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,