Thursday, December 1, 2011

What is Slow-Parenting?

GDS Lower School Head, Marianna Davis, forwarded me this April 8, 2009 blog from Lisa Belkin with The New York Times. Belkin's blog is called Motherlode. Both Marianna and I find much to be admired in the notion of Slow-Parenting and hope readers will find it thought provoking. The blog is reprinted here in its entirety.

What is Slow-Parenting?


A running theme on Motherlode is that life simply goes by too fast. Carl HonorĂ© thinks he has the solution. He is the author of “The Power of Slow: Finding Balance and Fulfillment Beyond the Cult of Speed,” and, more recently, “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting,” which is being re-released in paperback in the United States today.

Together the books have become a bible of sorts for those who are part of what has been dubbed the “Slow Parenting” movement, although, as HonorĂ© will tell you in a moment (patience, patience), that is not his term.

He and I talked by email — HonorĂ© home in London, me home in New York. The conversation, fittingly, meandered over several days. My questions and his answers were these:

LB: What is slow parenting?

CH: You know, the funny thing is that I don’t use the term “slow parenting” anywhere in Under Pressure. I felt it didn’t communicate all of the complexities and nuances of modern child rearing. It seems to me that today we are speeding up children too much in some ways (academic hot-housing, for example) while slowing them down too much in other ways (not letting them walk to school alone until they’re, um, 23).

That said, the phrase “slow parenting” has gained currency — and so I’m happy to use it.

I take it to mean “slow” in its broadest sense. My first book, “In Praise of Slowness,” examines how the world got stuck in fast-forward and chronicles a global trend towards putting on the brakes. That trend is called the Slow movement.

“Slow” in this context does not mean doing everything at a snail’s pace. It means doing everything at the right speed. That implies quality over quantity; real and meaningful human connections; being present and in the moment.

To me, Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home. Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves, but that does not mean childhood should be a race. Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy. Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be.

Slow parents understand that child rearing should not be a cross between a competitive sport and product-development. It is not a project; it’s a journey. Slow parenting is about giving kids lots of love and attention with no conditions attached.

LB: How did we get this off track in the first place?

CH: We have stumbled into a unique moment in the history of childhood where we feel immense pressure to give our children the best of everything and make them the best at everything – to give them a “perfect” childhood.

We got here because a number of trends have converged at the same time to produce a cultural perfect storm. The rise of globalization has brought more competition and uncertainty to the workplace – which makes us more anxious about equipping our kids for adult life. The consumer culture has reached a kind of apotheosis in recent years and the net effect is to create a culture of soaring expectations: we now want perfect teeth, perfect hair, a perfect body, perfect vacations, a perfect home – and perfect children to round off the portrait.

Demographics have also changed in ways never seen before in history. Smaller families mean we have more time and money to lavish on each child. Parents are more anxious because small families give them less experience of parenting and put their genetic eggs in fewer baskets. Women are having babies much older than ever before, and that can add another layer of worry. If your first pregnancy comes at 38 or 39, then you may well have spent long years fretting over and planning for the child. And if something goes wrong you may not be able to have another one to make up for it. So there is a built-in anxiety from the start.

Parents of both genders are having kids older, or after many years in the workplace. As a result, we end up importing the office ethos into the home. We think, “Well, how can we parent better? Why don’t we do what we do at work when we want to improve our performance: bring in the experts, spend lots of money and put in long hard hours – we will professionalize parenting.”

The bottom line is that parents in this generation have lost their confidence. That makes us easy prey for companies hawking unnecessary tools for child rearing (helmets to protect two-year-olds from toddling injuries, anyone?). And very vulnerable to pressure from other parents (“What, you mean your child doesn’t have a tutor?!?”).

LB: Is the recession a possible reason for parents to slow down?

CH: The recession could play out in two ways.

It could cause parents to push their children even harder in the belief that the world has become still more competitive and if they fail to conquer Mandarin by their fourth birthday they can forget about going to college.

But I prefer the optimistic view, which is that this recession will force us all to rethink every aspect of our society – from the way we run the financial system to the way we consume to the way we raise our children.

When there is less money around, then signing up for every single extracurricular activity suddenly seems like a less attractive option. In these belt-tightening times, and after a period of wild and reckless spending, maybe people will start to rediscover the simple pleasures in life. For families, that means spending time together that does not revolve around buying stuff, following a schedule or building the perfect resume.

This transition will be hard because we are all so marinated in the idea that we have to push, polish and protect our kids with superhuman zeal. That we have to strain every sinew in our bodies, and stretch every dollar we earn to the breaking point, to give them the best of everything and make them the best at everything. But with time I think many parents will feel relieved that they have been liberated from the tyranny of supplying the perfect childhood.

Here in London where I live, one father I know lost his job in banking. The result was his two highly-scheduled children got yanked from most of their extracurricular activities. For several weeks he felt like a failure but last Sunday he woke up and realized that the family had a completely free day stretching out before them (instead of the usual manic dash to take the kids to multiple activities) – and he actually felt good about it. “I exhaled and it was like I was letting out a breath that I’d been holding for years,” he told me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Great Fall Season to Be a Spartan Athlete!

Great independent schools have strong athletic programs. Several years ago, the National Association of Independent Schools (the member association to which Gaston Day belongs) did a large study to identify early predictors of success in college. The results surprised me at first, but not so much upon further reflection. The number one predictor of college success was how early an independent-school student took their first algebra class--no real shock there since math is fundamental to a good education. But the number two predictor of college success had nothing to do with academics. Instead, the number two early predictor was participation in high school athletics. Athletics teaches self-discipline, goal setting, tireless preparation, competitiveness, resiliency, team work, and how to receive constructive criticism. These are qualities that lead to success in college and in life.

School athletics not only teach valuable life skills, they are vital to school spirit and student satisfaction. Teammates become friends and form important social bonds. Students celebrates athletics, and attending home games becomes a source of excitement and fun.

This fall sports season has been especially enjoyable. The boys varsity soccer team was one of the best in school history. The team was the first to ever advance to the NCISAA State 2A Soccer Tournament Final Four Playoffs, this year held in Fayetteville. Gaston Day School ultimately lost in the semi-finals to Carolina Friends School (Durham) 1-0 in overtime. It was a wonderful game that our team nearly won. I drove down to the game to be part of the excitement.

Earlier in my career here as head, Gaston Day's boys and girls varsity soccer teams rather routinely went to the 1A State Soccer Final Four. I always attended and began to take for granted that going to the Final Four was part of my annual school calender. Then Gaston Day's enrollment grew, and the school was promoted into the larger and more competitive 2A classification in state athletics. Suddenly, playing bigger and better schools, the GDS soccer team did not make the state playoffs for several years, and it dawned on me that I might never have the privilege of going again. It was sweet to be back, and I savored the whole experience as I drove down and watched the game at Fayetteville Academy. Those lean years have made me appreciate just how special it is to have a championship-caliber soccer team.

Our other fall sports also did well. Our Girls Varsity Volleyball team made the state playoffs for the first time in recent years. We hosted the 2A State Volleyball Tournament here at Gaston Day, and Athletic Director Casey Field, Assistant Athletic Director Josh Lutkus, and their colleagues delivered a first-rate event. The Girls Varsity Tennis Team is made up of very young and very talented players. Watch out for them in the next several years--I predict great things are ahead. And Coach Beth Allen produced another outstanding Varsity Cross Country team. Our middle school teams were strong across the board as well.

With eleven years of perspective, I believe this was one of the best fall sports seasons that we have ever had at Gaston Day. Congratulations to our coaches and athletes for providing the rest of the school with so many thrilling moments and happy memories. Now we turn to the winter season and basketball. More thrills and more fantastic games are on the way.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Reluctant Roughhouser"

Lawrence J. Cohen and Anthony T. DeBenedet, authors of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It (Quirk, 2011) wrote the following article, which appears in the most recent issue of Independent School. I share it with you because I think it is important and because it recalls pleasant memories of roughhousing with Emily, Louisa and Isaac. Here is the article in its entirety. Hope you enjoy it. Perhaps it will inspire you to roughhouse.

Some parents are ready to roughhouse at the drop of a hat (or the whack of a pillow!). They know that horseplay builds closer relationships, helps children feel more comfortable in their bodies, and increases their ability to handle competition. Other parents see that roughhousing could be tons of fun--for someone else. They might be scared of injuries, or they might avoid roughhousing because they think it stirs kids up.

If you are worried about roughhousing, we hope you will reconsider after you read our tips for keeping it fun, safe, and under control; our warm-up routine to help you over your reluctance; and some simple games to get started.

* Extra enthusiasm: Be loud, wild, outrageous, and exuberant.
* Improvisation: Follow the flow. You might start with a pillow fight, move on to playful wrestling, and end with a game of chase.
* Keep it light. Get silly, lose your dignity, and fall over a lot.
* Make contact: Physical contact is the name of the game, even if it's frequent high-fives during non-roughhousing games like checkers or catch.
* Tune in: Make eye contact with your child. Notice and read his or her facial expressions. Does he or she need things toned down or revved up?
* Take breaks: Pause frequently (we like to shout, "banana!" which means everyone freeze). Pause for upset feelings and injuries--even imaginary injuries--but go back to the roughhousing as soon as everyone is ready. Pause for reminders about the rules (no necklocks, punching or kicking!).
* Start earlier: Roughousing calms children, rather than escalating them, as long as you start early enough that they can wind down on their own timetable, well before bedtime.

Here's a warm-up routine you can do with your child, your spouse, or a fellow reluctant roughhouser. Try each move for a few minutes or until you get the hang of it. Notice your feelings as you complete this exercise.

1. Stand face-to-face a foot apart and take turns loudly shouting, "Ha!" This gets everyone giggling and loosened up.
2. Hold your hands in front of you, elbows bent, a few inches from the other person's hands. Start moving slowly in a circle, or back and forth in a line, trying to feel the "force field" between your hands so that it feels like you are pushing or being pushed, even though there is no actual contact. Flow between leading and following.
3. Now touch palms, Keep elbows bent. Gradually push harder and harder, but exactly match your strength to each other, so that neither person moves, or you both move in a slow circle.
4. Add elements of competition. Try to get the other person of the mat or out the door. Keep elbows bent and avoid sudden shoves. Make it as much a dance as a competition.
5. Get on the carpet or a mat, on hands and knees next to each other, facing the same direction, shoulder to shoulder. Start to interact in slow motion, bumping into one another, flowing above and below each other.
6. Add an element of competition, stepping things up. Try to get the other person flat on the ground. When you do this with a child, let them win most of the time.

Finally, here a few roughhousing games to get you started.

* In The Sock Game, everyone gets on the floor with shoes off and socks one. On the count of three, grab for the other people's socks while trying to keep your own socks on.
*This game can flow easily into Incoming, a wilder game where everyone has a pile of rolled up socks that they use as missiles, like a dry indoor water balloon fight. Make sure to ham it up with loud sound effects and dramatic death scenes.
* Chase and miss is a simple game where you chase your child with goofy boasts, then trip and fall at the last moment, missing them.
With Bodylock, grab your child, claiming that they will never get away from you, then somehow they manage to squirm away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shrinking Privacy and the Challenge of Social Media

A recent article in the Gaston Gazette (Monday, Oct. 3, 2011) highlights the challenges that social media poses for everyone, and certainly for schools. Before turning to the main points of the article, let me begin with some observations on how privacy has shrunk in my eleven years as Head at Gaston Day. Before the advent and expansion of social media, youthful indiscretions--the kind that are part and parcel of growing up as a teenager--transpired either completely away from adult view or, when they did come to the attention of supervising adults (parents, teachers or school administrators), disciplinary consequences were handled quietly and with a minimum of public exposure. Those days are gone. Now teenage mishaps and mistakes are routinely shared on Facebook and quickly become a matter of public discussion and, at times, controversy. There is also a really good chance that the episode will end up in the newspaper.

Social media has made school culture and administrative decisions more transparent. Many parents welcome this transparency--until and unless the incident involves one of their own children. Personally, I regret the way in which social media has the potential to turn every adolescent mistake into a public embarrassment. Obviously, at one level, I also regret that every school crisis or misbehavior becomes a public black eye for Gaston Day School. But that's the way it is these days for every school. School administrators live with the sure and certain knowledge that social media will sooner or later bring some private transgression involving his or her school before the public. When times are good and our schools are calm and well behaved, we know it will not last forever. When someone makes a mistake--student, teacher, administrator--educators must quickly and correctly repond to the ensuing public debate, balance public demands and private considerations, and ride out the storm of controversy. Resilency has become a hallmark of educational administration. How quickly can a school bounce back from one Facebook controversy and resume a more stable learning environment? How many public controversies will surface this year?

If the loss of privacy as a result of social media only affected school administrators, then perhaps we could accept it as the cost of doing business. Unfortunately, it sometimes has terribly damaging consequences for our students and children. This brings me back to the Gazette article: "Experts: Sexting, Facebook can put students in danger." In that article, Sameer Hinduja, the co-director of Florida Atlantic University's Cyberbullying Research Center, states: "Many [young people] haven't set secure privacy settings on their profiles, and may not realize how easy it is for a Facebook friend to spread embarrassing content from a private profile. Add in impulsivity, multitasking and the ability to instantly post or text from a mobile device, and the results can be disastrous." According to Hinduja, "13% of children 11 to 18 [have] received a naked or semi-naked photo of someone from their school Nearly 8% admit sending a photo." When an embarrassing photo is shared on Facebook with nearly everyone who knows a teenager, the personal humiliation can be overwhelming to the point of desperation.

What can we do to protect our children from misusing social media? Here is a list of tips for safe online usage printed in the same Gazette article:

* Learn about and use the privacy and security settings on social networks. Consider restricting access to your page to a select group of people. For example, your friends from school, your club, your team, your community groups, or your family.
* Think twice before posting pictures you wouldn't want your parents or future employers to see.
* Be cautious about how much personal information you provide on social networking sites. The more information you post, the easier it may be for a hacker, thief of stalker to commit a crime.
* Install a security suite (antivirus, antispyware and firewall) that is set to update automatically.
* Use tools to manage the information you share with friends in different groups. If you're trying to create a public persona as a blogger or expert, create an open profile or a "fan" page that encourages broad participation and limits personal information. Use your personal profile for trusted friends.
* Let a friend know if he or she posts information about you that makes you uncomfortable.
* If someone is harrassing or threatening you, remove the person from your friends list, block the person, and report the incident to the site administrator.
* Make sure that your password is long, complex and combines letters, numerals and symbols. Ideally, you should use a different password for every online account you have.
* Be cautious about messages you receive on social networking sites that contain links. Even links that look like they come from friends can sometimes contain malware or be part of a phishing attack.
* Be aware people you meet online may be nothing like they describe themselves, and may not even be the gender they claim.
* Flirting with strangers online could have serious consequences. Because some people lie about who they really are, you never really know who you're dealing with.
                                                                                                        Source: Florida Atlantic University

Social media is here to stay and has so many positive features. Even so, there is also a risky, darker side. Parents should seriously discuss the responsible use of social media with their children. Parents also need to remain vigilant and supervise their childrens' use of social media to ensure safety. I hope the tips above are useful.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The GDS Writing Program, The Gaslight, and Wiley Cash

Last week, Kristin Paxton-Shaw, GDS Director of Public Relations, forwarded me a voice message from an alum, Wiley Cash, who identified himself as a writer about to have his first novel published, had just received The Gaslight, was impressed with our students writing awards, and wanted to know if there were opportunities for him to interact with our students. Wanting to know more about Wiley, I googled him and discovered that he is someone to be proud of. Wiley graduated from Gaston Day in 1996, received his B.A. from UNC-Asheville, his M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro, and his Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He is now an assistant professor of English at Bethany College in West Virginia.

Wiley's first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, will be published by William Morrow/ HarperCollins (one of the finest publishing houses in America) in April, 2012. Leading southern authors, including Clyde Edgerton, Ernest J. Gaines, Bobbie Ann Mason, Gail Godwin, and Fred Chappell are giving Wiley's book enormous, advanced praise. Here is what Fred Chappell, one of the region's most distinguished authors, says, "I try to state the truth and dislike flinging superlatives about with mad abandon, but I have been so deeply impressed by A Land More Kind Than Home that only superlatives can convey the tenor of my thought: it is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read."

After reading that, I decided that I needed to talk to Wiley. So I called him immediately. He was friendly, humble, and funny. He came to Gaston Day as a junior and credits two of our English teachers, Cynthia Furr and Rob Hannah, with initiating his quest to be a writer. According to Wiley, those were the first two adults ever to take him seriously as an intellectual. Now he wants to reconnect with Gaston Day and interact with current Gaston Day student writers. The School is exploring ways to make that happen.

The whole episode has made me proud at three levels. First, I am so proud to discover that Gaston Day has a tradition of writing excellence that reaches back to Wiley's years--one that produced a great new southern writer. Second, I am so proud that we have such a fantastic writing program currently--one that draws a writer like Wiley Cash back to Gaston Day and motivates him to interact with our talented student writers. Finally, I am really proud that The Gaslight is effectively communicating our success and accomplishments to a wider audience of alums and friends.

Stay tuned as the relationship with Wiley Cash grows. Hopefully, he will come to campus in the near future and share his gifts with a new generation of Gaston Day writers--young writers who may someday find the same success as Wiley Cash. Wiley did it, and so can they.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The First Week

We have completed our first four days of school and, so far, things are going exceedingly well. Opening enrollment was 496, up about ten students from last year. More than likely, we will go over 500 in enrollment during the next two weeks since we usually add a half dozen new students during that period. For a historical perspective, the school had an enrollment of 365 students eight years ago. Then we went into a period of sustained and steady growth, adding approximately 30 students a year for five years, and peaking in enrollment at 514 in the 2008-2009 school year. Then the Great Recession hit, and surprisingly, our enrollment fell by only one student the following year. Last year, however, the effects of the economic downturn were felt more keenly as enrollment declined significantly for the first time in seven years to 486. It is good to be growing again.

As usual on the first day of school, the middle and upper schools started with a convocation in the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Auditorium. I had three points in my opening remarks. First, I always like to remind the older students how much we care about them. It may sound corny, but they need to hear that the faculty and staff care deeply about them as people and students. We are devoted to their success. Second, I encouraged returning students to be welcoming to newcomers. In a typical year, the middle and upper schools will have as many as 60 new students distributed throughout the seventh through eleventh grades, and it is not always easy to be a newcomer. Finally, I encouraged the students to start strong and fast this year. This is not the time to be slack.

The School also welcomes four new teachers. Toni Zito is teaching upper school science. Jenn Shea is teaching upper school Spanish. Monica Chopra is teaching middle school social studies. Kristy Smith is teaching in the Learning Academy. We are thrilled to have such highly qualified, enthusiastic new colleagues.

Athletic competition has begun, and the Spartans are meeting with early success. Our boys soccer team is 5-1 and off to one of the best starts in recent memory. The girls tennis team defeated Gaston Christian on Tuesday. The girls volleyball team has also started well.

I am handing out Gaston Day stickers and license plates in the carpool lines. I hope everyone will proudly display them. Seeing those stickers and plates all around town and county raises awareness of the school for those not attending GDS and makes those of us already here proud.Go Spartans!

Parents, I encourage you to dine at GDS and experience the new, delicious food service for yourself. Our children are eating healthier and tastier food.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ready, Set, Start School

You can see and feel it. New teachers here for orientation. Old teachers back on campus. Shipments of new books carefully stacked and sorted. The boys soccer team practicing every day. Fresh pine needles around all the shrubs. School really is about to start. The excitement, the activity, and the pace of preparation are accelerating. Tuesday, August 23, is the first day.

What has happened this summer? We have new roofs on both the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center and the Jim Henry Student Activity Center. We have painted all the school fences. Andy Warlick has given a generous gift to the "It's All Good!" Capital Campaign and, as a result, I have a new title and am now the Anderson Davis Warlick Head of School, which makes me proud and happy. FLIK is our new food service, and I have eaten three of their meals--they were delicious. And, as usual, we have been working feverishly in the Admissions Office to recruit new crop of students. I am happy to tell you that we will be 5 or 10 students larger this year than last. Gaston Day is growing.

This morning we had our first full faculty breakfast, which really is the start of school for the teachers. We learned that Wade Glaser sailed in the Caribbean for a month. Beth Allen became certified to be a captain of commercial sailing vessels. Nancy Brewbaker took a cruise to Alaska. Laura Nunley got married! We are back from recreation and adventure to resume our teaching duties. With a flurry of final preparation, we will be ready for next Tuesday. What a joyful day it is when the new students arrive!!

I hope all of you have had a happy, rewarding summer. I hope you are looking forward to the start of school as much as we are. Welcome back!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Funding Gaston Day: Tuition, the Annual Fund, and Capital Campaigns.

As many of you know, Gaston Day School is involved in a Capital Campaign, the "It's All Good!" Campaign, to raise $3 million to fund capital improvements, capital reserves, and our endowment. I am thrilled to tell you that, so far, we have raised about $2.4 million toward our goal. And we are now going to the broader parent body to ask them to consider giving to this effort. As a part of our conversations with many prospective supporters in the campaign, people often ask, "How does this money relate to tuition dollars and the annual fund?" This is such a fundamental and important question that I thought it's worth an explanation from the headmaster's desk.

Tuition is the principle way that Gaston Day funds its operations. Tuition dollars account for around 95% of all the annual operating dollars that we use to pay for everything at Gaston Day. The other 5% of our annual operating budget comes from two places: the annual fund and earnings from the school's endowment. The annual fund allows us to use peoples' generous contributions to produce income that otherwise would have to come from tuition. It is a tax-deductible, voluntary way for us to keep our tuition as low as possible. Without it, tuition increases would be higher, parents would have to pay the increase, and they would get no tax deduction.

Gaston Day School also has an endowment valued at just over $2 million. These monies are invested at the Community Foundation of Gaston County and produce roughly $100,000 a year in income for Gaston Day. Again, this is money that we use to maintain our buildings and pay for scholarships. We only spend partial earnings (roughly 5%) of the money in our endowment and never touch the principle. Again, without this money, we would have to charge more in tuition to replace these funds.

Capital campaigns are a final way that we fund Gaston Day. We have a major capital campaign every 5-7 years. Usually, we set a goal of several million dollars to be used to pay for capital needs and also to grow our endowment. Gifts to the capital campaign are voluntary (like the annual fund) and generally larger in amount. Pledges to the capital campaign are typically paid over a four-year period because of their large size--so donors are able to split their gifts into several payments. The typical Gaston Day family will only have the opportunity to participate in a capital campaign once or twice during their childrens' years here.

As I mentioned, capital campaigns are voluntary, but they are also absolutely necessary. Independent schools, like Gaston Day, simply lack the ability to fund their many capital needs without occasional capital campaigns. Those who give generously to capital campaigns are really helping to fund the school so that it can educate all our children. Those who do not give anything to the capital campaign are depending on others to pay for an important part of the cost of their own childrens' education.

Thankfully, Gaston Day has many generous parents, former parents, and alumni. These people deserve our profound thanks because they help to pay for all our childrens' education. They also deserve our assistance and participation in capital campaigns at an appropriate level, which of course depends on each family's particular financial circumstances. It is part of the responsibility of attending an independent school.

Giving away money is always a serious matter and, honestly, it can be difficult, even for a good cause. At its best, however, giving to Gaston Day brings a sense of ownership and, yes, satisfaction. Hopefully, donors experience the joy of giving to a cause that is going to make their children's education better.

We are so grateful to parents who enroll their children at Gaston Day and provide us with tuition. Others go one step further and give to the annual fund each and every year, and to occasional capital campaigns every five to seven years. We give our thanks to them as well for their generosity in helping Gaston Day succeed in its mission. We are doing our best to be faithful stewards of the gifts you entrust with us, and to give your children the best education possible.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Middle Schoolers Like Gaston Day

Jennifer Newcombe, Middle School Coordinator, recently surveyed middle school students and asked what they like best about Gaston Day. The top vote getter, with a 39% response rate, was the good relationship that they have with their teachers. Second, with 33% response rate, was the relationship they have with their school friends and going to a school where everyone knows each other. Third, with 24% was the athletic program. Fourth, with 17%, was the quality education which is preparing them for college.

After these top four come a host of reasons with much smaller responses: the schedule, food, science (especially frog dissection!), field trips and dances, a clean school, plays, all these and many others made the list at lower response rates. Below are some quotes taken from the survey.

"The students and teachers respect each other."
"The arts here are amazing."
"The friends you make will last you a lifetime."
"There are a bunch of different sports you can do."
"Teachers treat us the age we are--they don't treat us like babies."
"Classes are fun and we get a lot done."
"You'll have lots of friends."
"Many opportunities and students are well behaved."
"P.E. is very amazing!"
"GDS prepares you for college."
"Middle School baseball is awesome. Please play!"
"Gaston Day has real spaghetti."

If you would like a copy of Mrs. Newcombe's summary of the results, please ask her for one. The results are revealing and encouraging.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lessons from the Storm

Just when I thought we were passed the prospect of a snow closing, the wind struck last week. It was certainly one of the worst power failures that I have experienced since coming to Gaston Day ten years ago, and it shut down the school for two days. Every new situation provides valuable lessons, and this one was no different. First of all, we learned that it is very difficult to communicate when you lack electricity. I arrived at school at about 5 am on Tuesday morning, hoping that there would be no power outage at school. Obviously, those hopes proved false.

How do you communicate with parents when phones and E-mails don't work? The answer is cell phones. We did our best to get the message out, relying on word of mouth and the power of cell phones to spread the news. Regrettably, we had about twenty families that did not get the message and showed up for school. All in all, however, we were pleased that the vast majority of our families received the school-closing alert on such short notice and with our standard means of communication shut down. Kristin Paxton-Shaw, Director of Public Relations, will be developing a cell-phone calling tree plan for similar situations in the future. She also is looking at some systems that are automated and broadcast news to cell phones from a central source.

The second lesson learned is that there may be cost-effective ways to install platforms for generators that could have had the school up and running on the second day we missed. Installing permanent generators would be too expensive. But with some reasonable preparation, we can have the infrastructure in place to bring in rented generators if this happens again. We are very interested in exploring this improvement. How many years will it be before we have an ice storm or a wind storm that knocks out power at Gaston Day? Who knows? But eventually it will happen.

We also realized that certain precautions that Bob Larkin, Director of Technology, has taken over the last 18 months really paid off. We have placed over 50% of all our computers and file servers on UPS equipment (battery backup), moved our E-mail services to an offsite facility, and consolidated all school and financial information at a site in Boston. These changes were made to simplify our technology infrastructue and allow for the continued operation of our school. This meant the school returned back to normal quickly and with minimal damage to our computers and systems when the power was restored at 9 pm, Wednesday, April 6th.

Finally, although we could never have anticiapted this, I am confident that many of the trees, recently cut down for the new driveway, would have blown down in this storm and created a major mess. The lesson here is that sometimes our decisions have unintentional, fortunate consequences.

On a personal note, I cannot stand for school to be closed when we are scheduled to be opened! When Gaston Day School is forced to close due to inclement weather or power failures, the school administration's entire focus becomes getting school open again as quickly as possible, while ensuring the safety and well being of our students. Our business is educating children: it is a serious task, and the less school we miss, the more our students learn. It is so good to be back at school!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Excitement of Homecoming Week

There really is nothing like Homecoming Week at Gaston Day. Each day has a theme. Monday is pajama day. Students, large and small, and even the less inhibited teachers are dressed in flannels and bathrobes. Tuesday is denim day. Wednesday: tacky day--and believe me when I tell you that the outfits really are outrageous and weird! Thursday: fictional character day. Friday: blue and white day.

Striking the balance between a week of gigantic school spirit and academics is tricky. Students try to convince teachers that Homecoming Week should be less demanding. Teachers are more or less sympathetic, but also recognize the need to maintain academic focus. Parents and students swing from enthusiasm to exhaustion. Should there really be this many important assignments and tests on Homecoming Week, they ask?

Meanwhile, the excitement and anticipation around the Homecoming Court and the crowning of the Queen is steadily and inexorably building. Who do you think is going to win? Who do you want to win? Is it a popularity contest, a beauty contest, or both? Who will have the prettiest dress? Who are the escorts? How are the mothers doing?

On Thursday night, there is a Hall of Fame Dinner at which new members are inducted into the Gaston Day School Sports Hall of Fame. For me, the evening is nostalgic and emotional as so many of the Hall of Famers are my schoolmates, coaches, or former students.This year's inductees include Lud (1973) and Sandra Garrison Hodges (1975); Coach and Athletic Director Ronnie Digh (1968-1976); Andy Warlick (1975); and T.J. Taylor (2005). Doug Meyer-Cuno, GDS graduate and current Board Trustee, is responsible for conceiving the idea of the Hall of Fame, and he has chaired the Hall of Fame Selection Committee for the last two years. In addition to the dinner, new Hall of Famers will be introduced on Homecoming Night and their Hall of Fame Plaques unveiled.

And then, it is Friday! By this time the excitement (madness?) has built to a fever pitch. There is a whole-school pep rally Friday afternoon. This includes the annual faculty-student basketball game, which pits students not on the varsity basketball team against a hodgepodge of faculty members. Victory for the faculty is a game without injury.

And then, it is show time! Homecoming night features a varsity double-header, the introduction of the Hall of Famers, and...drum roll, please... the introduction of the Homecoming Court and the announcement of the Homecoming Queen, voted on by the upper school student body.The stands are usually packed, our class representatives and their escorts look fabulous, and it is a wonderfully uplifting and happy evening! How could anything be more full of youthful promise, pageantry, and celebration? If Homecoming doesn't make you feel good about life, I am not sure what will.

So I invite everyone to come to Homecoming on Friday and have the time of your life!! The excitement, anticipation and fun really is steadily building. It won't be long now!

A Great Night to be a Spartan!

Athletic Director Casey Field has established a new customary greeting for Gaston Day students. In response to his question, "What kind of day is it today?" Students have been coached to respond "It is a great day to be a Spartan!" Wednesday night, December 1st,  in the James Henry Center Activity Center Gymnasium proved the new slogan is true. There were double-header boys and girls basketball games against Lincoln Charter School. It was the first time I have seen both squads in action, and neither disappointed. GDS students decided that the theme for the evening was "nerd" night, and they came dressed appropriately. I split my time between my post standing in Hal's Corner during the girls game and sitting on the top row of the bleachers where I could take it all in during the boys. The gym looked great. Coaches Field and Lutkus have gotten Andrea DeFrancisco to decorate the place with some sharp-looking graphics.

The girls game was a thriller. New Coach Harry Adams has assembled a really exciting team. They are disciplined, but fast paced on offense. On defense they press after ever opponent score, and they are relentlessly scrappy. Junior Jordan Whitesides is a gifted scorer. Sidney Smith is a strong post player. Eighth grader Morgan Whitesides is already a crackerjack point guard. And Liz Davis and Samantha McCurry are our other two starters and great role players. The game was close from the beginning. At one point in the second half we pulled ahead, only to fall behind by a dozen points. In the closing minutes, the Whitesides sisters lauched a furious comeback and only missed by a jump shot at the buzzer sending the game into overtime. The loss was tough, but when I congratulated Coach Adams on the effort, he looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Don't worry, Dr. Rankin, by the end of the season we will be where we should be." There was a confidence and resolve in his words that left me utterly convinced that our girls team is going places.

I moved up into the bleachers for the boys game. We start junior Ben Carstarphen and four freshman: Abram Olson, Keyshawn Woods, Ben Bennett, and Shontrell Hopper. The game was fairly evenly matched, but our boys began building on a small lead almost from the outset. Keyshawn Woods made several passes and shots that took my breath away. As young as they are, the Spartan boys are talented, unselfish, and tough. How can you look at all that youth and not be optimistic about the future of Spartan boys basketball? We will take our lumps this year at the hands of older, more experienced, and more talented teams, but the future belongs to the Spartans! On this night, we won!

As entertaining as the boys game was, the Gaston Day nerds were a close second. On the top row, Maddy Deely, Laura Gaddis, Nicole Kollman, and Hannah Newcombe were doing a synchronized dance routine that looked like an imitation of the Supremes in their heyday. Stewart Hansen was the most realistic looking nerd. Both Stewart and Blake Porter did solo dance gigs courtside. McKenzie Whalen had on a beenie with a propeller on top that flashed and sparkled as it spun. There were probably thirty to forty GDS middle and upper schoolers having a blast! Rooting for the Spartans and enjoying being teenagers. You could not look at the whole gang without smiling!! The youthful joy was contagious!! A GDS basketball game is a boisterous, wholesome happening, and you really need to be there to experience it. I felt younger just watching!

There were a lot of visitors in attendance both from Gaston Day and Lincoln Charter. I had fun watching them split their attention between the games and our nerds. They would watch the game and applaud the good play. They would look at the nerds and laugh. The whole scene was alive and entertaining!! I guarantee that every one of the visitors left with the favorable impression that Gaston Day students know how to have fun at a basketball game, and that Gaston Day girls and boys basketball teams are worth watching.

Congratulations to Coaches Field, Lutkus, and Adams on creating such wonderful basketball programs. Congratulations to our basketball players on your amazing commitment, teamwork, and hustle. Congratulations to our students for being the zaniest, happiest nuts around. It was simply a great night to be a Spartan!