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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Language and Culture in Salamanca

Members of the Class of 2018 are in Salamanca, Spain, for a two-week Summer Study program--our 7th year. They are having a fantastic time!

The boys spend their mornings in immersion Spanish classes at Colegio Unamuno, tailored to their level of proficiency with the language. In the afternoons, they and their teachers tour various cultural and historical sites. The boys also have several opportunities to interact with Spanish peers in both formal academic and informal situations.

The Spain Summer Study piques boys' intellectual curiosity as they engage in the culture, history, and language of Spain. This enriching experience builds on the immersion Spanish program at Saint David's, where our boys learn the language and about the cultures of Spanish speaking nations throughout their years at our school.

The Class of 2017

Friday afternoon, Board Chair Dan Connolly '77 and I had the honor of conferring diplomas upon the 41 members of the Class of 2017. 

What an incredible class! These boys displayed enthusiastic intellectual curiosity throughout their time at Saint David's.

They were also highly accomplished in music and on the sports field, truly representative of the classical ideal of balance at the core of our school.

Over the years I have watched them grow academically, aesthetically, athletically and spiritually. I am certain that they will continue their life's journey curious without bias, and guided by moral virtues.

Class of 2017, you will be missed. Return often to your Alma mater!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pirates of Saint David's

Pirates invaded Saint David's yesterday. From Penzance.

Our fifth graders performed Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta with gusto and flair to an audience of delighted parents, myself included.  Congratulations on a job well done to cast members Michael K. (Major-General), Adison L. (Pirate King), Ryan S. (Frederic), Laurencio G. (Ruth), Teddy G. (Mabel), Milo C., (Samuel) and Davis C. (Police Sergeant); and to all of the maidens, pirates, police officers, and stage crew members.

Each year Saint David's School closes the school year with this wonderful tradition, The Fifth Grade Musical, where the boys indulge their inner thespian, and get to sing their hearts out.

Music and drama are integral to our embrace of balance and the aesthetic at Saint David's. It was on full display yesterday, thanks in large part to Director Phyllis Clark, Musical Director Jeffrey Moore, producers Mary Beth Coudal, Jamie MacNeille, and Shane Meals, and parent volunteers Isobel Case, Kathy Egan, Amy Rohrbaugh, and Christine Tomas. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Using Coding to Explore Geomtery

Our third graders have been using coding to explore geometry. Over the past two weeks, the boys have worked in pairs building scripts that make Pro Bot cars draw a variety of shapes.

The boys used the design process to build and test code that includes commands to have cars drive a certain length, turn a certain number of degrees, and repeat those steps a certain number of times. They used sheets of paper and markers to make artifacts of their code, and rulers and protractors to measure sides and angles during their debugging process. What a challenging, fun project!

Spring Gathering Celebration

On Thursday, we enjoyed the annual Spring Gathering, an event that brings together our alumni and alumni parent community for a Chapel talk and backyard celebration. This year, three very special women in the life of this school played a big role in the evening.

Julie Sykes--alumni parent, former admissions director, and current trustee--delivered a Chapel talk that touched all of us, addressing what makes Saint David's School so special. As someone who has worn so many "Saint David's hats" she certainly knows this school!

Julie relayed that Saint David's had been the school of choice when it came time for her three sons to begin elementary school because it offered, "a strong moral and ethical foundation, a great education, and a happy elementary experience." She also spoke of the strong community spirit among families, faculty and staff, who help each other during rough times, and of how the mission's aspiration "that they be good men" is embraced and valued by all. As the first Director of Horizons at Saint David's, she noted the remarkable support for that initiative among our alumni/alumni parent community.

After the Chapel, I had the great honor of recognizing two alumni parents, Linda Foran and Dorothy Faux, who served as co-chairs of the Alumni Parents Council with grace and distinction for ten years. Dorothy and Linda led the charge in attracting incredible speakers for our Alumni Parent Lecture Series, and in organizing outstanding cultural outings for our alumni/alumni parent community.

Julie, Dorothy, Linda, their fellow alumni parents and all of the alumni, including members of reunion classes 1977, 1997, and 2007 who joined us in celebration Thursday night, are reminders of the strong, committed, cohesive community that Saint David's is.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

First Grade "Rotten Ralph" Authors

Rotten Ralph is a feisty, mischievous cat, whose antics in Jack Gantos' books delight young and old readers alike. Last week our first graders retold the Rotten Ralph story onstage in front of their parents and then each boy presented his parents with an original picture book he had written and illustrated, based on the Rotten Ralph series.

"Rotten Ralph Goes to Science Class," "Rotten Ralph Visits the Apple Store," "Rotten Ralph Goes Snowboarding," and "Rotten Ralph Goes to the Movies" were some of our boys' titles. You can imagine what trouble Ralph was going to cause in each of these venues, and you can also imagine how proud our first grade author/illustrators were as they took their places with their parents and read them their stories.

Throughout this year, through modeling and guided practice, the first graders have become increasingly independent writers, able to write in a variety of genres.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Curiosity on Display

Curiosity drives the Eighth Grade Arco competition, the major spring project in humanities class in which our boys are challenged to create a piece of work in the spirit of a famous modern artist. The boys visit museums and review art books to select an artist whose work speaks to them, piquing their curiosity to learn more about the artist's life and art.

Their creations are personal interpretations that incorporate each boy's unique vision and perspective. The boys also write a biography of the artist and reflect on the process they used to create their work.

Last week, they presented their artwork and the rationale behind it to a panel of judges during the day and to their parents in the evening. Some of the featured artists this year included Walker Evans, Salvador Dali, Jasper Johns, Keith Haring, and LeRoy Neiman.

The boys impressed us with their artistry, knowledge of their chosen artist, and their analysis of their own art-making process. This project, conducted under the guidance of their teacher and art historian Nancy Iannicelli, is a favorite of mine, as it showcases not only the boys' art history knowledge, but how they have learned to question and analyze so eloquently.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Model UN at Fieldston Conference

Eight members of Saint David's Model UN participated in the Fieldston Ethical Model UN Conference this past weekend. The boys, involved in committees on the Syrian Civil War, North Korea Reunification and the Somali Civil War, worked with their peers to respond to real-time crises created by the Fieldston facilitators.

The conference was run by Ryan Kelly '14 (shown in center of photo), who is a founding member of Saint David's Model UN Club, and head of the Fieldston Model UN Club. Gavin K. '18 was awarded "Outstanding Delegate" for his role as the Somalian Government.

The boys had a terrific time and are already talking about next year's conference!

Sports and Community

The Parents vs Faculty Softball Game in Central Park this past Friday celebrated sports and community at Saint David's. While the game was in full swing, members of our community picnicked nearby.

We all had so much fun watching the game and relaxing together on a warm spring afternoon. Thanks to the Committee on Community and Inclusion for sponsoring the picnic event and to all of the players who, true to Saint David's form, exhibited skill and sportsmanship.

Spring Morning Concert

Last week's spring concert featured a diverse and impressive program by Saint David's Philharmonic Ensemble, The Percussion Ensemble, and Chamber Singers. The Philharmonic Ensemble boys, conducted by Philip Hough, opened with "Le Rejouissance" (Handel) and "Slavonic Dance Op. 45, no 9" (Dvorak).

The Percussion Ensemble, under John Francis's direction, was up next with two Bach pieces: "Musette from English Suite No. 3" and "Bouree in E minor."  (Bach himself, or rather a Bach-impersonating Tom Ryan visited to prompt the boys to perform a "livelier" encore.)  This was followed by 21 Pilots' "Heathens", arranged with talent and skill by eighth grader Andrew D.

Phyllis Clark's Chamber Singers began with "Fa Una Canzone" (Vecchi) and "Good Life" (One Republic) featuring soloists Cole K. and William R.  Our school's new a cappella group performed "For the Longest Time " (Joel), led by Julian C.  "Who is Sylvia" (Harris) with solo ensemble Owen C., Davis H., Oliver M., Emmet O., and Peter R. followed; and the concert closed with "Chichester Psalms Movement #2" (Bernstein), featuring soloists Davis C., Teddy P. and John S. (trumpet).

Our appreciation to all of the boys' music teachers and coaches for their guidance and care throughout the year. The boys' performances were spectacular, and clearly demonstrated the time and effort they have put into their music, as well as a wealth of talent. The special place that music holds in our program of studies demonstrates Saint David's continued commitment to the classical tradition of balance and the aesthetic.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mapping Their City From Above

To a first grader, the Top of the Rock is the Top of the World. Their city lays out before them in all compass directions, and they can see for miles! 

This culminating field trip, which the class took today, enabled our boys to apply what they've learned this spring about landmarks, geography, and mapping. They are fortunate to be able to take advantage of a campus that stretches well beyond the walls of the school to the sites and spaces of New York City and beyond.

Prep for Prep Panel Discussion with Four Saint David's Alumni

This morning, four of our alumni who participated in the Prep for Prep program returned to Saint David's for a panel discussion with our current sixth graders, who will be welcoming two new classmates from Prep for Prep in September. 

Prep for Prep prepares promising young students of color from across New York City for entry into independent schools through an intensive and rigorous 14 month course of study that includes two sessions of summer school in addition to Wednesday evening and Saturday classes during the school year.

During the discussion, which was led by Director of Admissions Allison Vella, Malik Graves-Pryor '92, Omar Slowe '93, Miguel Sanchez '97 and Alex Agnant '98 relayed how they enjoyed returning to Saint David's, the warm memories they have of the school, and the lasting friendships that they forged here.

They also noted that while Saint David's was exceptionally welcoming and made the transition experience smooth, there were certain challenges inherent in transitioning to their new school in seventh grade. One was their often long commutes, which were tiring and could also make after school activities challenging. They noted that this was alleviated through their friendships with Saint David's families who lived in the school neighborhood.

To help ease their new classmates' transition to Saint David's, the sixth graders were encouraged to actively reach out and engage the new boys, to be curious to learn about their new classmates' cultures and lives, and to openly share one another's differences.

It was so good to see Omar, Miguel, Alex, and Malik. They provided our sixth graders with valuable insights into how to form and strengthen connections with their new classmates, and to continue to foster a welcoming, inclusive community at Saint David's.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Gives Chapel Talk

On Tuesday, Saint David's fifth and sixth graders had the honor of attending a Chapel talk given by Nobel Prize winning Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee. Ms. Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for leading Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Muslim and Christian women who helped to end the second Liberian Civil War in 2003.  She is the founder of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which is based in Monrovia and provides educational and leadership opportunities for women and youth.

This spring as they prepared for Confirmation, our sixth graders elected to raise money for the Gbowee Peace Foundation's book bag initiative. The program provides backpacks and money for school uniforms and school supplies to high achieving Liberian children in need.

The boys calculated how much money would be required to purchase a backpack and fill it with the requested school supplies. Based on the money they raised through a bake sale, they figured out how many filled backpacks they could donate. With the assistance of their teachers Emily Einhorn and Joe Shapiro, the boys ordered the bags and school supplies. During religion class next week, they will pack the bags and ship them to Liberia, along with notes for the students. The boys raised enough money to purchase 48 bags and contribute $1000 for uniforms.

During Chapel, Ms. Gbowee thanked our boys for their efforts and told them that the students who receive the backpacks would be encouraged to write back and send pictures to the boys.

Ms. Gbowee imparted important messages to our boys: a woman of strong faith, she spoke of how she gives back to God through her work, and shared with them her love for her country and its strong community bonds. Of her foundation's work, she noted that the biggest challenge lies in trying to meet the educational needs of the students, which frequently also include food and lodging: "Young people suffering because their basic needs are not met is a real challenge; we are trying to take care of the holistic needs of these students."

The boys asked her several probing questions, including whether she would have changed anything in her life, in particular the hardships she endured. Her response was, "Absolutely nothing. As you go through life you will fall down and bruise your knee; you have to stand up." She defined a strong person as one who, when going through times of trial, of weakness, is able to save himself.

The Chapel concluded in typical African tradition, with a bit of storytelling that contains a nugget of wisdom about the boys' power over their future; a clip is featured below. 

Our boys look forward to corresponding with the fellow students who receive the backpacks. The opportunity to interact with Ms. Gbowee after learning about her activism and foundation's good work enable the boys to attach deeper meaning to their service project. In the end, doing good is all about forging ties among people near and far. Connections to others who, like Ms. Gbowee are agents for good in this world, provide a powerful, lasting impact.

Reporters in Search of Truth

Last week two leaders from CUNY's Applied Theater master's program led workshops with our seventh graders, using situations related to the curriculum to create a drama that raises questions about the nature of truth.

Boys were immersed in theatrical scenes and given roles to play as journalists investigating a controversial issue. As reporters they questioned one another about the future of a small town business, exploring ideas such as what is means to landmark a building, whether "big box" stores can be trusted, and if young people must follow in the footsteps of their elders.

Through this exercise, the boys observed and tried on various points of view, interrogated perspectives, and made their own meanings. After gathering information, they worked together crafting headlines and leads for a hypothetical news story.

The workshop culminated with reflections on the way information is packaged, delivered, and perceived, and, importantly, on what constitutes "truth." The boys have been connecting what they learned and explored through this workshop to their study of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Using theater in education is a dynamic and powerful way for our boys to think critically and demonstrate intellectual curiosity about complex ideas and issues.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Voices of the Revolution

Fifth graders have been studying key events and historical figures from the Revolutionary Era. As a culminating project, the boys researched an important person from the American Revolution and presented their findings to fourth graders. 
 “The Voices of the Revolution ”presentations focused on the ideas that these people generated or embraced, and the legacy they left behind. Each cohort began and concluded their presentation with a creative Hamilton-style group rap and each boy was responsible for delivering a rap to introduce one of his classmates' presentations.  In this project, research, creativity, and performance combined to provide a deeper learning experience.

Views from Space: An Evening with Astronaut Mike Massimino

"From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun." --the first tweet ever sent from space, by Astronaut Mike Massimino, @Astro_Mike, @astromikemassimino (Instagram)

Good men are always curious, keeping their minds open to the world around them and always asking questions. Who better than an astronaut to talk about this incredible world? 

Saint David's was honored last night to welcome former NASA astronaut and author Mike Massimino, Ph.D., to share with our Eighth Grade boys and our alumni/alumni parent community the story of his becoming and being an astronaut, and the lessons he learned along that journey.

Mike dreamed of exploring space after witnessing as a young boy Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. However, while he loved physics and engineering, he was reluctant to enter the space program because he didn't consider himself daring enough. At one point he realized that his dream of exploring space wouldn't go away, telling us, "I knew deep down that I could not live with myself if I didn't try."

His determination endured despite three rejections by NASA.  On the fourth try, he was accepted and began his 18 years as a NASA astronaut, during which he participated in two space flights to the Hubble Space Telescope on servicing missions. His message to the boys: "It's okay to be rejected; it is not okay to give up!"

The presentation was fascinating for boys and adults in the room alike, complete with astonishing visuals of space and earth, as seen from the Hubble. Most impressive though was Mike's candor: he shared his fears (heights), struggles (passing the swim test during training), and challenges (facing problems in space that weren't anticipated or encountered in training). Above all else, Mike noted that being part of a supportive team is essential to success: "Teamwork is the most important thing in space and in life. You win or fail as a team."

In his final comments to the boys, he told of one night when he was a graduate student. While making dinner he looked up at the television and saw that the news was featuring a space shuttle flight that depicted astronauts in the background. At that moment although he knew he really wanted to be an astronaut, a voice inside said he would never be able to be one. He did not listen to that voice, did not let it stop him. 

"It wasn't impossible, it was improbable; but there is always that small chance, even if it is just a "one" at the end of a string of "zeros." As long as you don't give up, there's always a chance," he told the boys.

Our boys thoroughly enjoyed the incredibly rare opportunity to interact with a real-life astronaut, and each one left with an autographed copy of Mike's book, Spaceman, and much to contemplate.

Mike's is a story of perseverance, of overcoming self-doubt and fear, remaining determined and positive, embracing teamwork, and possessing boundless curiosity about and reverence for the world. Fine messages for our boys and for all in the audience!

Our gratitude to Dr. Massimino, to Alumni Parents Council Co-Chairs Annie Haddad and Winnie Feng, and to alumnus Blaise Haddad '12 for bringing us this fascinating Alumni Parents Council Lecture.