Monday, September 6, 2010

Growth & Change in Middle School

When students returned to campus on August 23rd, I was amazed by the physical changes some had undergone over the course of the previous 2.5 months. Student who finished 6th grade a few inches shorter than me were now a few inches taller than me. It brings to mind my parents' reaction after not seeing my children for a few months. They didn't seem to change much in my mind, but its much different when you see them every day. As evidenced by the need for bigger clothes, larger shoes, endless visits to the grocery store, etc., I'm sure everyone reading already knows that their child has been growing at a rapid pace. But, have you ever stopped and thought about how much our middle school children have changed (or will change) over the course of a 36-month period? And, how does this time of significant physical growth impact a child's ability to be successful in the classroom?

In the spirit of full disclosure, its important to note that I have more than just a professional interest in this subject. I also have an 11 year-old son, and "puberty" is an important topic in his 6th grade world. He often wonders how long it will be until he's taller than me. It won't be very long, but, as I remind him often, being a little taller than me still doesn't make him very tall. I'd be lying if I said I fondly remember my years of development in middle school. I do remember being jealous of the boys who started shaving long before I did, feeling horrible when I'd answer the phone and one of my sister's friends would say "Hi Sue," and fretting over each and every pimple. In hindsight, I'm guessing that I spent much more time thinking about those things instead of what I needed to do in Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts (not to mention Home Economics...judging from the baseball pillow I sewed for my "final exam" grade, I didn't spend nearly enough time focused on Home Economics).

So, how much does a child change in the middle school years on a physical level? Just in terms of height, the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychology (we'll call them AACAP to avoid having to spell Psychology again), notes that the average person experiences a 20% growth spurt in one 24 to 36 month period between 10 and 15 years old. For males, this includes 10-11 inches in growth and, for females, it includes 8-11 inches in growth. I'll leave all of the other physical changes for discussion in Health class, but its worth noting the sheer magnitude of the physical changes that are taking place.

As for the non-physical change, the aforementioned AACAP notes that the changes taking place between 9-15 years old can be divided into for main areas: movement towards independence, future interests and cognitive changes, sexuality, and morals, values, and self-direction. Here are some of the development highlights from each area:

-Movement Towards Independence: sense of identity, focus on self, moodiness, and improved expression
-Future Interests and Cognitive Changes: limited thoughts of the future, improved ability to understand complex problem
-Sexuality: Again, I feel more comfortable having you explore those changes on your own:)
-Morals, Values, and Self-Direction: tests rules and limits, selects role models, demonstrates consistent evidence of a conscience

For those of us who know and love middle school students, none of this should come as a surprise. So, what's the point? Here are some of my thoughts:

-It demonstrates the compassion, patience, and courage of middle school teachers across the United States, and particularly those at PDS. Given what they are up against, it is amazing that middle school teachers are able to teach anything, especially those high level concepts that our teachers cover on a daily basis:)

-It reinforces the challenges that you might be facing at home with your middle school child. As a parent, "moodiness" and "focus on self" come to mind immediately!!

-While I would never "reason away" behavior, it definitely provides some explanation of the decisions middle school students make. It also reinforces the need for firm boundaries and structure, especially in a school setting. If middle school students are "testing limits," they definitely need to know what the limits are.

I look forward to your comments. Thanks again for reading,


**A Final Note: the picture has nothing at all to do with middle school or adolescent growth...just a funny picture of my two youngest children. My middle school age child would be mortified if a picture of him doing something funny was on here:)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Middle School Bridge

It would be an understatement to say that I'm excited for the school year to start. I spent most of June and August looking back on last year and preparing for this year, and, quite honestly, its just not the same without the energy of our students and teachers. It wasn't even a few days after graduation that I found myself missing the cacophony at the 6th grade lockers, the "hustle and bustle" of lunch, and pretty much everything else about the school year. As I prepared over the summer for the year ahead, I did a lot of reading about the important role of middle schools, as well as the things that great middle schools do to prepare students for the future.

A theme that I noticed over and over was the role of middle school as the bridge between lower school and upper school and the essential nature of this connection. I've always been impacted by the majestic beauty of bridges. Here are some examples:

-Growing up, crossing the Walt Whitman or Ben Franklin bridges into New Jersey meant that we were only an hour (without traffic, of course) from Ocean City, my family's yearly vacation destination.

-Knowing the tragic events of "Bloody Sunday" made crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL an emotional experience.

-Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.

While any of these examples could be tied to the "middle school bridge" analogy, the Golden Gate Bridge as a middle school instantly came to mind. From afar, the Golden Gate is beautiful, and it doesn't seem like a challenging task to make your way (even on foot or on a bike) from San Francisco to Sausalito. At ground level, however, anyone who has crossed the Golden Gate knows its a much more challenging than it looks. The wind whips across the Bay, and the height of the bridge only enhances the strength of the wind. Whether you are riding a bike, driving, or walking (I'm lucky to have done all three), its clearly not an easy task. Like the Golden Gate, middle school might seem easy from afar, too, but we all know that its an eventful journey for even the most well-adjusted people. The important question then is how we support students in a school across this challenging bridge and leave them prepared for upper school? Here are some of my thoughts:

-Provide students with a healthy combination of structure and support. In these years of daily change, consistency at school is essential. At the same time, students need to know that there are teachers/staff that care about them on a personal level.

-Provide good role models. While they are unlikely to admit it, middle school students watch adults closely and benefit greatly from seeing positive behavior.

-Encourage students to embrace the present. The beauty of crossing any bridge (especially the Golden Gate) should be about the journey and not the destination In today's high stakes world, we always push students to think about how their decisions/grades/athletic performance will impact their future. Encouraging students to set goals and think about the future is something that all great middle schools do, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn't undermine the value of the middle school years.

Wherever your child might be on our middle school bridge at PDS, I hope that its a wonderful year. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts,


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Looking Back & Moving Forward

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but I come from a family of teachers. My father is finishing his 38th (and final) year in education, my mother was pre-school teacher, my brother has taught 6th grade for 10 years, my sister works for Penn State University, and my wife is a 5th grade teacher (my uncle is a retired teacher, too). I mention this because, in various ways, all of them have asked how I would describe my first year as a Middle School Dean and middle school students in general, as well as what my thoughts are looking forward to next year.

Here are some of my general thoughts on this past year and middle school students in general (but, please keep in mind, that these generalizations do not apply to all of our students and they also represent my opinions...which are subjective).

-One of the things that I find myself saying over and over is the difference between 8th graders and 6th graders. I doubt there is another period of time (besides the first years of life) where people change in so many different ways in such a short amount of time.

-Middle school students are smart, VERY smart. They are willing and able to engage in meaningful, high level discussions about a range of topics.

-All teachers are special, but middle school teachers are extra special. Our MS faculty here at PDS is able to channel all of the energy that MS students possess and bring out the best in each of them.

-Middle school students are incredibly observant. I think that their heightened self-consciousness makes them very aware of how other people look, and how other people act.

-Middle school students value time to socialize & play. It might not be called "recess," but the free time our students have during lunch is invaluable to their well-being in school (and to the well-being of their teachers).

-If John Gray were writing a middle school edition Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus he would need to change the title. Mars and Venus are too much alike to apply to middle school boys and girls...who appear to operate on very different wavelengths (especially in 6th grade)

-Middle school students are driven by relationships with peers and a need to "fit in." Whether or not your friends like what you are wearing today is way more important than learning about the American Revolution or the Periodic Table of the Elements.

-Middle schoolers have a unique sense of fashion. Some students where shorts every day of the year (even when its 25 degrees out), and others wear a hooded sweatshirt every day (even when its 90 degrees out). The hoodie might be the most popular clothing item amongst our students.

-If I-pods were allowed the entire school day (not just before or after school and during study hall), I'm convinced that some students might use them the entire day...for music, games, etc. I wonder how many people in the "I-Pod" generation will have hearing problems in 30 years?

-Even in our technologically-driven world, middle school students still do lots of "old school" things like write things all over their hands and arms, and play dodge ball and wall ball.

-Talking about "old school," A student asked me what my favorite song was in middle school. When I said it was U Can't Touch This by MC Hammer, the student told ME that I was "old school."

-The staples of the Middle School diet are as follows (in no particular order): pizza, french fries, anything from the grill [cheese steaks, quesadillas, gummy bears, and ice cream].

-Birthdays are still a big deal in middle school. From cupcakes & cookie cakes for friends, to singing "Happy Birthday" in the dining hall, to decorating lockers, middle school students honor each other in special ways. For students born in the summer, they celebrate the 1/2 birthday...something that was new to me.

-There are some middle school students who grew more this past school year than I've grown in my entire life. When you compare a student's 6th grade picture with his/her 8th grade picture, it often looks like two different people.

-I'm convinced that middle school students know more about everything and anything than I knew at the same age. In today's information-rich society, I believe that our young people are exposed to more at an earlier age.

-Middle school students say and do things that often lead to the following question: Why? All of us who know and love middle schoolers also know that there are times when they are impulsive and immature.

-The most important thing that I learned/realized/thought about this year is that middle school students possess that special ability to put a smile on your face, regardless of how your day has been or what's been on your mind. They are easy to love.

I'm looking forward to spending time this summer thinking about next year. Charlotte is the unofficial home of NASCAR, and the pace of life at PDS is often reminiscent of a stock car race. As a result, there is little time for thought and analysis during the school year. The most important thing that I'll be thinking about is what our school community can do to help each student develop his or her unique talents. I'll also be thinking closely about ways that we can create opportunities for student leadership. I'm convinced that anything we do this area benefits the individual student and the greater school community.

Thanks again for reading. As always, I welcome your comments. I'd love to hear about you or your child's view on the positives and negatives from the 2010-2011 school year. Thanks,


Wednesday, April 21, 2010


As an educator and a history teacher, April 19th and April 20th are dates that I'll never forget. I'll never forget sitting in Mrs. Toothaker's 11th grade Chemistry class on April 19th 1995 when she announced that the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. I'll never forget sitting in my college dorm room on April 20th 1999 when, as I was watching ESPN, a "breaking news" alert across the bottom of the screen announced that there was a school shooting in Littleton, CO. I immediately turned on CNN and followed the horrific scene for the better part of the afternoon, and, openly thought about the career path I had chosen. As a part of my school's teacher education program, I had just returned home from one of my first school visits that morning. While I could go on and on about how these events impacted our country and our schools, my purpose for mentioning these horrific tragedies are different.

I mention them because, as I watched 84 7th and 8th grade students being inducted into National Junior Honor Society on Monday evening, thoughts of Oklahoma City and Columbine entered my mind. I thought about the irony of how National Junior Honor Society represents one of the many ways that this generation of students are successful and are making a positive impact on our community and how the tragic events of Oklahoma City and Columbine represent two of the darkest moments in American history. Most of the print, television, and web media mentioned (and rightfully so, to some extent) the impact of these devastating events, and its very easy to find plenty of examples on a daily basis about what's wrong with today's kids and what's wrong with today's schools. But, where is the positive news? Who is talking about the positive impact being made by this generation? Who is talking about the many, many young people that make good choices, that give back to their communities, and that treat their parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, etc. with respect?

Please don't get me wrong. I not arguing that the "if it bleeds, it leads" philosophy of media is wrong. All forms of media are in the business of making money, and we as consumers have demonstrated that we want to read about crashes and scandals instead of "feel good" public interest stories. At the same time, I firmly believe that this philosophy makes a significant contribution to our overall view of today's young people. I'll lost count of the number of times that I've heard "today's kids are different" or "what's wrong with kids today?" Do I think that kids today are different from what they were like ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, and one hundred years, ago? Yes. Do I think that today's kids are better or worse than they were ten, twenty, thirty, fifty, and one hundred years ago? No. Unfortunately, I think that we often look at different as better or worse, and we shouldn't.

My point is this. I don't think that we should jump to conclusions about "today's kids." Its a line as old as history. My parents came of age in the 1960s, and, given the change of that decade, I have no doubt that the "what's wrong with today's kids?" line was thrown around a lot. I think we are a country that's prone to label and generalize, and, unfortunately, that doesn't tell the whole story. My own personal story is interesting when it comes to the most prominent of our labels, generational ones. I born 11 days into the start of Generation Y, leading me to wonder if I might possess some Generation X attributes, too. Maybe I'm extra special because I have the ability to take the best attributes of X and Y!

My favorite quote when talking about "today's kids" is as follows: "Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers." I'm sure that there are plenty of kids of there that at some point in time will fit the label. What middle school boy doesn't gobble all of the food? What child doesn't at one point in time contradict their parents? That's not what makes this quote interesting. What makes it interesting is that it was delivered in 400 B.C.E. by none other than Socrates!! Guess that he had a bad day in the classroom using the Socratic method with "today's kids."

In closing, I guess the "moral" of this post is to not lose sight of the the many positives things that our middle schoolers have accomplished, and will accomplish over the course of their 3-year middle school career. Monday's ceremony reinforced my belief in "today's kids," especially those at Providence Day School.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Costa Rica

Late last night, I arrived back from a student exchange trip to Costa Rica (along with 3 faculty members and 7 students). I was physically tired after a long day of travel, but invigorated by the experience of a lifetime.

We spent 7 wonderful days in a beautiful country. We stayed with families from the Pan-American School, and visited amazing sites throughout the capitol city of San Jose and the rest of the country (which is about the size of West Virginia.) It is an fascinating place filled with volcanoes, rain forests, beaches, and tropical flora and fauna. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a place that packs so much cool stuff into such a small area.

According to National Geographic, Costa Rica includes .01% of the world's land area, but 5% of its biodiversity, including many different plants and animals that exist ONLY in Costa Rica.

While there is clearly a benefit in itself to simply visiting a country with so much beauty, that's not what made this country extra special for me.

The thing that made this trip so special is the perspective that it provided. According to various sources, Costa Ricans are the happiest people in the world. They averaged 8.5 on a 10-point scale in the World Database of Happiness survey. The United States averaged 7.4, good for 20th in the world. Why? It's a question that I thought about a lot over the course of the 7 days.

I would be naive to think that I have have the perfect answer to this question, because I'm not an expert in Costa Rican life or culture, or on happiness. During the trip, I learned just as much about myself and the United States, as I did about Costa Rica. I found that I appreciated my life in the United States MORE when I left the country. There are so many things that I have taken for granted that I definitely appreciate more since coming back through INS and Customs in Houston. For example, I didn't really notice things like well-paved roads, street signs, sidewalks, and consistent water pressure until I went somewhere where these things weren't always available. I've never considered doing anything more than locking the doors and windows to ensure the safety of my house and car until I visited a place where many families have gates and/or security guards on the perimeter of their property in addition to security measures on the inside. I never thought how ignorant I was because I didn't fully understand the metric system until I left the United States and started seeing kilometers & grams everywhere. I never thought of interscholastic sports as something that doesn't happen in most places around the world, and I never wondered whether it was okay to flush the toilet.

Please don't take these statements the wrong way. I would never want to give the impression that I believe the United States is better than Costa Rica (or any other country) because we have better roads, better security, and better water treatment facilities. Are more Americans blessed with more conveniences on a daily basis than most people in the world? Yes, but that's not the point. The point is why are Costa Ricans "happier" than Americans when they don't have some of the same conveniences (or as much disposable income) that most Americans have on a daily basis?

Like I said before, I am clearly not an expert on Costa Rican life and culture or on happiness. At the same time, I did notice a few things in Costa Rica that might provide insight (and the emphasis on might is intentional).

1. Family. I saw the emphasis on quality family time, especially on Sunday, and this emphasis was confirmed by all the Costa Ricans I interacted with. Having a close-knit family is central to what Costa Ricans believe. Unmarried adult children often live at their parents' home, and elderly parents live at their childrens' homes. There is clearly a monetary aspect to this, but its cultural, too. With respect to happiness, I think it shows that Costa Ricans really have life's priorities straight. Priority #1 should be about relationships and time spent with the people that you love, instead of the acquisition of material wealth and personal or professional achievement.

2. Tico Time. When things didn't begin on time we often heard the reference to "Tico time." (Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos). Its safe to say that Costa Ricans as a whole are more laid-back and less time urgent that we are here in the United States. Time urgency is a source of stress, and high-stress people generally aren't as happy. I believe we as Americans are driven and ambitious and its just not in our "DNA" to slow down and enjoy the ride, but there clearly might be a benefit to slowing down and appreciating the moment.

3. Pura Vida!! If you've been to Costa Rica, you know that this phrase appears everywhere and is said often by Costa Ricans. Literally it means "pure life," but its really more of a "life is good" credo that Ticos live by. When I used by elementary-level Spanish to say things like like thank you or i'm doing well, the response was sometimes Pura Vida! I'm convinced that optimistic people are happier people, and most of the Costa Ricans I had the pleasure of meeting were clearly "go with the flow" optimists.

4. The Natural Environment. If you've read Richard Louv's ground-breaking book: Last Kid in the Woods: Saving Our Kids From Nature Deficit Disorder, you'll be pretty convinced that the "average" American child doesn't spend nearly enough time outside enjoying and appreciating the natural environment. Natural beauty is impossible to avoid in Costa Rica (even the mountains around San Jose are beautiful), and Costa Rica is a world leader in environmental stewardship. This consciousness supports a thriving eco-tourism industry. Are Costa Ricans happier because they have a deep respect for their natural environment?

5. Armed Forces. In a January 6, 2010 article entitled "the happiest people," New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof makes the controversial statement that one of the main reasons for Costa Rica's happiness is that they are one of the few countries in the world without a military. Costa Rica made the decision to abolish its armed forces in 1947, and, since then, has experienced democratic peace considered uncommon for its region. Coincidence? Kristof believes that there is an important connection, especially with respect to government spending. Since abandoning its army, Costa Rica has spent 85% of its federal budgets on education and health-care, providing its citizens with a strong education (a 97% literacy rate and over 30 universities) and solid health-care (life expectancy is higher in Costa Rica than it is in the United States). I don't know what to make of this potential connection, but its definitely food for thought.

Well, I've managed to write far too much about Costa Rica and far too little about the trip's connection to middle school life. I sincerely apologize. If there is an underlying theme that I'd share with all middle school students, its the same type of things that I plan on sharing with my own children.

-Be thankful for what you have instead of focusing on what you don't have.
-The time we spend together is valuable whether or not we are doing a planned activity.
-Optimism makes a huge difference in life. I don't know who said it, but I definitely believe that life is 10% what you make it and 90% how you take.
-Get your butt outside, and, when you do, please stop and smell the roses.

Thanks again for reading. As always, I welcome your comments.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Olympic Spirit

Like many Americans and people around the world, I've spent the better part of two weeks following the Winter Olympics. As I sit here anxiously awaiting the start of the gold medal hockey game, I truly feel the Olympic spirit. Even thought the Olympics has been thoroughly commercialized and includes, in the case of hockey and other sports, well-paid professional athletes, I would argue that there still is something very special about the Olympic games. As someone who believes in the power of sports, I would argue that the Olympics are an important political event, too, because they promote political understanding through athletic competition.
Political importance aside, you are probably wondering what, if anything, the Olympics can teach us about life in middle school? I think that answer lies in what the Olympics teaches us about courage, commitment, and determination.

I always feel more of a personal connection to Olympic athletes, many who toil for years and years with minimal recognition and even less financial support. They put in countless hours in pursuit of their dreams. They seem so much more like...everyone else. One of my early winter Olympic memories is the heart-wrenching saga of speedskater Dan Jansen. His sister died just hours before he took the ice in Calgary (1988) and he proceeded to fall, ruining his gold medal hopes. Not willing to give up on his dreams, Jansen trained for another opportunity 4 years later in Albertville, France...only to lose again and finish out of medal contention (4th place). But, Jansen simply would not give up. Knowing that the Olympics would be in 2 years instead of the customary 4 years (after 1992, the International Olympic Committee decided to alternate the winter and summer games), Jansen decided to stick it out and make one more run at a gold medal. When he took the ice in Lillehammer, Norway, he lost again in the race that he was favored to win (500 meters), leaving him one final race in his Olympic career...and an minimal chance of winning an Olympic medal. If you know about Jansen's career (of you've seen the Visa commercial throughout this Olympics), you know what happened next. He won the gold medal, and took a victory lap around the rink with his daughter, named Jane after his sister who passed away in 1988.
Therein lie the ultimate Olympic lessons that we can share with our middle school students:
1. Try your best even if no one is watching.
2. Do things for the right reasons, not just money and fame.
3. Win and lose with grace.
4. Never forget who you are and who you represent.
And most importantly,
5. Never give up on your dreams.

Thanks again for reading. As always, I welcome your comments. Enjoy the final two weeks before Spring Break,

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fun at JH Gunn

One of the most exciting elements of middle school here at PDS is our partnership with JH Gunn Elementary School. Under the leadership & vision of Cindy Osborne, and a committed group of parent leaders, faculty, and students, PDS is getting a true taste of service learning. It is important to note the differences between service learning and community service, and how that impacts our students and faculty in such a positive way. Community service is a great benefit, too, but the goals and impact of service learning are different. According to the Center for Leadership & Service at the University of Florida, one of the key tenets of service learning is "the incorporation of the concept of mutuality, meaning that several parties are involved in the planning of the program...including students, faculty, and those being served." Another key part of service learning, is that the experience itself "fosters participant learning about the larger social issues that are driving the need for service..." The PDS-JH Gunn partnership is defined by these important tenets, and students & faculty at both schools benefit from working together.
My first experience visiting JH Gunn took place on Wednesday. Along with 38 students, 3 faculty members, and 10 parents, we spent time reading, writing, and eating lunch with 2nd graders. It is an understatement to say that I was impressed with the faculty and students at JH Gunn. From the minute we entered the building, you could tell that JH Gunn was a place where the great things happen. From inspiring quotes, to friendly staff, to prominently displayed student work, it was obvious that everyone at JH Gunn is committed to helping each and every student reach their educational potential.
Along with a group of 8th grade boys, Mr. Harper & I had the special opportunity to work with Mr. K's second grade class. What makes his class extra special is that it was ALL boys...yes, a group of 15 7 and 8 year-old boys!! Mr. K's class was well-behaved and lots of fun. For 30 minutes in the classroom, it was amazing to see our PDS students transform into big brothers, role models, and teachers...and to see a room filled with smiling 2nd graders. The good times continued over lunch, and we enjoyed hearing about life from the perspective of a 7 year-old. It is often said that "time flies when you are having fun," and that was clearly the case with our time spent at JH Gunn.
After getting on the bus, the 38 students spent a few minutes answering reflection questions. Reading these reflections only reinforced my belief that that the PDS-JH Gunn partnership is special. Our students talked about making people smile, enjoying the opportunity to read, write, and teach, and, most of all, hanging out with a fun group of students. In thinking about the success of this partnership, I think that we'd be hard-pressed to find a better way of teaching our middle school students so many important life lessons and "real world" skills. In the years ahead, there is no guarantee that our middle schoolers will remember what they learned in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, but they will definitely remember their experiences working with JH Gunn Elementary School.
As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks again for reading,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Darius Goes West

What a great week to start to the 2nd semester!! There was just enough sunshine to make me optimistic that Winter will be short and Spring will be here before we know it. I decided to write about the special opportunity I've had to visit with Ms. Parker and Mrs. Edelman's advisee over the course of the past few weeks as they've watched Darius Goes West, a critically-acclaimed documentary about a 15 year-old with a fatal disease (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy).

I'll write about the documentary in a little bit, but I wanted to use this week's Blog as an opportunity to talk about some of the great things that happen in advisee. Advisers serve a very special role in our middle school. They are motivators, providers of information, mediators, role models, and friends. They celebrate birthdays, lead community service activities, and provide students with a forum to discuss important issues. In many cases, advisors foster relationships with each advisee that continue for many years. I think that the advisee program in our middle school (and at Providence Day in general) is a point of pride, and is one of the things that makes us special.
Watching Darius Goes West with two groups of 6th grade boys is a prime example of what makes the advisee program special. Providence Day is a school grounded in academic excellence across each division, and it should be a point of pride. At the same time, we should never underestimate the value of what happens outside of the classroom. As a parent, I want my children to be challenged academically and reach their academic potential, but, more importantly, I want them to be good people. Activities like watching Darius Goes West help our students develop empathy and understanding. These are the types of activities that happen on a daily basis in advisee. Groups not only watch videos that lead to enlightening discussions, but they complete service learning activities, they talk about the physical and emotional changes that they are experiencing, they solve problems together and help each other through a challenging day, and the list goes on and on. They also have lots of fun. I watched two groups meeting together one day this week having a crazy sock party (as a part of Spirit Week). The smiles and laughter was wonderful, and I left thinking that it would be hard for those young ladies to leave advisee and not enjoy the rest of the day.
In conclusion, I managed to say far too little about Darius Goes West, and for that I apologize. It is a wonderful documentary that will make you laugh and cry, and I would strongly encourage you to watch it if you haven't seen it already. You can visit the official website at to watch the entire movie, and learn more about the making of the film, about Darius' personal journey, and about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Looking Back...a semester in review.

Welcome Back!! I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday break. My holiday break included LOTS of driving, WAY too much eating, quality time spend with family in Pennsylvania and New Bern, repeated viewings of Dora the Explorer and Curious George, and, most importantly, lots of time just hanging out with my wife Samantha, and children (Zachary-11, Michael-5, and Rylee-2). This picture is my favorite of the 200+ we took over the holidays. Samantha captured the quintessential holiday moment-the excitement of one our children opening a gift that they really wanted. In this case, Michael was elated that Santa had brought him the Nintendo DS game on his Christmas list.

I decided to include this picture because it reminded me of the scene on this past Monday morning where the 6th grade students have their lockers. Coming from Upper School, I was accustomed to the morning following the holiday break to be a fairly low-key affair. Many of the students turn nocturnal over holiday break, staying up late to play video games and watch TV and not waking up until well into the afternoon. Consequently, the alarm on Monday morning hits them like a ton of bricks and hours before lunch are spent in a semi-sleepy state.

The scene amongst the 6th graders was exhilarating. Students were excited to see each, they were excited to see their teachers, and they were excited to be back at school. In short, it was a microcosm of what makes middle school at PDS a special place. Our faculty has the special ability to channel all of that excitement to the classroom, and the result is extraordinary.

In spending (almost) a semester with middle schoolers, I've been amazed at what middle schoolers are capable of doing. Here are a few of my observations:

-I've seen them engage in high level discussions about hot button political issues.
-I've seen them give countless hours to JH Gunn Elementary, and, in the process, forge lasting relationships with their students and staff (not to mention the tangible contributions: bulletin boards, non-perishable foods, books, holiday gifts, etc.)
-I've seen the personal connection that they have to our teachers, and how the adults in our community serve as role models.
-They have a comfort level with technology that I will never have.
-Many of them LOVE reading, (maybe not always what's required for school:)) and books still are cool.
-They dream big, and possess much more optimism than most adults.
-Birthdays are still important, and they go to great lengths to honor each other (and their teachers)...and that people with a birthday over the summer will sometimes celebrate a 1/2 birthday instead.
-They eat large quantities of the foods that I can only eat in moderation (french fries, pizza, desserts, chips, etc.)
-They are genuinely disappointed when their hero does something bad (Tiger Woods was a name that came up numerous times after Thanksgiving).
-The list, quite frankly, could go on for pages. I'd love to hear your observations about our middle school students here at PDS. Thanks again for reading,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays

I'm sitting here at my desk as the students are finishing up their final exams. The snowflakes are falling, there is a chill in the air, and you can almost feel the excitement amongst the faculty & students. The front desk and mailroom (and probably other places all over campus, too) look like a candy store or bakery, and I've had more than my fair share of all of the tasty treats. Days like today make you appreciate just how wonderful our community is, and how special it is to be a part of a K-12 campus. My hope is that everyone in our Providence Day community has a restful holiday break and a very happy new year. Thank you to everyone who has helped make my first few months in middle school such a wonderful experience.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Inspiration Found

I had every intention of writing a column this week about some of the things that I believe need to be improved in our middle school. Specifically, I planned on writing about some of daily challenges in the dining hall like trays & trash being left on tables and countless utensils being throw in the garbage. I'm a strong believer that there is always room for improvement even in a school as good as PDS, so I'll return to this discussion another time. The reason that I decided to switch topics at the last minute was what happened on Saturday. I had the good fortune of watching 3 of our middle school basketball teams complete in the Golden Corral Middle School Holiday Tournament (I didn't get to see the 7th grade girls). I was immediately inspired by the level of play in each of the games. I was impressed with how the teams played together, how the coaches brought out the best in their players, and how all involved represented our school with integrity.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased. Because sports have played such an important role in my life, I'm convinced that athletics are a powerful way for young people to develop character and a strong work ethic. I think that watching 5 boys or girls working together on the court and 10 boys or girls cheering from the bench is a beautiful thing. I think that seeing a team with only 6 players persevere through fatigue is inspiring. I think that watching players dive for loose balls or sink crucial free throws is evidence of character. I'll be just as inspired tonight watching our winter concert. I look forward to seeing our middle schoolers work together and share their musical talents.

I'm convinced that what I saw on Saturday (and will see tonight), paired with what I was planning on writing about, is really a microcosm of middle school students. Our middle schoolers are young adults who have the maturity to work effectively in the most stressful of circumstances. They can work together, solve problems, and follow directions. On the other hand, they still sometimes struggle with very basic responsibilities like cleaning up after themselves, and returning plates, silverware, and cups to the correct place. They are, as mother always liked to say, "a work in progress."

I'm sure that all of us who know and love the middle school students here at PDS will see them express the gamut of emotions over the next weeks. It is a time filled with stress about exams/tests, and excitement for the holidays and winter break. As always, I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading,

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love that its uniquely American, and that everyone in the United States (with a few small exceptions) celebrates the holiday. As someone who loves history, I can even look past the fact that the story of the "first Thanksgiving" has very little historical support, and, most likely, didn't happen in the way that its ingrained in our minds.
I have so many Thanksgiving-related memories, that I could bore everyone for hours on end with personal stories about my favorite Thanksgiving I'll spare you the details. The biggest reason that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday is because it exemplifies the FFF philosophy that I live by...Family, Food, and Football. Until my family situation evolved, I spent Thanksgiving at the same place for 26 of 27 years, my Aunt & Uncle's house in Hatfield, PA (Thanksgiving 2002 was spent in London, but we still enjoyed a turkey & all the fixings). I also spent the morning watching my high school (Pottsgrove) take on the local parochial school, arch-rival St. Pius X. The 40-minute drive to my Aunt & Uncle's house was always filled with anticipation of seeing whether or not we'd be dressing up as Pilgrims or Native Americans. YES, my Aunt created hand-made outfits for all 20+ guests, and, more importantly, individualized names (unfortunately, I cannot remember and/or cannot repeat most of the these names). Upon arrival, the day was spent catching up with family, watching lots of football, and eating way too much food (with Nana's pumpkin pie being a personal favorite).
While I always have fond memories of Thanksgiving & the three F's, I've chosen this topic because I think its important to stop and focus on the things for which I am truly thankful. On a personal level, I'm happy to have a truly wonderful family. My wife and children make every day special, always bring a smile to my face, and help me stay focused on the important things in life. In her daily e-mails, my mother often reminds me that "I'm a lucky man" or "I'm truly blessed" and she couldn't be more correct. I will always give thanks to having a stable & loving family my entire life. Thank you Mom & Dad, Sam, Zachary, Michael, Rylee...and the rest of the family.
On a professional level, I am truly thankful for the opportunity to have a career that doesn't feel like work. I get to spend my days in the company of children who are optimistic about the future, colleagues that are committed to helping young people reach their potential, and a school community that makes me feel like I'm part of a family. PDS is not perfect, but its about as close as you get in a educational environment. And, more importantly, this is a community that is driven to make it better.
Our middle school teachers and families do an excellent job of helping our middle school students develop a sense of thankfulness and community involvement. The relationship with JH Gunn Elementary and the CANstation project are two examples of ways that our students are encouraged to contribute to causes greater than themselves, and, directly and indirectly, develop empathy towards others who face daily challenges that the average PDS does not face.
I hope that all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Thank you for helping make PDS special, and for raising children and students that are destined for greatness in the future.