Friday, August 17, 2012

Riff for August 16

New faculty arrived today, and they are an impressive bunch.  The nine new teachers have over 111 years teaching experience among them including one who was the K-5 Math Specialist for Durham Public Schools and one who last served as the Curriculum Director at Voyager Academy.  Two of our teachers are ethnically diverse though all are female.  (The new band teacher at the middle school is male, however.) 

Most importantly to me is hearing the teachers talk about why they selected Duke School.  Almost all mentioned our philosophy and the fact that teachers are free to teach to each student and not to a standardized test.  Many talked about having the time to teach rather than just give tests.  All were excited about our project based curriculum and being able to help provide authentic experiences to our students. 

One mentioned how she was “amazed” about the great teaching and learning she saw going on during her day visit.  Another mentioned how she wanted to come here to have productive and on-going conversations about student learning with engaged and wise colleagues.  Yet a third talked about how she wanted to be in a school that put student learning first.  It was wonderful to know these experienced teachers wanted to be at Duke School for what we are and how we teach.  To teach here is a choice they embraced, and we are excited they are here.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Duke School is the Route 1 of Education

I just returned from a trip to California where Claudia and I drove from San  Francisco to Los Angeles using Route 1.  While driving south, it struck me that  Route 1 is a completely impractical road.  It twists and turns reducing speeds; it is surrounded by sheer rock walls, making it very difficult to build.  For many miles it is nowhere near civilization.  Fog often rolls in off the Pacific reducing visibility. It is a mess, except for this--it is spectacular.  The road runs along the Pacific coast providing amazing vistas of clear blue water.  Seals lounge on rocks and it is hard not to stop at every vista and snap pictures.  The smell of the sea surrounds you, especially if you are driving a rented convertible.  (Hey, I can be impractical, plus it was fun.)  The road helps you remember the majesty of life.

I worry that we are becoming a people that no longer builds figurative Route 1's.  We are so worried about being practical and logical that we are losing all abilities to take risks, to be bold.  Edgar Allen Poe in his poem, Eldorado,  reminds us to "ride boldly ride if you seek for Eldorado."  I fear we are settling for the mundane rather than risk greatness.

Education in particular has become predictable and pedestrian. Students are prepped for standardized tests rather than being asked to pursue their passions.  These tests have become the end rather than growing and developing full well rounded human beings.

I like to think that Duke School is the Route 1 of education.  We strive to create bold thinkers and encourage students to be engaged passionate learners.   The recent 8th grade projects give a great example of students following their passions.   The 8th grade project is the culmination of a Duke School student's experience. It is an individual project that is worked on for about four months.   Students are mentored by teachers and a professional in the field they are studying and includes a hands-on practical element.  Many of this year's projects had the advantage of also helping solve societal problems.  For instance, one student raised money so pediatric cancer patients could get highly nutritious foods, another hosted a Special Olympics basketball tournament at Duke School.  Another had a weekend benefit to raise money to create libraries in rural, poor Sri Lanka while another edited an existing app to allow pediatric cancer patients to track their care.  Each of these students boldly pursued a field worthy of study and made a contribution to the greater good. 

I loved traveling on Route 1 and love being involved with a school that allows students to boldly travel along their own paths while getting a spectacular education.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stardom in All of Us

I love the middle school talent show.  Though I am impressed by our talented middle schoolers, and we have some that are wildly talented, in some ways I enjoy the acts of the students just starting to explore their talent even more.  I am awed by the bravery of these students who perform with gusto and grace.  I am even more impressed by the warm reception from their peers.  Each act is greeted with raucous and appreciative applause.  Every act leaves feeling like a star.  And that is the way it should be; they are all stars and I am glad Duke School is a community that embraces the stardom in all of us.   

Friday, May 25, 2012

She is Indeed a Problem Solver for Our Complex World

Saturday was an exhilarating day which once again reinforced how vibrant the Duke School community is.  My day started at 7 a.m. watching Chris Marshall put three pigs on three separate grills for the end of the year party.  While Chris tries to minimize it, the planning that goes into the party is extensive.   I was back at noon to see the pigs’ progress and then back at 3:30 to help with the feed the millions food packing.  At 4 p.m., I slipped over to the preschool playgrounds to meet new families who were meeting with ambassadors and preparing to enjoy the picnic.  Three great things at the school in one place.

However, my favorite part of the day had yet to start.  At 9 p.m., I headed to Casbah to see the first part of two day extravaganza to raise money for the Children’s Upliftement Programme of Sri Lanka.
These events were organized by 8th grader Olivia Simpson as part of her 8th grade project.  Saturday was a cultural music benefit and Sunday was a play produced and directed by Olivia.  

The Saturday night benefit featured La Bete Magique, a musical duet featuring fellow 8th grader Tahila playing original music and her 11 year old friend singing her own original lyrics.  And it was excellent.  At the end, Olivia raised enough money to build a library in a Sri Lanka village.  Kudos!

So a weekend of new friends, service and celebrating old friends.  Most exciting of all a Duke School 8th grader has illustrated she is indeed a problem solver for our complex world.  Good for her!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What a Gift

I headed to the Lemur Center with half the fifth grade and their parents last week.  The fifth grade has adopted the Lemur Center as its service project, and they have indeed made a difference.  As you walk down to the Lemur enclosures you see half a dozen signs featuring pictures that our fifth graders from last year drew. (one example is below)
The current fifth grade gave me a tour identifying each type of lemur, telling me of their habits and informing me of the work they did with the lemurs.  They remind me that much of the fruit the lemurs eat is grown in the garden Duke School students planted after receiving a Disney grant to plant it. 

Equally impressive was the enthusiasm the staff had for our students.  Each one of them told me how much the fifth graders meant to them, the center and the lemurs.  They contrasted our dedication coming regularly versus a typical school visit that lasts an hour or two and then the students disappear. 

There is no doubt that our fifth graders understand they are problem solvers and they can make a difference.  What a gift for a 12 year old.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Riff: Duke School Students, Different Than Their Peers

Amazing story—I recently stopped to introduce myself to a family being toured by Nicole and I asked if I could answer any questions about Duke School.  The couple said they had no questions but wanted to relay a story.  It turns out that the father had been a social studies teacher at Jordan High and was impressed by six students in his class.  These students seemed more interested in learning than grades, in exploring issues deeply and in intellectual debates.  One day he asked the students to stay behind to try to ascertain why they approached class so much differently than their peers.  Well, you probably have guessed the punch line--all six students were Duke School graduates, the only six in the class.  The dad said at that moment he decided his children would attend Duke School and now that his daughters are school age, the family is moving from California to make it so.  (He is also getting his PhD at Duke.)