"We can't say enough about what a wonderful experience our daughter has had at Renbrook. Our daughter has had a fantastic experience in the classroom, on the playing fields and making friends. As parents, we found it easy to get involved and meet people as well."
Helping young children understand the differences and similarities between their families strengthens their sense of identity and helps them grow into empathetic friends and classmates. At the Early Learning Center, we find many ways to help children talk about their families and to foster inclusivity and belonging.
Between September 15 and October 15, Americans all over the country celebrate National Hispanic American month. This observation, started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation. During the month of observance, several Latin American countries celebrate their independence, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile.
During our recent Parents’ Night, I spoke about teachers in terms of their sincere commitment to their students’ growth and development, and how they chose a teaching career because they care about the outcomes of others. I also touched on the importance of continuing to build a strong parent/teacher partnership on behalf of the students. What I’d like to speak to now is the role of the parent in this critical relationship.
During the Lower School Faculty meeting recently, teachers viewed Austin’s Butterfly: Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback. This video, created by EL Education, a non-profit organization which began out of a collaboration of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound in the 1990s, provides insight for teachers and students regarding how critique and feedback, through the process of multiple iterations, can transform student work. After the video, teachers read Seven Keys to Effective Feedback by Grant Wiggins and discussed the important and critical components of feedback: goal-referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent.
Often when I speak with elementary age children and ask what their favorite subject is in school, the answer most frequently given is… recess. At one time, I hoped I would hear math, reading, or writing, but 9 out of 10 times, it was always recess. It’s actually comical to watch the doors open to the playground and see so many children run out squealing with their arms open wide as if they are hugging the air. It’s such a common behavior and a true gift that brings me joy every time I see it. At this point in my career, I no longer wish to hear the words math, reading, or writing when I ask that question. You see, I now know that recess is a truly significant and important class for our students and one that should not be overlooked.
How is it that first days of school continue to cause butterflies and excitement in those of us who have been teaching for many, many years? It has been more than twenty-five years for me, yet I continue to experience similar feelings each year, both the night before and the morning of. There are countless picture books about this phenomenon. In fact, there’s a great one titled, “Butterflies on the First Day” by Annie Silvestro that almost all teachers have and bring out to read to their new classes on the first day.
Doug and Jane Cramphin served on the faculty of Renbrook School for a combined 78 years. They received monetary gifts in their names at the time of their retirement and have graciously paid it forward with the annual Cramphin Excellence in Education Awards. These awards recognize members of the faculty and staff who demonstrate passion, creativity, innovation, collaboration, strength in relationships, and a willingness to go above and beyond normal expectations, enabling others to excel. This year, three faculty members were chosen for this wonderful recognition and monetary awards. Today we celebrate Robbie Saal.
Doug and Jane Cramphin served on the faculty of Renbrook School for a combined 78 years. They received monetary gifts in their names at the time of their retirement and have graciously paid it forward with the annual Cramphin Excellence in Education Awards. These awards recognize members of the faculty and staff who demonstrate passion, creativity, innovation, collaboration, strength in relationships, and a willingness to go above and beyond normal expectations, enabling others to excel. This year, three faculty members were chosen for this wonderful recognition and monetary awards. Today we celebrate Kim Dansin.
Doug and Jane Cramphin served on the faculty of Renbrook School for a combined 78 years. They received monetary gifts in their names at the time of their retirement and have graciously paid it forward with the annual Cramphin Excellence in Education Awards. These awards recognize members of the faculty and staff who demonstrate passion, creativity, innovation, collaboration, strength in relationships, and a willingness to go above and beyond normal expectations, enabling others to excel. This year, three faculty members were chosen for this wonderful recognition and monetary awards. Today we celebrate Becky Klein.
Our eighth-grade students enjoyed a visit with two Renbrook Alumni recently to talk about careers. There was no shortage of questions from our inquisitive students as they explored career options and choices in the area of arts and entertainment and government. We are grateful to Barrie Kreinik "00, an actor, singer, writer, and audiobook narrator based in New York City, and Vasishth Srivastava ’06 who serves as Chief of Staff for Hartford Mayor Luke A. Bronin.
Fifth-grade students recently watched a TED Talk entitled “Can Art Amend History?” by Artist Titus Kaphar, as part of their history study of slavery. Kaphar makes paintings and sculptures that wrestle with the struggles of the past while speaking to the diversity and advances of the present. According to TED, “In an unforgettable live workshop, Kaphar takes a brush full of white paint to a replica of a 17th-century Frans Hals painting, obscuring parts of the composition and bringing its hidden story into view. There's a narrative coded in art like this, Kaphar says. What happens when we shift our focus and confront unspoken truths?”
At Renbrook, we are committed to project-based STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, a multidisciplinary approach to hands-on learning. We believe that giving our students the chance to tinker, create, and build shows them that they can impact systems and objects in their world. We want our students to see that they can bring their learning to life by creating effective solutions that integrate knowledge and skills across disciplines. We take children’s intellect and ideas seriously and strive to help them build a “maker mindset,” demonstrating the value of an iterative process. It is through such process-oriented work that our students discover that their outcomes can be refined and improved through self-reflection and sharing their work with others.
In 2020–2021, as our country renews its commitment to equity and justice, how is Renbrook applying our mission and values to this call to action?
Decades of faculty, parent, and student work (see sidebars) have laid the groundwork for this time. But the work is a long journey, and the national movement of the past year has offered new perspectives for deeper exploration. Facing the past, opening up dialogue in the present, and looking toward a future of healing and growth, Renbrook’s community is dedicated to the work.
Tony Scherer ’82, long-time Upper School teacher and coach, whose love of sports, particularly baseball, is legend, offers this reflection.
FUN. That’s where it starts. The first time we run, the first time we play catch, the first time we hit a ball with something, the first time we throw a ball through a hoop. Sports are fun. (Or, if you prefer, sports is fun, if you think of “sports” as a collective singular noun, like “art” or “music.” English teachers think that way.)
Our campus was empty all spring. Students stayed at home, glued to their screens. Everyone was curious: How would our PE department keep kids active and motivated from a distance?
All spring, Athletic Director Peter Reynolds, Assistant Athletic Director Sarah Davis, and PE teacher Natalie Kirkpatrick motivated kids remotely by making videos in their back yards. They offered athletic challenges, communicating with energy and humor as they demonstrated: Shoot baskets into a trash can! Teach someone to do a proper squat! Here’s a drill you can try! Get on your bike and ride! Instagram became the new gym.
In March, when the curtain came down on school as we knew it, Renbrook was well-positioned to pivot to online learning. “We had done the heavy lifting in 2018-2019,“ says Dave Blodgett, Academic Technology Coordinator, “when we moved to a cloud-based system school-wide.” In March 2020, teachers and staff were already living in Microsoft’s “more is more” online environment, and the sudden onset of virtual school accelerated their exploration of new ways to connect with students using a variety of apps and platforms.
Mr. Arnold has spearheaded creative use of the Renbrook campus for 30 years. He recalls the origins of our trail system.
“You can see the remnants of Frederick Rentschler’s estate on the Yellow Trail and the part of the Blue Trail that leads from the bridge down to the Brook. Rentschler built stone steps in steep places, and they’ll still take you down to Canal Road and from the highest point on campus to below the ELC.”
“Last year seventh-grade Life Science students were outdoors about 50% of the time. This year I can count on one hand the number of classes held indoors.” In their study of dendrology, students ask, "Why do leaves fall?” They go into the woods to find out. As Mr. Wright reads to them from The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, “ 'A tree is not a forest . . .' they listen to leaves falling, then jump up and try to catch them. We discuss the interdependence of trees, and that leads to the importance of community; we take care of each other as trees do.”
Given the treasure of our 75-acre campus, turning to the outdoors as the safest way to learn together has been a natural adaptation for Renbrook this year. Undoubtedly our location on Avon Mountain has been essential to our successful effort to hold school in person. But more than that, learning from nature has been a vital element of Renbrook’s philosophy and practice from the outset and is embedded in the school’s philosophy and traditions.
Last spring, as Zoom classes carried on, students in Upper School missed sports, art, and music—the non-academic areas of school life. But each of those departments found ways to include their joys in the lockdown experience. Woodworking and photography challenges were issued, and PE videos appeared on Instagram.