Thursday, September 30, 2010

Artspace, Downtown Gastonia, and Gaston Day

On October 12, 2010, at 7 pm in the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center at Gaston Day, the largest non-profit real estate developer in America, Artspace, will be making a brief presentation and holding a community question-and-answer session, and you are invited. Why is the Artspace visit important and why should you attend? The answer: Artspace is exploring the possibility of a major project in Downtown Gastonia to renovate an old building and convert it to living-working space for artists. Revitalizing Downtown Gastonia has long been a major challenge facing this community. Artspace may be part of the answer. Their projects in other cities across the nation have helped spur urban revitalization and artistic renaissance. When we look at what other communities like Greenville (SC), Asheville (NC), and, closer to home, Rock Hill have done to bring life back to their downtowns, we realize that Gastonia can and should have a similarly exciting, energetic and attractive downtown. That will be good for this city, for this county, and for Gaston Day School. It will mean that our community has a healthier center city with fine restaurants, attractions, and thriving businesses. We already see it beginning to happen downtown. An Artspace project could be a major catalyst for continuing downtown's comeback.

Is it a sure bet that Artspace is going to pick Gastonia for a project? Absolutely not. They must determine that there is a building suitable for renovation, a sufficient population of artists in the area who will move into their building, and secure the necessary funding. Is it a sure bet that they are interested enough to come and visit us?  Absolutely, yes! And the more community support and interest they see here, the more likely they are to pick Gastonia for a project. Are you interested in Downtown Gastonia? Are you interested in the Arts? Are you interested in the livability of Gastonia and Gaston County? Are you interested in attracting newcomers to our community? If the answer to any or all of these is "YES!" please come to the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center on October 12, 2010, at 7 pm and listen to what Artspace has to say. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the Artspace visit. Who knows, it may be the start of something great for Downtown Gastonia.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Traffic Safety at Drop-Off and Pick-Up

When you next come to lower-school carpool, you will see yellow, plastic stanchions and chains serving as an additional safety barrier to prevent children from straying into traffic. Drop-off and pick-up are certainly one of the most dangerous, daily events at Gaston Day. My rough estimate is that cars enter and exit 72,000 times during the school year. Every single trip must be accomplished without accident or injury.

Here are some "Don't and Do's" to keep your child as safe as possible during lower-school carpool.


* Don’t let your Pre-School or Lower-School child exit the car in drop-off into the parking lot or—another way of saying the same thing—make sure he/she gets out onto the sidewalk. A person can never be involved in a parking lot accident if they don’t step into the parking lot!

* Don’t drop off or pick up your child in the Lower-School Parking Lot or anywhere except the designated areas. There is a total lack of supervision in non-designated areas and cars are moving without expecting to see children crossing. It is convenient and speedy to drop your child off in a non-designated area, but dangerous!

* Don’t park in the spaces in front of the flagpole unless you have already dropped your Pre-K or Lower-School children off in the designated place. A child who walks across the parking lot to enter school must cross moving traffic. Remember: a person can never be involved in a parking lot accident if they don’t step into a parking lot!

* Don’t pull around a stopped vehicle in the carpool drop-off line without the signal, eye contact, and motioning permission from the traffic attendant. A child may jump out of the stopped car into the parking lot when you pull out. The traffic attendant can see if things are safe and will motion for you to proceed if appropriate. The only exception to this rule is for those far back in morning drop-off line who let their children out before entering the right lane around the traffic island. If so, you may cautiously proceed around the left side of the traffic island and wait for the traffic attendant to motion you when it is safe to proceed out.

Do’s (Encouraged, but Optional)

* Let your children get out by themselves. You stay in the car. Getting out of your vehicle to help your children slows down the carpool line. Most parents who do get out recognize this and begin running to speed things up. At that point, they have violated a cardinal message that we try to teach the children: don’t run in a parking lot. Also, they have put themselves at risk since they are now out in the parking lot, and a person can never be involved in a parking lot accident if they don’t step into the parking lot.

* Try to have your children ready when you get to the drop-off point: jackets, coats, sweaters, and book bags on, if possible (and sometimes it isn’t possible); kisses and displays of affection completed, if possible (and sometimes it isn’t possible). This is a courtesy for drivers waiting patiently behind you and, for younger children, a way to minimize separation anxiety.

* Once you let your child out and see him proceeding toward the door, stop looking at them, look at the road in front of you, and slowly pull away. This is one of the most dangerous moments in drop off, especially when very young children are involved. There is an art to making sure that your child is clear of the car and moving toward the entrance, and then moving away. Particularly for the youngest ones, once they are clear of the car, if you continue to wave, talk and maintain eye contact, you are pulling them emotionally back toward the vehicle. In the worst cases, they will break and run after you and try to enter the parking lot. If possible, once the child is out of the car and in the care of the attendant, just leave. It minimizes the anxiety and the child quickly regains composure once you are gone. But if you must intervene (and we generally advise against it), make eye contact with the traffic attendant who will direct you to a parking space in front of the flagpole and you can walk across and comfort your child.

The root of most violations of good safety practice at drop-off and pick-up is the desire for convenience. Many of us aren’t even aware that are doing something unsafe; we are just trying to get our children to school quickly and with a minimum of inconvenience. Please understand that when school employees have to ask you to comply with best safety practice, we are just trying to keep your children safe! In that moment, it may seem as if we are being unnecessarily picky or on a power trip, but please believe me when I tell you we are not!

Our perspective is informed by constant surveillance of the parking lot: we see many of those 72,000 chances and know what it takes to keep drop-off and pick-up safe. It requires a disciplined, orderly, extra-cautious daily routine. We simply cannot make exceptions in established safe practice to be more convenient because eventually the result may be an injured child. Please help us keep Gaston Day safe and please know that when we ask you not to do something during carpool, it is because we know that allowing certain minor violations to go unchecked will eventually erode the safe environment and may eventually lead to an injury.

We hope the the plastic stanchions and chains make Gaston Day a little bit safer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SMART Boards, Bandwidth, and Megabytes: The Technology Initiative at Gaston Day

When Parents Association leaders, Heidi Tringali and Jennifer Kacmar, came to me last year with the idea of putting a SMART Board in every classroom at Gaston Day, it was a totally unexpected gift! Without their hardwork and the money the PA raised to buy the SMART Boards, Gaston Day teachers would not have this fantastic teaching tools at their disposal. As with most new technology, the SMART Boards have also presented us with unexpected challenges. In some cases, we have found that the computers supporting the SMART Boards are not powerful enough and fast enough.
So we are also playing catch up to make sure that we have the everything necessary to fully utilize such a great teaching tool.

Getting the SMART Boards is part of a broader strategic initiative to improve technology and technology education at Gaston Day. The School's Strategic Plan identified these as areas needing more attention and improvement. The School is responding on several fronts. First, Bob Larkin, Director of Technology, has upgraded our infrastructure in important ways. Gaston Day has increased its Internet bandwidth from 1.5 to 13.06, more than 800%. We have rewired our campus to create more reliable service. And we are using a technology company to house our servers off campus and thus eliminate maintenance.

Gaston Day has joined the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) Virtual Education Consortium, which provides member schools with an array of on-line services, including classes and tutorials. Our Lower School students are already pioneers in on-line education through the Rosetta Stone Program in Spanish. Upper School students now have the opportunity to take an on-line elective course with the approval of the Head of Upper and Middle Schools. In the future, all students will take our mandatory Health Class in an on-line format. Why? So that our students will be ready for college. Increasingly, colleges and graduate schools require classes that are only offered on-line. We want our Gaston Day School students to experience on-line education here so they will be well prepared when they have to take them in later educational settings.

Finally, the Books, Brains, and Beyond Program is teaching basic computer skills to our kindergarteners through fourth graders. Fourth graders also take a separte typing class to make sure they are able to use a key board. When a Gaston Day student advances into Middle School, they possess these basic skills.

In all these ways, Gaston Day School is ensuring that our teachers and students have the proper, up-to-date tools of technology, and that they know how to use them. Simply put, technology education has become integral to a complete college-prepatory education. Gaston Day recognizes this and intends to be a leader in this facet of education.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Report from the 2010 Junior-Senior Retreat

Seventy-four Gaston Day Juniors and Seniors travelled in school buses and rented vans to the Episcopal Conference Center at Valle Crucis (outside Boone) for the annual Junior-Senior Retreat on Sunday. As for many years, I drove one of the buses and was a chaperone along with Tim Tinnesz (Head of Middle & Upper Schools), Sarah Ince (Director of College Placement), and Holly Mason (Theatre Instructor & Senior Homeroom Advisor). The purpose of the retreat is to prepare students for the college admissions process and also to have fun. We did both. 

We have been going to Valle Crucis now for at least eight or nine years. So I know the director and the place well--they are becoming old friends. Several things struck me again during our visit. First of all, how much larger the Upper School at Gaston Day has become. Some eight or nine years ago, one of my first Junior-Senior Retreats at Valle Crucis had eleven seniors and twenty-two juniors. The difference in energy and decibels between thirty-three and seventy-four young adults is unmistakable. All those kids made me realize how far we have come as a school.

A second observation: the college admissions process really is complicated and difficult. In 1974, when I applied to University of Virginia, Wake Forest, and the University of North Carolina, nobody at Gaston Day helped me. I was on my own. Those days are over. Our students really do need Mrs. Ince's assistance, and they are so fortunate to be at an independent school like Gaston Day where the faculty and college counselor guide them through such an arduous and important process. I simply don't know how students do it at a large school with limited counseling resources.

Another thing that I witnessed at Valle Crucis is just how great it is to be a young adult. We built a bonfire at 10 pm on Sunday night and about half the kids were doing an Indian dance around it. Forty young people hooping, hollering, and having the time of their lives!! The others were playing ping pong or running around with chums. How can you watch that boisterous celebration and not be happy to work at a place like Gaston Day?!! I had to remind myself of that later when the senior boys were up all night having water fights and generally doing what senior boys do when they are in a dormitory setting with each other. Yes, I was very tired on Monday morning.

But most of all, I was gratified to be part of a wonderful educational and social experience for our kids. The Junior-Senior Retreat requires considerable forethought and planning. Kudos to Mr.Tinnesz, Mrs. Ince and all their assistants back at school for staging such a successful event. Our juniors and seniors are on their way to great colleges and universities, and we are beside them all the way.