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, April 30, 2019

Saint David's Father and Son Dinner Featuring Mark Whitaker

Our annual Seventh Grade father and son dinner provides the opportunity for seventh graders and their fathers to share an evening exploring what it means to be a good man, the relationship between parent and son, and other mission-related themes.

The speaker at this year's event was author, journalist and media executive Mark Whitaker, who spoke about his memoir My Long Trip Home, in which he delves into the story of his family, in particular, his father. The son of a bi-racial couple who wed in 1956 (a time when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states), Mark spent many years estranged from his father, a brilliant African Studies scholar who struggled throughout his life with alcoholism.

Later, they would reconcile, but it was only after his father had passed away that Mark realized he wanted to write a book about this man who had had a groundbreaking career despite all his problems, and try to understand him better. Ultimately, the process deepened Mark's connection with his African American heritage and led him to a place of forgiveness and understanding.

Relationships between family members can be complex and Mark's message of the value in trying to truly understand people in their entirety through consideration of all of their experiences, resonated.

These Seventh Grade Father and Son dinners are always special to me. I love to see the boys with their dads spending an evening together at our school; and, this year, as the parent of a current seventh grader, it was even more special. Appreciation to Mr. Whitaker for his candid talk, and to Alumni Parent Dorothy Faux and John Dearie '95 for making this evening possible.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Boys Experience Democracy in Action

Saint David's sixth graders are in our nation's capital, where their study of American history culminates.

Over these three days, the boys are deepening their understanding of American history and government as they experience democracy in action. Sites they are visiting include Mount Vernon, the Monuments, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the National Museum of American History, the National Air and Space Museum, and Arlington National Cemetery.

In a clear example of the critical analysis of ideas and issues central to our school's mission, the boys critically reflect on the themes of democracy when they visit each site, exploring our government's promise and challenges, its underlying values and issues, and the lessons of history. Their observations and analyses will inform the poems they write in English class.

This trip is also a great bonding experience for our boys, as they spend time in D.C. with each other and with their teachers exploring deep and important issues that impact all Americans.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Dinosaur Study by Omega Paleontologists

The Omega boys' integrated study of dinosaurs culminated in this morning's Dinosaur Presentation, one of my favorite Saint David's experiences.

During their spring study, the boys had opportunities to work in groups, use maps, conduct research, and explore the concepts of time periods and archaeology. Their study also included a field trip to the Dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

In this morning's show, they presented facts about dinosaurs, recited poems, and sang songs. Some featured special verses written by Omega students reflecting their learning about dinosaurs, and others were among their favorites from music class, including one in Spanish.

The knowledge, confidence, singing ability, and stage presence of the presenters impressed us all. Well done, boys! The field of paleontology is well served by you!

Special thanks to Omega teachers Emily Cawley and Katy Jonas, and to Choral Director Phyllis Clark and Music Chair Jeff Moore for working with the boys on this delightful presentation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Saint David's Partnership with DNA Learning Center for Barcoding Study

Through our school's partnership with the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor, our eighth graders are working with Ms. Lee of DNALC and Saint David's science teacher Mr. Bell on a hands-on DNA unit that involves a series of increasingly complex labs conducted over several weeks, and culminates with an original DNA barcoding research project.

As the video shows, the boys are following the protocols and using the same tools for DNA extraction, including pipetters (highly precise tools that measure and transfer liquids) and centrifuges, used by DNA researchers in labs around the world.

The partnership with DNALC connects our boys in real and meaningful ways to the science of DNA, and, as our eighth grader notes, "It's a lot of fun!"

Peace and Release - The Remarkable Experience of "Les Colombes"

Friday evening's Alumni Parents Cultural Event -- a special showing at the opening of Michael Pendry's Les Colombes at the Church of the Heavenly Rest -- was truly a gift to the spirit.

The remarkable evening began with an introduction by the artist himself. Mr. Pendry spoke of how his work, which is part of the Art for Peace project, began in Munich in 2014, where he drew inspiration from the doves in the ceiling of that city's Church of the Holy Spirit.

Doves, Christianity's symbol of the Holy Spirit, are also symbols of peace. The duality resonated with Mr. Pendry, leading to the creation of a traveling installation that consists of approximately 1,500 weightless doves, suspended from overhead netting in a 45-foot pattern.  Traveling the world, Les Colombes has appeared in houses of worship in Munich, Jerusalem, London, and Salisbury. It is currently short listed in the UK for a best contemporary installation award.

In each city where Les Colombes is shown, the origami doves, carrying messages of hope and peace, are made and contributed by local children and adults. For the New York exhibit, each fourth grader at Saint David's crafted and contributed doves, penning their own thoughts about spiritual release onto their creations. This project connects so meaningfully with the values and mission of our school.

The breathtaking, meditative interactive light and sound experience transforms the flight of weightless doves soaring overhead into multi-hued, suspended gems, motionless at times, then fluttering in the most gentle of ways. We were encouraged to walk around the Church to experience the doves' formation from multiple perspectives, each conveying a different sensation, but with the constant aspirations of connection, hope, and peace. 

I think I can speak for everyone present that the experience was profoundly spiritual and moving. I am incredibly proud that there are doves created by Saint David's boys that will fly around the world with Michael. We can all agree that our world needs the doves' messages now more than ever.

Thank you to Alumni Parents Council Chairs Winnie Feng and Annie Haddad for organizing this unforgettable event, with the church's curator Diana Smith; and to Assistant Director of Development John Dearie.  The installation, free and open to the public, runs through August 18, with the sound and light show through May 19. I urge everyone to experience it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Dr. Derrick Gay Performs Special Concert for Our Boys

I've reported on our multi-year partnership with Dr. Derrick Gay, internationally renowned educational consultant on issues of global citizenship, diversity, and inclusion. Over these past three years, Dr. Gay has led a series of workshops with faculty and staff, parents, and students, as we continue to cultivate cultural competency and an ever stronger inclusive community.

Yesterday, to further his dialogue with the boys, Dr. Gay showed a different side to his persona, providing a musical concert and a discussion about opera. A highly regarded musician, Dr. Gay has traveled the world singing opera and playing the viola. It is one of his deepest passions and informs everything in his life. 

The musical selections he sang ranged from Broadway classics to Mozart. He was accompanied by Music Chair Jeff Moore on the piano, with Choral Director Phyllis Clark joining him for beautifully sung duets.

The boys learned how singing is a mix of the intellectual, emotional, and the athletic; and Dr. Gay shared that the collaborative nature of performing music has cultivated in him a sensibility to be sensitive to others.

Our boys walked away from the session inspired and encouraged to pursue different aspects of their selves. We humans are complex, multi-faceted; it is what makes us unique. Yesterday, the boys celebrated this difference through the lens of music.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Puppet Show and Book Talk with Author David Ezra Stein

Last week, children's book author/illustrator David Ezra Stein visited Saint David's School for a special presentation in the Otto-Bernstein Performing Arts Theatre. He and his wife Miriam entertained our Pre-Primary and Grades One and Two boys with "Interrupting Chicken; the Puppet Show," based on his book Interrupting Chicken, which received a 2011 Caldecott Honor.

The boys were delighted by the show and fascinated as David and Miriam explained how they had created the puppets and the mechanism that controls their movements. David then read aloud his latest book: Interrupting Chicken: The Elephant of Surprise, and talked in detail about the writing/drawing process behind it. Riveted by the show and presentation, the boys eagerly asked questions about David's approach to writing, and all received signed copies of his book.

By the end of this spring, all grades will experience an author visit, thanks to the vision and efforts of PA Author Series Co-Chairs Liz Carey and Ann Roberts. These special opportunities to interact in person with published authors inspire our boys to find their voices as authors/illustrators, and assist them in becoming confident, effective writers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Cultivating Character With a Strong Sense of Self

I would like to share the following article about Saint David's Sophrosyne values-centered health and wellness program. Written by Dr. Evan Morse, it appears in the current issue of Saint David's Magazine.

Dr. Morse and Ms. Chaiet of Prepare Inc. lead boys in role-playing strategies to combat stress.

In adolescence, boys enter an exciting yet vulnerable period of rapid social and emotional development in which they begin to form an independent identity as they encounter the wider world. Students at Saint David’s are faced with a very large world as both digital natives and residents of a global metropolis. In recognition of these challenges, Saint David’s has continued to refine the Sophrosyne program. Sophrosyne is a values-centered course that helps boys navigate social, health, and wellness issues while developing a strong sense of self. In the later years, the classes focus on particular risk factors and strategies, but the extension of the program into the Lower School reflects that the true core of the program is character education. In every grade level, Sophrosyne is an opportunity for self-reflection on virtues like empathy, respect, and friendship.

As a young program, Sophrosyne continues to expand, now spanning First through Eighth Grade. Despite its newness, the boys have begun to confidently claim the once unfamiliar term as their own. On my first day, one boy assuredly defined Sophrosyne for the class as “knowing yourself, and knowing what’s good for you.” I found this to be an excellent interpretation of a difficult-to-translate ancient Greek word that combines the concepts of good health, temperance, self-awareness, and excellence of character.

“Sophrosyne” perfectly expresses the idea of a balanced program of character education. Fundamentally, this Greek moral framework conveys that right action is the result of self-knowledge. Further, since the Greek philosophical tradition does not draw a strong distinction between the body, mind, and soul, the term Sophrosyne naturally links bodily and mental health to virtue in practice. Framed in this way, the program innately situates the latest empirical research on health outcomes within a classical framework.

Sophrosyne classes are grounded in the values of Saint David’s.

In helping boys to develop the ability to reflect on and respond to the challenges they face, Saint David’s has one particularly critical asset: a supportive community guided by an enduring mission statement. This mission-driven community underlies the development of Saint David’s reimagined health education program. The values of Saint David’s—deliberate moral introspection, critical analysis, and a respect for religious tradition—are a beacon that guides the boys’ growth. These values bind the Saint David’s community together, allowing Sophrosyne to build connections across the school’s programs, reaching, for example, to the Religion Department for applied moral guidance, to English classes for a critical emotional vocabulary, or the advisory program for more individually guided reflection.

The activities of our classes are geared toward the development of self-knowledge and its growth into self-advocacy. Boys are guided to consciously reflect on their own feelings, needs, and motivations and then to articulate this knowledge by appropriating the values of Saint David’s for themselves. The personal nature of Sophrosyne obliges the boys to deeply and authentically engage with these values. This discernment is the foundation of the second major emphasis of the Sophrosyne program: the forthright presentation of various perspectives on difficult topics.