Posted by: scotteckstein | September 16, 2016

Creating Solebury’s New Daily Schedule: How It Came Together

Guest Post by Director of Studies Rick Tony

quoteIt began about a year ago, with a little help from the Beatles. During our preliminary discussions in developing a new schedule, I knew we would need to name our various models to be able to debate the pros and cons of each. As the chair of the “schedule committee,” I chose proper names associated with the Beatles to represent the seven viable models we created: John, Paul, George, Ringo, Pete, Stuart, and Brian. Can you identify them all?

The committee* met monthly and began by listing and prioritizing the various ways we spend our time at Solebury School. The list was comprehensive: classes, clubs, advisory, lunch, assemblies, conference period, M&M, labs, department meetings, faculty meetings, class meetings, office hours, peer leaders, study halls and student free time.  From this data we developed seven models, each different but with some common threads. Most importantly, we knew we wanted to move from 50-minute classes to longer periods that would meet less frequently. This would enable teachers to dive deeper into the material and to develop intensive lessons and assessments that require extended time.  The added benefit of less nightly homework also contributed to our commitment to longer periods.  Other high priorities included conference periods — we wanted more than one per week — and dedicated club times.

Paring down from seven models to the top three (Ringo, Stuart and John), we began to re-think the start of our day. The preponderance of research we uncovered espoused the benefits of a later start for adolescents.  In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a Policy Statement  which resonated with the committee.  From its abstract: “…the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times (i.e. before 8:30am) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption, in this population.” One particular model reduced the number of non-Arts class periods to three per day, saving us about 20 minutes of transition time between classes. That model was Ringo.

Ringo was our top choice.

Not only did Ringo include a later start time, three non-Arts periods and one dedicated Arts periods per day, it also provided time for faculty to meet every Wednesday morning, affording students an even later start of 9:00am on Wednesdays. This model also featured a 45-minute conference period on Wednesday morning which could be used for certain classes (AP courses and math support classes) to gain extra instruction time.  Finally, Ringo included two periods that do not rotate, allowed us to hire part-time teachers who can work at a consistent time of day. This subtle but significant improvement over the prior schedule enables Solebury to draw even more talented part-time teachers to our school.

We took our new schedule model to the full faculty.  Because department heads had been updating teachers in their departments throughout this process, many teachers were familiar with Ringo already.  One last modification was adopted; by shortening periods to 65-minutes on Wednesdays, we could gather as a community in assemblies, class meetings, or advisory groups for a longer chunk of time.  This trade-off of class time for community time was met with great support and the final version of our schedule was created.  The faculty overwhelmingly voted in favor of adopting the schedule, starting with the 2016-17 school year.

Change always brings with it some trepidation but the teachers, staff, and administration have been working hard to prepare for its adoption during the past several months.

This school year, the scheduling committee will reconvene periodically as we gather feedback from the community about the new schedule. I invite you to send me an email ( with your thoughts – we welcome your concerns as much as any positive feedback you might have. Write me today, or as the weeks progress and we further settle in.

Lastly, what shall we call our new schedule? For me, “Ringo” inspires fond memories of late-afternoon meetings and spirited discussion.  But that name does not capture the many benefits and features of our new schedule.  Post a comment or email me with your suggestion for a better, more descriptive name.  If we choose your name, you just might be rewarded with a Beatles’ album for your submission.

*The schedule committee included Peter Ammirati, Erika Bonner, Steve Buteux, Diane Downs, Scott Eckstein, Rob Eichem, Jon Freer, Hanna Howe, Helen Matthews, Britta Milks, Cari Nelson, Tom Rondeau, Cinnie Wappel,  and Rick Tony.

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 6, 2016

I Know It’s Hard, But Wait Until You See the Results

Today is the day where new boarders move in at Solebury.  It’s a wonderful day for me – seeing all these students I’ve gotten to know over the past year finally here together on campus, and seeing glimpses of the friendships that I know will soon form.  It’s a hard day for the parents, though.  Most of us parents have the expectation that we will not have to drop our kids off at school until college, but these parents have made the choice to have their child board during high school. It’s a truly brave and unselfish choice – one which recognizes the opportunities that boarding gives kids.  I watch these parents and see their excitement as well the nervousness that is just below the surface. I see the occasional tear in a parent’s eye as they prepare to return home.  A hard moment indeed. As someone who has worked in boarding schools for almost 25 years now, I can confidently look them in the eye and reassure them that they are giving their child an incredible gift that will benefit them for the rest of their life.  They will learn to be independent; they will mature significantly; they will learn how to live and work with others of similar and different backgrounds, ages, and interests; they will develop amazing friendships that they will treasure and that will support them as they go forward; they will find mentors and supporters who will be there forever and for whatever they need.  They will learn constantly – both in and out of class; there will be plenty of learning about science and history, math and English, whatever language they pursue, but there will also be a ton of learning about character, ethics, time management, and a host of other “soft skills”.  And they will have fun – they will play on teams, they will be in plays, they will join clubs, they will go on great trips to both near and far destinations, and they will simply hang out at times with their friends.

So to these parents, and to those who will make this choice in the future, I applaud you.  I am honored that you are trusting me and the rest of the faculty here with your children.  We will take good care of them, and look forward to working with you throughout these years to give them the best experience possible and to help them grow into the incredible adults we see within them. I don’t take for granted for a second the difficulty of this moment for you or the mixed emotions I know you are feeling, but I assure you, you’re going to love the results!

Posted by: scotteckstein | May 20, 2016

Are Teens in Your House Freaking Out? Help Is Here!

Guest Post by School Counselor Julie Laing

“I’m stressed out!” Sound familiar? It’s a phrase we may hear so often from our teenage children that we become desensitized to it.  Additionally, it can begin to sound like a whine or complaint rather than what it might be – a cry for help.

The truth is, we are ALL stressed out, and sometimes our own stress causes us to not have the patience, compassion or quite frankly the time to truly hear what our kids are saying. Students sometimes tell me that their parents “don’t care” or “don’t understand,” or that they are too afraid to ask for help. Maybe so, but I believe it’s more a matter of poor communication and misunderstanding. With final exams and the heightened emotions of graduation on the horizon, now feels like a good time to take a deep breath, acknowledge that teen stress is a real issue, and see what we can do to support the ones we love.


School Counselor Julie Laing with Asst. Dean of Students Greg Lewis

Here’s a statement that will probably shock no one: Sometimes teenagers complain that they feel stressed in order to avoid something or to manipulate a situation.  I think these tactics become a bit like the “boy who cried wolf.” As a parent you get so used to hearing this complaint that when their stress turns into something more, something like anxiety, it is easy to overlook it and not take it seriously. The truth is that stress is not always negative – feeling a bit of pressure can be a great motivator to try harder or dig deeper. So how, as parents, can we tell when that healthy dose of stress becomes overwhelming and possibly damaging?  Sometimes all it takes is little extra attention and observation. Here are some things to consider.

Is It Benign or Harmful?

One of the most important factors is if your child has been experiencing stress for an apparent and prolonged period of time. When I say “apparent” I mean more than just your child complaining. If you notice significant negative changes in their demeanor that last for two weeks or more, it is probably a good idea to speak with your child and consider taking them to see a health professional.

Symptoms that the stress/anxiety is beginning to reach dangerous levels may include, but are not limited to: your child may seem physically unable to relax; your child might complain of physical ailments such as headaches, heart palpitations or nausea; they may become extremely sensitive to criticism; they may become extremely self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations; they may become avoidant of things that used to be comfortable for them or of new situations; they may begin to socially isolate themselves; they may experience sleeping issues, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep; your child may become overly forgetful or distracted; he/she may have obsessive thoughts or images that they say they cannot get out of their head.  It’s very important to note that not all of these signs have to be present. If your child shows any of these signs enough to concern you or others who are close to them, then seek help. Call their pediatrician, their school counselor (me), or their therapist, if they already have one. Reach out for assistance from someone. Just as you wouldn’t be expected to single-handedly manage a medical emergency, you are not expected to handle mental health issues alone, either.

What You Can Do to Support Your Child at Home

  1. First, acknowledge your child’s feelings. Don’t dismiss or ignore them. Simply letting your child vent and acknowledging that you’re there to support and care for them can go a long way.
  1. Gently encourage your child to do whatever it is that’s stressing them out. Resist the impulse to do it for them or let them avoid it. For example, if they’ve been avoiding studying because they are overly anxious about an exam, you can help by providing a quiet place and time for them to study while you are nearby to monitor and reassure them, if necessary. It will probably backfire on you if you try to study with them. Plus, it is really beneficial for them to be able to complete the task that they have been avoiding on their own.  Structuring the activity and gently guiding them towards it could be immeasurably helpful, as long as you don’t lurk and even worse, “nag” – that’s a surefire way to have your child react negatively, and more than likely, you might get blamed for their stress, even if it’s not true.
  1. Praise your child when they do something they’re anxious about. Even if you think the task or event should be easy or worry-free, if it was difficult for them, praise will help boost their confidence. That pride may give them the incentive to continue pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone and set them up for more successes and less anxiety in the future.
  1. This may be very difficult for some parents, but it’s important that you wait until your child actually gets a little anxious before you step in. As I said earlier, moderate stress can be a healthy thing. If parents step in or rescue their children every time they’re stressed, they’ll never have the opportunity to learn to be resilient. I jokingly refer to this approach as “benign neglect”. It’s difficult at times, but it is important that parents back off and allow children to struggle sometimes. You are there to catch them if they need you, but you also need to provide the opportunity for them to catch themselves.
  1. Perhaps the most important thing we can do as parents to support children at home is to be a good role model for managing your own stress. People of all ages are living in an increasingly complex world that breeds anxiety and stress. If you are not modeling how to manage stress, then it will not be a priority for them. Aside from traditional therapy, some things you can do on your own might be a yoga class, a bike ride or a brisk walk after dinner to unwind. You can gently encourage your child to join you and maybe one day they’ll take you up on it. The trick is to continue modeling this behavior and continue asking them to join you. Also, there are apps you can download to increase mindfulness, promote relaxation, and help alleviate tension. Two apps you can explore and encourage your children to explore are called “Headspace” and “Buddhify.”  Both will help your child begin learning how to self-regulate productively. And since they can download them to their phones, they’re much more likely to buy into it. Another bonus: the apps are a coping tool that travels with them.

So as we ease our way into the tail end of the school year and as exams loom, please remember that you are not helpless in supporting your child, even when they make you feel that nothing you do is right.  Remember that stress is always not a terrible thing, because only through being uncomfortable can we learn how to adapt and rise to the occasion. However, being able to tell when your child’s stress has morphed into something unhealthy is important. Pay attention, actively listen to them, and fight every urge inside of you to “fix” their problems for them. Ask for help if you need it. Your child is doing the best that they can, and so are you.


Julie E. Laing, M.Ed
School Counselor
Solebury School
215-862-5261 ext 181

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,


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