The Importance of Discovering Talents and Abilities

Woodworking projectBy Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

I saw some fantastic keynote speakers at the recent NAIS Conference. Alexandra is writing in the upcoming Wyvern Report about Dr. Brené  Brown, so I want to share some thoughts here about Sir Ken Robinson’s talk.

You may have seen one of his TED Talks; he is interesting and engaging in those, as he certainly was in person. His message was that we (society and educators) need to think differently about people’s talents and abilities. In terms of students and education, he believes that if time at school is disengaged from students’ talents and energies, the things that lift them up, then they will become enervated. This resonated with me in terms of the importance of extracurriculars to a healthy school community, so that – in keeping with Progressive philosophy – we educate the whole child. Finding something every student loves and is good at is vital to development, and I certainly believe that when a student finds a passion outside of the classroom, academics actually tend to improve, as well.

Robinson believes that the goal of education should be learning, rather than training. As he notes, we are glad our children have sex education, but we would not be so much in favor of sex training! Education is, he says, not to prepare them for something to come but about who they are in the here and now.

Ultimately, he concludes, if children discover what they’re good at, feel good about those things, and have a solid community around them, they’ll learn better. I couldn’t agree more.  

Diversity Week Events bring Understanding

Diverstity Week HS 2017By Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

I asked Terri White, School Counselor, to recap the Diversity Week that she and Spanish teacher Angela Katz, along with a group of students, held last week. A huge thanks to Terri White and Angela Katz and the excellent leadership in the student committee for all their work on this multi-day event! Read on for Terri’s account:

The High School’s annual Diversity Week brought thoughtful and interesting programming to the Downtown Campus all week. Highlights of the week included a two-part panel on Tuesday, a privilege activity on Wednesday, the Diversity Fair on Thursday, and the Diversity Potluck on Friday.

The panel first featured speakers from the community. Ted Farrell, a local immigration attorney, answered questions on immigration, current laws, the three branches of government, and the impact of the new administration. Karina Barillas from La Casita answered questions and presented information on the experience of documented and undocumented immigrants. Fatima Zuhali and her daughter, Ayah Kutmah, spoke about their experience as Muslim women in the United States and how to be an ally. Then it was our students’ turn: six of our own students (Iqlas Abukar, Muni Yusuf, Shams Shaker, Andrea Brito, Aakriti Bista, and Hana Ibrahim) shared their experiences of being immigrants to the United States or children of immigrants, of being Muslim and wearing – or not wearing – the hijab. It felt significant for students to hear both from adults in the community and from peers that they sit next to every day.

On Wednesday, students participated in an activity designed to understand privilege. The students were divided by grade, lining up side by side. Several statements were read. Students were then asked to take a step forward for each statement that was true for them. The activity offered a visual representation of privilege. The activity was followed by an all-school discussion. The discussion was an amazing moment for SFS. Students were sharing their experience of privilege or lack of privilege and educating each other. You could hear a pin drop as all of the students were focused on whoever was speaking. The amount of support and respect in the room was palpable. This was one of those moments when you truly appreciate and are in awe of the SFS student community.

Thursday brought the Diversity Fair, an event first held last year that invites any student or group who wishes to have a booth or table. This year, displays included Gender Club, Black Students Association, Chinese culture, Jewish culture, Sweden, Mexico, Somalia, Appalachian music, henna, and traditional dress worn by students representing Nepal, Somalia, Mexico, Ukraine, and Iraq. There were many games and activities to help educate and entertain the students.

The events were capped off on Friday with the annual Diversity Potluck, where students bring in and share their favorite dishes during lunch. A feast of epic proportions and rich in ethnic and cultural variety was served to the student body. The Diversity Potluck never disappoints and is always a wonderful and different way that the students share themselves with the community.

NAIS Conference brings Inspiration

NAIS logo_4x6By Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

I’m writing this from the NAIS Annual Conference in Baltimore. NAIS is always one of my favorite professional development opportunities; the depth and breadth of the workshops and speakers are superb. The opening keynote speaker was Onaje Woodbine, author of Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball. He was accompanied by dance and spoken word to deliver his thoughts on the storytelling that occurs through basketball on the streets. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking delivered the afternoon keynote. Sir Ken Robinson and Brené Brown are speaking today; I look forward to those sessions as well!

In attending workshops at the conference, I generally choose topics that focus on the health and well-being of students and faculty. I think the school environment and culture at St. Francis is healthy and corresponds well to the mission and core values of the school, but I also think there’s always room to be better and that we never want to become complacent. I hate being away from school, and in particular from the students, but this conference is always worth it in the thoughts it provokes and ideas it inspires.

Speaking of thought-provoking and inspirational, our annual Diversity Week has been the best yet, thanks to Terri White, Angela Katz, and our student Diversity Committee. Because I had to miss several of the days, Terri will share a report on the week’s activities in next Friday’s newsletter.

Please come out to see Nineteen Eighty-Four tonight or tomorrow – 7:00 p.m. both nights in the Performing Arts Space on the Downtown Campus!

Chant, Debate, Yak Dance, and Snow Leopard Dance!

Tibetan MonksBy Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

At the High School, we enjoyed a fabulous presentation on Wednesday from a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks. Thanks to parents John and Cindy Borders for making their visit possible and to parent Will LeStrange for accompanying the monks and helping explain the various aspects of their performance – chant, debate, Yak Dance, and Snow Leopard dance. The students were charmed by the monks and learned quite a bit about their culture, in addition.

Our Black Students Association (along with their counterparts from the Goshen Campus) had the opportunity to go to the Speed Cinema on Thursday for a special viewing of “I Am Not Your Negro”. We appreciate the invitation by SFS parent and Speed cinema curator Dean Otto. The groups returned to the Downtown Campus for pizza and discussion afterward.

Continuing these themes, we are gearing up for Diversity Week, with special programming each day next week planned by our student Diversity Committee under the faculty guidance of Terri White and Angela Katz. I’ll report more on that next Friday!

College Corner March 2017

college-cornerBy Kit Llewellyn, College Advisor

Don’t forget about your March college preparation to-dos! Read on to see what you should be doing now as a sophomore, junior, and senior.

Sophomores:

  • On Sunday, March 19th, all sophomores will sit for the Pre-ACT from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. on the Downtown Campus. Please bring three #2 pencils (non-mechanical), a calculator, a snack, and $12 cash or check (issued to St. Francis School).
  • Begin visits to nearby colleges/universities.     
  • Research interesting and challenging summer courses, jobs, and activities.                
  • Use Spring Break to visit colleges along the way, if you are traveling.   
  • Take virtual tours online.

Juniors:

  • If you registered, take the SAT test this month.                   
  • Sign up for the May or June SAT, June ACT, or June SAT Subject tests, if applicable.
  • Use Spring Break to visit prospective colleges.    
  • Keep reading and finish up strongly this year.
  • Meet with Kit Llewellyn to look over your preliminary list of suggested colleges and share them with your parents through Naviance.
  • Compile your activities/community service into a resume on your Naviance account.
  • Research summer camps, seminars, and summer academic sessions on college campuses for your enlightenment.

Seniors:

  • Report any issues to Kit Llewellyn.
  • If colleges require additional information, send it immediately.   
  • If accepted, denied, or wait-listed by a college, notify Kit Llewellyn.
  • All colleges should reply with financial aid packages/scholarships by April 1st, or at least early April.
  • Meet with parents and  Kit Llewellyn to discuss which college is the best match.
  • Consider financial aid packages carefully!
  • Try to revisit colleges where you have been offered a place.
  • Listen to the advice of parents and Kit Llewellyn, but insist on your choice, if it feels right to you.
  • Follow acceptance/housing instructions carefully.
  • Students on wait-lists should write letters expressing interest and send additional  information (for instance, update on your Senior Project or any awards/honors received).

First International Trip of the Year!

Galapagos ImageBy Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

We sent our first international trip of the year off on Thursday – 18 students, Spanish teacher Angela Katz, and science teacher David Word headed to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for nine days. They’ll be immersed in all things Spanish-language and ecological; it promises to be a wonderful trip. We’ll share some pictures in an upcoming newsletter. Next up: our Spring Break trip to China!  

Sarah Burrill, an educator from Freedom from Chemical Dependency spent three days with us this week, meeting twice with each grade, once in small groups and once in a larger group. She also hosted a Parent Discussion Group with our counselor, Terri White. Sarah connected well with the students and shared FCD’s core message of “delay” regarding substance use. She emphasized the plasticity of teenage brains and the importance of making healthy, rather than unhealthy, connections. Delaying use of legal substances until age 21 is key in preventing addiction. One of the things we ask in our Parent Expectations (listed in our Student-Parent Handbook) is for parents to support our efforts to prevent student use of alcohol or other drugs. Over the break, you might talk with your student about what s/he learned from and thought about the FCD sessions. We will be asking students for their feedback, as well.

Wishing all our students (and parents) a wonderful week. See you on the 20th!

Winter Sports Spirit Night

Spirit WearBy Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

Tonight we celebrate our Winter Sports Spirit Night, honoring bowling and basketball athletes. The School Committee planned a Pajama Day yesterday, followed by Wyvern Wear Day today, and has also made banners for the basketball teams to run through prior to their games. Activities will get underway at the Goshen Campus as soon as we get out there after dismissal, as the faculty take on the students in a basketball game. (It is important to note that we do not allow current basketball players to take part in this. After all, we do not want them worn out for their actual games. And also, we don’t want to lose too badly.) Class of 2017 athletes will be honored with Senior Night festivities prior to tip-off of the boys’ basketball game v. Covington Latin at 6:00 p.m., followed by the girls’ game against Covington Latin at 7:30 p.m. Students will enjoy free popcorn and soft drinks and some halftime contests during both games. Thanks to the School Committee and to our Athletic Coordinator Catherine Lafronza for all the planning and work on this – looking forward to a fun night!

College Corner February 2017

college-cornerBy Kit Llewellyn, College Advisor

Don’t forget about your February college preparation to-dos! Read on to see what you should be doing now as a sophomore, junior, and senior.

Sophomores:

  • Consider a college summer program. Do your research on the Internet or with Kit Llewellyn.
  • Continue enjoying your extracurriculars, hobbies, or a part-time job.
  • Think about using the February Winter Break for visits to nearby colleges/universities for initial comparisons.
  • Give a lot of energy to your studies!

Juniors:

  • Register for the SAT and ACT tests online at www.collegeboard.org or www.act.org.
  • Those students who are eligible for extended time need to check in with Michelle Salerno in order to complete registrations for the SAT and ACT.
  • Those students who believe that they will qualify for fee waivers for the SAT/ACT, please see Kit Llewellyn.  
  • This is the last semester that counts towards your GPA so go for it; show the colleges what you have to offer!
  • Consider a college summer program, course, or job.
  • Each junior will have an individual meeting with Kit Llewellyn and together they will generate a list of suggested colleges.
  • Parents of juniors are encouraged to make appointments with Kit Llewellyn after the lists are composed for further discussion and planning.
  • Plan on taking the SAT in March or May, the ACT in April or June, and SAT Subject Tests in June if your colleges require those tests.
  • Consider planning some college visits during the February Winter Break and the April Spring Break.

Seniors:

  • Complete your taxes, send financial aid forms (*FAFSA and CSS Profile forms when required) and the specific aid forms from the individual colleges.
  • If a seventh-semester transcript is required, please ask Kit Llewellyn to send it.
  • Mid-year reports are required by some colleges.
  • Continue to research scholarship info in Kit Llewellyn’s office and online at fastweb.com
  • Keep working on your Senior Projects and enjoy!
  • Your senior grades will always be a permanent piece of your high school record…don’t slack off!
  • Check that all of your colleges have received all materials: applications, fees, test scores, recommendations, and financial aid forms.
  • Carefully read all emails and information coming from admissions offices: acceptance procedures, housing, financial aid procedures, registration, and orientation. Periodically check your spam because sometimes important messages may be posted there.     
  • Keep Kit Llewellyn informed of your acceptances (and otherwise!).

Staying Connected with Alumni

Alum Napo Matsoso_1By Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

My counterpart Reed Gabhart focused on alumni last week; this week, that’s foremost on my mind. As Reed noted, any teacher or administrator will tell you that one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is staying connected with students after graduation and watching their adult lives unfold. At the High School, we’ve seen many recent alumni coming through in the past few weeks, before and after the Holiday Break while they are home from college. Last week, we had a particularly special visit from Napo Matsoso ’13, a senior at the University of Kentucky who was just drafted 31st by the New England Revolution in the Major League Soccer draft. If you aren’t familiar with Napo, you can read more about him here. His success is a testament to incredible dedication and hard work, and we’re excited to have been a part of it.

We also had a visit last week from alum Embry Rucker G’87, ’91, brother of our Director of Advancement Síofra Rucker G’84. Embry is a traveler and photographer whose roster of clients is long and impressive (Nike, Target, North Face, Sony, Olympus, Canon, Home Depot, Oakley, People, ESPN, Runner’s World, and many others). He was in town and generously came by to chat with our aspiring student photographers.

To cap off the week, we had a visit from our founding Head of School Tom Pike. Tom has been retired for over a decade now, but he pops in from time to time – this week, to show his daughter and granddaughter, visiting from out of town, our newly renovated spaces. Tom also made time last weekend for James Risley ’17 to conduct an interview with him for a Senior Project focused on an oral history of St. Francis High School/School. (Trivia question: What was the other final contender for the School’s mascot, besides the Wyverns? I kid you not: The River City Rats.) It is rather extraordinary for a school to have had only two Heads in 40 years – just one of the many special things about St. Francis.

Visit from Peter Mulvey Inspires

Peter Mulvey PerformanceBy Suzanne Gorman, Head of Downtown Campus

Last Friday, the entire student body had the pleasure of spending the lunch period with singer/songwriter/activist Peter Mulvey. Thanks to parents John and Cindy Borders, Peter was in town and came by the High School to perform for and talk with our students. Peter connected quickly with the students when he told them that he knew his life’s path at the age of seven after seeing musicians perform on “The Muppet Show”. He talked about his life on the road, writing songs and performing. A particularly powerful moment came when Peter sang “Take Down Your Flag,” a song he wrote after nine African-American people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, expressing his outrage at the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina statehouse. Particularly on the eve of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, his words felt so important for us all to hear: “It will take all of the love in all of our hearts, and it will also take something more.”  

On Tuesday in Morning Meeting, several members of the Black Students Association read excerpts of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and some of the words particularly resonated with me as I reflected on Peter’s as well: “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. …  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

As ever, when I look out in Morning Meeting at the faces of the 155 teenagers assembled there, I am filled with hope, thinking about their dreams for our world and the myriad ways in which – I am positive – they will bring those dreams to fruition.