires readers to create positive change in their own communities. Collaborating with Teach2Serve has been great for Nyota, thanks to my Teach2Serve teachers, Diane Downs and Nicole Mount. They offer ideas for content, give me contacts, and they make sure I stay on track. To have the support of Teach2Serve and the Solebury community means so much to me and has been a huge help.

nyota1For Nyota to first come to fruition, I had to work out a few things. I had no idea how to do the graphics. I just knew how to take a good photograph, and Nyota wasn’t going to go very far with only fashion editorials. Luckily for me, my family was helpful in launching Nyota, and my sister, Niara, became my co-editor in chief. Once she joined Nyota, it was time to source our content. We had to consider what our teenage audience would want to see in a September issue, and we had to figure out who our first-ever features would be. After planning the issue, my sister and I put our plan into action.

First, we organized a back-to-school photo shoot. Once we found models and confirmed a location, date and time, it came down to the details. For the shoot, my sister styled all the outfits, and I took all the photographs.  It was a scorching day in June, and the models were nearly sweating through their clothes. While we had perfect lighting, the heat was pure torture, but we persevered. The photos came out great, and the models we used then now work with us for each issue.

Confirming features for the magazine was harder than we thought. Our original music feature told us he was excited to be featured, but when we tried to set up an interview and photo shoot, it was like he forgot how to reply to emails. Instead, our music feature became Vine Street, a band that another Solebury student, Nealon E., was a member of. My sister booked our first fashion feature, and fortunately, he was very quick to respond. Our first culture feature ended up being a family friend of ours, and she was the easiest person to work with throughout the entire process. After getting features, we had to brainstorm interview questions, and schedule photo shoots and in-person interviews.

By then, my sister and I had been thinking about growing the Nyota team. I asked a good friend of mine, Breanna, to be our reporter for our YouTube page, and she agreed. Our first culture section feature was on Lauren Fisher, a musician and mosaic artist based in New Jersey. My sister and I worked the cameras for the interview, Breanna conducted the interview, and I took the photos. In late August, I conducted and videotaped an in-person interview of Vine Street.

It was a relief to be done with interviews, but then we had to design the magazine pages. I am not a graphic designer, and neither is my sister, but thankfully she knew how to use Adobe Illustrator and is artistically inclined, so she created a Nyota logo and started designing. I had to learn how to use Illustrator, write up the interviews, and create a few extra pages. It was a long, arduous process, and we ended up releasing the magazine two days late, but in the end, everything came together. We published the magazine on issuu. It was extremely rewarding to see our hard work had paid off, and we got a lot of positive feedback.

nyota2We knew that we needed to improve for the second issue, though. We also wanted to continue building our team. We booked a graphic designer, a writer from New Zealand, and more diverse features on people from all over the country. The second issue had fewer problems, looked better, and featured more content and better quality content. People told us it was more professional and eye-catching, too, which we were very happy to hear.

The second issue had four features. The features included a DJ from Oregon, a singer from Washington, DC, fashion bloggers from New York City, and a Solebury student named Jennifer Y. who hosts a teen talk show called “Cue The Lights” on Princeton Television with her two friends. Seeing the magazine evolve from the first to second issue showed us that we were on the right track, and that the issues to come would only be getting better.

Nyota helped me with the college application process, too. Colleges look for students doing unique things, and I truly believe that this magazine helped set me apart from other students. So far, I’ve been accepted to four schools, including Pratt Institute, one of my top three picks.

I am excited to see where we can take this magazine, and I can’t wait to release the third issue, which I think may be our best yet.

Watch for the third issue of Nyota on issuu, out next week!


Posted by: scotteckstein | February 26, 2016

An Embarrassment of Riches

I’ve written about this many times, but it remains true.  Almost nothing embodies the culture of Solebury School as much as the Coffee Houses that happen three times a year.  There are several aspects on display each time:

  1. Talent – Wow, there’s a lot of it!  Musicians, singers, actors, writers…it was all on display last week and more often than not, at an incredibly high level (my performance being one of the main exceptions).  Pretty amazing stuff!
  2. Diversity – We had rap and show tunes; we had Elvis and modern alternative; we had original stories and we had monologues; we had rockin’ guitar and drums and a Classical Chinese instrument being played. All kinds of people bringing all kinds of backgrounds and interests to share with each other.
  3. Acceptance – Everyone is welcomed with hearty applause, everyone is cheered and supported if they hit a bump in their performance, and everyone is congratulated with thunderous ovations.  So cool!

It was, as it always is, a wonderful night!  I put together a video with clips from the performances – take a look and enjoy!

Posted by: scotteckstein | February 21, 2016

Solebury Debate on the Rise

Guest Post from Jared Levy, history teacher and Debate Club advisor

Here’s a challenge for you: You have 15 minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech on why Britain should leave the European Union.

Hard, right? That challenge, along with more than a dozen like it, was what Solebury School’s Debate Club faced last weekend at the Liberty Bell Classic, a national tournament hosted by the University of Pennsylvania. The tournament featured 95 schools from 16 states and was a rigorous, long day for our students – they woke at 5 AM to drive to Philadelphia, debated until around 9:30 PM, and finally returned to Solebury around 11:30 PM. This was the second year we competed at this tournament, and I’m proud to say that our students improved greatly from their first appearance last year.

Why should students spend 19 hours at a debate tournament on a Saturday? Research shows that “even without winning major awards, participation in speech and debate develops valuable skills that colleges are seeking out and that is reflected in the above average acceptance rate (+4%).” But debate offers so many more benefits. My experience with debate – in high school, but especially at Bates College, which has a proud history of intercollegiate debate – changed me as a person. After countless hours of practice, research and competition, I earned the opportunities to compete in two World Universities Debate Championships, one in Ireland and one in Thailand, as well as debate in England at Cambridge University. Personally, debate helped me grow from an introvert to someone who was at ease speaking publicly. This helped immensely on job interviews after college; I was rarely caught off-guard with any question, and I often cited examples when making my point – a skill I learned through debate.

When I came to Solebury last fall, I wanted to bring my passion for debate to our community. Fortunately, senior Jenny L. had started our Debate Club the previous year. While the club was new, it was clear to me that our community had a passion for argumentation. My vision was to create a place for bright students to develop their critical-thinking skills and speaking abilities, and to learn to think calmly and productively under pressure, in order to challenge themselves against students from other schools.

Now in its second year, Solebury’s Debate Club is on the rise. Three of our seniors have debated the last two years: Jenny L., Chloe G., and Noah S. Jenny showed tremendous ability in our first debate tournament at Princeton University (and, by the way, English is her second language). Chloe took my debate elective class (Art, Argument, and Advocacy) in the fall and emerged as an extraordinary parliamentary debater, much to my biased delight. Noah took the class, too, but found his niche in Congress, a form of debate that replicates the experience of being a member of the United States’ legislative branch.

Last weekend at UPenn’s Liberty Debate Classic, all of our parliamentary debate teams, which featured two students working together, won at least one round, a huge accomplishment considering that this was their first time competing in that category. Our teams were: senior Afrah B.‎ and junior Cancy H.; senior Jenny L. and senior Chloe G.; and freshman Louisa Q. and freshman Leo D.M.

These extraordinary students, plus Noah and junior Hans H., who both debated in the category of Congress, deserve our recognition and are laying the groundwork for a team with a bright future. Our newest debater, Leo, received the highest speaker scores of all the debaters. Four of our students who competed at Penn are underclassmen and are excited for more opportunities to hone their skills in the future.


Our debaters at UPenn’s Liberty Bell Classic tournament

Next up, we’re preparing for a public debate during a school assembly on March 29th. Like last year, we will have two teams of two students, plus a faculty member, debate in front of the school on a current event. This is to showcase the club and bring a spirit of fun and respectful debate to our community.

Not familiar with debate? Here are a couple of key terms to know:

Parliamentary debate (also referred to as “Parli”) is an academic debate event that features two teams of two debaters who argue for and against a motion, such as “This House would ban political polling” (an actual topic our students debated at Penn).

Congressional debate (also known as “Student Congress,” or “Legislative Debate”) is a form of debate where students emulate members of the United States Congress by debating bills and resolutions.

Speaker score means the points assigned to how well a student spoke as determined by a judge who is usually a coach, parent or experienced student.

Posted by: scotteckstein | January 19, 2016

21st Century Parenting

One of the things we believe here at Solebury School is that we should be partners with our parents , that together we should be helping students grow and develop into adults.  For us, “college prep” means more than simply imparting a body of knowledge to them; it means equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in college and in life – including the ability to think critically, to communicate effectively, to manage their time efficiently.

We recently had a speaker come to the school to support these goals.  The speaker was Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D, a clinical psychologist, consultant and author who speaks to audiences around the world about the ideas she covers in her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. 

In The Big Disconnect, Dr. Steiner-Adair examines how technology and media affect children’s growth and learning, offering sage advice for parents on how to balance the benefits of technology while reducing the risks it poses at every stage of a child’s development. Determining how we as parents and educators can help our children navigate this ever-changing landscape is important work. It is a landscape that parents have never had to deal with, and it is not easy. On the one hand, we hear about the “21st century skills” our children will need. On the other, we worry about the amount of screen time and the smaller amount of physical activity some kids get; we hear the stories about children growing up unable to talk to other people because they only text; we see the impact that social media has on kids whether they be our own, our friends and neighbors, or the real horror stories that make the evening news.  Dr. Steiner-Adair came and spoke to our parents, to our faculty, and to our students. Her message for each group was somewhat different, but the commonality was that this is ground we can’t surrender, that we need to be conscious and deliberate in navigating it.  To the adults, she gave us an additional message that I found particularly powerful – that we need to not only watch our children’s reliance on technology, but also look carefully at our own.  At the parent talk, she listed a group of things that she feels parents need to do to prevent phones, tablets, etc. from taking over our homes and harming our families.  Here they are:
1) Do not let anyone use a phone as an alarm clock.  Do not start day with a screen. All of us need time to wake up, to think about our day, to prioritize our to-do list. Jumping on a screen right away keeps us from doing this. For adults specifically, she had one additional thing to say about this…Which way do we roll first thing in the morning… towards our partner or to our phone? She believes the way many of us “roll towards our phone” has an impact on our relationships and that we risk disconnecting our family connections by turning towards the phone first.

2) If you need to do email, etc. in the morning, get up before the kids to do it so you can be present with them as they get ready for school.

3) If you have a car ride to school, make at least half of ride screen free. Using our phones is a stimulant… we need to relax and prepare for the day, to concentrate on being our most pro-social  self. Heck, our children might even talk to us a little bit during the drive.

4) When we pick our kids up from school, we shouldn’t be on the phone when they get in the car. This sends them the message that other things are more important than them. Give them those first few minutes to find out about their day.

5) When we walk in the door from work, we shouldn’t be on the phone. Similar to when we pick our kids up, we should do our best to be present when we first get home or when the kids first get home.

6) There should be no screens at dinner.. .lots of us say this, but then don’t follow it ourselves. Don’t be hypocritical on this one.

7) When they come to say goodnight be engaged; put down the tablet or phone and give them your attention for those few minutes.

8)This generation  has a hard time being alone and by themselves; they are not good at using this space to self reflect.   These devices hinder their ability to be OK with solitude.  They need time alone and offline, and they need to see us do it and to model this for them whether it’s during an average day, on vacation,  etc.

9) Consider having device free spaces in your house – whether it’s the bedroom, the dining room, etc.

10) We should not text our children during the school day.  They need to be ok without that level of constant communication to build their sense of independence.  When there are true emergencies, the school can get us or we can get them through the school as was done for decades.

I leave it to you to decide how you want/need to incorporate this into your lives and what you think of it. For me, it was a wake up call. I walked away clear that I need to consciously disconnect from email more than I was doing, to take a couple of hours in the evening when I’m just a dad and a husband and when the Director of Admissions is away from his “desk” for a bit.  It’s a New Year’s Resolution coming a touch late, but hopefully one I’ll be able to follow through on. There was a lot else Dr. Steiner-Adair talked about that our faculty is gearing up to have some really interesting and important follow up conversations about, and I’ve talked to several students who said they heard a lot that made them think.  As I said earlier, this is new ground for all of us, but I’m glad I’m in a place that’s engaging the topic consciously and thoughtfully, and that is helping me do so as a person, a teacher, and a parent.

Posted by: scotteckstein | December 18, 2015

Forget the partridge in a pear tree and the golden rings…Part 2

I recently posted part 1 of this topic. Without further is the second half detailing some of the gifts I, and the whole Solebury community, have received this season.

7) Solebury has been engaging in a Strategic Planning Process for almost a year now.  Two weekends ago was a big moment for it. We held a conference of faculty and staff, of alumni, of current students, of Trustees, and of current and past parents to go over the information our research has produced and to talk about the course Solebury should chart as we move forward to have the school live its mission and philosophy as fully as possible and to give our students an incredible experience that sets them up to thrive in the world they will face.  It was a truly remarkable couple of days. While I know how much people care for the school, to see so many people gathered who were so engaged and committed to the school and its future was just inspiring.  Watching our current students talk with board members and parents so confidently, so articulately, literally almost brought tears to my eyes.  The process has several steps to go, but the weekend did move us forward quite a bit, and has me and everyone else excited for where Solebury is heading!

8) Two students came up with a proposal to work with one of our IT guys to start a Solebury radio station.  They are excited to share music, to have student and faculty programs, and to get this off the ground. The initiative they’ve shown and the way the school has encouraged and supported their enthusiasm are two of the things I prize most about how our community functions.

9) One of our traditions this time of the year is our Holiday for the Houses competition.  Each of our four houses gets assigned a space on campus to decorate for the holidays.  The house that does the best job gets points (at the end of the year, the House with the most points wins the House cup and eternal glory!).  My beloved Washburn house tied for the Holiday for the Houses competition this year (thanks to the leadership of Juniors Sam and Emma and Sophomore Lauren) and heads into 2016 as the leader in the competition!

10) We just passed the application deadline for our Merit Scholarship Program. It looks like we have our biggest pool ever, and my team is incredibly excited about the students we’ve interviewed and met!  I can see next year’s class starting to form, and boy do I love what I see!

11) The generosity our community shows is awesome. Each year a couple of faculty help us participate in the Adopt a Child program here in New Hope.  This allows people to get holiday gifts for a child whose family can’t afford to.  It’s an amazing program.  As a community we adopted over 20 children this year.  Some were adopted by faculty families, others by student groups, others by Advisors and their Advisees…whatever way it happened, the community gave lots of kids a happier holiday than they might have otherwise had.  The Red Cross club also organized a “Penny Wars” to raise money for the Red Cross House, which is a short term recovery center for families who have lost their homes from disasters such as fires, storms, etc. It’s a terrific cause, and as a community we raised a lot of money for them!

12) A new tradition started this season. We had a Faculty Follies at the end of the day before we went on break.  There were 11 numbers containing faculty, staff, and administrators including Tom, our Head of School. The whole event was a surprise for the students, but even those of us who knew about it, didn’t know what the acts were.  Jon Freer, our Educational Technology Coordinator and Science teacher extraordinaire, performed “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift much to the amusement of the community. It was a really wonderful event full of great energy and tons of laughter – a perfect way to launch into the break!  One student emailed out to the whole school after the show…”Everything about today was perfect. You are all perfect.”  What more could you want a student to feel?  You can see photos on our facebook page by following this link: Faculty Follies Photos.

French Hens may be good (especially if prepared with a nice Francaise sauce), but I’ll take these 12 gifts every year!

To all of you, I hope you have a joyous and peaceful holiday and that the new year brings you much happiness!



Posted by: scotteckstein | December 18, 2015

Forget the partridge in a pear tree and the golden rings (Part 1)..

This is a wonderful time of the year. When we can put aside the craziness of shopping and time crunches, it’s really about joy, generosity, and sharing time (as families, as communities, etc).  While I love pipers piping and drummers drumming, I thought I’d share the 12 gifts I’ve enjoyed here at Solebury the last couple of weeks…

  1. I’m so happy for the group of our seniors who have gotten great news from colleges already!  There has been lots of good news spread around – acceptances to terrific schools, with lots of merit scholarships.  There will be lots more to come, but it’s always terrific to see colleges recognize how amazing our students are!
  2. Our winter athletic teams are off to tremendous starts! The boys basketball team won the tournament we hosted and performed nicely against some top competition in the Peddie School tournament. The girls team has also competed terrifically and is off to a great start with some big victories.  The wrestling team is off to its best start ever with 2 wins in their first 3 meets (and they would have won a third but were outnumbered – they actually won more head to head matches).  Looks like January and February will have lots of wins, and lots of cheering fans, because of these teams!
  3. While these few weeks are always a little weird as we come back from Thanksgiving break and have Winter break looming only a few weeks ahead, they also mark the start of the winter term classes and there have been some amazing things happening.  In addition to the cool work in our core full year classes, our array of electives also continues to offer students the opportunity to dive deeply into an area of interest or to experience something they’ve never tried before.  For example, one of our science faculty is offering an elective called Design Thinking where students are simply learning how to work collaboratively and solve problems.  For a great description of how this works, check out this video put together by Stanford’s Business School that shows how important the skills in a class like this can be for preparing students to succeed in the world that lies ahead for them.  Stanford’s D School.
  4. Every year, we have  a wonderful evening right before break. The dining hall does their usual incredible job (this year they served brisket, sweet chili shrimp, curry chick peas, sweet chili tofu, and lobster bisque – WOW!). Then we move to the Performing Arts Center for a Community Carol (I am a kid between the ages of 1 and 92) and some nice performances by the Chorus and some individual students. Then we head back to the dining hall for an incredible spread of cookies and other goodies.  It’s always one of my favorite nights of the year!
  5. The Rock Band just gave an amazing concert – it was just fantastic! I’ll let the video speak for itself….Rock Band Concert!!!
  6. Right before the break, there are always lots of alumni who show up on campus as their fall semesters at school finish up.  Seeing them again, seeing how well they’re doing, hearing that they love school, and are having success in their courses and are developing a clear sense of what they want to do with their lives is as good a gift as I could ask for!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post – six other gifts I received this holiday season…

Guest post from Hanna Howe, Solebury School’s librarian


Hanna Howe, Solebury’s librarian (Love the hat, Hanna!)

So. Many. Books! This is a bountiful time for teen readers. There are 10 times as many books for young adults now than there were 20 years ago, and many students who want to consume them all. Fortunately, young adult literature has come a long way since S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (although that’s still a solid choice).

I asked our students to share their favorites to help guide you if you’re looking to buy your teen a book this season. I’ve also included a few of my own favorites after another year of happily making my way through piles of YA literature.

It seems most Solebury readers love at least one Neil Gaiman book. His magical and creepy style shines in Coraline for younger readers and The Ocean at the End of the Lane for teenagers. His most recent story, The Sleeper and the Spindle, gorgeously illustrated by Chris Riddell, is a witty and enchanting reimagining of fairy tales, and it would make a beautiful gift for anyone who loves Maleficent-style stories.

Three of author Rainbow Rowell’s books have been cycling on and off the New York Times bestseller list recently, all of them deserving. If you were into 80s music, you might enjoy Eleanor & Park. And then try Fangirl and Carry On. Solebury students love them.

This year, we’ve had new installments in popular series, including Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and Dreams of Gods & Monsters (the third book in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy) by Laini Taylor. Rick Riordan’s latest, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer, has been in constant circulation in our library this year.

Students enjoy some classic science fiction like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Many list Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card as an all-time favorite (and I couldn’t agree more). Speaking of classics, books by Jane Austen and the Brontes still appear on students’ must-read lists. A beautifully bound classic hardback, like one of Penguin’s classy decorative covers, will always make a welcome gift for a reader.

Our students also read nonfiction, and not just when they have to write research papers! Right now, books by YouTubers are hot, including A Work in Progress by Connor Franta, This Book Loves You by PewDiePie, Binge by Tyler Oakley and The Amazing Book Is Not on Fire by Dan Howell and Phil Lester. Many students would love a copy of the new Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton. (We all love HONY books.)

I discover books from multiple sources, and this year I was thrilled to hear of books at conferences that speak to the “We Need Diverse Books” movement. It started as a hashtag in April 2014 and grew stronger and stronger as an official campaign this year. Throughout the year, I attended panels and author discussions about the need for diversity in book publishing, especially for young readers. I came away with piles to read and many to recommend. I’m loving all of the conversations about diversity and am so glad to have access to more books that represent all of our students here at Solebury. We all need – and deserve – to see ourselves reflected in what we read. A few I have enjoyed this year are:

I could go on and on, and look forward to more! This is a movement to watch, and I encourage you to check out their website.

Want more recommendations? Check out our Solebury School online book reviews, written by students.

Happy reading,


Posted by: scotteckstein | November 24, 2015

May I someday have the wisdom to give thanks every day

Our minds are incredible things – capable of achieving wonders, of creating great works, and of changing the course of history. However, they are also capable of being deluded. Somehow they are more prone to recognize that which is wrong than which is right. While all of us have our share of challenges, overall, we are possibly more fortunate than any people in history. Yet, I feel like so many of us – myself included, too often – lose sight of what we have to be grateful for.

I heard a statistic once that said the average teacher has 1,500 interpersonal exchanges a day, ranging from conversations with colleagues to responding to a question in class. Let’s say 1% of them are negative to some degree. That’s 15 negative exchanges. I know from experience that at night as I’m getting ready for bed, I often find myself rehashing those 15 exchanges and losing sight of the 1,485 positive ones I had. Here’s a second example. I ask my Ethics class to keep a journal, documenting things they have done that they feel were ethical or unethical. It’s an attempt to get them to be conscious of what they’re doing, to learn to identify the values they believe in, and to help them connect the philosophies that we study to their own lives. By a significant amount, students often focus on the things they think they did wrong rather than what they feel they did right. These are wonderful people – kind, smart, responsible, helpful – and yet they focus more on the negative than the positive.

I’m not an expert in neurology, nor in psychology, so I’ll leave it to others to explain why many of us do this; however, I’m using today to make an early New Year’s resolution. I am going to try to be conscious of all I have to be thankful every day, not just the fourth Thursday of November.  To remind myself come the doldrums of February, when my spirits sometimes are at their lowest, here’s my list of what I’m thankful for:

  • I have a wonderful wife who is smart, kind, and a terrific partner and friend in every way.
  • I have two amazing children who bring more joy to my life than I can possibly quantify.
  • I have a mother and sister who are terrific people who I know are there for me if I ever need anything and who love (and like) my wife and kids.
  • I have a mother and father in law, 2 brothers in law, and a sister in law who are people I would choose to be in my life.  They are all simply good people.
  • I have good friends – some I’ve known for just a couple of years, others who I’ve known for decades – who make me smile, make me laugh, and inspire me continue to grow as a person.
  • While I have the aches and pains of any 44 year old, my body is good to me and allows me to do lots of the things I love.
  • I live in an exquisitely beautiful place.
  • I work with tremendous people who are so intelligent, so committed, so hardworking, but who also understand that hard work and fun are two concepts that SHOULD exist together.
  • I work with students whose passion, whose intellect, and whose desire to learn makes me feel wish I had a do-over at being a teenager, and who make me proud and hopeful for the future every single day.
  • I have spent 23 years working at a school that has allowed me to grow as a professional and as a person, that has mentored me, guided me, supported me through a variety of life events and life phases.

There’s more I’m sure, but that’s a pretty good start.  If you see me and I seem down, remind me to read it again.  To all of you, may you and yours have a wonderful holiday this week, may it find you with much to be thankful for, and may all of us in the world work together so that the coming year is one where all people can be grateful for the lives they lead.

Posted by: scotteckstein | November 18, 2015

My students rocked their new advanced music class! Read on…

Guest post from Cathy Block, Visual and Performing Arts teacher (and Director of Solebury’s Jazz Roots Ensemble and our Rock Band)

I have to share one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had at Solebury School. This trimester, I taught a course I always wanted to teach at Solebury, called “Scoring for Big and Small Band”. It was an advanced class where the students learned the basics regarding various voicings, chord scales and other college-level skills. The class required a lot of student work. I’m talking two hours of homework at a time. I couldn’t be sure if they’d follow through, but they did!

musicscoringThis past weekend, my students Josh, Nealon and Eli had their “final exams” played. They each had to score a minimum of 12 bars for 4 horns and rhythm sections. I had four horn players from other schools come in (ones who’d joined us for Solebury’s “Bridging Community Through Music” concert) and play their charts. The kids were soooo excited to hear their work! I can’t stress what an accomplishment this was for all of them! They took in a lot of information in a very short time, ate it up and ran with it. I am truly proud of them.

Thank you Solebury, for allowing such a course to be taught. This is one of the things that sets us apart – you’d normally have to be in a music school to take such a class and hear live musicians play your arrangements. And thank you, Erika Bonner (our Visual and Performing Arts Department Head), for having the vision and faith that this class would fly. It was a huge success. Yes, education can be a blast!!!!

If you see Josh, Nealon and Eli please give them a high five! They really did something terrific here.


Listen to our students’ “final exams” here…

Blue Bossa, composed by Kenny Dorham and arranged by Eli Bramnick

Blue Monk, composed by Thelonious Monk and arranged by Josh Poole

Green Dolphin Street, composed by Bronsilaw Kaper and arranged by Nealon Edgar

Posted by: scotteckstein | November 16, 2015

Meddlesome fairies, smooth jazz, and other great performances

The end of the trimester at schools is a time for culmination, for all the pieces coming together as a whole.  In classes, this can be in the form of a final exam, project, or paper.  For example, my 10th grade Honors Ethics class turned in a paper this morning where among other things they discussed: 1) Are ethics universal or relative?  2) Are people naturally good, bad, or neither?  3) What values do the students think are most important for people to hold and how would a society best develop people who practice these values?  I love reading these papers – the insights the students have into the world is always amazing to see and makes me realize how much more I could have been, and done, at their age if someone had just pushed me a bit.

This culmination happens in other areas as well. In sports, it is a playoff game.  Our Cross Country teams and soccer teams all headed into the playoffs with high hopes, but fell just short.  In the arts, it is a show, a concert, or a performance.  It has been a wonderful couple of weeks in this regard here.  Some beautiful artwork is adorning the public areas of the school, we had a terrific fall play, and our musicians shone on stage.  The fall play was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by the Bard, William Shakespeare.  What an amazing job the actors did, and what a tremendous job the tech crew did transforming our black box theater into the woods and castle needed for the play!  I brought my 11 year old and 9 year old children to the play. It was their first experience with Shakespeare, and I was curious to see how they would do.  It is a HUGE credit to the actors and to Shawn our Theater Director that my kids got it; they laughed at the right times, they understood the plot, and they loved the show!  The command of the dialogue and the way the actors used their faces and bodies was incredibly impressive. Here’s a video clip of one particularly funny scene:

Scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

We also had a couple of great concerts recently (clips are in the below video).  Our Jazz Roots group played a variety of numbers. One of the things that was particularly great about this concert was that Cathy, our Jazz teacher, brought in some students from other schools to join with our musicians.  It’s always so nice when students from different schools can be together, share their talents, and appreciate each other.  It was a great show!  The other concert included performances by our Chorus, our Universal Ensemble, and by some students from our Musical Theater Dance elective.  The Chorus and the Ensemble always do a blend of classical and modern pieces (the clip below is of the ensemble doing “Stairway to Heaven”). It’s always great to see such talent on display.

Concert Clips

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday (stay tuned in a few days for my annual Thanksgiving post), I want to give a shout out to all the students and faculty for such a wonderful fall. In more was than I can count, you do the school proud and make it so much fun to come to work every day!

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