Posted by: scotteckstein | September 29, 2015

Two days that will help to make an incredible four years

Last Friday was Class Trip Day. This is a Solebury School tradition where early in the year, each grade takes an adventure together to bond and to grow as individuals and as a class. I had the pleasure of going with the 9th grade. This was an overnight trip to a camp in the Poconos. It’s arguably the most important of the trips since the 9th grade is basically all new students. I was one of six faculty chaperones who went on the trip. It was a really full and fun day! We began with some trust-building exercises, then moved on to some group challenges where we all had to work together and communicate effectively. Then we got to do some of the high-rope challenges that the camp has (I have a thigh muscle – and an ego – that hasn’t quite recovered. The students then had some time to enjoy all the things the camp had to offer. There were kids fishing, canoeing, hiking, playing basketball. It was so much fun to see students who were so different and from so many different places and backgrounds interacting. It is exactly what makes Solebury so special!  I joined the basketball players and fared a little better thankfully. Later that evening we cooked dinner together and then there was a night-time game of Capture the which was a blast!  Then smores and a campfire and then sleep (we were all exhausted).   Another chaperone and I talked about getting up early and going for a run the next morning.  It was one of the highlights of the trip for me when four boys said they wanted to come.  How cool are these kids?  Volunteering to get up at 7am to run with their teachers! Just awesome. There are a bunch of pictures below.

There was so much about these two days that was wonderful.  First and foremost was the attitude of the students.  They were so open, so eager, and so …well…pleasant. There was legitimately zero negativity the entire two days.  It is clear that they are every bit the people we thought they were when we accepted them and that the next four years will be wonderful ones at Solebury because of their presence as a group.  As part of the admissions team, it was also personally gratifying.  To watch this collection of people become more comfortable with one another, to begin to see each other’s talents and to come together as a group is incredibly gratifying.  They are a puzzle my team and I put together whose beauty I’ve seen in my head and on paper for months.  To see it actually happening always fills me with pride and joy.

Thanks to the students for being so amazing and for all the fantastic things that are ahread of you!







Guest Post from Rick Tony, Solebury School’s new Director of Studies

“Welcome to Solebury!” I’ve received this friendly greeting dozens of times since beginning my tenure as Director of Studies on July 1. And welcomed is exactly how I feel with members of the Solebury community engaging me in conversation, always willing to share their favorite local sights to see and places to eat. I am thrilled to be here after teaching mathematics in Pittsburgh for the past 18 years. While I am now serving in an administrative role, I will always be a teacher, and I’m teaching one section of Precalculus this year.

As Scott’s first guest blogger, I cannot help but make mathematics the subject of my first post. One of our goals at Solebury is to ensure that your child graduates as a numerate (fluent in numbers) citizen and consumer. We want students to think for themselves but also to think critically.

The following is an exercise that conveys the idea of number sense, or numeracy. Grab a pencil and paper if you’re up for a challenge!

Most people believe numbers form the backbone of mathematics. As a student, you learned to count long before engaging in algebra. Did you find it exciting learning that numbers just kept going, from hundreds to thousands to millions and beyond? Our number system allows for big changes in a quantity simply by adding more zeroes to a number. This was not always the case and an argument can be made that the invention of the “zero” is among the greatest technological advances in history. But that’s a topic for another day.

Now let’s consider lengths of time in seconds: one thousand, one million, one billion and one trillion seconds. What can be accomplished in 1000 seconds? Is an average human lifespan close to one of these time periods? How about the time it takes for a cross-country drive? Translating large numbers into understandable, easy-to-grasp concepts takes some effort. Go ahead, think about it.

In this upcoming election year, voters are likely to hear candidates using terms like thousands (miles logged on a campaign bus), millions (legal immigrants to the U.S. annually), billions (total annual Social Security payouts), and trillions (the national debt). An educated citizen must be comfortable with numbers to put these orders of magnitude into perspective. Getting back to our time units, 1,000 seconds is almost 17 minutes so you could probably cook a meal or eat it in that time span if you’re quick or on the TV show Chopped. But 1,000,000 (one million or one thousand thousand) seconds is more than 11 days! That’s plenty of time to drive back and forth across the country while enjoying lots of meals along the way. Surprised? OK, take a few seconds to mull over one billion and one trillion seconds. We’ve got the time.

The numbers we are mulling increase in magnitude by 1,000, and we do this by adding three more zeroes at each step. One billion is written 1,000,000,000 and it is the same as one thousand million. One trillion is written 1,000,000,000,000 and is the same as one thousand billion or one million million. Since it can be easy to lose track of those zeroes, scientists often use more concise notation when dealing with very large numbers. Using powers of 10, one billion is simply 109 and one trillion is 1012 , where the exponent indicates the number of zeroes. Not only is this language shorter and prettier but it also allows for easier computations.

Rick Tony, our new Director of Studies (over a billion seconds old) and daughter Theodora at only 2.5 million seconds old.

Rick Tony and his daughter, Theodora. Thea is just 2.5 million seconds old (d’awww!), while Rick clocks in at well over one billion.

It turns out that one billion seconds is almost 32 years. Many Solebury students will be studying for their driver’s license test as they near that seminal milestone of turning half a billion seconds old. That’s a big jump from our cross-country road trip of one million seconds.

A similar leap takes us to one trillion seconds which is 317 centuries — far further back than any recorded human history! So the next time you hear the national debt is over 18 trillion dollars, imagine dollar bills rolling off a printing press each second for five times longer than recorded history. And that’s just 1 trillion for starters!

I hope my introduction proved interesting and educational. Come back often to read about the exciting things happening in and out of our classrooms over the next few million seconds!

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 23, 2015

Boarding – the way to avoid the boredom that characterized my youth

When I was a teenager, my closest friends were guys named Evan, Jon, and Mitchell.  We spent a lot of time playing Atari and Intellivision (I am indeed a child of the 80’s), and we’d go outside and play some basketball or whiffle ball, but it felt like we mostly sat around asking each other “What should we do?”.  You can tell I was a real rabble-rouser, but such was life in the suburbs of New York City.  There was a lot of inertia, a lot of malaise, a lot of bugging our parents to drive us places. This is why I’m constantly so jealous of the opportunities both our boarding and day students get to enjoy here with the variety of weekend activities that are available.  There are always lots of friends around, and there’s always tons to do. The last two weekends offer a glimpse at how different their teenage life is from the one I had.  There was an all Community BBQ with great food prepared by our chefs. After the BBQ, we brought a food truck on campus to give us all some amazing ice cream.  Later that night, we showed an outdoor movie in the center of campus.  There have been trips to a local park for some hiking and outdoor fun, to a Phillies game, to Six Flags, and to a local festival.  In addition, our incredible Director of Activities somehow managed to get a band I’m told is really popular with the young folk – Jukebox the Ghost – to come to campus to do a Saturday night concert for us.  They were indeed fantastic – check them out ( Keep checking out the blog and Solebury School’s other social media channels to keep up on all this as it’s just the beginning of what is ahead this year!

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 22, 2015

Guest Bloggers on the Way

Exciting news: I’m going to start featuring guests from the Solebury community on this blog. You’ll hear from faculty on what’s going on in our classrooms, posts from staff on happenings around campus, and more videos and photos of our students in action. Don’t worry – you’ll still hear from me. But now you’ll get to read more about the great work and experiences at Solebury, directly from the folks making it happen.

My first guest blogger will be Solebury’s new Director of Studies, Rick Tony. Look for his post soon!

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 14, 2015

A Sweet Start to the Year

I’ve lived on campus here at Solebury School for all 23 of the years I have been here.  I love it…eating and working with the students in the dining hall, seeing them at various activities, and getting to know them and having them get to know me and my family further.  It’s one of the wonderful things about working at a boarding school.

We also like to have the students over to our house throughout the year (and not just to babysit my kids although that’s pretty great too).  One of the things we try to do is to have any Jewish boarders and some of their friends over for the Jewish holidays.  Tonight we had a bunch of them over for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.  I’ve spent my entire life in schools so the timing of this new year celebration always felt more accurate to me since it always comes at the start of the year which my life revolves around..the school year.  During Rosh Hashana, you eat apples with honey to start the year sweetly and hope for good things to come.  To increase the odds of a good year, my wife and children baked a couple of batches of brownies.

My children cracked me up…they were so excited to show the students their pet rats (a story for another day that involves a science experiment our middle school did). The students were great as we talked about how school was going and then they moved on to a fantastic discussion of the 2016 presidential election and the merits and flaws of various candidates.  It was so much fun listening to this collection of 9th through 12th grade students who were so knowledgable, so intellectual, and so well informed.   This wasn’t a social studies class; it was just a group of kids hanging out between dinner and study hall.  For a guy who used to teach AP Government and misses it, it was a blast.  If tonight was an indication of the year to come, it  should be pretty terrific.

Posted by: scotteckstein | September 8, 2015

We Are Honored

I’m standing outside the library here at Solebury School just before eight in the morning.   Our new boarders will start arriving any minute.   I’m imagining their feelings right now…. A mix of excitement and nervousness,  and at least for the parents,  a twinge of sadness as their children begin a phase of life living outside of their home.  For many of them,  this moment comes earlier than they would have thought.   However the opportunities  here and the education they will receive make it more than worth it.   I picture myself dropping my children off at school someday,  somewhere,  and can very much imagine this same mixture of emotions.   And so to our new parents I say this… I am honored that you have trusted me and the rest of Solebury with your children. We shall take wonderful care of them and we look forward to teaming with you as together we help them grow into the wonderful adults we see inside of them.

Posted by: scotteckstein | May 12, 2015

Way Beyond Binomial Nomenclature!

While I’m a History teacher and could happily go on and on about the job my department does in terms of getting students to think deeply about the material we are studying and to be able to effectively articulate their ideas verbally and in writing, I’ve got to give some love to the Science department as they are doing all kinds of cool things right now that are giving our students a tremendous educational experience.

1) A couple of weeks ago it was National Science Week and the department made sure our students knew it.  There were public demonstrations and experiments all over campus exposing students (and faculty) to some awesome stuff from the various scientific disciplines. One of the science teachers made a video of some of the experiments so you too can enjoy the fun (and learn a couple of things as I did). Check it out:

2) This fall will see several significant additions to the department.  The installation of a 3D printer, a Maker Space, and of a couple of Engineering classes will all enrich students’ experiences here significantly and expand the opportunities they have.  I am incredibly excited to see what the classes and the Spartan Builders Club produce with these cool new additions, but I also am excited because I know that another result of this will be the neat ideas and projects that get produced because a group of students want to be creative and explore in the maker space during the weekends here – a long way from my days as a youth just sitting playing Atari!

3) The Science Department also has been at the forefront of the school in terms of exploring project based learning, cooperative teaching, etc.  They are having students do blogs, make films, have experimented with the Flipped Classroom model, use our educational garden and greenhouse as an educational tool (I ate a delicious salad in the dining hall the other day courtesy of our Honors Biology class!), etc.  I’m personally excited as one of our teachers approached me about doing a joint Science/Social Studies elective next year.  We’re going to look at some of the current issues where there is some dismissal in society about what many feel to be scientific fact.  Issues like global warming, fracking, etc. will be discussed and we’ll try to discover what the scientific facts are and to understand what societal or sociological forces are at work that keep whatever facts there are from being acknowledged and acted upon.  Should be a ton of fun!

To my colleagues in the Science Department – wonderful job!

To my students, I hope you know how lucky you are!  And if you don’t, remind me to tell you about my biology class with Ms. Gurevicz when I was in 9th grade.

Posted by: scotteckstein | April 20, 2015

Oh What a Night!

In the 22 years that I’ve been here, there have been 66 Coffee Houses. I don’t think I’ve quite made all of them (life comes up once in a while), but I think I’ve probably been to about 60 of them give or take.  And I tell you, it never gets old for me, and it never lets me down. The talent that we have here – incredible.  The comfort students have to put themselves out there – amazing.  The consistent supportiveness of the crowd – frankly, borders on the stuff of myths and legend. It’s crazy and it’s wonderful.  As I try to do every so often, I performed this time, using my usual strategy of finding a student who has amazing talent and is willing to let their gifts hide my mediocrity.  Thanks Stella for being that person this time!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing to me exemplifies the Solebury culture I love more than Coffee House.  Thanks to the whole community for making it so!  Enjoy the video!

While the title of this post sounds like an odd alteration of the classic joke genre, it’s actually a description an event (that my son described as “epic”) that happened here recently.  Last Friday, Solebury School’s Rock Band class had a big concert. The set list had about ten songs, including some of my favorites.  There was “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, “Rosanna” by Toto, and a couple of Tom Petty songs.  One of the coolest parts of the concert is that they played three songs by British punk pioneers The Buzzcocks with The Buzzcocks own bass guitarist Steve Garvey! This is just an example of the amazing things that happen because we have Cathy Block on the faculty.  Cathy has had a long musical career, performing with, and writing music for some amazing artists.  Her connections in the industry have brought experiences like this to our students for years. As another example, she recently held a contest here where a student band was selected to go record at Morning Star studios in Philadelphia with Glenn Barratt whose work has earned him over twelve gold and multi-platinum records and four Grammy awards. Most of the members of the band that was selected are in our Rock Band class so you’ll see them on the below video.

One of the songs they played was “Scenes from an Italian Restauarant” by Billy Joel.  I was walking around campus with a visiting student the week before the concert and stopped by their class and heard they were doing this song.  I’m a Jewish guy from Long Island who was born in 1971.  The first album I remember listening to regularly was Billy Joel’s The Stranger on 8 TRACK! This song is one of my all time favorites.  I heard this song and began a process through which I completely and shamelessly weaseled my way into performing with them.  Thank you so much to Jess and Izzy in particular for being so generous of spirit and letting me share the stage with them!  

While I was good for some comedic relief, the real stars of the show were the students, Cathy, and all around Solebury hero Anthony Porter who somehow always finds time to sing with the Rock Band despite everything else he does here.  Great job everyone!  Enjoy the video!

Let’s start this with a confession… I love musical theater. I was raised by parents who loved it and who made it a priority to take my sister and me to shows in NYC growing up. Growing up, I spent most of my time playing sports, so my participation in it was limited to a couple of plays at camp (both due to time and by my very limited talent). When I met my wife who along with her sister grew up doing lots of plays, my now sister-in-law was shocked when she discovered that I could sing along with lots of broadway songs when they would sing them (my wife’s family’s tendency to spontaneously break into show tunes is a topic for another time). So I was a bit embarrassed when our theater director announced that this year’s musical would be “Curtains” – a show I never heard of. My wife, my children, my mother, and I went to see the show on Friday evening, and it was fantastic! There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into putting together a show like this, so HUGE kudos to the faculty and students who were involved for all their efforts! This was the first show with the renovations that were done to the theater – my backside was so happy with the new comfortable seating – which made it especially exciting, and thank you to all the people whose support made these great renovations possible! The show itself was fantastic – funny, exciting, and suspenseful. I’m always awed by the amount of talent the students have – the wonderful voices, the graceful dancing, and the outstanding acting. In the video below, you can see a couple of the numbers from the show.

One of the things that is so much fun about working at schools is seeing the growth of the students. There are a bunch of upperclassmen who have been active in the theater program for years, and to see how they’ve developed as performers is incredible. At the same time, there were a bunch of younger students on the stage who have loads of talent and who are poised to take on larger roles going forward (and we’ve got tons more talent in our applicant pool for next year – hopefully they’ll be joining us!!!). Again, congratulations to all involved on a wonderful show, and many thanks for filling in an embarrassing gap in my musical theater knowledge!

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