Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Spirit of 1967

Next year, Gaston Day School will be 50 years old. I was there as a 5th grader on the first day of school in 1967 and remember the spirit of optimism and excitement that surrounded the opening of our new school. As I look at Gaston Day School today, I honestly sense a growing excitement and can-do attitude that reminds me of the school's early days. What is it that makes me so enthusiastic about where Gaston Day School is today? First of all, it is the team of teachers and administrators that we have in place. There are so many great teachers throughout this school. Kim Perlman, Head of Middle and Upper School, and I were recently discussing the quality of the teaching here, and "great" was the word that best describes almost all our teachers. We also have a veteran team of administrators who trust each other, work well together, and care deeply about the future of the school. New Director of Admissions Davidson Hobson has made us even stronger with the spirit of innovation and creativity that he brings to Gaston Day.

A second reason for my optimism is the level of student accomplishment we are seeing. College Counselor Carolyn Senter has never witnessed greater success in college acceptances and scholarship awards than we are seeing now. Mary Kate Thompson is the first National Merit Scholarship Finalist in several years. We anticipate hitting an all-time high in the amount of scholarships and grants issued to our graduates. Our class of 40 seniors may well break the $3 million barrier this year. Recently, at my Rotary, a local school much larger than Gaston Day was bragging about all its seniors receiving $1 million in scholarship support!! The quality of our college acceptances and the amount of financial support our graduates are receiving is simply amazing. Truly a Gaston Day education is an investment that returns dividends in higher education. 

A third reason I feel so excited about the school today is that I think we are doing a better job balancing school work, extracurricular activities, recreation, family time, and fun. We have worked really hard as a faculty and administration to keep all these things in the proper perspective and equilibrium. Our students seem to be working hard, but having fun. That's how it should be.

Finally, I don't know if you have noticed, but Gaston Day School's administration and staff is in the midst of a baby boom!! So many of our teachers and administrators are starting families, and it is thrilling to see this happening. It has brought such a feeling of happiness and excitement to our campus. In three years, all these babies are going to be attending Pre-School. They will be here before we know it.
We are planning lots of other cool things to promote the 50th anniversary. The new look on two of our buses is only the beginning of a number of things that will be increasingly visible over the next several years. The Spirit of 1967 is alive and well. We hope you feel it, and we hope you spread it!!
It really is a great time to be a Spartan!! 
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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ada Frank's GDS Story

This year all GDS employees are writing about what makes Gaston Day a special place for them. Here is what Kindergarten teacher Ada Frank wrote.

Trying to come up with a significant memory after 23 years of teaching at Gaston Day school is quite challenging. Teaching Kindergarten, First Grade, Learning Academy and back to Kindergarten has been such a significant and positive aspect of my life.  Rather than relating one memory, I’d like to share some thoughts on the impact that Gaston Day has had on me.
To begin, I am grateful that my children, Alisha and Adam, attended Gaston Day.  The education that Alisha received from 7th grade through 12th grade and Adam from 4th grade through 10th grade has impacted their lives in many ways.  GDS well prepared both of my children for life long learning: Adam for the opportunity to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Math and both of them for the needed educational background for pursuing their dreams of becoming doctors.

Teaching at the school my children attended was a privilege. The caliber of the teachers and the rigor of the curriculum were what I wanted for my own children and allowed me to share this information with families looking at Gaston Day.  I can say that both of these areas have influenced me in the ways I interact with the children I teach and their families.  The relationships among staff members are collaborative and caring.  I am pleased to consider many former and current faculty members as friends both inside and outside of Gaston Day.

Many of my close friends are families I met and developed a relationship with from teaching their children.  Watching one of my Kindergartners or First Graders graduate from Gaston Day is so rewarding.  After this many years, I love seeing or hearing updates from former families/students and feel so special that they still keep in contact because they were pleased with what their children experienced in my class.  Some special moments that come to mind are: receiving a copy of an essay on a teacher that was most influential from a former first grader who attended Davidson Day at the time; a call from a parent of a former student who had their son’s Kindergarten Memory Scrapbook (something I have made for each child every year) on display at the rehearsal dinner; receiving a letter and kindergarten photos of her and me from a former Kindergartners written during her third year of college; wedding invitations; birth announcements; and even going on trips with some of these friends.

Over the years, there have been continued positive changes at Gaston Day:  a more rigorous curriculum, highly qualified teachers, more opportunities with the arts and athletics, emphasis on professional development, updated technology, and new facilities.  Gaston Day has certainly stepped up to the goal of becoming the finest private school in the Southeast.

At this stage of my life having grown children and an empty nest, the children I teach become even a more significant part of my life.  Often I consider Gaston Day School as being a sanctuary to me, a place that I come to for filling my heart and sharing my talents.  Daily I am blessed to receive more than I give.  Gaston Day has been so good to me and for me.  I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I not had the opportunity to teach here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Diana Reaves' Story

This year all GDS employees are writing about what makes Gaston Day a special place for them. Here is what Upper School English teacher Diana Reaves wrote. 

I always tell people there’s a big reason I live four hours away from my beloved hometown and family in Alabama. I miss those folks every day. But right now, I just can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. Gaston Day, the students and families, my colleagues--for me there’s a connection here, something genuine I know I won’t find elsewhere.

In the English Department, I love that Erin Lekavich checks in with me regarding students and what I’m teaching. She gives me ideas, and we’re able to talk openly about my personal strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. She’s uplifting, helping me grow and learn. I enjoyed the day I walked along the trails in the woods with Dylan Phillips’s English class: we took in the peacefulness of a cool morning, focused on breathing and soaking up birdsong for a little while; we wrote haiku, surrounded by the natural world instead of so many screens, clicking keys, bells.

As a teacher, I feel excited about my own subject, but I like knowing that the kids are well-rounded: they’re taking environmental field-study trips with Becca Hurd, engineering planes with Josh Pietras and Wade Glaser, and debating in both Troy Carter’s and Greg Lekavich’s
government and history classes. And we still believe in the library at this school, and it’s great: it’s a media center, yes, but Karen Ellison loves books and honest research, and it’s evident. That place encourages a steady stream of collaboration--lots of questions, group study, entertainment, projects, and even laughter.

The balance seems real at GDS, or at least we do our best to keep that goal in mind. After studying a novel, short stories, a play, formal paper writing and grammar, my sophomores ended the fall semester with a film unit. I saw that the students needed a change a bit earlier than I’d originally planned, a little energy in the room. And they loved watching Gattaca and Dead Poets Society--all those wonderful life lessons embedded--while also learning how to read and discuss a film, similarly to the way we read and discuss a text. Sometimes I feel like I’m tricking them into enjoying the idea of analysis and critical thinking. So many conversations about technology, evolution, education, and humanity surfaced during that unit.

Students are challenged here, but they’re also deeply loved. Middle school English teacher Sarah Voigt told me that in the 7th grade journals, the students wrote about taking control of their education. They reflected on the idea of why we learn, why we care, why we maybe don’t, why others sometimes care more about our studies than we do, etc. She’s attempting to cultivate vision and ownership in those youngsters. And that’s a school deal and a life skill. That’s a great example of a teacher believing in these students--their lives and responsibilities beyond flawless prose and test scores.

Students are given roots here, and then they get to grow up in a place where it’s safe to be creative, in a family where a wrong answer is simply a stepping stone to the right one. They also learn to test the “right ones.” What does right and wrong even mean? There are snapshots, photos, pictures, selfies,
snapchats, instagrams--but we’re not lying when we say we’re working on the full portrait at Gaston Day. We’re trying to be equitable and sensitive to the way educations is evolving for the better, trying to put the students against the best backdrop and in the best light possible. Pose them, if you will, for a successful future, whatever success means for them as individuals. We’re helping them try new things, gain confidence, showcase and develop talents, and discover what their hearts love; we’re listening as they ask difficult questions and reach for purpose and hope in a somewhat, at least at times, very dark world. It’s really a great day to be a Spartan, to certainly be one if you aren’t already.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Homecoming and Basketball 2017

Homecoming at Gaston Day School is more than a single night--it is a week long celebration. Each day of the week has a theme like Pajama Day. Starting with community homeroom in the PKW auditorium on Monday, all the weeks events are designed to build school spirit and have fun. The sense of excitement grows throughout the week as we move toward the culminating event: the crowning of the Homecoming Queen on Friday night at halftime of the boys varsity basketball game. 

Thursday night was the Gaston Day Athletic Hall of Fame dinner where new inductees are introduced and officially welcomed. Every new group inducted into the Hall of Fame is special, but this one was especially so because we inducted Jim Henry and the Henry Family. Jim Henry was a star athlete in golf, football and basketball at Gaston Day. George and Susie Henry, Bill and Frances Henry, and Jeanne Henry Quinn and Mike Quinn have been instrumental in building the James Henry Student Activity Center, and Bill and Frances made possible the Frances H. Henry Baseball Field and the Spartan Field House. Because of the Henry Family, Gaston Day has such great athletic facilities. It was so fitting to honor Jim Henry and the whole Henry family.

photo by Charles Boyles
Friday night was Homecoming. Both our girls and boys varsity teams won easily. The Homecoming Court included seniors Mary Kate Thompson, Claire Hammontree and Hannah Grimm, and Hannah was crowned homecoming queen. Is there anything more exciting than the announcement of the new homecoming queen? The entire court looked fabulous and represented the school so well.

This week is the conference tournament for both our boys and girls basketball teams, and the games are here at Gaston Day. Our girls team has had a remarkable season after not having a team for several years. We finished in the middle of our conference and had a number of great victories. Although we were knocked out of the tournament yesterday in the first round, I am so proud of our girls. They have established a strong foundation for the future success of the girls basketball program, and they had such a fun, successful season. Girls basketball is back at Gaston Day. Olivia King and Zaria Clark were named to the MAC All-Conference team. Congratulations to Coach Antonio Leach on such a great season.

Our varsity boys basketball team is currently ranked number one in the state in the 2A independent
school division. We beat Hickory Grove Baptist in the semi-finals of the MAC Tournament yesterday and play Concord First Assembly in the finals tonight here at the school. Our boys have one of the most talented, exciting teams ever in school history. The gym will be rocking tonight and, hopefully, the Spartans will be crowned conference tournament champions. Four of our players, Nate Hinton, Quan McCluney, Brandon Reeves, and B.J. Armstrong were named to the MAC All-Conference team. Hopes and expectations are high for the state tournament. Congratulations to Coach Trent McCallister and all his players.

Life at Gaston Day School is a balance of academic and extracurricular activities. Homecoming and post-season basketball are highlights in school life. They make Gaston Day School a fun place to be. They give spirit and character to our school. Go Spartans!!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Dr. Rankin, Did You Have Fun Playing in the Snow?"

Talking to Lower School students is a privilege and a responsibility. Often, I squat to get down on their level. Then I try to be as genuine, interested and respectful as possible in talking to them. I want them to feel my care and concern. So I listen attentively and try to treat them with the dignity I think they deserve. Particularly with our youngest students in Pre-School, Pre-K and Kindergarten, their conversations are so honest and heartfelt that they often teach me something important. That happened today.

My last several weeks have been a whirlwind of activities. First, there was the snow. Then I spent three days last week at the annual North Carolina Association of Independent Schools Heads Conference near Southern Pines. And the last few days have been jam packed. I have felt as if I was in a race car driving at top speed. 

Today was no different. I had a luncheon appointment in Belmont, and I was rushing to my truck, parked in the Lower School parking lot next to the playground. Whenever I walk past the playground, the young children greet me. Several spoke and I spoke back. After finishing these brief conversations, I walked fast toward my truck. Then I heard the single, lone voice of a young child calling out "Dr. Rankin!!!" So, with some regret about whether I was going to be late for my meeting, I turned back. There was a Pre-K boy, who I know, coming toward the high chain-link fence that separates the parking lot from the playground. He smiled brightly at me, pressed himself against the fence, and asked, "Dr. Rankin, did you have fun playing in the snow?" His question was so sincere and caring that it stunned me. Here was a beautiful child who, in that moment, more than anything else wanted to know if I had shared the same amazing joy that he had experienced playing in our recent snowfall. 
photo by Holt Harris

I responded, "Yes, I did. Did you?"

And he said, "Yes, I did too." Then we smiled at each other brightly, and I told him I had to go. He turned back toward a group of his friends and skipped away happy.

When has anyone asked me such an innocent, joyful question, I wondered? When have I connected more directly with another human being in such a pure conversation? 

As I walked toward my car, I began to ask myself if I had played enough in the snow recently? Or had I instead been consumed with clearing the driveway and making sure that Gaston Day was ready to re-open. These were definitely priorities. But was there also the opportunity to play? Why hadn't I sledded? Why hadn't I made snow angels? Why hadn't I built a snowman? 

Suddenly, I felt my world slowing down to the speed of a small child. I was no longer walking so fast. Instead, I was pondering what it means to balance living in the moment with preparing for the future. My young friend's question had pulled me back into the beautiful present. 

Gentle reader, the snow really was beautiful, wasn't it. Did you play in it too?