"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."
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.
In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s Alice finds herself quite suddenly and unexpectedly in a world alarmingly different from her own orderly one. When the pandemic struck last winter, we, too, went down a rabbit hole. We had no choice but to engage with the new reality and use our wits, as Alice does—all the while registering surprise and amazement.
Play-based learning at Renbrook is balanced with direct instruction to support students’ social, emotional, and intellectual development. Although learning through play looks different than more traditional learning experiences that many of us may be familiar with, it is learning that happens within a meaningful context. Students take ownership over constructing their own understanding and knowledge and because of that it sticks and becomes internalized.
Black History Month was created to ensure due attention was given to the numerous and important contributions of people of African descent. The goal was not for discussions, research, and projects to start and end in February; Black history is American history and should be woven into conversations with children throughout the year.
Renbrook’s mission calls us to prepare our students to lead in a global and inclusive world. Our “Curriculum Spotlight” highlights our Social Studies, Humanities, and History Program which plays a central role in this work. Our intentional development of empathetic citizens dedicated to the greater good is more important now than ever.
As you explore our Division Heads’ “fly over” of the scope and sequence of this important program, join us in our partnership to develop our children’s commitment to serving ideals and institutions that support our community and strengthen our democracy.
Despite COVID-19 limitations that require each kindergarten class to remain socially distant, the kindergarten teachers brought their students together on Zoom to brainstorm what topics they might be interested in studying. The list was vast and varied! Topics ranged from tunnels to whistles to clocks.
Each teacher created a list of the students’ ideas and the individual classes then began to group the topics into themes such as food, machines, toys, and transportation. Once several categories were identified, each class voted on a theme to study, with each student allowed two votes. Topics were given 2 points for a child’s first choice and 1 point for a child’s second choice. Two kindergarten classes selected transportation as their theme while the third selected toys.
Math at Renbrook School is dynamic and engaging at every level. Here, our Division Heads provide a description of our math philosophy and the ways we bring learning to life through real-world applications. You will find through their writing that our math program is a foundational element of a Renbrook education. Secondary schools recognize our graduates for their conceptual mastery as well as their ability to execute an array of problem-solving strategies. Our outstanding math instructors take great pride in our student outcomes. While our students’ strong standardized test scores tell a part of the story and their math trajectory makes their former teachers beam, we are most proud of the ways our teachers develop confidence and a love for math.
We want all students to see themselves as integral threads of the classroom fabric, so it is important that no single skin color is considered “normal.” To avoid having any child feel like an “other,” students need support to identify, describe, and discuss their own skin colors.
It’s time to start checking that out. First, the hull must be glued onto a wooden mount inside the bottle. The “seas” will be installed around the mount before the hull is glued in place. But it’s time to start “dry fitting” everything before gluing. No one wants surprises when using glue.
Decide what kind of boat you wish to build in your bottle. I recommend a “fore-and-aft” rig for first-time sailboat bottlers rather than a “square rig” like my brigantine. Common fore and aft rigs are catboats, sloops, cutters, yawls, ketches, and schooners. See the illustrations to the right of each type of rig.
In the “days of wooden ships and iron men” sailors passed idle hours building ship models, sometimes building ships in bottles. When confined as prisoners of war during the Napoleonic wars, sailors built ship models using scrounged materials, even beef bones. Finding myself facing idle hours and confinement I will be spending the next several weeks building a ship and a boat in a bottle. I have some experience at this. See the photo to the right of a little brigantine I built for my wife many years ago.