|Complimenting Our Students (and Teachers)|A letter to M.S. Science Teacher Marti Harmon after Ms. Harmon led a group of 8th and 9th grade students to Big Springs, Colorado—on the Kaibab Plateau—to spend three days in the field with Richard Reynolds, RMRS Research Wildlife Biologist, and his crew as they gathered data on the Northern Goshawk.
The article about your students' experience on the Kaibab made headlines—the opening article in this week's Rocky Mountain Research Station'sExplorer!I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with you and your students.
I was very impressed! The kids were fun and interesting and inquisitive, and well, well-behaved! Not what I was expecting of middle school students! That age group can often be quite a challenge, but you've obviously met that challenge with terrific opportunities for these kids to take advantage of - in the classroom and in the field, that provide the incentive to think and the desire to succeed. That's a wonderful combination!Keep doing what you do so well. It's important.
Rita S Brown
Program Support Specialist/Conservation Education Coordinator
Rocky Mountain Research Station - Fort Collins, CO
So many times I had heard that it was impossible to imagine a Watkinson graduation unless you’ve experienced it. I’d always wondered if that statement and related sentiment was momentary poetic license or well-intentioned hyperbole. Today, after 4 years of being a Watkinson parent, board member and volunteer I attended my first graduation.
I can tell you in no uncertain terms that there is no poetic license or hyperbole involved. Graduation is an event that is extraordinary and to experience it is to refresh your faith in education, community and our future. I was alternatively overwhelmed with emotion, prouder than I ever thought I could be and unimaginably humbled by what I saw and heard. I happened to sit next to another current parent and--thank God for that--she handed me tissues at every possible opportunity and I needed them all.
I’ve always been proud of Watkinson and thrilled with the community and education that my child has found there. Today I saw the most amazing set of young adults. Each one with a story more poignant and awe-inspiring than the last. What Watkinson does is to find the soul, the value and the talents of each student and nurtures them until they flourish. I know that each graduate will have a marvelous future and give back to the world from what they have been given.
Thank you for all you do every day. Each of you is a testament to the immense value of finding the possibilities that are within each of us and allowing them to flourish.
—Wanda Schulman, current parent
|He Can't Believe It|
I had to share this info with you regarding my son Justin. He's doing very well at Tampa, but the amazing thing is that right now his favorite and most successful class is a writing class that he is taking. He is getting great grades, 80s and 90s in all of his papers. I wanted to let his teachers know that their efforts have paid off. The other day we were talking and he said, "Can you believe this English class is my best class?"; the teacher commented to him about his poetry skills being fairly strong as well. I'm sure he will dropping by over Thanksgiving break to visit. Thank you all again for being a part of Justin's education.
|A Happy Kid: A Letter to Director of Admission John Crosson|
I have been meaning to write this "thank you" note since the overnight
trip. Then I wanted to do it after the first week of classes. Before I
could, Susan got her first Math test back (95). Her first ceramics
project went well, then she did well on her literature test. Her first
History project was tough but she did it. And certainly after her
progress report I was going to sit right down on Sunday and write a
note to you and all her teachers but she ended up in the hospital with
asthma problems (everything going well now) and I got side tracked. I
wanted to speak to you at the Family Dinner but we ran out of time (the
play was wonderful). Then before Thanksgiving she tried out for the
basketball team and made JV and we have one very happy kid in our home.
So, thank you for recognizing that Susan was a fit for Watkinson and working on our behalf to get her accepted. We are all very pleased with the program and how smooth the transition appeared to be. We have the teachers and Mrs.Goldstein to thank for that.
We are so impressed by the caliber of the teachers. They all quickly picked-up on Susan's learning style. Of course Rae has been instrumental in getting info out to the teachers and us about what is going on with Susan. She is also the one that got her schedule straightened out before school began which we think made a critical difference in her ability to handle the curriculum.
Susan is the one that wanted this school; she is the one that dreamed it and she is the one working hard to make it all come true. Thank you for giving her the opportunity. We still have your postcard on our refrigerator about Harry Potter finding the right school - it worked for us.
Looking forward to the rest of the year and the next..
Ellen and Joseph
|What a Thrill!|
I just have to tell you what a thrill it was to watch the 8th graders deliver their Shakespeare monologues last Friday. It felt like “graduation”. The fact that Watkinson expects every student to participate is just wonderful. This is not an easy assignment, yet the school has the expectation that each student can do it, and will do it, to the best of their ability, and in their own style. It was just so inspiring to watch.
Of course, especially thrilling for me, was to watch Debra gracefully plow her way through a long, difficult monologue. Throughout last week, she performed for me each night, and we worked together to slow down her delivery and add the appropriate emotion behind the words. In typical Debra-fashion, she gave it her best. By the end of the week, I told her that I was very impressed by her monologue, and no matter what happened in the public performance, she knows that she gave a very satisfying performance to her mother.
Friday night, watching Debra share her performance with the Watkinson community, I realized that the school helped her to realize my very wishes for her when we enrolled her three years ago. I want to thank you for your efforts in creating a learning environment where every student is encouraged to perform to their best ability, not only the students who have natural stage ability. I saw some amazing deliveries by students who obviously had to work so much harder than those for whom it is natural.
For your amusement, I am pasting below two paragraphs from my “parent’s section” on the Watkinson application for middle school. I think you will see that the school has provided the environment and support to enable my daughter to achieve all that I had hoped for.
The following was written in January 2002:
What are you looking for in a school?
Debra is a very gentle soul. She is clearly bright and creative.
She hesitates speaking out in large groups, and she is shy and nervous
about presenting herself to the world. I want her to be enrolled in a
school that will encourage all her creativity, will support her
gentleness, and will not make “toughening” a requirement. I want her
teachers and fellow students to encourage her so that she is not as shy
about speaking out. I think that Watkinson can provide the proper
environment where she can “bloom” into young womanhood.
What does your child find difficult?
Debra is nervous about speaking or performing in public. This is
not a paralyzing fear, but one I would like for her to overcome. She
has played well at several piano recitals, despite her anxiety.
Sometimes, at Tae Kwon Do tests, which are very strenuous, she only
performs at a fraction of her ability due to nervousness. I would like
to help Debra have confidence in those kinds of situations.
|A Parent Says Thanks: A Letter to John Bracker, Watkinson's Head of School|
My daughter Amanda, was a student at Watkinson before your time, but there are still many there who will remember her—who helped turn her life around and give her a foundation for adulthood that continues with her today: Marcia Buch, Sandy Garcia, Sharon Hayes, David Holdt, John Crosson, Patti Romig, and most especially Steve Riege, to name a few that I think are still there. Amanda wasn’t what anyone would call “a successful student;” in fact, she left after her sophomore year when her grades weren’t good enough to continue the scholarship she needed to stay.
What no one seemed to quite understand at the time (probably because schools are focused on academic survival-and-success) is that Amanda got exactly what she needed at Watkinson—and then some—in spite of her lack of academic flourishing. Because of what happened to her there, she became a strong and successful person. You’d have to have known Amanda before Watkinson in order to fully appreciate that, and of course, no one there did. She had a successful academic experience in Saudi Arabia, and thens she came home mid-way through 2nd grade. It was downhill from there. In 5th grade, she missed 80 days of school; in 6th grade she missed 85; and of the remaining days, she probably spent half of them in the nurse’s office. I wouldn’t let her stay home unless she had measurable symptoms of illness and her misery was so profound, she was able to create them with distressing frequency. Watkinson had real reservations about accepting her, but frankly, I begged. And some former Watkinson parents who knew Amanda spoke on her behalf, convinced it was the right place for her. And it was!
To watch a beaten, defeated child turn into one who is strong and confident, is sometimes more than enough. To watch a frightened, withdrawn child find a voice—sometimes a loud and politically active voice, is sometimes more than enough. Because the effects of Watkinson were immediate, almost no one saw the child she was before. I insisted that she stay home from school sick for a few days in deep winter of her 1st year (she was contagious, for one thing) and she went in protest. “I don’t want to miss anything,” she wailed. And so it went for four years. She struggled academically, and her teachers struggled with her. Not once did she ever feel as though a teacher disliked her because she wasn’t an academic star; most appreciated her intelligence (not always useable in traditional academic ways because of ADHD and some attendant learning disabilities [and probably some assaults to her personality in the four-and-a-half years before she got to Watkinson]) and the developing qualities that came to be Amanda’s identifying characteristics—her nose for justice, her championing of the underdog, her ability to stand (alone, if necessary) on the side of “right,” her wacky (often outrageous) sense of humor. Oh, yes, all that was, indeed, enough for Amanda to take away with her from Watkinson.
Amanda spent her junior and senior years at Plainville High where she made the honor roll a couple of times, and where she was voted Most Unique by her senior classmates. I suggested that she might want to wear jeans and a t-shirt on her first day there. “This is who I am, Mom,” she said, “if they don’t like it, well, then they don’t like it.” I cannot even imagine what might have been the response to her pink and chartreuse 70s polyester with matching plastic beads. She was the only kid in the yearbook who did not have a studio portrait, and her high school graduation was attended by a number of her Watkinson pals with whom she’s never lost touch.
She went to George Mason University for one semester. She did okay there, but couldn’t stand the place. When I asked her why, she said, “There’s only one political party that appears to be represented in thought and deed, and there’s no gay/straight alliance. That about sums it up. It’s just not my kind of place.” (She learned at Watkinson that a school should have a gay/straight alliance.)
She went to Baltimore for the summer and took photography classes at the Art Institute. And stayed. She was in several group shows while she lived in Baltimore. She moved to Chicago in September of 2001. She got a job working for the chef, Charlie Trotter, in the retail/catering end of his business. A couple of years ago, she set herself on a course of independent reading: Greek plays, Russian novels, European and American philosophy, who knows what else. She’s been supporting herself without assistance of any kind from anyone since she turned 19. She’s happy and adventurous.
Because Watkinson is a college preparatory school, it’s sometimes difficult to measure the other kinds of success. Prospective parents want to know who goes where to college. I came to Watkinson hoping for a whole lot more than that for my child—and I got it, thanks to the kindnesses and acceptance she found there. I measure Amanda’s success in confidence, happiness, and in her ability to meet the world head-on. This is by way of a heartfelt thank you to Watkinson for giving Amanda exactly what she needed when she so desperately needed it. The old It takes a village… adage that Hillary Clinton turned into a cliché, has never been more apt than it was with Amanda. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being Amanda’s village. (And if there’s some way to send a copy of this to Charley, I’d be grateful; he was the village chief and a staunch advocate for Amanda.)
If ever there is any way in which I can speak in support of Watkinson (more formally than I do whenever I get the chance) please feel free to call on me.
This letter is long overdue, and is coming with my very last payment on Amanda’s student loan. I am a parent, eternally grateful for your other kind of success.
Pit Menousek Pinegar
|A Student Reflects on the Importance of Theater|
I don’t believe that as a child I had any one “thing” that really inspired me or made me realize something about myself or the world around me. Although I do strongly believe that my experiences during childhood molded who I am today, I don’t think that I was mature enough to comprehend or analyze my interactions with “things” that could possibly change my outlook on life. It is for this reason that the earliest resonant instructive thing that I can think of was first introduced to me during the first trimester of my freshman year in High school.
The Antigone script will always hold a special place in my heart. I have experienced a nearly complete range of emotions while holding that script…. excitement, intimidation, frustration, sadness, anxiety, relief, joy, defeat, embarrassment, fear, admiration, disbelief, anger, depression, extreme anxiety, regret, satisfaction and respect. I was introduced to the world of the arts through that script. Doing that show in 9th grade transformed me from being shy and easily intimidated to being bold, outspoken and confident. This play helped me find myself as an artist but more importantly as a person. Before I was involved with this production, I had little to no awareness of the arts; but since that show my interest and general appreciation of all forms of art has increased drastically. I now understand why people take the time to create art. I hold that script in my hand and flip through the pages of familiar text and blocking—it is both satisfying and distressful to remember all the different rehearsals, performances, frantic late night, last minute memorization sessions. As I flip through the pages, so many memories flash by. I remember countless examples of absolute mortification on my behalf (some of which still make me cringe). I did perform the play though; even with all of the obstacles I faced, I still managed to walk out onto that stage and give it my best. One of many learned lessons from this experience was that creating art isn’t necessarily an easy task. Even though I had some bad experiences, I came back to theater again and again. There is something about the process of making a script come to life that I find intriguing and compelling enough to get me to deal with the line memorization, stress and other varied drawbacks.
|The Secret Life of the Teachers’ Lounge|
In more than one graduate-level teaching class, I was warned against the corruptive influence of the “Teachers’ Lounge.“ It seems that nearly every school in America has a room tucked away for teachers where they can take their break. These Teachers’ Lounges are notorious hotbeds of complaint—the lair of burnt-out teachers wishing for another life.
During a recent lunch break, I spoke with a friend on the phone—a veteran teacher who knows all about the temptation of “negative bonding” with other teachers who are just holding out for the next vacation. She asked me from where on campus I was calling. I said, “The Pump Room, which is kinda like a Teachers’ Lounge.” Then I added quickly, “But nothing at all like a Teachers’ Lounge!”
It was then I realized that at Watkinson we do not have a “Teachers’ Lounge.” I am surrounded by committed, passionate, intelligent colleagues who really love their students and the craft of teaching. Through Critical Friends Groups, Cluster Conferences, regular collaboration and day-to-day interactions, I find that I am encouraged by my fellow teachers, challenged to excel at what I do and respected for my opinion. I am grateful that with all of the interactions between staff here at Watkinson School, none of it takes place in “The Teachers’ Lounge.”