Posted by: scotteckstein | November 18, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

This is one of my favorite times of the year. There are a few days to slow down, to decompress, and to reflect. As hard as I try, I find it hard to do these things as regularly as I would like. From everything I read and see around me, I’m not the only one. The world seems to move faster and faster, the demands of work and the expectations of availability consistently increase, and as my own kids get bigger, they have more going on that further complicates the daily and weekly schedules in our house. Here we are though at Thanksgiving (amazing how fast the fall flew by!). I love this holiday and all it stands for. To be fair, I love it more since my mother moved down here and I’m freed from my battles with the Belt Parkway in New York, but I’ve always loved it. And while much of my life is directed by my stomach and my love of food, and while I do indeed love every piece of the Thanksgiving meal, this holiday is about so much more. Like everyone, I’ve had my share of loss and difficult times, but I try each year at this time to really focus on all the things in my life that are good and that I am thankful for. There is quite a lot in truth, and I feel very blessed by so much. In no particular order, they include:

1) A wonderful wife who understands, appreciates, and somehow seems to love me despite my various quirks, who is as good a friend, a partner, and a spouse as anyone could ask for.

2) Two amazing children who can always make me laugh with their zaniness and whose curiosity about the world gives me endless pleasure.

3) A mother who lives close by, who somehow has been able to forgive the times when I was a jerk, who loves my wife and kids, and who is an inspiration for how to continue to grow as we grow older.

4) In-laws who have always treated me as one of their own and who I genuinely enjoy being around.

5) A sister, brother-in-law, and nephews who are all great people. And now my sister works here at Solebury which, despite the jokes I may make about it, has been wonderful!

6) I get to live and work in an absolutely beautiful setting. The mist on the hills of campus, the beautiful trees, the open space, the way my kids can run free around the campus all are a gift that is almost beyond the power of words.

7) In my work in admissions, I have the chance to meet such wonderful people – parents seeking the best opportunities for their child, children hoping to find a place where they can become their best selves, educators from other schools who are justifiably proud of the students they present to us, consultants who do such great work in helping match us with students and families who “fit” with us, and colleagues at other schools who are ethical, professional, and good people who I love getting to see throughout the year.

8) I work with an incredible group of colleagues – both young and old – they push me on a daily basis to be as good as I can be in all the things I do here, and they make me laugh and smile as I go about my work. In the 24 years I’ve been here, they have without question helped me develop into not just the professional, but also the man, I am today.

9) While I think most people think of me as a sports guy (and while I certainly watch my share of Sportscenter), I love musicals. In “The Sound of Music” there’s a song where Maria and Captain Von Trapp sing about how lucky they are and say “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” I stumbled into this life, and this school, in a really haphazard and accidental way; however, it has been a continuous blessing. I get to work in a place that constantly seeks to improve so that young people can grow and learn as much as possible, that is supportive of people’s dreams and goals, that recognizes that all of us work better when we are appreciated and cared for, and that supports never-ending intellectual and personal growth. I don’t know what I did in my youth to deserve this, and frankly, I’m not sure that I did anything to suggest that I do, but I do know that I’m incredibly grateful for the life I have.

So thank you to all of you for helping make my life as blessed as it is! I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Posted by: scotteckstein | November 9, 2016

After the Election: A Word from Head of School Tom Wilschutz

Head of School Tom Wilschutz shared the following thoughts at a student assembly today, November 9, 2016.

signGood afternoon,

I want to spend a few minutes and offer some context and perspective around this moment in our nation’s history. Some of you assembled here awoke with fear of the consequences of a Trump Presidency. Some of you assembled here today would have feared a Clinton Presidency. Some of you assembled here today don’t know how to process what is happening in our country.

I would like to offer all of you five thoughts as we stare into the future.

First. Regardless of who you are, we will protect you. We will protect you from hate and bigotry and injustice. We will protect you if you’re black, white, Hispanic, Asian; if you’re gay, straight, lesbian, trans or gender fluid. We will protect you if you’re a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, an atheist.

We will continue to work diligently to make Solebury School the kind of community that values everyone, is a safe space for everyone and can model for the world what “community” should look like.

Second, President-Elect Trump will soon be president of ALL Americans. And while there is a fringe of bigoted, misogynistic, hateful people who support him, the millions of Americans who voted for him are not bigoted, hateful or misogynistic. They voted for him because they felt left out, left behind, unheard. They voted for him because their government, our government, no longer worked for them in their opinion. They voted for him because they had lost hope in our political system. They voted for him because they wanted a change from establishment politics.

We must hear those concerns, and we must work to make our government, and our economy, work for all Americans, as well as look beyond our shores and ensure our government works to address the global problems that threaten all humanity.

Our challenges are real, and these challenges are experienced unevenly across this nation. If you’re a farmer in the northwest corner of my home state, Iowa, you voted overwhelmingly against the status quo in Washington because annually you see your neighbors sell their land or their farms foreclosed – farmers no longer able to make a living on the small family farm.

If you’re a factory worker in the Firestone Tire Plant in Des Moines where I worked summers in college, you voted against the Washington Establishment. In the summer of 1974, I worked alongside 3000 employees at that Firestone plant. Today, that plant produces more tires than in 1974, with only a couple of hundred employees. Those jobs didn’t go overseas; with automation, they simply went away.

Stories like these are playing out over vast swaths of our nation and among our citizens. We must address these challenges so all Americans have hope that our government hears them, and acts on their behalf.

Students, you sitting here today are the 2%. Only 2% of students in the U.S. have the opportunity to attend an independent school, where quite literally, you are receiving the best education money can buy. You are the future leaders. Your voices, your values will shape our future. You have a responsibility as part of this education to understand our challenges as a nation, to listen to those who feel left out, and to participate in your democracy to effect change.

My third message: we must stand together now, support the democratic institutions that protect us all, accept the outcome of this election, but continue to fight, even harder, even louder, for the values that we hold dear: acceptance, inclusion, respect for all people, truth, justice, fairness.

We must learn how to be better citizens. How to disagree respectfully. How to listen and not just argue. How to find solutions and not just win. You must practice those skills here at Solebury. Hone those skills in your classes, your dorm room, your clubs and your teams. Practice disagreeing without labeling and dismissing. The word compromise is not a four-letter word. For democracies to work, we must learn to work together around difficult issues.

That takes understanding, and practice, and compromise.

Fourth – let’s talk about hope.

Think back to the challenges this country faced in the presidential elections that that unfolded in 1860 or 1865; or the election that took place in 1940, or as recently as 1968. If you were alive and paying attention in the summer and fall of 1968, reasonable people could have reasonably concluded, that our country was on the brink of revolution.

Two national leaders had been assassinated – Martin Luther King in April and two months later, Robert Kennedy in June. Our cities erupted in violence in the summer of ’68. College campuses were torn apart by protests. The TET Offensive in January shook everyone’s belief in the country that we were winning, or could ever win, the Vietnam War. On black-and-white TVs across the nation, we all watched as the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was ripped apart by violence, with hundreds of police beating protesters outside the convention hall with nightsticks.

My point is this. We as a nation have faced many difficult challenges in the moment of presidential elections, and we have prevailed. We will let future historians debate whether the challenges we face as a nation are as perilous in 2016 as they were in 1860 or 1940 or 1968. But there is much reason, and evidence, for hope. Our democratic institutions do remain strong.

And if you take the long sweep, think about how much progress we have made on so many fronts. In my youth, gays and lesbians could not live open lives. Transgender and gender fluidity were not even concepts. “White only” signs were still commonplace outside stores, restaurants and other businesses. We certainly continue to have challenges ahead of us on many fronts, but you attend a school where students, faculty and staff can live as who they are, and be accepted and celebrated, for who they are.

My final message is this: silence is dangerous. To help shape a better world for everyone, you must educate yourself, and then you must use your voice. Events, laws, policies – whether its Solebury School, or New Hope, PA, the state of Pennsylvania or our nation – the world is shaped by those who show up and speak. I have not lost my faith, or hope, in our future. But I acknowledge that the challenges are real, the work is hard, and I must work with all my fellow Americans to create the kind of society I want for my family, and you, my students.

So, your job now is singular and simple – to be the best student you can be. Seize the opportunity of the education we offer. Practice those skills I mentioned earlier. Prepare yourself, now, to be the citizen you want to be in all the communities you will inhabit as adults.

And, keep the faith.

Visit Solebury.org.
Posted by: scotteckstein | November 1, 2016

STEM, Music, and Other Fall Events

By Director of Admission Scott Eckstein

It’s been a great fall trimester here at Solebury School, with wonderful things happening in and out of the classroom. As we head towards the end of the term, as the leaves on campus are in their full glory and the weather begins to cool off more consistently, I thought I’d post a few highlights of the past couple of weeks.

Our Science and Math departments organized an incredible STEM week for all of us. It included speakers, workshops, activities (a hot air balloon on campus!), an all-school Math Problem, etc. What a wonderful job they did breaking learning out of the constraints of the classroom and helping everyone (even History types like me) see how many cool things you can do with STEM and how interconnected various disciplines can be! You can read all about it here.

rockband4Our Rock Band and Jazz Roots groups teamed up to provide an incredible night of music for us  last week!  One of the wonderful things about our new schedule is that it offers an Arts Block that meets four days a week, so students can take multiple arts classes each trimester, in addition to a full load of academic classes. For more on our schedule, see the earlier post by Director of Studies Rick Tony.

Some of our musicians are part of both the Jazz and Rock groups, so this pairing was a natural. They were terrific!  Watching the concert  reinforced for me why I love this school.  It’s amazing to see students of different ages mix together. Both groups include 12th graders and 9th graders (and those in between) – working together, getting to know each other, mentoring each other, gaining confidence, and appreciating each other’s talents. There was Chris O’Brian (who is also an academic rock star who earned a perfect score on his Math SAT), and there was Brian Wedderburn, a 9th grader far from his home in LA, dealing with the jitters of his first high school concert yet playing beautifully.  Max Wang, a 9th grader from China – who seemed completely confident –  played 2 instruments  and sang in his second language (that’s him playing piano in the photo above).  And there was Josh Poole, a senior who wrote an incredible Jazz Composition that the band played.  Below are some clips from some of the numbers they played, including Josh’s original piece.

Jazz Roots/Rock Band Concert clips

And there’s been more: the Senior Class’ Annual Haunted Woods, the Hispanic Student Association’s cookout/Day of the Dead Fiesta, our Halloween costume day, a 10th grade fundraiser where a bunch of faculty got pie’d in the face (yup, including me), and all kinds of great things in classes.  To see photos, check out our Instagram page and other social media pages.

Check back for more upcoming posts on boarding at Solebury by Jordan Reed, Head of the Boys Dorm, and on my Ethics class (because they’ve been fantastic to work with and I feel like bragging about them!).

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 (rtony@solebury.org) 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.

JulieLaingandGregLewis

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
jlaing@solebury.org

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.

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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.

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