Welcome to the Headmaster's Blog where you'll find updates, thoughts, and events regarding Saint David's School, the education of boys, and other items of interest. This is by no means meant to be a complete account of all that happens at Saint David's. Please refer to the school's website for more complete details -- it's more a Headmaster's musings.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Cherished Christmas Tradition

Last week, we held our annual Advent Service of Lessons and Carols in the Church of St. Thomas More. The church overflowed with families and faculty. 

The evening began with the Recorder Consort, in which several Saint David's alumni participated.

During the service, as is custom, our boys, faculty, administrators and trustees read several passages from scripture, while our Fifth and Sixth Grade Chamber Singers filled the church with the carols of the season.

The messages in the lessons that were read, the beauty of the carols sung, and the presence of so many in our school community, never fail to move.  The evening holds within it what we believe to be most dear and true about Christmas.

Our gratitude to Music Chair Jeff Moore, Choral Director Phyllis Clark, Religion Chair Jim Barbieri, and Recorder Teacher Susan Iadone for their efforts in bringing us this meaningful event. 







Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Homecoming

Christmastime is homecoming time.  Each year it is wonderful to welcome Saint David's alumni and their parents back to their Saint David's home for some holiday cheer.

As the Hume Library sparkles with Christmas spirit, alumni, parents of alumni, and faculty and staff mingle, catch up, and wish each other well for the holidays and new year ahead.

The evening is also a special one because we announce the recipient of the Alumnus of the Year Award. 

This year's award recipient was Marc Robert '74, who epitomizes the mission of this school...Ut Viri Boni Sint. 

Mr. Robert has worn several Saint David's hats--student, alumnus, father of alumni Oscar '08 and Nicholas '09, Alumni Council Chair and, for the last six years, first alumnus to be President of the Board of Trustees. 

Following in the footsteps of his father, who served as trustee for many years in the 70s, Marc shepherded Saint David's through the public phase of the Continuing Our Best Traditions Campaign. He has been instrumental in our ongoing consolidation and expansion project.  Marc has been visionary and dedicated, and his inter-generational relationship with Saint David's has provided an incredibly valuable and insightful perspective.

Before he presented the award to Marc, Alumni Council Chair Sam Samuels '84 read a quote from an article that Marc penned for our Magazine a few years back, in which he summarized his many roles at Saint David's: 

“The lenses through which I experience the school aren’t discrete; they blend together. As an alum, I look at the past and want to ensure a certain continuity with it. As a parent, I look at the qualities the school is bringing out in my sons. Serving as a trustee is like having a rare or old car; you don’t really own it, you are taking care of it for the next generation – for the future.”

In accepting his award, Marc spoke about the "intangible quality" at Saint David's which bonds us, and commented on how unique it was that his sons had some of the same teachers that he had had as a Saint David's boy.

I also have been impressed by how many times people approach me at gatherings such as this to make note of the same thing: that our little school is so much more; there is a deep sense of connection to and love for the school; it embodies the warmth and care of home.  You could feel it in the Hume Library Monday night. 

What better way to celebrate the Christmastide?


Monday, December 14, 2015

Digital Universe Unit With AMNH-Hayden Planetarium Kicks Off

The second year of our unique partnership with the American Museum of Natural History-Hayden Planetarium kicked off on Friday when the sixth grade had their first session of the Digital Universe unit. The session included a private viewing at the planetarium in which boys were able to explore the entire universe. They and their teachers were invited to view the show from the vantage point of the floor in the center of the round theater, staring up into the apex of the dome. What an amazing perspective!

Museum educator and astro-visualization expert Nathan Belomy took the boys on a tour of the observable universe, allowing them to get a feel for the scale of distance and size in the universe.

In a fun activity related to scale, the boys set down  a volleyball (representing the sun) at 79th Street, and walked for blocks down Columbus avenue with the planets in our solar system represented by a variety of smaller objects – a cupcake sprinkle, a marble – predicting and then measuring and accurately placing the “planets” at their correct distances.

The boys also had a quick tour of AMNH's proprietary UniView software, which they will use to navigate through space using real-time astronomical data. By the end of this unit, our boys will have researched astronomy-related questions, written, and created their own space shows that explore their topics, and presented them in the Hayden Planetarium for their parents.

One of the many ways that an education at Saint David's moves beyond 89th Street, our collaboration with the AMNH-Hayden Planetarium is a one-of-a-kind partnership between the museum and a school. It is a deeply integrated ongoing collaboration of our teachers with the museum's educators and astro-visualization team, which provides our boys with private access to the planetarium and the Digital Universe software.  An amazing STEAM experience!



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Analysis and Rhetoric at NBS Lectures on Art

Six eighth graders captivated us with their final presentations for the annual Nightingale-Bamford Lectures on Art, held this past Friday in Hyman Hall. This year, three of the finalists analyzed art by Picasso; with Raphael, Giotto, and Botticelli also represented.  All boys did a fine job, speaking well with knowledge and insight about the works they had researched in their humanities class under the guidance of teacher Nancy Iannicelli.

The presentations were based on each boy's independent research on a particular work of art, and included analysis of such components as color, impact of the artist, gesture, iconography, purpose, and geometric simplification, among others. For the finals, the boys presented before their peers at Saint David's and Nightingale-Bamford School, and a panel of judges comprised of faculty members, administrators, trustees and art experts.

Congratulations to winner Teddy W., who spoke on Picasso's Three Musicians and to his fellow finalists: Jamie A., Ben D., Nick N, Sean O., and Charlie U. All should be proud of their accomplishments.

The finalists were selected after all eighth graders participated in the preliminary lectures, held last week.

The NBS Lectures competition is the first of four summary projects that our eighth graders complete as part of their interdisciplinary humanities course. The course is a signature one at Saint David's in which boys refine the art of clear, concise, cogent writing and speaking, in a program that blends art, analysis, rhetoric, history, and writing.

Third Graders Perform "Visit of the Three Kings" in Spanish

In the spirit of the season, each of our third grade Spanish classes presented the "Visit of the Three Kings" to second graders last week.

Written by their teachers, the performance featured dialogue in Spanish, and songs such as Los Ángeles del Cielo; Dum, Dum; and Noche de paz.

The boys, excited and confident before show-time, had been rehearsing since November. It was no small feat to master the all-Spanish dialogue, staging, and singing. They did a fantastic job in a performance that incorporated theater, religion, and music into their learning of the Spanish language, making teachers Cristina Cotumaccio, Maria Valdes, and Elizabeth Whitman proud.


Alums Visit Alma Mater

Several alums have visited over the past week or so. It was fun catching up. These have included Jack '15 Regis, and Max '15, Deerfield, Finn '15 Regis, Danny '15 Loyola, George '15 Regis, Skakel '13 Regis, Nathaniel '15 Regis, and Sam '15 Fordham.

Mike Imbelli and I also visited alums at Columbia Prep. Graduating this year are Loomis '12 , Andrew '12, Cameron '12, and Henry '12.















Friday, December 4, 2015

Grandparents Inaugural Event Explores 'New York at its Core'


Yesterday evening, with logs burning in the fire place and the light of the Christmas Tree illuminating Hume South, our Parents Association hosted Saint David's inaugural grandparents evening event, welcoming grandparents of our current boys to the Hume Library for an intellectually stimulating talk by Dr. Sarah M. Henry, Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the Museum of the City of New York.

Dr. Henry introduced all of us to the museum's exciting new plans to transform the first floor of the museum on 5th Avenue into the signature exhibition New York at its Core, which will tell the story of New York in three periods: past, present and future.

The new exhibit will be framed by four of New York City's defining themes: money, diversity, density, and creativity.  As Dr. Henry said, "Our mission is to connect the past, present, and future.  History is made by people making decisions. We are now making decisions for the future of our city." 

It was fascinating to learn about the museum's strategic approach to this project and wonderful to spend time with the grandparents of our boys, who are cherished members of the Saint David's family.

Special thanks to parents Bernadine Gilfond and Fabiana Ramirez, and to our PA President Tracey Pontarelli for making this memorable evening happen.

Fifth Graders Design, Build, and Test Wind Turbines

Do wind turbines with cardboard or ones with paper blades generate energy more efficiently? Does the number of blades have an impact on the amount of energy produced?

Our fifth graders are answering these and other questions, as they wear the hats of both scientist and engineer on a wind turbine project. 

Applying what they have learned in science about energy transformation, mechanical advantage, and simple and compound machines, the boys are using the scientific method to conduct their own controlled experiment, testing how changing one variable in their blade design (such as the number, material used, or shape) affects the amount of electricity generated.

They will also work as engineers, analyzing their data to then inform design and construction of the most efficient wind turbine.

The wind turbine unit is exciting for the boys, who love to build something that they can see actually works. They also collaborate to solve a problem they find relevant, and benefit from having to make several tests before meeting with success.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Young Alumni Chapel and Thanksgiving

Last night the Chapel overflowed with our boys and several of their teachers for the Young Alumni Chapel and Dinner,  a Thanksgiving tradition that has grown tremendously each year since its inception in 2006.

Alum Chris Landry '06 delivered the Chapel talk to the gathering of our eighth graders,  alumni who are currently in high school, and faculty and staff. Chris, a graduate of Regis and currently a first-year medical student at Columbia, focused his talk on the uniqueness of a Saint David's education. 

Recalling a favorite Latin class he took while at Saint David's, he recounted an exam in which the teacher asked the boys not only the expected questions related to vocabulary or the readings of ancient philosophers, but to write an essay that would,  "relate the Latin we learned to the six virtues of Saint Davids: scholarship, spirituality, balance, action, order, and aesthetics."

He noted the value in such an exam question, which asks the student to really think and connect what he is learning in a discipline to bigger issues or values.  He also observed how rare it is for schools and other institutions to place such values at their core; and that our school-wide theme for this year deliberate moral introspection is a call "to look inward and also outward." This entails reflection on "the aspects of ourselves that are good and what's not so good, what could be made better," so that "ultimately we make ourselves and others better." For as Chris observed, what is of most importance is not the major goals achieved in a life, but how we live our daily lives: "Every moment of your life matters."

These wise words from our alumnus speaker provided much fodder for all to ponder as we later headed down to Hyman Hall to share in a delicious pre-Thanksgiving meal. During dinner, last year's Student Council President Kevin K. '15 presented a check to Save the Children's Cheryl Anderson for the fundraising work his class led in support of the Saint David's School in Kalina, Ethiopia.

To top off a wonderful evening, Teacher Tom Ryan announced that this year our boys collected enough food during our Thanksgiving Food Drive to pack a record 252 boxes for delivery this morning.

As we enter this Holiday Season, and with each successive year, I find myself growing ever more grateful and appreciative of our collective blessings.

We are fortunate to be surrounded by boys who thirst to learn, moms and dads who strive to nurture, teachers who yearn to inspire, a community that commits to those in need, and a mission that encourages boys to aspire to be good men.

I have come to realize that life is a gift.  It’s important to live it, enjoy it, celebrate it, and fulfill it and most important of all, we are to be thankful for it.


Monday, November 23, 2015

A Mailbox in the Palm of Your Hand

In math, sixth graders learn about proportion by creating a mailbox model to scale.

The goal is for each of them to build, from a single sheet of paper, a three-dimensional model that can stand upright in the palm of the boy’s hand.

The project involves extensive sketching and multiple iterations of design, as the boys use their math knowledge to determine what will and won’t work, and they learn much by sharing and critiquing their various approaches with each other.

In this challenging STEAM project, our boys "learn by hands-on doing," sharing, and problem solving.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Omega's Farmer's Market Soup

Today's lunch featured a delicious vegetable soup (also known as Omega Farmer's Market Soup), courtesy of the Omega boys' field trip yesterday to the Farmer's Market in Union Square.

There, the boys and their teachers learned from a representative of our food service provider, Cater to You, about the characteristics of different types of vegetables.

Afterward, the boys were separated into 8 different groups, each representing a category of vegetables, e.g. stems, leaves, or roots, and set to the task of purchasing vegetables from their group.

Happily, they returned to school and delivered their edible purchases to our own Chef Elda, whose team turned them into today's healthy and tasty soup.

The session at the farmer's market is part of the Omega class's study of careers, and the impact of different jobs in a community. The trip to the market and the process of doing the shopping for today's lunch helped make the concept "from farm to table" more tangible for our young boys.


Grades 2 and 7 "Buddies"

Seventh and Second Grade "buddies” met yesterday for an enjoyable session in which the younger boys played computer games designed and created this fall by the older boys during a new Upper School STEAM coding unit.

The second graders loved playing the computer games, and their older buddies enjoyed teaching them the rules.  Both grades have been learning coding through Scratch, an MIT visual programming language that is developmentally appropriate for each grade.

The boys had a wonderful time together, enjoying the exchange, the play, and the snacks!

On several occasions throughout the year, second and seventh grade buddies get together to share in a Saint David's experience, building community among the younger and older boys.

Next week, Seventh Grade boys will escort their Second Grade buddy to the school's Thanksgiving Mass.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Fun Turkey Run

It was a beautiful, mild, picture perfect fall morning on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  First came the warm-up.  Then all was a blur of red and grey.

Coaches, teachers, siblings, Omega boys, and parents cheered as our forty-six second graders dashed by in the annual Turkey Run.

Omega boys cheering on the 2nd Grade
The boys trained hard during their athletics classes this fall for the 450-meter race held yesterday in Riverside Park, the 43rd Turkey Run in the school's history.

All were excited when the big day arrived, spirits were high.

This is such a fun Saint David's tradition.  It celebrates through action the camaraderie of our community and signals the arrival of the season of Thanksgiving at Saint David's.

The beginning of the best time of year!


Friday, November 13, 2015

Music Lesson to Start the Day

On occasion, the parents of members of Saint David's Philharmonic Ensemble are invited to early morning coffee concerts, unique opportunities to observe the Ensemble in practice. Yesterday was one of these sessions.

The boys were hard at work preparing for the January winter concert as Ensemble Director Phil Hough led us through two selections: one from Haydn's Surprise Symphony; the other, Wagner's March of the Meistersingers.

Along the way, Mr. Hough periodically stopped the boys to note a correction, or to provide interesting information about the composer or a particular bowing technique.

We all walked away learning something, and happy to have begun the day with a little music. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Regis, Riverdale, Fordham

Riverdale with freshmen and sophomores
It's been so much fun catching up with alums. Yesterday I visited alums at Riverdale from the Class of 2012: Robert B, Robert C., Alexander H., and James; from 2013: George, Thomas, and Axel; from 2014: Alexander K., Nicholas, and Luke; and from 2015: Matthew, Kevin and Henry.

We caught up on all the goings on, including the second Saint David's boy in a row to win the prestigious Humanitarian Essay Award at Riverdale, George.

The boys were in high spirits.


Riverdale with juniors and seniors
When I returned to school, two from Fordham, Sam '15 and Nathaniel '15, dropped by to say hello and one from Regis, Skakel '13.  They too were full of stories and exciting experiences to share.







It was great to see them.

El Barrio Visit by Fifth Grade

Last week fifth grade Spanish classes toured the Day of the Dead exhibit at El Museo del Barrio, New York City's Latino museum dedicated to Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American art.

The exhibit consisted of several traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altars, a Mexican tradition representing the fusion of the Catholic celebration of Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day with indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years. They were also introduced to La Catrina, a grandly dressed skeleton that symbolizes Día de los Muertos and the cycles of life and death.

During Día de los Muertos, families and friends gather to pray for and remember loved ones who have died. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1, and November 2 each year.

Through this afternoon visit to the Museo the boys were able to expand upon what they have learned in Spanish language classes.

As part of an enrichment project, they made their own altars in memory of loved ones lost, using traditional Día de los Muertos decorations as well as their own decorations to make each altar unique.

The study of Spanish culture is woven into all of our Spanish immersion classes at Saint David's. Understanding the culture behind a given language is vital to mastery of the language itself and is also one way we prepare our boys to be global citizens.

Proximity to cultural institutions such as Museo del Barrio enables us to enhance and deepen our boys' learning through interactions with experts in the field.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Friends Seminary

Tremendous visit with Reid C. '12 yesterday at Friends Seminary.  In the middle of college applications and the height of his senior year studies, Reid was very kind to spend so much time with us critiquing his transition to high school, his Saint David's School experience and his thoughts about the future.

It was fun catching up.

Today, I'm off to see alums at Riverdale.


Mark Church of Harvard Project Zero Visits Saint David's For Faculty Study Session

Today in the Hume Library, groups of faculty members had the opportunity to join Mark Church, author of "Making Thinking Visible," and part of the team at Harvard University's Project Zero, for a follow-up study session that focused on "Descriptive Consultancy" -- a protocol for fine tuning strategies teachers have been using to make their students' thinking visible.

During the session, faculty members presented a challenge they have encountered and received help from their peers sorting and thinking through the issue, using approaches such as asking clarifying questions, reflecting back and brainstorming possible solutions and next steps.

The atmosphere was collegial, and the focus on helping the presenting teacher frame an issue for herself/himself first, before hearing how others frame it and exploring potential solutions. 

Our teachers have been working with Mark Church since August 2014, using what they've learned in the sessions to implement strategies that provide insights into boys' thinking--important to increasing understanding and identifying areas in need of clarification.

In this year of deliberate moral introspection, Saint David's continues to explore methods to formalize how we think and talk about thinking; to further a culture of deep, reflective thinking in our students and ourselves.  For more on this effort, see my earlier blog entry: Thinking Made Visible.