The Elisabeth Morrow School Appoints Paul Baly as New Middle School Head

Paul Baly
The Elisabeth Morrow School has announced the appointment of Paul Baly as its new Middle School Head, grades 5-8, effective July 1, 2012.  Baly will replace Germaine Di Paolo, who is retiring after 29 years with the school.

Baly comes to EMS after serving as the Upper School Head, grades 5 to 9, at the Valley School of Ligonier in Ligonier, PA for the past 4 years.  As Upper School Head at the Valley School, Baly worked closely with the faculty to create and manage a new academic schedule, professional development opportunities and student-led parent conferences.  Aside from his administrative duties, Baly also taught English and coached Boys' Varsity Lacrosse.  Prior to the Valley School, Baly worked at Heathwood Hall in Columbia, SC as Assistant Director of the Middle School for seven years.

Claire Ward, Head of the Valley School of Ligonier, affirms that Paul "has a deep knowledge of the developmental and cognitive characteristics of the middle school child.  Organized, creative and strategic, Paul is a fantastic team member. Most important, students find him to be fair and principled, with a keen sense of humor."

Aaron Cooper, Head of School Elect for Elisabeth Morrow, believes that Baly's experiences will serve him well in his new role.  "Mr. Baly brings a set of experiences, accomplishments, and perspectives that match the mission of EMS and the opportunities present in our middle school.  Paul's work with faculty, parents, and students in his prior schools is exemplary. We wish Germaine DiPaolo all the best in her retirement and know that Elisabeth Morrow's middle school is in good hands with Paul."

Baly holds two Masters degrees in Education, one from the University of South Carolina in Secondary School Education and one from Teachers College at Columbia University in Independent School Leadership.  Baly earned his Bachelors from Roanoke College in Virginia.   A native of Westfield, New Jersey, Mr. Baly and his wife, Liane, have two children, Max and Alice, and are expecting their third child this spring.
The Elisabeth Morrow School has also appointed Michele Bower, 19-year teaching veteran with the school, as the new Director of Curriculum and Secondary School Placement.  Prior to her appointment, Mrs. Bower served as an integral part of the Middle School's community service program and also served as the school's departmental chair for History.  Mrs. Bower has a B.A. in English from Barnard College and holds two M.S.Ed. degrees from Columbia University (Reading/Curriculum and Social Studies).

Independent Early Childhood Programs: A Seamless and Cohesive Education

By Evan Brown
Director of Communications and Alumni

January 2012

For parents, selecting a primary school for their children is a far more significant decision than they may realize. Unlike secondary or post-secondary schools, where the duration of a child’s stay generally ranges from 2 to 5 years, traditional primary schools usually offer an education program that spans 8 or 9 years and may expand to 10 or 11 years if the school offers middle school education.  This represents a significant amount of time within a child's development.  Selecting the right primary school that will nurture a child from toddler to teenager and offer an excellent education across the board is a definitive choice parents must make.

The belief that a child should receive a seamless and cohesive education, rather than a fragmented experience in which a child most be moved from school to school, is one that is near and dear to The Elisabeth Morrow School’s Early Childhood Director (Englewood, NJ), Beth Ann Brennan.  "In schools like this one, the program supports all areas of development: cognitive, social and emotional. The environment is comfortable and familiar, and we continuously educate children to get to a place where they are ready for that next level of learning."

Often, the biggest concern for parents selecting a primary school is that the instruction may not be rigorous enough, particularly in the child’s earliest years.  Parents may worry that an education that promotes “play-based” learning will fall short.  However, recent studies show that such views may be baseless, as "play" seems to be crucial in the academic development of children.  Brain-based education expert, Dr. Kathy Nunley sums up the current research:  "executive function skills can be improved in pre-K programs by using social pretend play to increase a child's ability to inhibit internal and external distractions. Play and story telling can also be used to develop strong working memory, which will be used for things that unfold over time, such as reading and mental math.”  Play helps young minds focus and organize, preparing them for more challenging or demanding tasks that come in later grades.

Ms. Brennan of The Elisabeth Morrow School affirms that during the child’s earliest years, learning must be engaging for students; for learning to be engaging, it must be fun: "A real and authentic play-based program that carefully entwines developmentally appropriate and engaging experiences allows for curiosity and discovery. The ‘fundamentals’ are then introduced, practiced and mastered when and where it is appropriate within the curriculum." 

Ultimately, early education programs must feature faculty that are dedicated and committed to the progress and holistic development of the child.  Echoing this sentiment, Ms. Brennan states, "the cornerstone of such programs, and certainly here at Elisabeth Morrow, is that the faculty understand the age they are teaching (cognitively, socially, emotionally) and know how to guide them in their education."

Good Morning Mr. Cooper: Q & A With Elisabeth Morrow's New Head of School

On November 17, 2011, The Board of Trustees appointed Aaron C. Cooper as Head of The Elisabeth Morrow School, replacing David M. Lowry, Ph.D., upon his retirement at the end of this academic year.  Mr. Cooper will become Elisabeth Morrow’s seventh Head of School.  A few days after his appointment, Mr. Cooper sat down with Jennifer Brown, a reporter and writer for CBS Radio News, to share his thoughts and views regarding his appointment, the School and its future. 

Jennifer Brown (JB):  When you first got the news that you were hired as the new Head of School, tell me what you were thinking?

Aaron Cooper (AC):  It is something that Kara and I had spoken about quite a bit, particularly since Dr. Lowry announced his retirement, and we knew that this was a possibility.  The announcement for me was somewhat surreal, as it happened after a Board meeting where I had given a big presentation.  After the meeting, I was asked to stay, and the Board Chair came in and offered me the position.  I was thrilled.  So, after being at this school now for nine years, knowing it really well, and having put a lot of thought into what can be the right next steps for the school, it is exciting for me to be the person who can help steer it in that direction.

JB:  Looking at your bio, I realize that you have done just about everything at this school:  you have coached, you have taught, you have helped these students find high schools. What made you seek this position?

AC:  I can trace my aspiration to be a head of school back to my first couple of years in teaching.  I loved being in the classroom. I took to it right away from the standpoint of being able to create, maintain and enhance – to put my mark on a culture of learning and respect.  After several years in the classroom, though, I started to feel the desire to have a similar effect on a larger scale.  To me, as a head of school, that is job-one; the person in this position drives, supports and formalizes a culture conducive to everyone's learning.

JB:  About your early years teaching, do you have any fond memories so far at Elisabeth Morrow?

AC:  I have been through much at this school, starting here when the school was just nursery through sixth grade, and then eventually adding seventh and eighth grades. One memory that stands out is the first boys’ basketball team that Gene Love and I coached.  You should have seen the look on the boys’ faces when we won our first game.  They were so excited and proud of their school.

The previous year, I got to know all of my players well, as I had them in my sixth grade Latin class.  So, personally, this win meant a great deal to me as well.  I was hired to help design the Middle School program where one facet was the creation of extracurricular programs, including sports.  It was a great deal of work.  We brought in advisors, we had committees working on it, we devised a philosophy for the sports program and then we got to watch that come to fruition.  The first win was a great moment, seeing the students jumping all around at center court in their green uniforms and it being here on campus.  It felt like the middle school of EMS had arrived.

JB:  What is it like having your children attend Elisabeth Morrow? What’s your perspective as a parent?

AC:  Julia is now in Kindergarten (she started in the three-year-old program) and Charlotte just started in the 3's program this year.  So this is the first year that both of our children have been old enough to be in the school.  I appreciate the fact that I get to work in the same place that my kids go to school.  When I drive to work, I get to drop them off, walk them down to their classrooms and say good-bye.  Then, at the end of most days, I am able to pick them up after school and take them home.  Before and after school, I get to hear what they are looking forward to or what they did that day.  You can't put a price on that; it is invaluable.

Julia started the year I was promoted to Assistant Head of School, and that was significant for me as I moved away from being a Middle School employee to being a whole-school administrator.  My initial task for this position was to become more familiar with elementary and early childhood education, as my background had been exclusively in middle school education.  The combination of learning the position through my contact with teachers and principals, along with my experience as a parent watching my daughters go through this program and the effects that it has had on my girls' learning has very quickly helped me understand our program at a much deeper level than I would have otherwise.  For instance, my daughter Julia has been here three years now, and to see her go from entering the school in the 3's program, having been just potty trained to being now, in Kindergarten, on the cusp of literacy – of reading and writing – has been wonderful.  I have enjoyed observing how all the different pieces of the program have worked together to help her get to this place.  She loves everything about language:  playing with words, telling and listening to stories, predicting their endings.  To see that come to life in my child has been fantastic for me as a father and an educator.

JB:  You have kids here, you've worn a great many hats here, and it is clear that you are familiar with the school.  What challenges do you see heading your way next year?

AC:  There are challenges and opportunities on a number of levels.  One of our biggest challenges, which is over-arching and connected to all others, is maintaining and enhancing the sense of community that we have, both internally (between the faculty members of the school) and externally (with our families).  We've seen a marked increase in the number of families where both parents are working full-time.  We are also seeing farther geographic distance from which our families are coming.  So it's important that this place feel like a home for students and parents.

JB:  There are some big projects in the works for Elisabeth Morrow, in terms of the campus master plan.  Tell me a little about that.

AC:  This segues perfectly from your last question, because the underlying motive behind this initiative is community. We’ve engaged an architectural firm to work with us to develop a campus master plan in conjunction with the Strategic Plan and to address our needs today as well as in the future.  One of our big challenges here on campus is geographical in nature.  The level of elevation within the campus separates us into lower and upper campuses and, to some degree, impacts the unity of our community and the feeling of being one school.

Also, with the advent of the Middle School, there is need for additional spaces.  For example, we do not have a regulation playing field where we could host interscholastic games on campus, nor do we have a large multi-functional space for the whole school to gather, meet and celebrate as a community. 

Our intent is to develop a specific plan to meet these needs and others while creating a common area which would unify the campus and benefit the entire school.  This design more accurately reflects our spirit and our mission.

JB:  So let’s turn toward the Strategic Plan. This is more about program?

AC:  It's a bit more all encompassing than that.  The Strategic Plan is the Board's blueprint for the future initiatives and direction of the School.  While it speaks toward programs both academic and non-academic, it also includes human resources, technology, enrollment, and communications – basically providing direction for the School as a whole.  It becomes the document that will steer our work as faculty and administrators.  Now, as Head of School Elect, I will play a more active role in helping to articulate the different goals that we believe will make us as strong as we can be.

JB:  Well, let's talk about technology a bit.  There is so much new technology, new media, social networking – it's changing the way schools are approaching education.  There's a lot of talk about "no textbooks." There is a lot of talk about going "paperless." Kids are learning much more electronically.  Where do you see current trends fitting into Elisabeth Morrow?

AC:  I have a lot of thoughts about technology in education.  In general, I see technology as a tool that is used to enhance learning and it can have a number of different facets.  Within our curriculum, I view us using technology to develop deeper, more significant connections between our students and what they are learning.  Two instances come to mind.  When a class is learning about other parts of our country or the world, it's easy to gather information and even talk to people who live in those places or are involved with those places.  Using technology to garner those global connections and awareness is something we want to develop further.

From a more practical angle, technology is a great organizer, in terms of information and applications.  One thing we are currently discussing is the use of a "device" to hold all your textbooks, hold all your notes and hold all your work that is accessible anytime via the "cloud."  Not only does that make the backpack lighter for the students, but this way of managing and referencing information is also more relevant to the world today and more relevant for the kids growing up in this world.

JB:  When I think about all this new technology, it takes training.  How do you see yourself as Head of School supporting your teachers in this regard?

AC:  This is actually something I have been working on closely as Assistant Head.  We've formally established a faculty evaluation system.  We call it Faculty Growth and Renewal, and concurrent to that I have been working with Sarah Rolle, our Director of Technology, to set up our expectations for faculty learning about technology.  It has evolved from a series of training sessions, and it's currently a more teacher-driven program.  Teachers target their own initiatives, and our technology team then assists them in the training they will need.  It has become much more individualized.  As Head of School, my expectation is that we all need to be learning technology – each person needs to take his or her next steps, and there are always next steps.  This way we can deliver the program in the most powerful and relevant way possible. 

JB:  Is there an example of technology use in the classroom that you think has been particularly successful?

AC:  I have two that come to mind.  One is in the second-grade study of culture.  They have actually made connections with other schools around the world and have been in regular contact with a school in Australia working on a joint project discussing the differences between Australian and American culture. Our students have even “Skyped” with the teachers there, despite the 14-hour time difference.  So there's technology being used as a collaborative tool, connecting our students with children literally on the other side of the globe.

The second example is the work we are doing in the Middle School with virtual worlds, online gaming and scripting.  It has been phenomenal.  It is not so much about the content, but rather more focused on the skills students will need today, in terms of creativity, collaboration, communication, forming of community and character.  All of those pieces integrate nicely within these types of games, and the students absolutely love them. So, there is a high level of engagement. The Elisabeth Morrow School is on the forefront of this initiative within independent schools.

JB:  So when you say “scripting,” do you mean games where you read along and make choices?

AC:  No, scripting is synonymous with programming. Students can use programming language within the game to affect how the game goes, such as building a certain structure, animating certain features, moving from one part of the virtual world to another, or inventing the landscape within the game.  Students do this within teams and try to solve the challenges that exist within the virtual world.

JB:  Something I read about every day in my job, as pertaining to schools, is bullying.  Basically, parents feel like bullying is all over the place, at school, in texts, on Facebook and that schools don't do enough.  The statistics for middle schools are alarming; that this starts at such a young age, affecting both boys and girls.  With your middle school background, what's your take on it?  What do you feel needs to
be done?

AC:  I think the most important thing for the school is to establish a safe environment.  I think this is something that we value and have always done quite well.  If you look at the 4 C's (cooperation, consideration, compassion and courtesy), we have made this integral within our community from the youngest levels.  We also offer programs such as Advisory and Responsive Classroom that help students connect with one another.  This, along with the knowledge and care our faculty has for each individual student, which goes beyond any other school with which I have been associated, are dramatic steps in offering our students a safe environment.

Beyond that, we know that there may be incidents of students being mean to each other, teasing and bullying.  What needs to be done (in fact, what we have already done) is draw a line in the sand and set a firm policy.  For instance, as part of our anti-harassment policy, we have an external component.  We know that bullying can and does take place beyond our walls, so we have decided to make individual responsibility and integrity our business. These incidents, which can occur online, outside our academic day or off campus, filter back into our larger community and can have a significant negative impact.  This weakens the community, so we need to be able to address this issue even outside the walls of our school. 

The other aspect is this: when an instance happens, the adults in the community must immediately address it.  As teachers or administrators, we must first find out what happened, and then we must determine the extent of it.  When we have this information, we then must communicate effectively with the students and their parents in order to educate and begin the healing process.  If it's bullying, genuine bullying, it’s a more serious issue – certainly nationwide it's an issue, and  New Jersey has passed new anti-bullying legislation.  Nevertheless, we have to able to separate when it's "kids being kids," or when it is actual bullying, with intent to hurt or harm repeatedly.  Of course, we have an obligation to teach our students how to manage their concerns within a community, but we have to be acutely aware when incidents become extremely hurtful or damaging.  This is our priority here, we must be consistent about gauging these situations, know where that line is and work together to make sure everyone's health, safety and growth are attended to.

JB:  Last question:  what do you want children to take away from their Elisabeth Morrow experience?

AC:  I would like them to take away two things.  I want them to have a sense of what their interests are, what their strengths are, what their budding passions are – a sense of how they learn and who they are as a person; so in essence, self-awareness.  I believe this is such an important element of their development, as they move from early childhood through early adolescence.  The other thing:  I want our students to have a joy of learning, loving to be challenged, loving to find out something new.  I want them to come away with a strong spirit of inquiry – searching out questions as well as answers – because having a passion for learning serves people very well in life and certainly within their academic careers.

A New Touch: iPads Come To Kindergarten

“We were looking for a way to be more innovative with technology in Kindergarten, making it more relevant at an earlier age. 

I thought, what could we do?  How can we change things up?

And I came back to Beth and asked, ‘What do you think about this?’” 
~Sarah Rolle, Director of Technology

By Evan Brown
Director of Communications and Alumni

Winter 2012

October 2010

I am sitting in Dr. Lowry’s office in our weekly administrative meeting talking about the articles for the next Appletree publication.  In a lull, I utter the following suggestion: “What about a technology article, or a story about the iPads in Kindergarten?”
    The intersection of school and technology is not new and certainly nothing new for The Elisabeth Morrow School.  We have computers in every classroom, in our libraries and four tech labs.  Our students use technology for everything from constructing avatars, interacting within virtual worlds, producing multimedia projects, and online collaboration to video conferencing with students, teachers and speakers from anywhere on earth.  Using technology in a meaningful way is a daily fact here.

May 2011

I am standing in a Kindergarten classroom.  I have my camera, intent on collecting photos for publications.  I am looking for compositions and there is so much to see in this classroom: abstract paintings and murals, colorful manipulative materials, beaming smiles, children deep in thought or interacting with peers.  Visually, I see that the children are making Mother’s Day cards, but I am not fully gathering the nuance of the curricular objectives here; I am not seeing with “teacher eyes.”
    One group of children is working on forming letters, carefully rendering their lines and curves in pencil to mimic the models presented.  Another group is drawing, cutting and pasting hearts and happy faces on folded, colored paper, embellishing their cards.  From time to time, a couple of students are called over to another table to work with letter formation on an iPad, tracing the lower case and capital letters with their finger.  All the while, teachers are moving among them, guiding, prompting, suggesting and pointing out when a job is well done and why that is important.  At first glance, there is nothing unusual here; we all made such cards when we were in Kindergarten.  I can remember, many years ago, cutting out the models from a Sears catalogue, gluing them to bright construction paper and scrawling a warm message to my mom: “You are the best MOM.” Some of the girls in my class would make the “O” in MOM a heart.

Wait! iPads were nowhere in sight when I was in Kindergarten.

You Have to Start Somewhere

In the early 1970’s, only a few Kindergarteners occasionally had the chance to peck away at the keys of a calculator, maybe adding a sum if they knew what addition was all about.  The rest of us were given two red blocks, told to find two more red blocks from a box, asked to put them together in a group, count them, and then realized that, surprise, two plus two equals four.  Maybe it is not too different these days.  Physical objects, like blocks and Cuisenaire rods, still work exceptionally well in teaching math concepts to young minds.
The difference is that teachers know that today’s young minds are born into a far more sophisticated age of personal technology.  Technology was not a major factor thirty-seven years ago, but today’s children need a very different skill set, a fact not lost on the faculty of Chilton House, home to Elisabeth Morrow’s Early Childhood Programs (ECP).
    When new technology enters a school, it is usually a top-down delivery.  The more mature denizens are likely to get the latest tools.  This is why it was so surprising to find the School’s first iPads in the hands of Kindergarteners.  ECP Director Beth Anne Brennan explains: “We want to use iPad technology in a way that has an authentic impact on young children, empowering their own learning, sharing with peers so they feel important and responsible.”
    Empowerment.  Cooperation.  Responsibility.  The Elisabeth Morrow School has always been very watchful and intentional when integrating technology within the curriculum.  For Elisabeth Morrow’s Director of Technology Sarah Rolle, bringing iPads into Kindergarten was about picking the best tool.  “Sometimes that involves technology and sometimes not.”  Ms. Brennan concurs, “We will always be grounded in child development here, but again, we need to ask how we can use technology in a way that is productive, engaging, meaningful, safe and fun, while protecting what Kindergarten is all about.
    Introducing iPads to very young children made sense physically, since the devices are a perfect size for little hands.  As Kindergarten teacher Rachel Simonson notes, “There are no peripherals to manage.  For most of the children, using a mouse effectively is still a challenge.”  The iPad works by touch, by pressing, swiping or dragging on the screen, allowing for a level of independence.  For Ms. Brennan, one of the more significant assets of adding iPads to the Kindergarten curriculum is their mobility. “We know that little children don’t easily move from one activity to another. Changing activities and locations repeatedly can make focusing difficult. Children do better when activities can ebb and flow within the borders of their classroom, and having the technology right here in the classroom supports this conviction.”
    Incorporating iPads into Kindergarten was not as easy as it might sound.  There was significant preparatory groundwork.  The Parents Association purchased the iPads in June 2010.  From there, the Technology Department “imaged” the devices, setting identical interfaces, protocols and apps on each device, which were then placed in the hands of the Kindergarten teachers. Throughout the summer, the iPads remained with the teachers. 
    Ms. Rolle explains, “I put on some apps for children as well as some for adults so the teachers would become comfortable with this new technology.  I experimented with a variety of apps, and if the teachers wanted to download more, that was great.  We held a training session in June, just to make sure they were comfortable when they left for the summer.  Once they were familiar with everything, we asked the teachers to look for apps that would be appropriate in their classrooms.”  From the beginning, teachers used a shared Google document to make notes about what apps were interesting, engaging or useful for specific activities.
    A trial run in the classroom came in the summer before the 2010-2011 academic year, when the iPads were introduced to Kindergarten teacher Janet Cohen’s Summer Explorations class.  Adds Ms. Rolle, “I sat down with her and the campers to see how they would respond when told, ‘This week you’re studying animals, now draw something.’  We learned quickly that the children needed to play first.  Although they could comprehend a drawing program and use their finger to draw, they just wanted to explore on their own.”
    In fact, as iPads arrived in the fall 2010, the teachers had to be mindful of their students’ enthusiasm.  “I was there with Michelle Goldstein on the first day,” says Ms. Rolle, “and it was the hardest thing.  She showed the iPad to everyone, and the teachers had to say what they always do, ‘you have to sit still, wait your turn and listen.’  The children rose to the occasion, showing us that they had the self control, despite the fact that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to get a turn that first time.”  Adds Ms. Goldstein, “They were all extremely excited. They all knew what an iPad was when they saw it. We needed them to understand how we were going to handle and use them. ‘This is how you hold it, this is how you turn it on, this is how you touch it.’  That was a concern for us.”
    “We had them use the devices while sitting on the floor,” said Ms. Simonson, “to eliminate a drop.  Or we had them use it in a nook, where it’s not easily stepped on.”  Beyond establishing the rules, “We found that the ones who were more comfortable with the iPads were really good at guiding the children who were not.  While there can be a fear that technology is isolating, we have not found that to be the case.  They like to see what others are doing.”
Teachers made another important discovery.  Says Kindergarten teacher Annie Hur, “It brought a new excitement to learning.  When we introduced iPads for handwriting, the children yelled, ‘iPads!’  Then, we would say, ‘Well, we’re only doing handwriting.’  Although we had been doing handwriting since the start of the year, the iPads infused the task with a new excitement.”
    With this enthusiasm, the students started to share their experiences with each other and teach one another how they got certain results on the iPad. “That’s a big piece of our assessment,” adds Ms. Brennan. “The iPads have allowed our students to think about and share processes more, because it is not always about the end product.  Critical thinking develops when students share and practice what they see others have accomplished.  We are always going back to the process.”
    “They do that informally right now,” says Ms. Simonson, “One child will ask, ‘How’d you do that?’ and the other replies, ‘Oh, I went into Cookie Doodle and this is where I found this, and that is how I did it.’ Which I think is terrific.”  Ms. Brennan explains that teachers already sit, listen and note what children are saying when they are working.  “This is where we assess their higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills.  When children have the chance to be the teacher, it really has an impact; they are empowered by their own learning, and when they share it with other children, they feel important and responsible.”

What Comes Next?

Sarah Rolle says to me, “I think that it’s your call how you focus your article. You can keep it centered on the iPad, but I think that technology has ramped up in certain ways because the Kindergarten teachers have been in the computer lab with the kids.”  She is right: there is more to it than just iPads, and herein lies the story, at least for The Elisabeth Morrow School, and maybe for schools in general.
    Technologies, like the iPads and the interactive white boards recently installed in many classrooms, are injecting excitement into teaching and learning.  Having tools such as iPads in Kindergarten affirms our belief that technology has a place at all levels in our school.  It energizes students and teachers and revitalizes approaches to curriculum for students who live in a digital world.   The success of iPads in Kindergarten had led to the introduction of iPads into first- and second-grade classrooms and into the Special Learning Programs this fall.

The Value of Our Efforts

By David M. Lowry, Ph.D.
Head of School

Winter 2012

During the last two eighth-grade trips to Washington, D.C., we had the honor of meeting with the newly appointed Supreme Court justice.  In 2010 it was Sonia Sotomayor, and last year it was Elena Kagan.  By dint of the projects that the students completed in history class and shared in advance, both of these impressive women met with our students for about 45 minutes, answering questions, talking about their backgrounds and experiences, and sharing their views on their new responsibilities.

To go “behind the scene” at the Supreme Court is stirring and humbling in itself, but to spend time, in person, with judges who are at the very top of our government, whom you only know from their media presence, is equally heady.  As I reflect upon these visits, recalling the exchange of questions and conversation between our young students and the two Supreme Court justices, I find my convictions reaffirmed as to the cumulative value of an Elisabeth Morrow education.  Aside from the good fortune of just being there and having this experience at this age (I certainly never had the equivalent), I noted that the significance of this meeting was not lost on our students.  Try to imagine: there they were, our thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds, poised, articulate, well-mannered (and well-dressed), clearly well-prepared and thoughtful in their questions (charged with relevant information), but perhaps most importantly, highly engaged in the moment.

As we were leaving, the intern who led us to our meeting room pulled me back by the shoulder, slowing my pace so that the students were ahead of me.  She said, “You know, we’ve all been talking about your students.”

“Oh, is something wrong?” I responded.

“Oh, no; we all noticed how polite and respectful they were.  How incredibly knowledgeable they were about the Supreme Court and its major cases.  What good questions they asked.  It is rare to see a group like this.  You are very lucky.”

For some, there are several quantitative measures that determine the success of a student or the quality of a school—tests, portfolios, placement, the acquisition of skills—but these things pale in their accuracy, in my opinion, when you are witnessing children embrace their curiosity, their desire to learn and to know. Truly, on these two occasions, our students were something to see.  I was as proud as any parent would have been, but I have to disagree with that intern.  Luck had little to do with it. On the contrary, luck does not propel these young people to this level.  The credit, in fact, lies with their families, their teachers and themselves—only when such synergy exists between home and school can such results be achieved.  The intern complimented me on our students, so, in turn, I compliment you, our dedicated Elisabeth Morrow community.

Although I can offer no standardized measure, I have seen with my own eyes the value of our efforts.

Game On! The Importance of Participation at The Elisabeth Morrow School

by Aaron Cooper
Assistant Head of School

Winter 2012

Think back on your middle school days if you haven’t blocked them out!  For many, the middle school years may be the most difficult years in one’s adolescent life.  Hormones, changing bodies, social pressures and academic stress can add up.  In fact, the middle school years take students from the apex of childhood to the beginnings of adulthood, a significant and sometimes tumultuous journey.  
     If you can move past whatever negative memories you have of middle school, try to remember the positive times in those years.  Remember the things that helped you get by; maybe it was a group of friends, perhaps it was a passion you poured yourself into, or possibly it was some club to which you belonged.  Whatever it was, you likely emerged from those years with a better sense of who you were and of where your interests lay.  
    As middle school educators, members of our faculty know that there are certain traits within strong programs that can help students overcome the myriad difficulties of this age. 
  • A broad program that ignites and engages interests in the students can inspire their focus: at Elisabeth Morrow, students can take six academic subjects, play an instrument, sing in a chorus, attend a club meeting and go to sports practice, all in the same day.
  • Middle school students need to feel a sense of belonging to a team or group during a time in their lives when they do not even feel as though they belong to their own bodies: advisory groups, dramatic productions, clubs, musical groups, and sports teams accomplish this aim.
  • This is an age where children begin forming their identity – personally, intellectually, and socially – and they begin to learn the role that they play in larger groups: At EMS our students learn that the role they play on a team is important, whether it is in sports, the orchestra, a classroom or in an advisory group.    
       One program that fulfills much of what is necessary for middle school students’ development is athletics.    
       At Elisabeth Morrow, we have developed our athletics program to model that which is best for middle school students.  Beginning in the sixth grade, students can choose from up to four sports each season.  There are no cuts, so they automatically belong to their team, and each student who dresses for a game gets to play in that game, allowing students to learn how to play various roles on teams.  Andy Escala ‘83 is the Athletic Director.  “We are more of a throw-back [school], where participation is encouraged.  We realize that there is more that students can get out of athletics without a win-at-all-costs philosophy.  We teach students to compete and to work with individuals of different skill levels,” says the man who played three sports in high school and went on to play Division I baseball in college and professional baseball afterwards.
     Gone are the days of the three-sport college athlete.  Dying are the days of the three-sport high school athlete.  Specializing in a sport is becoming the norm.  At Elisabeth Morrow, where we value, in the words of our mission, “tradition, innovation, and the joy of lifelong learning,” the model of participatory athletics without the requirement of experience or specialization, truly represents the “best of the old.” 
      The sports program also represents the ‘best of the new.’  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ mission includes fusing the “three Rs and the four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation).” These four Cs which are different from our familiar four, are crucial for success in the modern world.  In its emphasis on teamwork, athletics directly targets collaboration and communication.  In engaging with strategies, athletes exercise critical thinking and creativity.  In Mr. Escala’s words, “Athletics is where people have to work together to achieve a common goal, where everyone’s individual talents are placed together for the good of the team.”  In this way, Elisabeth Morrow is preparing students for success in the modern world with a participatory philosophy that has been declining in our society for years in favor of a focus on individual success.  At EMS, tradition and innovation are wrapped up together.
    Over my years at three schools, I have coached many middle school sports teams.  I have coached some that did not win (I particularly remember an 0-9 baseball season at my last school) and others that did not lose.  Significantly, whether they won or lost, whether the team was terrible or excellent, the students have almost always acted the same way after games: For the first five  minutes, they rehash the game – the excitement of a win or the disappointment of a loss. Then, almost without exception, their focus changes to the new movie, that night’s homework, or some other activity that is important to them.  Further, the success of a middle school team has no bearing on the level of commitment or enthusiasm from the players.  In middle school, students play to be on the team, to have fun with their friends, and to learn something new.  Winning is a smaller priority.  As a coach, I have learned that if I want their attention, I have to hold a post-game team meeting immediately or their minds wander elsewhere.  I have also learned that I – and their parents – hold onto the results of the game far longer than they do. 
    The Elisabeth Morrow teams have a wide variety of talent.  Some teams have been very successful (the ice hockey, boys’ basketball, and volleyball teams have been undefeated in recent years) and others less so.  But wins and losses are not the point:  the goal is giving kids a sense of belonging, some enjoyment and exposure to sports and competition, and the experience of being on a team.
    Our graduates see the value in athletics, and many participate in high school.  “The kids here get a chance to [experience] a little bit of everything.  Even if they play [Junior Varsity], that’s participating.  It doesn’t matter.  Not everybody has to be a superstar, but if they can learn it, enjoy it, and take it with them to the next level, they don’t always have to be the best. It’s just important that they play,” Mr. Escala says.  (See box for two vignettes of our recent alumni and their experiences in sports at EMS and in high school.)
    Whether they are stars or just in it to participate, students at The Elisabeth Morrow School learn the benefits of athletics, both for long-term learning and a healthier lifestyle as well as for short-term strategy in navigating the sometimes-troubled waters of the middle school years.

Built for Children: A Perspective on Little School

By Evan Brown
Director of Communications and Alumni

Winter 2012

“The Little School was given a new building specifically designed to educate young children.  Down the hill from her mother’s home, a model school was erected as a living memorial to Elisabeth Morrow’s vision.   ­­­­­As the decade came to a close, Miss Chilton bent low to shake the hand of each and every student entering the new building on Lydecker Street, echoing the graceful movements of Miss Morrow, who had always treated children with dignity and respect by looking them in the eye and firmly grasping their hand.”
           ~ Tracy Peter-McKee:  from The Elisabeth Morrow School, 75 Years, 1930 to 2005
Two years ago, when I got the call to come to interview for my position at The Elisabeth Morrow School, I was curious. Therefore, one Saturday in the spring of ’09, I rode from Queens to Englewood to see what might lie in store. It took a while to get there, but when I finally found the white shingle sign on Lydecker, I pulled over, parked my bike and walked up the stairs.  I stopped at the first landing to catch my breath and take in the view.  My first impression:
    “You’ve got to be kidding me.” This place was like no elementary school I had ever seen.
    When you climb the steps from the visitors’ lot, you pass vaulting trees with rustling leaves, flowering gardens, scurrying chipmunks, singing birds and the faint sound of trickling water in the distance.  It is also not unusual to encounter wandering deer or wild turkeys that drop in from the neighboring woods.  There are no gates or thresholds here. There are no tall buildings, no statues, sculptures or imagery of any kind to remind you that this is a place of learning.  Just a beautiful walk, a fluttering flag, cottage-like buildings, and, when school’s in session, the students getting a handshake and a “good morning” at the door, leading inside to teachers and classmates who are always glad to see you.
    If you are an Elisabeth Morrow alum or parent, there is nothing revealing about any of this. You may be saying, “So what? Okay, I get it.”  But, take a moment to remind yourself that this place is exceptional.  For most people, myself included, we went to elementary school in glass and brick oblongs, or concrete pillboxes, surrounded by burned-out grass fields, some shrubbery and an acre of asphalt enclosure.  There was no forest, no courtyard, no babbling brook, no smiling teacher at the door looking to shake our hand, let alone wish us “good morning.”        
    Furthermore, extra help wasn’t a one-on-one situation, unless you were the only one in detention.  I am not saying that EMS is the only wonderful elementary school out there.  I am sure there are plenty. Yet, it is important to keep in mind that The Elisabeth Morrow School, by most measures, provides an exceptional experience.  This was and is a school built for children.

“With its profound understanding of children and the developmental stages of their growth, The Elisabeth Morrow School challenges and nurtures each child’s journey toward maturity. The atmosphere here is calm and purposeful: busy hands and minds at work, with an emphasis on respect for all.”
      ~ David M. Lowry, Ph. D., Head of The Elisabeth Morrow School

Walking on that path toward Little School, you may see Mrs. Jane Phend, Elisabeth Morrow’s Principal of Grades 1 – 4, standing at the door, carrying on the tradition of Elisabeth Morrow and Constance Chilton, greeting each and every student.  She possesses a quiet and serene demeanor, a perfect fit for these pastoral surroundings.  When asked about the handshake, I expected to hear that it was a tradition, and you have to keep up with traditions.  Well, yes and no; instead, she says, “The handshake helps me make a connection, recognize them by name and make a personal comment as time permits.” It is no hollow gesture and more than just a common courtesy. The handshake symbolizes a significant characteristic of our school, as it has been since the beginning. It is a sign that we treat children with dignity and respect.  “I enjoy working with students,” she continues, “I like to get to know them, understand their needs and their strengths.  When children have an idea to talk about, whether a community service project, an assembly idea, or a concern on the playground, I like to hear those ideas and try to find a way to incorporate them.”
      In a school marking its eighty-first anniversary, however, tradition does remain important.  For instance, the third graders still study colonial America and culminate the unit by enacting a colonial schoolhouse, and children and teachers still dress the part, dipping candles, weaving fabric and trying out the stockade.  “While traditions may help to define who we are,” says Mrs. Phend, “we try to balance tradition with innovation and newer approaches to pedagogy and curriculum.”
    The “best of the old and the best of the new” mantra has been with the school since its founding, the axiom coined from a quotation written by Elisabeth Morrow in a letter to her mother.  Today, whether the lesson involves iPads or creative writing, the priority for Little School is to provide an engaging educational experience that speaks to all aspects of a child: mind, body and character.  “Skills and concepts can be taught or learned in any context,” says Mrs. Phend, “however, when teachers engage the children, actively bring them in, subjects are more easily and thoroughly mastered.”
    Mrs. Phend’s approach is the norm at Elisabeth Morrow, not an exception.  She simply leads a division of experienced and passionate educators, all focused on providing experiences that captivate the focus and attention of students, building one experience upon another.  The Elisabeth Morrow School is fortunate to have such a cadre of experienced professionals.  Over half of the faculty and administration have worked at EMS for 10 years or more.  For that reason, when Dr. Lowry mentions “profound understanding,” the observation is rooted in fact: our teachers and administrators have accumulated many years of working with children.
    In Mrs. Phend’s case, she has been an educator for over forty years, including twenty at EMS and six years at the helm of Little School. She and her faculty understand the developmental characteristics of the elementary school student. In particular, they recognize this as an age when students take significant steps toward establishing character and autonomy.  To this end, “Our priority is to meet the children where they are and provide a curriculum, both cognitive and social, that fosters positive growth and the mastery of skills and content."

“What I learned about teachers from shadowing students in school is that I absolutely admire teachers who love their subject, who love children, who love the developmental arc of the age they are teaching.  Every time I run into a teacher who doesn’t love the age he or she is teaching, I can sense it; it always feels tragic and terrible.”
          ~ Michael Thompson, Ph. D, Excerpt from "The Pressured Child," lecture, New York City, 2006

Providing hands-on, engaging projects and activities for a class of children is hard work.  Says Mrs. Phend, “From the simplest questions posed by students or teachers, to the choices of literature used in our instructional reading program, or to the problem-solving tasks in mathematics that may be integrated with other areas of study, there is a great deal to consider.  Our teachers recognize the academic, social, physical and emotional needs of the children they teach and plan accordingly.”
    Just down the steps from my office is a third-grade classroom where, last year, the students decided to substitute stability balls for chairs.  Apparently, it is good for developing core strength, the abdominal and back muscles of our torso. Whether they do or do not is irrelevant.  The point is that the teacher, Mrs. Bliesener fielded this suggestion from students, had them talk about and research it, and write up their own rules and guidelines.  When I last looked in, they are still using the balls.
    Think about that.  A room of young children? Bouncy red balls?  Seven hours a day, five days a week?  Seems like a gigantic distraction at first, but they have it working. Here is my take: first, the idea had to be entertained and taken seriously.  Second, the children had to be guided in procuring the balls and establishing their own rules for use, including consequences.  Third, they had to be guided to manage and oversee their own procedures, calling upon more mature behavior as they used the balls for seats.  It is not groundbreaking and it has little to do with the content of the curriculum, but everything to do with developing responsibility and initiative.  As Mrs. Phend pointed out, “We have a clear sense of mission, which is by no means just academics.  Our teachers work hard to help children become balanced individuals, supporting their strengths, creativity and interests, as well as challenging them and assisting them when perseverance is needed.”
    The stability ball initiative, as with many other aspects of EMS, is not necessarily embedded in the curriculum.  These endeavors are unplanned, and require additional attention beyond everything else the teachers must cover.  In many other schools, this suggestion coming from the students would never have been taken seriously.  Very few teachers or administrators would want to initiate such a project, let alone guide it over the course one year to another, from one class to the next.  Yet, such activities occur here, all the time. Why? This faculty loves children. They love the “developmental arc” of the age they are teaching and it shows in every morning handshake, every full-on colonial day, in every red, “bouncy-ball” student suggestion.  A great education is as much empowering students with the capacity and initiative to make their ideas come to life as it is about passing along the “core” skills and knowledge that comprise a more traditional academic syllabus.
    It is a gorgeous and serene walk up the steps to Little School; sometimes we miss these qualities in our hurry to get inside or because it is a trip made so often we no longer register the beauty in the details. We do the same with education.  In our hurry to get from point A to point B, from grade to grade, with a single destination in mind, perhaps we sometimes fail to see what is important along the way.  Remember that this school was built for children, both in mission and in facilities.  We can ponder the right balance between “best of the old” and “best of the new” in what we teach, but these things are marginal when we consider, how we teach.
    For The Elisabeth Morrow School, few things possess the same degree of priority as treating children with dignity and respect.  Mrs. Phend remarks: “I realize that the years students spend in Little School are only a small piece of their educational journey, but their time here sets the building blocks for who they become as middle schoolers, for high school, and beyond.”

Game to Learn

by Marianne Malmstrom
EMS Technology Teacher

Winter 2012
“21st Century Learning” and “21st Century Skills” are two of the most commonly used phrases in education today, but what do they really mean?  More importantly, what do they mean in terms of your child’s success?
    When hearing the term “21st Century Learning,” many conjure images of fancy computer labs and classrooms equipped with smart boards.  Others think in terms of cutting-edge software and Web 2.0 tools that allow students to create, collaborate and publish online.  While these are all tools that are reshaping our culture, simply learning how to use them does not prepare students to successfully adapt to a constantly changing world. The heart of “21st Century Learning” is not about the tools, it is all about learning how to learn. Helping our students become proficient and independent life-long learners is central to their success in navigating through uncharted change.
    Pat Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools, identifies five essential skills for success in the 21st Century: creativity, critical thinking (problem-solving), communication, collaboration and character (citizenship).  While these skills do not always get the priority they deserve in a culture largely driven by content mastery and test scores, they have always been an integral part of our mission at The Elisabeth Morrow School.  Following that mission has served us well in navigating rapid change and keeping our program relevant.  Before adopting new technology or creating new curriculum, we always measure how well it will help us achieve those fundamental goals.
    Over the last ten years, emerging technology has opened new modes for communication.  Our school responded in 2003 by creating curriculum designed to help students understand and use multimedia effectively.  We felt it was important that students be able to express their ideas as clearly and persuasively through images, sound and video as they do using the written word.  Knowing that technology would continue to evolve, we chose to focus on fostering the skills of communication rather than teaching how to use specific tools.  Our early work in this field was ahead of the curve and, subsequently, has earned us a reputation as a leader in teaching media literacy.  That curriculum continues to serve our students well today.
    As we move forward, we constantly look for authentic ways to bridge technology with opportunities to develop essential skills and proficiencies in learning.  One of the most unexpected vehicles for doing this is through the use of games.  At first, this may seem counterintuitive, as we tend to think of school as being a sanctuary for serious work.  While we may not think of games as serious, there is much that they can teach us about learning.  In fact, they offer a unique platform to address all five skills that Mr. Bassett identified as essential for success.  More important, a well-designed game engages the player in a constant cycle of learning.  As players master each new level, they are skillfully guided to tackle more complex tasks.  The challenges are carefully structured to build skills by having players apply previously gained knowledge to new problems.  If you have ever played a game or watched a gamer play, you have observed the inordinate amount of time that can be spent on mastering a new challenge.
New Media: Goldmines for Learning

In 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration formed an “Online Safety and Technology Working Group” to promote online safety for children.  The committee’s recommendations called for children to work online with trusted adults in order to help them form healthy and safe norms.  Think of it in terms of learning to drive a car.  We do not give teenagers a few lectures on driving safety, throw them the car keys and turn them loose.  That would be insane.  Instead, we spend a great deal of time teaching, modeling and driving with them before they are allowed to drive independently.  We need to adopt the same attitude with technology.  By carefully selecting technology that young people use in their everyday lives, we can leverage those platforms to engage students, develop essential skills and learn core subjects while modeling appropriate behavior. 
    Virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are two platforms that can help us accomplish these goals.  Students love them and innovative educators see these spaces as goldmines for learning.
    Virtual worlds are 3D spaces that allow users to interact with each other using avatars.  These spaces give students a unique opportunity to participate in creating their own learning environments.  Each world typically starts with land, sky and water and is programmed with a physics engine that simulates gravity, weather and light cycles.  Users transform the landscape and create all of the buildings, vehicles and other objects that populate that space.  These objects can be programmed to perform behaviors that interact with the environment and the other avatars.  The complexity of each building is only limited by the user’s imagination and skill.
    Lessons within a virtual world typically start with a simple challenge, such as designing a community center.  Things quickly become complicated when constraints are added, such as limiting the number of building units students are permitted to use or insisting that everyone agrees on the design before the building starts.  Students love the opportunity to stretch their imagination and show what they have created.  The complexity of their building grows as they become inspired by each other.  It is amazing to watch how freely they share their newly gained knowledge.  There is a constant buzz, as students move about the room helping each other and sharing what they have learned.  The work is so complex that it is impossible for anyone to be an expert in all areas.  The community only thrives when each member contributes his/her area of expertise to the group.  Arising conflicts and disagreements become part of the learning process, as students negotiate and resolve their own problems.
    MMOGs provide a different kind of learning opportunity.  Using scripted stories, these platforms allow players to interact with others online as they complete challenging tasks within a storyline.  Since many quests require a team to successfully complete the task, the ability to collaborate, communicate and solve problems is critical.  Each character specializes in a specific set of talents.  Players have to manage a great deal of information and adeptly juggle multiple skills in order to play optimally.  Much like sports, team challenges are only successful when each member performs his/her job well.  These games are highly engaging and incredibly complex.

What Makes a Game a Learning Tool?

In choosing MMOGs, we look first at safety followed by what the game will deliver in terms of complex, engaging and imaginative play.  For grades 4–6 we have been using Quest Atlantis, a game designed exclusively by educators.  The platform allows students to interact with teachers and students from around the world, as they help the “Atlantians” rebuild their “Arch of Wisdom.”  In Middle School, World of Warcraft offers a more sophisticated storyline with all the action required to engage young teenagers.  But, do not be fooled!  Just because it is fun does not mean that there is not complex learning taking place.  Students have to learn teamwork quickly to make progress, and there is little tolerance for “slackers.” 
    We have added two new games this year, LEGO Universe and Minecraft.  Both represent a new kind of game design that is a hybrid of virtual world and MMOG, offering a mix of scripted play and the ability for the user to create content.
    LEGO has raised the bar for online play with their first MMOG.  LEGO Universe is a graphically beautiful game designed to inspire creativity.  The storyline calls for players to work together to “save imagination.”  Similar to other MMOGs, players customize their characters and specialize in a specific set of skills.  Diversity is always helpful when teaming up to complete complex tasks such as smashing dragons.  LEGO breaks away from traditional MMOGs by giving players their own property where they can build using virtual LEGO bricks.  Additionally, basic programming skills are introduced as players give their creations “behaviors” using a child-friendly interface.  All of this is done with safe play as a first priority.  Chat is kept appropriate through a game filter that allows only pre-approved vocabulary.  Community monitors are online 24/7 to keep an eye on the play and immediately address any complaints of abuse. 
    We use LEGO Universe in grades 4–8.  One of the most fascinating things to observe is the role-playing that takes place both in and out of the game.  This is true no matter what the age.  There is a constant level of chat as players move seamlessly between stepping into the role of the character and back to reality in order to discuss strategies and provide help to fellow players.  Once, the entire class spent over 30 minutes working together to complete a single group challenge.  They continued to work as a team, repeating the task several times until everyone earned the achievement.  Online games are often thought of as solo activities, but nothing could be further from the truth when playing MMOGs.
    Minecraft is one of the most unusual and compelling platforms that we use.  When you first look at the archaic graphics it is hard to imagine why students are so passionate about this game, but they are. It is actually more of a virtual world than a game because there is no story or script. What sets it apart from other virtual worlds is the constant threat of danger.  The day/night cycle is accelerated to intervals of 15 minutes, and when it is dark the monsters come out.
    Each Minecraft world starts as an untamed wilderness filled with creatures both docile and dangerous.  Players “mine” the materials required for construction and “craft” tools needed for building and survival.  Resources may be scarce or hard to locate.  One runs the risk of losing everything that has been collected if his/her avatar is killed. There are plenty of opportunities for players to stretch their imaginations if they can find the resources and survive the monsters that lurk in the dark.
    The open nature of play in Minecraft is excellent for schools. Learning to build is easier than most other virtual worlds.  This makes it accessible for younger players.  Additionally, private worlds can be created for each class and customized according to specific goals.  Monsters can be turned off, and players given unlimited resources for building.  We currently use Minecraft with grades 4–8 but have plans to introduce it in grades 2–3 later this school year.
    Worldwide, Minecraft has generated one of the most creative and innovative communities in gaming.  Dr. James Paul Gee, Professor of Literacy at Arizona State University, maintains that the real literacies for the 21st Century are developed within these interactive communities that grow beyond the game.  We have observed that with our own students as well.  They like to research changes in the new updates and compete to find the coolest “mods” (programs created by community users to modify the game).  Students often approach us with suggestions for game play or ideas for projects.  They watch videos online documenting incredible feats of construction and then try to emulate them in class.  While we maintain project wikis to document the work we do on all platforms, some of the Minecraft students have taken ownership of their wiki, customizing it to meet their needs. 

Powerful Results

Educators are becoming increasingly interested in understanding the connection between playing games and learning.  Over the last three years, our students have shared their work at four international online education conferences.  They were also invited to speak at a conference held at Kean University.  Teachers at The Elisabeth Morrow School are welcomed to play with the students as part of their on-going professional development.  It is a positive opportunity for both students and teachers to interact in a way where their roles (as teachers and students) can be interchangeable.  In this way, games level the playing field for learning.  Adults can find it extremely humbling the first time they play a MMOG.  They typically walk away with a new insight about the complexity of the game, gaining appreciation for the skills it takes to play successfully.
    It is important that parents also understand this technology.  If we are to help children develop healthy and safe norms online, we need the entire community involved.  At school, we provide safe spaces and play alongside our students.  Students want to continue to play at home and often ask parents to create accounts or purchase the games that we use in school.  As always, it is important that parents be aware of where their children play online.  We encourage parents to ask questions, observe play and even join the game. 
  Virtual worlds and MMOGs hold some important keys to keeping our schools relevant in a rapidly changing world.  We have observed and documented the learning that takes place in these unusual spaces.  It is clear that they are conducive to fostering essential 21st Century Skills.  Students find working and playing in these spaces highly engaging.  When given a challenge, they often exceed the expectations of the assignment.  Beyond the academic lessons, students just want to play.  When they are given the time and opportunity to do this, they astonish us with the complexity of their ideas and how much time they are willing to invest in making them a reality.  It is powerful to watch them take ownership of their own learning as well as take responsibility for solving their own problems.  Clearly, play is an essential part of learning in the 21st Century.

Seeds of Peace: Heritage Inspiring Leadership

by Daniel Scher ’08

Several years ago, my family embarked on a “heritage” journey to Eastern Europe where we visited the small town in Belarus that had been my great-grandmother’s home.  We walked from what had been her house toward a seemingly innocent field that looked like the perfect place for kids to run around. On this innocent field, my great-grandmother’s family and friends took their last breaths after being lined up in a pit and massacred.  On that same trip, my grandfather took us to visit a small local school to which he had donated several computers.  I never understood why my grandfather chose to make this donation until very recently.  At the time, he told me he wanted to teach the younger generations to respect and appreciate Jews.  He calmly explained that the purpose of the trip was not to remind me to hate people who had caused us pain, but to learn how to create understanding among people I’d encounter later on.
        I have discovered that my grandfather’s lesson is a hard one to learn.  When I stood at Auschwitz, imagining myself in a line heading towards death, my first emotions were those of anger and hatred.  I thought of all the things I might have done to fight back; I felt ashamed that so many Jews had simply accepted their fate.  Now, looking back on this moment, I wonder if revenge would have been satisfying.  The longer I think about it, the more confused I become about the answer.
         My doubts about revenge led me to think a great deal about the current situation in the Middle East.  Many people profile Muslims as terrorists and killers without ever actually getting to know any of them. The media helps us to form these conclusions while ignoring the underlying facts:  many people in the Middle East want peace, education for their children, prosperity and safety.  Once we recognize that, we may be able to make progress towards peace in the Middle East.
        My interest in the subject only intensified.  I decided to attend Seeds of Peace, a leadership development program in Maine focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the tensions between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan or South Asia.  The goal of Seeds is to empower young leaders from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the West Bank, Gaza and America with information about the “other side” of a conflict so that young people develop the skills to see beyond stereotypes.
        It’s difficult to put the experience of attending Seeds of Peace into words.  John Wallach, Founder of Seeds of Peace, said, “Treaties are made by governments, peace is made by people.”  From the Seeds program, I hoped to build on what I began last summer when I attended a program at Brandeis University called Genesis.  Genesis focused on bringing Jewish high school students from all over the world to Massachusetts to develop a greater understanding of the diversity within the worldwide Jewish community.  Teenagers from Russia, the United States, and Israel, each with a different level of faith, came together to share their Judaism.  One way of doing this was a Friday night Sabbath activity (referred to as Sichot), during which two different students, usually strangers, were encouraged to talk to each other one-on-one for at least an hour.  I found this technique to be very successful because I had a chance to find common ground with everyone.  Once people discover the ways in which they are alike, they begin to forget the ways in which they are different. I hoped to become one of those who could embody that message and teach it to others.
        In addition to looking at international conflicts, Seeds also sponsors a program to help resolve tensions between Maine citizens and immigrants from Africa.  Each session has a total of 170 Seeds and this is the 18th year of Seeds, making the overall Seeds family around 4,500-people strong.  Seeds of Peace is not designed to get one to agree or disagree; it is a unique process intended to be the beginning of a lifelong discussion.  The entire camp is centered around the hour-and-a-half that we spend together in daily dialogue sessions. The rest of the day is spent like any other athletic camp: playing soccer, swimming, baseball, art, drama, dance, music, volleyball, etc.  We all have such a great time playing sports together that, when it comes to our discussions, it is much easier to put aside our past hatreds and stereotypes.
       Leading up to my time with Seeds of Peace I was feeling a combination of feelings – scared, nervous, and excited.  Before I became part of the Seeds family, I thought of Palestinians and many other Arab people as suicide bombers whose goals in life were to terrorize innocent populations.  As an American, I wondered what my role would be. Not being directly involved in either the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the one in South Asia, I wondered if I would be accepted and what credibility we Americans would have in discussions. I was not sure how I would act if I were placed in the Middle East dialogue group.  Growing up as an American Jew my allegiance was to the Israeli point of view. After the process, however, I learned that where my opinions fall does not matter.  Arguing about events and trying to prove that you are right does not accomplish anything. What is important is being able to learn about others’ perspectives.  If we want to change the world we have to be able to talk to the people who do not agree with us and understand that, for the most part, we all want the same thing: peace.
       Tensions were high during the beginning of camp. When the Americans arrived, everyone, from Palestinians to Indians, were dancing and cheering.  The rest of the camp thought highly of Americans. Some of the stereotypes were not very flattering, but almost everyone respected America. I was surprised how important American opinions were to them and how hard they worked to influence us.  When the Israelis arrived, however, I noticed that none of the Palestinians cheered; it was very quiet.  As the first week progressed, campers mainly stuck to their delegations. Israelis would spend time with Israelis, and Palestinians with Palestinians and so on.  Communication was difficult because international Seeds were nervous and had trouble speaking English so they stuck to their native languages. There were times when dialogue sessions became very intense, accompanied by a lot of screaming and yelling.  As camp continued, however, Seeds  became more comfortable with each other and with speaking English.
       One of my Palestinian friends, Yehia, came to camp to tell Israelis they were wrong.  His brother worked for the government in the West Bank and was arrested 19 times by the Israelis.  He was released after a mere five years because of medical reasons. Imagine growing up under these circumstances – a country you are already taught to hate has basically ruined your older brother’s life. Are you going to grow up wanting peace? No. If he had not come to Seeds of Peace, I bet he would have joined a radical party. Though he may never agree with Israelis on many issues, he became friends with Israelis and learned to understand them.  He was able to put aside the horrible things done to his brother and put a human face on Israelis.  His story moved me so much that at the end of that session, I went up to him and gave him a long hug. He thanked me numerous times for listening to and understanding him. Then, there was my friend Karam from Gaza.  He spoke about how his neighbors died because they did not have the medicine they needed. He told us about how he gets electricity for two hours a day and does not have running water.  He concluded his story by turning to me saying, “Americans have to understand our suffering and help us. My people are suffering everyday and we live like dirt. Please, Americans have to help us. We have nothing. Go home and tell people of our lives and please help us.” I was so shocked by this.  Coming to Seeds I did not expect this role. I did not know what to do. Every day I worry about Karam.  Two months earlier, I would have had no sympathy for either Yehia or Karam. I would not have listened to either of their stories.  Now that I am home I try to message Karam everyday because I fear that something might happen to him and I would not know.
        The Palestinians’ stories of suffering opened my eyes. However, just as I developed an understanding for the Palestinian side, the Palestinians developed an understanding for what the Israelis were going through. One of the Israeli girls talked about her father’s experiences in Gaza.  He was the head of the economic branch and social administration and was forced to drive an armored car to work everyday.  The Palestinians living there would throw stones at his car when he was driving to and from work.  Another girl from Haifa now has to live in fear of a war between Israel and Hezbollah because if war breaks out, Haifa will be bombed.
        Imagine having to fear for your life when doing the most basic things like driving to work. When we had to leave camp, I felt guilty coming back to my nice home in New Jersey. I appreciate the most basic things of life, like running water, electricity, and food. I know my friend in Gaza has none of these. I remember when the Northeast was hit with a terrible storm in March of 2010 and most of Northern New Jersey was out power for a week we all complained, but the people in Gaza live like that everyday. During the Gaza War, they had to live without food, water, or electricity for 24 days and we complained about six. They have electricity for two hours every day and we complain when we lose it even if it’s just for five minutes. If I want to go to the next town over, it’s a five-minute drive. I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to wait at a checkpoint.
        Two of my bunkmates became amazing friends at camp. They live 15-minutes away from each other. One is Palestinian the other is Israeli so they will most likely never see each other again. Being born in America, no matter how wealthy or poor, is a gift. For the most part, we are sheltered from everyday violence that shakes other parts of the world, we are able to speak our minds and not have to worry about our safety, and we can live our lives everyday knowing that we will come home at night. Most of all, we are able to travel the world without being turned away at borders because of our nationality.
        Seeds of Peace has helped me appreciate the most basic things about life, right down to where I was born. It has been an amazing, life-changing experience, not just for me but also for all the other Seeds that shared this experience with me.  The most important thing I developed from Seeds was hope because I saw a transformation in the way that the kids from both sides of the conflict respected each other’s points of view.
        Before I went to camp, I saw Palestinians as suicide bombers who only wanted to destroy Israel. Slowly that stereotype changed. Now, I see everyone from Seeds as someone I love, trust, and want to hear from regardless of nationality, religion or heritage. When I saw my Palestinian friend, Yehia, and the others of his delegations crying when the Israelis left camp, I realized that if one person can change, the world can change too.
        Albert Einstein once said “It is easier to break an atom than a prejudicial thought.” Seeds of Peace has already broken the prejudicial thoughts of thousands of young people like me. John Wallach was right: Peace is not just a ratified treaty but rather it’s a contract between people for building a better future. Seeds of Peace teaches that the human element of peace-making cannot be ignored. It has inspired my fellow campers and me with the realization that, whatever our nationality, we share the same hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations. We all seek a future of peace.
        Since camp I have spoken about my experience to numerous organizations including the students here at Elisabeth Morrow School. I plan to visit the Middle East to see my friends this summer and I hope to stay in touch with them through Facebook and Skype. I am currently looking to study a combination of political science, international relations, Arabic, psychology and economics in college. At Tenafly High School, I am an active member of both my varsity debate team and the honors marching band, thanks to Mrs. Gold.
        EMS built the groundwork for my appreciation of community and the importance of accepting cultures different from my own. It was a special treat to have the opportunity to lead an assembly. I always learned a lot from the speakers at the assemblies while I was at EMS, and I have always hoped that one day I would have the ability to lead one myself. As to the person I have become, I owe much to EMS. Without Mrs. Bower I certainly would not have developed my passion for current events, history, and debating subjects which I continue to pursue in high school. Without Mr. Cooper I would not have become interested in historical texts from ancient Rome; and without Senora Bonasorte, my desire to learn foreign languages. I have continued with Spanish, I took a year of Chinese, and I started studying Arabic.
        When I visited this past spring with other Seeds, I was impressed with the level of student engagement and openness in the small group discussion we had at EMS. The students opened up a lot more than I thought they would and it reflected the openness and knowledge of the community as a whole.
        I would like to thank everyone on behalf of the Seeds family for donating the Middle School Founder’s Day Carnival proceeds to Seeds of Peace.  It means a lot to us as an organization and a family and has meant so much to me, personally, as well.

~ Daniel Scher ’08 is a Senior at Tenafly High School