By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School
From the Winter 2010 Caller
Animals were my first great passion—and my parents allowed me to have them if I cared for them well and showed responsibility. I was filled with the same passion when I first played school in my room, lining up all of my stuffed animals and dolls, assigning arbitrary grades from A to F and relegating some to smart status, some not so smart. At school I watched with rapt attention how my teachers would teach us. At home I would either try to do it the same way or try to modify the techniques that didn’t work for my little class.
It was not until I became a teacher myself that I understood that, as someone with a passion for teaching, I could go beyond what’s expected and work with students to realize their own personal goals and passions. I finally saw that the very best model for teaching and learning centers on the relationship between the student and the teacher. What happens collectively as a class is important, but the one-on-one time a student and teacher have together is the most critical element.
It was a breakthrough for me when I realized that and learned—thanks to Roland Barthes, John Dewey, and others—that children are not receptacles for knowledge from adults, but teeming petri dishes of their own ideas and imaginations. How little my teachers in the fifties and sixties understood that—although teachers in Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel’s schools certainly did get it.
Catlin Gabel is a school where teachers are drawn to teach, and we select them to do so, because they understand how children’s minds work, and they want to be surrounded by colleagues who feel the same.
This Caller is filled with stories of alumni and students who have pursued interests, passions, and yes, even obsessions. Graduates who fall into this category are legion, and the students and alumni represented here are just a small sample. Why would a school of this size produce so many people who lead with their passions and know themselves well enough to do that?
For one, Catlin Gabel provides an unfettered, free-ranging approach to solving problems, approaching assignments, and celebrating process over product. I learned to be a good rider because I studied my horse, paying heed to her temperament and the look in her eye, and treating her in a way that reflects that knowledge. In the same way, the students profiled here, whether involved in a sport, an academic pursuit, or an art, learn the value of deep concentration and focused attention. For example, visual artists, like the ones you’ll read about, see relationships among all disciplines, in color and in shapes, and takes those elements to create an original. But mostly, we at Catlin Gabel encourage students fully and unabashedly to follow their passions. And of course, there is the child herself, who has the gift inside. Parents, teachers, and the overarching ethos of the school only undergird those passions.
Alumnus, alumna, or current student, their uniqueness binds us all together and makes for a very, very interesting place to teach. Enjoy these stories.
Edited from a longer piece published in the December 2008 All-School News newsletter.
Students and parents frequently ask me about the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and how they compare with each other and with Catlin Gabel. Prospective students and their parents ask Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83 and Marsha Trump in the admission office about these programs, too. To help explain to our readers, Karen Katz ’74, communications director, interviewed me about the programs.
What is the history of the AP and IB programs?
In the 1950s educators identified a widening gap between student achievement in high school and college expectations. The AP program was developed to offer college-level curricula and assessment to students in high school. The International Baccalaureate Programme was created in the 1960s at the International School of Geneva to develop consistent curricula at schools in different countries for students whose families moved around the world.
Can you describe the AP and IB programs?
The programs are quite different from each other. One commonality, however, is that both programs establish a point of comparison for students in different schools. AP and IB are offered in a mix of small and large private, public, and international schools.
Advanced Placement is a registered program sponsored by the College Board, which also administers SATs. The AP classes are promoted as college level courses, and some colleges give college credit to students who do well on AP exams. You don’t have to take AP classes to take the AP exams. In fact, we do not offer AP classes, but many Catlin Gabel students take the AP exams and routinely score 4s and 5s (the range is 1 to 5). Paradoxically, we were recently identified by the College Board as having one of the best student success rates in AP math, science, and technology in Oregon and were nominated for the Siemens AP High School Award. However, it turns out we cannot receive the award because Catlin Gabel does not offer AP classes.
The International Baccalaureate Programme offers programs at three age levels: a primary program for students ages 3 to 12, a middle years program for students ages 11 to 16, and a two-year “Diploma Programme” for students aged 16 to 19. In the Portland area only the Beaverton International School offers the middle program. No local schools offer the primary program, although a couple of schools are applying for certification. I will focus on the Diploma Programme, which is offered to juniors and seniors in the United States.
Let’s get back to AP and college credits. How does that work?
Individual colleges decide whether or not they recognize AP credits; some do and some do not. There are ways to advance in college without taking AP tests. Colleges offer their own placement exams, particularly for languages and math. The downside of AP is that you can test out of freshman and sophomore classes that are beneficial building blocks for future academic work. I am a good example of this because I tested into junior English when I entered college. But I feel like I missed the boat by not taking freshman and sophomore classes. I had to learn the hard way about critical writing and constructing a solid research paper. When I entered graduate school I had some catching up to do.
Are Catlin Gabel students at a disadvantage because we don’t offer AP classes?
No. We offer college level courses that allow students to enter higher-level classes in college if they choose. If you are wondering if our students are at a disadvantage in terms of college admission, they are not. College admission offices look at high school profiles to ascertain graduation requirements, grade distributions, college acceptance records, and most relevantly for this conversation, what classes and extras are available to students. If the high school offers an AP program then naturally the colleges seek applicants who have stepped up to the challenge. But if you don’t offer AP classes—and many of the finest schools in the nation do not—then the students are not in jeopardy.
How does the core curriculum for AP differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?
That’s an important question because that’s how Catlin Gabel really distinguishes itself from AP. Students in AP classes are evaluated based on their test scores, pure and simple, so the curriculum is geared toward the test. AP classes emphasize absorbing knowledge and memorizing facts that will appear on the tests. At Catlin Gabel we emphasize depth of understanding, constructing knowledge, and making discoveries. The facts are put into context. In truth, and I am not embarrassed to say this, our students do not do as well on the AP history exams as they do on the math, science, and technology exams because the history test questions are so fact oriented. Our students are accustomed to writing, questioning, discussing, reasoning, and putting history into context — not just memorizing what the teacher or textbook tells them happened on such and such a date.
How does the core curriculum for IB differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?
IB is more akin to what we do at Catlin Gabel. The program is progressive in its approach to learning with an emphasis on critical thinking and providing a liberal arts foundation.
Sounds like you are pretty impressed with IB. Convince me that Catlin Gabel is a better choice.
First of all, I congratulate schools that raise expectations for student achievement. That is vital to turning around education in this country. During rough economic times, I applaud public schools that have figured out how to challenge their brightest students through either the AP or IB programs.
To answer your question, the IB program is impressive, but there are several shortcomings compared to our program. The IB diploma requirements are standardized, and students are, for the most part, locked into a prescribed set of courses. At Catlin Gabel we offer a more individualized approach. For example, a student who is passionate about a subject area can take classes beyond the requirements. Remember, the Diploma Programme is only a two-year program for juniors and seniors. Many students in the IB track are not accepted into the Diploma Programme or fail to meet the criteria for earning the IB diploma, which can be a mark against them in applying to colleges.
One of the capstones of the IB diploma is an extended essay the students write at the end of their senior year. Our students write extended essays in ninth grade and even earlier if they attend our lower grades. IB classes cannot go into as much depth as we can because they have to follow a rigid curriculum. They have set scoring on their tests and projects so their teaching is more standardized. To earn the IB degree, students submit exams and papers to graders in a country other than their own. That means feedback on work is delayed, which is a real detriment to learning. Our students receive feedback quickly through post-test reviews, one-on-one conferences with teachers, and peer edits. Swift reinforcement and critiquing is so important. The IB program and how it is implemented varies tremendously from school to school based on the caliber of the students and the teachers. The local school board, parents, and students have no input into the IB curriculum. To put it in business terms, Catlin Gabel is much more accountable to our clientele
Who is admitted into AP and IB programs in public schools?
The AP and IB programs develop their own selection criteria that differ from school to school. It’s not uncommon for the programs to skim for the highest achieving students, which is fine for those kids, but what about everyone else? At Catlin Gabel we provide equal opportunity for every student to rise to his or her highest ability. One thing I love about Catlin Gabel is that students who excel or struggle in different areas are not segregated from each other. Students who are motivated to take advanced chemistry and biology as seniors hang out with students who finish the three-year science requirement and turn their focus to English and creative writing. We stay connected as a community and students value each other for whatever talents and interests they have.
How is teaching different at Catlin Gabel compared with AP and IB?
Our teachers can shape the curriculum to meet the interests of the students. They can shift the content of a lesson to make it meaningful and relevant to students by letting the students lead the conversation, try the experiment a different way, or present findings unconventionally. Of course, we have an end goal of what we want the students to learn, but getting there can take twists and turns that engage and excite. We allow our teachers the autonomy to teach what they are passionate about. That is the key to inspiring students. We depend on highly skilled, excellent teachers because they create the curriculum and are expected to teach to each student’s learning style and ability. Our teachers’ educations, our mission, small class sizes, student-teacher relationships, and the intellectual risk-taking we encourage generate the learning bonanza that makes Catlin Gabel exceptional.
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, head of school
From the Fall 2009 Caller
A day in school, Charleston, South Carolina, 1964
A picture of George Washington hung on the wall of my class in the antebellum home housing the high school I attended. As I took notes in my thick spiral-ringed notebook, I noted that Mrs. Morgan looked very much like the picture of George Washington hanging to her right: same skin tone, same hairstyle.
The bell rang, and I ran down the hall to French class, distinguished by the one male teacher in the whole school, Monsieur Fraises. Our special pencil for French class had a blue end and a red end. We were to put a blue check next to our correct workbook answers (that day’s lesson was all about the subjunctive) and a red X next to wrong answers. I do not boast, but I got most of them right every time, even though the class just didn’t hold my interest. I turned to examine the huge poster on the wall of Mont St. Michel and dreamed, as I often dreamed in class, of going there someday and eating coquilles St. Jacques, which I’d read about in books. (I finally did both!) In English class my teacher returned our papers on Keats, and they ran red with her comments. I had written that paper all at once, while I was talking to friends on my pink princess phone with the distinctive ring. I always got a minus mark on my papers, and I would ask myself, why try harder? What good would that do?
Lest I be too hard on my alma mater, I know I got a good education. Some of what I learned there came to play a role in my education later—especially when I studied English and more English and more English in college and graduate school. The annotations in my Hamlet and my Palgrave’s Odes and Lyrics began to make sense. I learned to love it all, and the study and teaching of English became my passion and profession.
But as I read through this issue of the Caller, I have to ask myself: Was I the unit of consideration in my South Carolina school, as is our philosophy at Catlin Gabel? I have to answer no—because I cannot think of one single time I was uniquely led or taught by one of my teachers. I learned the material because I was attentive and loved the books, the grammar, the orderliness, the femaleness, and the beauty of the school, and the sense that learning something was an extraordinary thing. Certain themes thread through this issue, which focuses on how we live up to our philosophy in the ways we teach and regard the children who move through our classrooms. Teachers break down the content for students, using their knowledge of how the brain works and how to approach subjects so the material makes sense for each student. We see here 3rd graders being taught as individuals in ways that work for them. Our libraries are troves of information and centers for contemplation and expansive thought, and librarians are the key to unlocking that information. Colleges are selected by students, with the help of college counselors, because they are the next home, not the place “to be.” Our learning specialists explore with students the ways they learn best. And although we haven’t mentioned them much here, our counselors—George Thompson ’66, Kristin Ogard, and Jonathan Weedman—provide additional support to our students, and teach them to care for one another in programs such as Peer Helpers.
When I look back at my young self as a student, I am proud of my own education. In contrast, however, I have come to see the depth and breadth of what Catlin Gabel students, from preschool through 12th grade, both give and receive as they spend their days learning—and I am even prouder of that.
Take advantage of the autumn weather to enjoy a campus walkabout. You’ll always learn new things about our school and see with fresh eyes the wonderful opportunities we provide our students—and the joy and intensity with which they learn and play.
by Karen Katz ’74 communications director, Rummage announcer, and former sporting goods department chair
This year, we celebrate the Rummage Sale’s 65th anniversary. As we mark this milestone, we will also commemorate the sale’s retirement. Yes, that’s right, Rummage is retiring at age 65 after the 2009 sale. I talked at length with Lark Palma, head of school, and Lesley Sepetoski, Rummage Sale coordinator since 2000, to find out why this amazing sale is being retired after this year.
Why are we retiring Rummage?
Rummage is such a great community event. How will we replicate that?
What were the factors that went into making the decision?
Who made the decision to make this the last Rummage Sale and what was the process?
Will there be less financial aid available without Rummage?
What’s going to happen to Lesley?
Is this the first time the school has considered retiring Rummage?
Then why didn’t we retire Rummage sooner?
Let’s get back to the volunteer question. Why don’t we have the volunteers in place to continue the sale?
As an alumna and the mother of one alumnus and one current student, I really value the lessons students learn through the Rummage Sale. What about that?
What about the way Rummage ties into our sustainability efforts?
What will happen to the sorting center?
Is there anything else you want to add?
Lesley: We need everyone to pitch in this year as we celebrate the many lives Rummage has affected so positively, in so many ways, over its 65 years. Join with us (if you can) to help Rummage retire with a hoot and a holler and a whole lot of fun.
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, head of school
From the Spring 2009 Caller
This edition of the Caller is dedicated to teaching and learning. Our mission and our values all emanate from the relationship between students and teachers. Here we celebrate and uphold that unique relationship.
A beloved retired teacher once said to me that it’s all about the students and their teacher—and whether that occurs on a log bench or a classroom isn’t important. It’s the daily back-and-forth, the challenges, the victories, and the trust that matter.
Now, of course we know that buildings, technology, and equipment can enrich and enhance the school experience. But they are all there to serve the learning process.
We have all been concerned lately with our shared economic problems. Here at Catlin Gabel we are also facing those realities, and we do so with the unwavering intention of keeping the essential elements of our school lively and vibrant. If you would like to read more about our approach to these economic realities, please take a look at the letters I have sent to the community, available on the school website (www.catlin.edu) under “Head of School.”
There’s a great scene in the David Lean film Dr. Zhivago in which Yuri and his half-brother Yevgrav talk about how the purpose of the revolution is to cure society’s inequities. The revolution has to be a deep operation, Yuri says, but no matter what, the people must keep living. In planning for the future, we must be vigilant to make sure that teaching and learning are always at the center, and always fully alive, at Catlin Gabel.
By being meticulous in our budget planning, we have made sure to never compromise what happens in the classroom. The board and staff started two years ago considering the importance of accessibility to all the families we want to serve. A major part of our thinking during this economic situation has been keeping the school affordable to families, so this year we increased tuition by the lowest percentage in 10 years. In order to become more accessible we are continuing to reduce expenses, which is particularly challenging in a budget model where revenues don’t change all that much.
I can report to you that we are in good shape financially for the 2009–10 school year and are planning for future years, as we always do, through a five-year financial plan that supports the educational goals of the school. We always keep in mind that donations make possible much of what happens at the school, and we are grateful to generous donors who have supported the school during good times, and during these leaner times.
In making all budget decisions, we ask ourselves: what is essential to teaching and learning?
We decided to continue to improve teacher salaries to meet a benchmark established five years ago: to be within 90 percent of the highest-paying local school districts. This is a strong indicator of how important our teachers are. And to demonstrate our commitment to our curriculum, we have added several school days to our teaching year. When we keep the focus on the students and their relationships with the faculty, what is essential comes into sharper focus.
How have we reduced expenses that we feel are sustainable into the future, not those done just in response to the current situation? Here are some examples, and there are many more.
- Printing and mailing costs have been cut through increasing reliance on our website as our primary mode of communication.
- Fundraising and community events costs have been cut by making them simpler and by requesting donated food and venues.
- Heating, cooling, and waste expenses have been reduced. We have saved over $10,000 so far this year in energy costs alone.
- We are relying more on in-house expertise instead of vendors and consultants.
Students at Catlin Gabel refer to all of us who teach and work here by our first names, an indication of what makes up relationships here—tremendous mutual respect, coupled with an easy familiarity that reduces the power barriers you find in most schools. At Catlin Gabel teachers and students are equal partners in the act of learning.
The pages of this issue are filled with personal stories of teachers and students, and their mutual admiration, respect, and faith in each other. Reading the reminiscences of our alumni, I am struck by the lasting impressions and influence teachers have on their students—and vice versa. Many of our teachers stay in frequent communication with our alumni all over the country and the world, some for 20 years or more. They have become friends.
We can’t predict the future, but there’s always a possibility that the economic situation may worsen—and we acknowledge that as we think about our financial planning. Although choices may continue to be hard, our guiding principle will always be to preserve the most important aspect of the school—the relationship between teachers and students.
How would you rate the year overall?
This was a great year. Catlin Gabel students and their families have been well served by dynamic, engaged teachers. Students at every level inspire us to give them our all. Our programs are strong and growing stronger. Even in this economy we are thriving.
What achievements stand out?
Where do I begin? I am so proud of our students and teachers. If you read the monthly “Congrats!” column you will remember that our athletes, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, poets, writers, chess players, linguists, and musicians took home numerous trophies and prizes including division and statewide championships, international best of fair honors, scholarships, and the honor of having their work published. In addition to awards and titles, our students and teachers have been dedicated community service volunteers, from gleaning for the Food Bank to running a homework club for low-income children. Catlin Gabel shines thanks to the decent and impressive way our kids conduct themselves in the greater Portland community. Those favorable impressions are so important to our reputation.
How does the college landscape look for seniors?
Our seniors are heading off to an array of colleges including big universities and small liberal arts colleges, both near and far. On average our seniors applied to about eight colleges each and had multiple offers of admission. They weighed their options carefully before deciding where to enroll (a few are still waiting to hear about wait list situations). We’re proud of the class of 2009 – and proud that even in this most competitive year for college admissions, our students were often admitted to very selective colleges at rates higher than the national admit rates those colleges post.
What are some academic high points of the year?
The daily teaching and learning is something to behold. The combined Lower, Middle, and Upper School experiential week is a great example of the school improving on something that’s already great. We christened a new Upper School science lab that enhances our program and gives students and teachers room to explore. Each division has a lot to brag about, so I’ll just give you one example of classroom projects or programs that are new this year.
Kindergarten students spent three months exploring everything about water including the physics of how liquid flows, water cycles, and conservation. Their study was inspired by the sustainable water feature they helped design.
Second graders visited Champoeg State Heritage Area three times during the school year to observe the seasons and deepen each child’s understanding of the historical significance of this state landmark. This intensive study of pioneer life and Willamette Valley ecology readied students for their year-end three-day, two-night class trip in late May.
Sixth grade literature circles focused on gender themes. Students selected one book from a list of age-appropriate works and formed small reading and discussion groups based on their choice. After becoming fully immersed in the topic, students made videos, posted them online, and invited 6th graders from other schools to comment. The integration of literature, gender studies, and technology led to exciting conversations about boys and girls and gender identity.
For the first time, the Upper School required all seniors to do a senior project. Previously, many students did senior projects but they were optional. Members of the class of 2009 spent the month of May interning, volunteering, and conducting research at law firms. They wrote daily blogs reporting their progress that have been such fun to read. Check them out on insideCatlin. Parents and alumni have been very helpful in connecting our seniors with great projects, and we hope to expand on those connections as the program evolves.
What were some of the tougher moments for you this year?
I was really worried that the economic crisis would cause hardship for families. I continue to worry about that. I know the school will survive this downturn, but I am truly concerned that our tuition will price people out of the school. I’m so pleased we have been able to offer financial aid to so many students. Another low point was the swine flu scare. Our students’ health and safety are always at the forefront of our decisions, so the potential for a pandemic created a lot of anxiety. We’re out of the woods for now, but we will be on extra alert for months to come. Another anxiety producer for me, personally, was the week we closed school due to weather. I err on the side of caution — it’s never worth risking life and limb to attend school, but when the snow was melting in my Northeast Portland neighborhood it was hard to imagine that things were as bad as they were on campus. I wish I could have enjoyed that unexpected break more and not have worried about how much we were inconveniencing working parents and how we would make up for the missed instructional days.
Is school enrollment stable for next year?
Our enrollment for next year is in great shape. Re-enrollment is strong schoolwide. Some families who thought they may have to leave because of monetary constraints are able to stay because we offered financial aid. We were able to provide enough financial aid to keep our community together. New enrollment is excellent. Fabulous new families are joining us in all divisions. We had wonderful candidates to choose from and strong wait pools. Word of mouth is so important in attracting new students, so I’d like to thank our community members for their role in promoting the school.
You talked and wrote earlier in the year about streamlining programs and belt-tightening with an eye toward long-term financial sustainability. How is the school saving money?
Every division and department head cut their budgets. Teachers were very helpful in thinking of creative ways to cut back. Small savings across the board really add up. Some of the big cost-saving measures include reducing our energy consumption enough to offset utility rate increases, postponing technology upgrades, extending the lives of the buses because they are so well maintained, purchasing less expensive paper for our letterhead and envelopes, cutting printing and design costs for the Caller magazine, posting jobs online instead of paying for print ads, and buying fewer new athletic team uniforms than scheduled. We have reduced our overall employee numbers by 4%, which amounts to a $400,000 savings. We have restructured slightly to use the talent we have in different ways. We are well positioned to meet financial challenges.
How are things going with respect to environmental sustainability?
We are using less electricity, natural gas, and water, and sending less waste to the landfills. Our annual combined savings as of mid May were $13,780, and our avoided costs were $15,881. Also, our traffic count is down 6.5% compared with last year.
How has fundraising gone in this economy?
I am grateful for the generosity of Catlin Gabel community members in a financially precarious year. Some donors have given more generously this year because they know others in the community had to cut back on giving. The Annual Fund is close to reaching goal, with just 10 percent to go before the end of the fiscal year, June 30. Just a few more people need to step up and we’ll make it! Now more than ever it is essential that we hit our goal. The Rummage Sale made goal, and the special appeal for financial aid at the Gambol met goal. The Gambol proceeds were less than we had hoped for this year, but given the economy it makes sense that auction spending and corporate sponsorships would be down. We are making headway with the campaign for endowment and the arts facility. We have scaled back our timing expectations but we are still talking to prospective donors and keeping the needs of the school on people’s minds. Our priorities have not changed. We remain focused on the vision of providing long-term fiscal strength for the school, investing in our teachers and programs, and making sure Catlin Gabel is accessible to our students.
How’s your new hip?
I love it! I’m almost ready to hula-hoop. The worst part of the surgery was being stuck at home recovering. Getting back to work is a tonic.
What are you excited about coming up?
Our initiatives in global education, sustainability, and urban leadership are developing nicely, and we will continue to refine these programs this summer, next year, and beyond. I am certain that we will continue to build momentum for the endowment campaign and the Middle and Upper School arts building. The IT and communications offices are working together to launch a new website this summer, which is exciting and will improve how we communicate with each other. I look forward to every year. When the children grow a foot during the summer, discover new passions, read a pile of books, travel, explore, play, and come back ready for another year of learning – that excites me.
We humans communicate in many ways, verbal and nonverbal, through body language, voice, visual art, dance, and infinitely on. But no other means of communication matters as much in education as the art and practice of writing. The act of gathering and analyzing thoughts, and crystallizing them into language, defines who we are and what we have learned in all disciplines, be it the sciences, the arts, or the humanities.
At Catlin Gabel we have a long history of placing serious emphasis on writing, both expository and imaginative, from our youngest to our oldest learners. Part of our students’ process in becoming bold learners involves developing the confidence and fearlessness to express their opinions and learn their own minds. They learn constantly how to clarify their thoughts in response to new information and new lessons, and how to translate that into the written word. In our high school the students improve their skills through the system of peer editing, multiple revisions, and paper conferences with teachers. By the time our students are through high school, they have pretty well mastered the art of writing creatively and academically. Ask our alumni if they were prepared for college-level writing, and the answer is usually that they were over-prepared!
I’ve seen firsthand how students grow in their written expression. The Upper School students I’ve worked with in independent studies come to me with superb skills, and because they have learned to cooperate and collaborate in their learning, they are always eager to work with me to hone those writing skills. I’m always impressed by their humility and understanding that they can always do better.
Those writing skills serve our alumni well in their adult lives, too. In this issue of the Caller you’ll read about a prolific and noted journalist who’s becoming a novelist; about a lawyer and wordsmith who became a publisher; about a young poet who teaches writing to rural youth; and a professor trained in law school who writes about women and human rights. We have many more stories to tell, beyond these fine examples.
This issue also explores exactly how Catlin Gabel teaches writing, in the words of the teachers themselves. You can see the seeds of our success in their approaches to fostering those skills, as well as the remarkable outgrowth of that learning: examples of writing from our students of all ages. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do, and celebrating the written word at Catlin Gabel.
Dear Catlin Gabel families,
As we head into this holiday season and the turn of the year, it is uncertain how the current recession will affect all of us. But as John Kenneth Galbraith said, "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." It is good to know that a report from Independent Schools Management shows that independent schools tend to weather economic downturns well, if they are careful stewards of their resources and stay focused on teaching and learning.
Be assured that Catlin Gabel is doing everything we can right now to budget prudently for the coming year. I have asked those responsible in every department and division to think about how their area could reduce expenses as we begin to tighten our belts. This exercise has helped us clarify our thinking about which expenses most uphold our core mission and what we can trim. We're approaching this downturn in a spirit of clarity, community, and cooperation. We are boosted by the knowledge that we are well placed to come through these times.
The end of the year is when Catlin Gabel determines the tuition rate for the following school year. In November and December I meet with the director of finance and operations and the finance committee of the board, along with other staff members, to project the tuition figure and the rate of increase. We aim for a tuition rate that will respect the needs of our families while providing an appropriate amount of operating funds. In January the board of trustees reviews the tuition figure and either accepts it or suggests an alternative.
While comparative schools have raised their tuition rates dramatically since 2002, Catlin Gabel has held down tuition increases to between four and five-and-one-quarter percent. This year we hope to keep the increase to a minimum. Our biggest expense is people–our dedicated teachers and staff members–and we must make sure that they are compensated fairly. Especially in a down economy, we want to place as light a burden as we can on families, while never compromising the high quality of our students' educational experience. Setting the tuition rate is difficult, and we want to get it right.
Our families and our students are most important to us. Our priority is making sure that every one of those students remains at Catlin Gabel, regardless of changes in the family's economic situation. Among other concerns, the projected tuition rate depends upon the number of students enrolled at the school, the money we receive through our ongoing annual fundraising and our endowment, and the amount of financial aid we provide to families. In our quest to set the right tuition rate for the 2009-10 school year, I ask all of you to let us know if you anticipate a need for financial aid next year. I encourage you to speak about financial aid with me or Traci Jernigan Rossi '83, admission and financial aid director, if your situation should change.
I thank all of you. I am grateful to everyone who has volunteered for the school or stepped up to help us meet our fundraising goals. Know that we will continue to provide the best possible education for your child, unhampered by any economic circumstances. Our eternal touchstone is the inspired teaching and learning that takes place every moment our students and teachers spend together.
Head of School
This issue of the Caller features great news: Catlin Gabel plans to build a new Arts Center. This will affirm the centrality of the arts in student development and mark a lasting moment in our history.
In undertaking work on the Arts Center, we are acting on our beliefs about the vital importance of the arts and the role of creativity in all our lives. At Catlin Gabel School the arts have been core to the development of students’ minds and hearts. While we weren’t privy to brain research in the 1920s, Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel set our course for vibrant performing and visual arts, fostering creativity, risk-taking, and new ideas by stimulating students to use their whole selves in pursuit of the arts.
I started teaching in the late 1970s. We understood some things about children’s brains then, but with the growing sophistication of brain scans and imaging, much more has been revealed to us. Our teachers have become active in learning about and understanding current brain research, and they bring that knowledge to bear in their classrooms. Many organizations are now devoted to the understanding of how creativity works. The Dana Foundation, a consortium of seven universities, is dedicated to the study of the correlation between training in the arts and improved math and reading skills. New studies find that children who participate in the arts also do well academically and suggest that changes in attention networks in the brain may be one reason. The studies not only look at children’s behavior, but also at the way their brains function as they pursue the arts.
While the arts are a priority at Catlin Gabel, the arts are at risk in our nation. Any museum director, art school president, or working artist will tell you so.
The history of the arts in American education tells us that with Sputnik, “artsy” pursuits were abandoned in many schools in pursuit of math, science, and technology. We simply were not keeping up with the Soviets on the world stage.
Since the ’80s we have witnessed a decline in arts programs of all kinds in elementary schools, secondary schools, and colleges. Music, theater, and visual arts programs are still being cut. Colleges are putting their resources in business, science, technology, and sports. The thinking is that the arts are just not as important and do not draw the same crowds. What can you do with an art major, they say, much less an acting degree?
I see three solutions to this problem in American schooling:
* Reposition the arts as central to the cognitive growth of students.
* Ensure that the link between arts and cognition through neural mechanisms is studied and explicitly put into pedagogical practice in schools.
* Ensure that the creativity needed to pursue entrepreneurial ideas is explicitly extended to the rest of the curriculum.
How do we do this at Catlin Gabel?
Our teachers learn more every year about the link between arts and cognition, and how to apply that in and out of the classroom to expand students’ capacities for original thought. Every child every year has an opportunity to delve deeply into visual and performing arts, with projects and assignments often linked to other disciplines. This not only provokes creative thinking in the classroom and school activities, it creates a habit of thinking that lasts a lifetime.
As one example, our robotics team had to conquer the problem of propelling a ball of a certain weight forward a certain number of feet. By trial, error, and mathematical calculation they got closer to the solution, but it was a flash of creative insight that revealed that an underhand throw gave the height and distance needed. See the article on page 16 about the many ways technology has helped to facilitate insightful thinking, with examples of students learning language, understanding complicated mathematics, and more.
An onlooker need only observe our children at Catlin Gabel pursuing arts with focused determination to see that imagination at work. In creating an artifact or performance, unlike playing a video game or participating in an athletic event, the child makes up his or her own rules. The act of making, creating, and imagining comes from the child, not from a system already in place.
In his new book, The Five Minds for the Future, Howard Gardner introduces the Creating Mind. He says, “More than willing, the creator must be eager to take chances, to venture into the unknown, to fall flat on her face, and then, smiling, pick herself up and once more throw herself into the fray. Even when successful, the creator does not rest on her laurels. She is motivated again to venture into the unknown and to risk failure, buoyed by the hope that another breakthrough may be in the offing.” The relationship between creativity spawned by the arts and Catlin Gabel’s unflagging belief that children must make their own mistakes and learn by trial and error intersect beautifully to educate and graduate such risk-takers.
This magazine is filled with stories about our alumni who have forged culture-changing businesses and creations. I think that Catlin Gabel can claim credit, since its founding and that of its predecessor schools, for understanding and continuing to believe that students’ creativity and risk-taking can create better possible futures. You can witness this creativity every day on the Catlin Gabel campus in places such as the new science laboratory, the media arts classroom, the environmental studies class, the Urban Leadership Program, and the Not as Easy as It Looks preschool circus. See it flower after Catlin Gabel in the lives of our alumni who risk everything to pursue an original idea, backed by the self-confidence they gained during their years on our campus.
Independent research has confirmed what we already knew: our community cares deeply about the arts, financial aid, and strengthening Catlin Gabel’s financial future. In addition to building the Arts Center, we plan to broaden and deepen our community by increasing our endowment for student financial aid—a pillar of a strong school. We will also focus on raising funds for general endowment, to support our teachers and programs and to make the school accessible. In order to benefit today’s freshmen and sophomores, and minimize rising construction costs for the Arts Center, we aim to raise significant funding for the arts by spring of 2009. Simultaneously, the school will raise money for endowment— and we are equally committed to both priorities. You will read in future Caller issues about our commitment to financial aid and the role of endowment in our school’s immediate and extended future.
Dear Catlin Gabel families:
During this period of economic uncertainty, I assure you that Catlin Gabel is in an excellent position financially and otherwise to provide students with an extraordinary education. We are committed to preserving our current level of excellence. Our highest priorities are our students and families.
Our resilience has been tested in the past, and we have demonstrated that Catlin Gabel is a robust institution. We are grateful to generations of guardians—trustees, financial advisors, and school leaders—who have made our financial security a priority.
We are currently operating from a solid cash position and have no long-term debt. Although our endowment has sustained a loss, the funds are diversified and well managed by Angeles Investment Advisors. Our endowment committee members, selected by the board of trustees, have strong ties to Catlin Gabel and extensive financial experience. They take their stewardship responsibility seriously and have provided superb oversight of the school’s endowment.
Just like most families, we are looking for ways that we can cut back. We are redoubling efforts to spend our resources efficiently without compromising the quality of our program. Our annual budgeting process is transparent and is scrutinized by the finance committee of parents, trustees, and business office staff members. Given the imprecise nature of economic forecasting, we are working on several budget scenarios that position the school to meet any number of contingencies before committing to the 2009-10 budget.
Catlin Gabel has been ahead of the curve in planning for financial sustainability. Long before the economic downturn began, we knew that rising tuition poses a challenge for some Catlin Gabel families. For the past 18 months we have been working to address the financial squeeze by raising money for endowment and looking at ways to slow down tuition increases.
Recently, many parents received an annual fund appeal in the mail. While the timing may seem awkward, reaching our goal is as essential this year as in years past, perhaps even more so. Maintaining our robust program for students depends on the annual fund. We are optimistic that those who can give will give.
People have asked if it is appropriate to go forward with the capital campaign during the economic slump. I say yes. (As a reminder, the campaign is focused on raising funds for endowment and for an arts center.) Raising money for the endowment—especially to increase our financial aid resources—is more important than ever. Parents affirmed this priority in their responses to last year’s affordability survey. Economic volatility does not change our need for a new arts facility. The current Middle and Upper School arts classrooms and studios are inadequate compared with our other facilities. Today’s students and future students deserve an arts building that reflects the high value we place on creativity and discovery. That said, I assure you that we will not take on debt to meet our building needs. We will build the arts center when the time is right. Our donors will set the timeline.
Parents at independent schools consider education a long-term commitment to their children. If your family has experienced a sudden economic hardship we want to do everything we can to help. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83, director of admission and financial aid, is available to help you plan for the future. You can reach Traci at 503-297-1894 ext 346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will ride out this storm together, carefully stewarding our resources, adjusting as necessary, and doing what we do best: inspiring our students through innovative teaching and learning. Your confidence and support is heartening.
Catlin Gabel is in the early stages of a campaign to raise money for endowment and a Middle and Upper School Arts Center. This Q&A primarily addresses questions about the Arts Center.
Is the Arts Center a luxury or a programmatic need?
The Arts Center is first and foremost a programmatic necessity. During the past 15 years, as the school has grown, the square footage dedicated to the arts per student has decreased. Educationally, the arts are a core of Catlin Gabel’s philosophy and are key to a well-rounded education. In no other discipline do critical thinking, problem-solving, predicting outcomes, analyzing, reassessing, and creativity come together as they do in the arts. In turn, the intellectual challenges posed by visual art, music, and theater facilitate learning in all other disciplines.
Will the arts program change?
It already has. As a progressive school our curriculum evolves and adapts to student interests. We have recently added essential new arts programs including Middle School drama, filmmaking, media arts, and photography. We have reached the point where the facilities limit our choices and compromise our vision.
Are the facilities really that bad?
The lack of adequate space for teaching the arts has been singled out in our last two accreditation reports as an important area for improvement. Our students deserve better than making do in shoddy outbuildings that were constructed for temporary use more than 30 years ago! Even with these challenges, the arts at Catlin Gabel have continued to thrive – thanks to the tremendous effort, flexibility, and talent of our teachers.
How quickly do we need to raise the money if we want students in the building by 2010?
We want to press forward with this ambitious timeline to avoid materials price increases and to provide our students with new spaces as soon as possible. We need to raise at least 75% of the cost – $5.6 million – by this spring in order to open the doors to students by fall 2010. And we need to be confident that we can raise the remaining 25% of our $7.5 million project before proceeding.
Why are we launching a campaign when people are worried about the economy?
It may seem counterintuitive to announce a campaign during uncertain economic times, but this campaign addresses the school’s financial security in two important ways. First, by focusing on the growth of our endowment we are setting in motion a plan to alleviate upward pressure on tuition. Second, building appropriate and forward-thinking arts facilities secures our school’s national reputation of superbly educating the whole child for life.
I know this is a stressful time for many people, given the current market challenges. I also know that history’s greatest philanthropists have stepped forward during the most difficult times, and I am confident that those in our community who can, will.
What makes you so confident?
Catlin Gabel parents, trustees, alumni, and friends are incredibly generous and loyal to the school. We are successful in raising funds when the need is clear like it is for the Arts Center. In addition, our savvy community members understand that increasing our endowment is insurance for a healthy future. During my tenure, we have successfully raised money for professional development, endowment, property acquisition, and building or remodeling the track and field complex, the Beehive, and many Upper School facilities including the math, science, modern languages, and humanities buildings, the library, and the Dant House. Our achievements make me optimistic about what we can accomplish.
Does tuition pay for buildings?
Unlike many independent schools, we do not assess a “building tax” on our parents to pay for new buildings. Instead, we fund projects with charitable gifts.
How did you choose what to fund?
The school conducted a comprehensive process to determine the campaign priorities. We developed a strategic plan and a master campus plan. The Imagine 2020 community conference in spring 2006 identified the most important skills the class of 2020 should obtain. Task forces and internal feasibility studies further refined our focus. The resulting priorities — endowment including financial aid, and a new arts facility for the Upper and Middle Schools — surfaced as the most urgent needs for the next five years.
How did you determine the amount to raise?
The campaign goal is based on interviews in which we asked a representative sampling of donors what we could reasonably expect from this community. For the Arts Center we considered the recommendations of our architects and builders, who are mindful of our restrained budget and desire for a simple yet forward-looking and sustainable facility.
My kid is not that into art, music, or theater. Why should I support an Arts Center?
Equipping students for leadership, success, and fulfillment requires much more than academic and technical instruction. Recent brain research is proving the value of training and exercising our creative skills. And, statistically, the measures of success in college, particularly in math and science, are directly related to the scope and depth of previous arts education.
Where will the Arts Center be and what will it look like?
The Arts Center will be built west of the Dant House between the Middle and Upper Schools and will bridge the two divisions. The grassy meadow behind the Dant House is “sacred” space and will be protected. The architecture is Northwest contemporary with lot of light and clean lines. Energy conservation and sustainability have been at the forefront of the design. I cannot adequately describe the design – it’s a visual! Join us for the evening Celebration of the Arts event on October 20, where we will unveil the plans. Also, some of the plans are being published in the upcoming Caller.
How can parents and alumni get involved?
If you’re jazzed by the prospect of a new Arts Center and want to help, e-mail or call Miranda Wellman '91, associate director of development, 503-297-1894 ext. 308.
The first day of school is right around the corner and I couldn’t be more excited. Teachers are busy preparing for students to join us on campus. From the Upper School, where the new science lab gleams with possibility, to the Lower School, where first grade teachers are sorting books for their classroom library, the campus hums with anticipation.
Host families are reaching out to new students and parents to smooth transitions. Preschoolers and kindergartners enjoyed summer play dates on campus with a terrific get-to-know-you activity: running through sprinklers. Second graders had an ice cream social. Upper School pre-season sports practices have brought new and returning athletes together. After the first few weeks of school nobody is a stranger.
Faculty and staff members who are new to the school are becoming oriented, and we are getting to know one another at retreats. I can’t wait for you to meet our remarkable new teachers and staff members. Read about them on pages 4 and 5. I think you will agree; Catlin Gabel attracts the best and brightest.
Ours is a school with a deep history, fine traditions, and generations of community members. But each year’s infusion of teachers, staff members, students, and families offers opportunity for asking why we do things the way we do, for reflecting on our strengths and weaknesses, and for embracing change and growth. I hope those of you who have joined our school community feel free to ask questions, share your ideas, and assert yourselves in all that you do here.
A few years ago when the admission office hosted an event in the Barn for incoming freshmen, I observed how easily we can be insensitive to newcomers in our midst. The event was for both current Catlin Gabel 8th graders and students coming to the Upper School from elsewhere. Some of our 8th graders clustered together in front of the Barn, giggling and gossiping. They had unconsciously created a closed circle with their backs turned to new arrivals. Knowing this would make new students feel unwelcome, a teacher approached the huddle and gently reminded current students to open their circle and greet our newcomers. That was a teachable moment — for all of us.
It is fun for returning students and parents to come back to campus after summer vacation and see old friends. At the same time, please remember to open the circle and include new folks in your conversations. Extend a hand, say hello, introduce yourself, ask if you can give directions.
Our curiosity about one another is an extension of our curiosity about the world. You never know when someone you meet will become a beloved friend, favorite teacher, or business associate. I challenge each of you to seek out people you have never met before. Help our students remember this simple act of kindness, too. Learning about each other opens doors, opens minds, and opens hearts.
Here’s to a great year ahead. Welcome and welcome back!
By Lark Palma, head of school
|Head of school Lark Palma leads students in Turkeys Saklikent Gorge|
I remember the anticipation I felt as I got on the train to Tacoma in the fall of 1995 for my first experiential education trip with Catlin Gabel. Fifty-two 6th graders, Middle School teachers Hannah Whitehead and Brenda Duyan, and I were going to Charles Wright Academy. Together we slept on the gym floor, went to class, ate delicious food, and enjoyed spending time with our colleagues. I marveled at the way Brenda and Hannah played the role of social engineers, delicately dealing with gender issues, social disappointments, and the balance between having all-out fun and being considerate guests.
Many other experiential trips have followed that first satisfying foray. On numerous adventures to Mt. Hood with seniors we’ve worked together building buck and pole fences, enjoyed the warmth of the fires, wandered the periphery of the cabins with flashlights against a starlit sky—reveling in the beautiful and utter silence—and woken to the early morning sound of clattering pans and the smell of coffee. We’ve learned to work as a team and value one another’s skills, enthusiasm, and senses of humor.
My latest trip with students, to Turkey last summer, was remarkable. Together we experienced an absolutely unfamiliar culture and tried to grasp, each of us, how to incorporate into our own lives the sights and sounds—the bustle and smells of the market, the call to prayer, the starving dogs and cats, the kindness of the people, the dankness of the cisterns below the streets of the city. We talked about ancient history as we saw the panoramic views of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas from the plains of Troy and the battlements of Crusader castles, as well as Lycian, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman ruins. We reflected on war, life, and death at the Gallipoli graveyards, where Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims lay side by side.
I’ve enjoyed these times with students and faculty over the years; my memories of each trip are vivid. But it’s the changes of heart coming out of these irreplaceable experiences that matter: watching students grow and gain the courage and confidence to make decisions, being with them as they stretch their ideas of what is normal and familiar.
Hands-on learning certainly takes place on trips, but more often these experiences happen on campus. I have seen students determining the circumference of Schauff Circle, constructing fairy habitats in the woods, building sophisticated robots for competition, moving the goats and sprucing up the campus, freshening Corkran Pond, and studying our food service for its sustainability and healthfulness. We know, as Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel did, that education happens best when children connect their classroom learning to the world around them—testing their knowledge through nature, activities, and other people. In all these activities, by doing something concrete, children actualize what they are learning, taking knowledge out of the realm of abstraction and into reality, coming to see how they will move through their own lives.
Experiential education is part of Catlin Gabel’s core identity. This issue of the Caller includes many examples of our commitment to this important aspect of learning. I hope you enjoy these stories and remember what these kinds of experiences meant to you when you were young and eager to figure out the world for yourself.
Which colleges did our students select?
Boston Univ. (3)
Claremont McKenna (2)
Colorado College (1)
Evergreen State (2)
Lewis & Clark (2)
Mt. Holyoke (1)
Oregon State (1)
Portland State (1)
Sarah Lawrence (2)
Seattle C.C. (1)
Soka University (1)
Trinity (Texas) (2)
Univ. of Brit. Columbia (1)
Univ. of Edinburgh (1)
Univ. of Oregon (1)
Univ. of Oregon Honors (1)
Univ. of Pennsylvania (1)
Univ. of Puget Sound (3)
Univ. of Vermont (1)
U.S. Air Force Academy (1)
U.S. Military Academy (1)
Washington Univ. (1)
Where were our students accepted?
Which colleges did our students select?
The end of the school year is a time for transitions and milestones – retirements, relocations, good-byes to old friends, and hellos to new students, parents, and teachers.
The most poignant transition of the year is bidding farewell to our seniors as they embark on the next phase of their life experience. A Catlin Gabel education is not an end in itself; earning that diploma is a milestone. College and other post–high school experiences are continuations — other venues in which to grow, test limits, try new things, and solidify talents.
Catlin Gabel celebrates each student’s achievement — the benchmark for success is hers or his alone. Given the current frantic culture in regard to college admission, it is difficult to maintain the ethos around personal best, good college fit, and the notion that the next stage after Catlin Gabel is just a step on the journey.
I admire the Class of 2008 for their many gifts: their intellects, work ethic, athleticism, aesthetic sensibility and artistic talent, their enthusiasm for service to people close by and to people who suffer far away, their fervor to know and understand the world, and their involvement in politics and policy.
College acceptance is not what really matters
We have advised and counseled our seniors as they dealt with what may well be their first real-life contest. People who don’t know them made decisions about their futures in a tremendously competitive arena. Happily, the decisions turned out favorably for our kids. (More on specific college acceptance information later.)
Could every one of our students achieve at every school he or she applies to? Absolutely. In recent years, we find ourselves saying things like, “They were crazy not to take her.” “Who are they accepting if they didn’t accept him?” The fact is that college admission is an unfathomable, illogical process to which we attempt to ascribe logic. Why do most students apply to the same 25 colleges when there are hundreds of great colleges in the country? Many lesser-known colleges seek high-achieving students and offer substantial financial aid, yet their applicant numbers are low. Just as we accept the inestimable value of a $500 stroller and a $4 coffee, we are convinced that 25 well-marketed colleges deliver superior programs because so many people want to go to them. Sometimes that is simply not the case. A good college match depends on the temperament and personal and intellectual needs, of a particular student. The amount of time and energy spent on this enterprise suggests that college admission is more important than picking a life mate or finding happiness in a vocation and an avocation.
What really matters for our students is what they do when they arrive at college. Our seniors have learned to learn while engaged in reading and writing, examining molecules, testing hypotheses, painting portraits, building community, and playing soccer. College and life beyond Catlin Gabel will provide our seniors with many opportunities to continue learning and they will grab those opportunities with zeal.
This may be a shocking admission, but when I was the college counselor at my son’s school, I did nothing to help him decide where to apply. I left that to him. It all worked out just fine. The decisions he made have resulted in a satisfying, fulfilling life with a great partner and two children. He is a wonderful husband, father, and son. Where he went to college has nothing to do with any of that.
Class of 2008 by the numbers
As headlines in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other media blast the news that this is the most competitive year for college admission, our senior class defied the odds. Sixty percent of our seniors are attending their first-choice schools. Ten percent more will attend their second choice. Students from the class of 2008 (including those who have deferred enrollment) plan to attend 45 different colleges or universities, 53 will attend private colleges, and 11 will attend public colleges. The biggest group of seniors, 45 percent, will move to the East Coast for their next adventure, 25 percent will stay in the Pacific Northwest, 11 percent will travel to California, and the remaining 19 percent will venture to the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, the South, or abroad. Link to list of colleges the class of 2008 plans to attend.
Thank you, parents
Many thanks to the parents of the Class of 2008 for supporting the joyous and busy lives of Catlin Gabel students. I sincerely appreciate you for years of feeding and driving kids, watching performances and athletic events, hosting and attending get-togethers, volunteering, and turning out for numerous meetings. Your children progress in this world with habits of heart and mind learned from you, and from their teachers and classmates during the Catlin Gabel part of their journey.
Just before break I had the pleasure of getting together with alumni who live in the Bay Area. Catlin Gabel’s former students are always interested in what is new at the school and how we adapt to technology, globalism, and current trends in education. They also love to hear about traditions that they remember from their school days. Lower School Experiential Days, Middle School Breakaway, and Upper School Winterim are among our alumni’s favorite memories, and they are delighted to know that their alma mater continues to offer breaks from classroom learning for cross-graded extended blocks of time devoted to experiential learning.
I am impressed every year with the imaginative, educational, fun, and new offerings our students, teachers, and parents design for Winterim, Breakaway, and Experiential Days. This year for the first time we ran Breakaway and Experiential Days concurrently, so there were several groups that were not only cross-graded, but cross divisional, as well.
Learning by doing
The benefits of experiential learning are numerous. Most people learn best by doing. The hands-on activities offered through these multi-day immersions in an activity are truly hands-on. Lower School students in the “From Sheep to Shawl” project learned to knit and further immersed themselves in the topic by visiting a sheep farm to learn about turning wool into yarn. Middle Schoolers in the EnertiaKarts class designed and built both conventional and electric racing go-carts and learned about batteries, brakes, chassis design, and steering along the way. Upper School students interested in computer games didn’t just play computer games; they developed a computer game using design, programming, music, and creative skills.
Learning by traveling
Helping students take risks is a major component of experiential learning. One of our favorite ways to stretch students is through travel. Fourteen fifth grade students traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they stayed with host families from the Summit School. This exchange is a longtime tradition for our two schools. Middle School students who study French traveled to Martinique, which gave them a language and cultural experience they will never forget. A group of Upper School students traveled to San Francisco to explore the city’s cultural and ethnic history through museum visits, talks with history professors, and tours.
Learning by going outdoors
We like to encourage students who are not experienced outdoor adventurers to take advantage of Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim to try something new. Both the Lower and Middle Schools offer snow adventures for novice skiers or snowboarders. Hiking and rock climbing are also popular options. This year, 12 Upper Schoolers had the good fortune of traveling to the Grand Canyon to raft the Diamond Down stretch of the Colorado River and hike its many side canyons.
Learning by playing
Many of our students take part in sports experiences during our four-day learning periods. One of the combined Lower and Middle School offerings gave students a chance to learn about basketball from all angles. They played the game, went to a Trail Blazer game, visited the Nike campus to design shoes, and met with former Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey. Another group learned all they could about fly-fishing. Upper School students explored the world of sports in a Winterim dedicated to sports played around the globe. We’re not sure cricket will catch on at Catlin Gabel, but at least one group of students tried their best to learn the rules and ropes of the game.
Learning by helping others
One popular Winterim class is volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Catlin Gabel Upper Schoolers and faculty leaders work hard to improve housing in our community. Learning construction skills while benefiting our community epitomizes our commitment to experiential learning and service.
This is just a sample of the exciting, creative, and focused learning that happens during Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim. Students gain enormously from the chance to engage in activities in depth, take risks, form new relationships, and make choices about what they want to learn. Catlin Gabel’s commitment to experiential learning is steeped in our progressive tradition. When our current students are alumni, they will ask if we still have experiential days programs at Catlin Gabel. We will most certainly answer in the affirmative.
We are fortunate at Catlin Gabel. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary we can plan for the future from a position of programmatic and financial strength. Given our financial security, we can afford to picture a future where fewer families feel squeezed by rising tuition. We can imagine admitting students without regard to family income. We can visualize a responsive program that adapts to the needs of a rapidly shifting world. We can dream of offering salaries that attract the nation’s best and brightest teachers. The key to all these dreams is, in a word, endowment.
The national trend, as reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, is for independent schools to behave like colleges and universities in their efforts to raise endowment money. Independent school heads nationwide are talking about the power and positive effect endowments have on the life and future of our schools. Now, at a time when obtaining a superb education is out of reach for many average American families, it is imperative that independent schools secure the funding that addresses this reality.
Endowments are the most powerful way to fund the heart of an institution like ours: its students and teachers. In the simplest terms the endowment is an investment fund that generates dividends. Financial managers who advise the school administer our endowment. An advisory group of longtime supporters (primarily alumni) monitor our endowment for future generations. The endowment principal itself remains untouched while the dividends, interest, and market value increases gained from investing wisely, are available for spending. Like most schools, portions of Catlin Gabel’s endowment fund are earmarked for specific programs such as financial aid, while other portions are allocated for general operations.
Where we are, where we’re going
We are grateful to prudent benefactors such as Howard Vollum, who seeded our endowment, and the Malone Foundation, who recently increased our endowment, with eyes toward the future. Currently our endowment stands at $24 million. This year we transferred $900,000 to use for current operations including teaching assistants, scholarships, global education, robotics, and athletics.
The National Association of Independent Schools recommends an endowment that is at least three times the annual operating budget – this year our operating budget is $15 million. Other financial experts recommend that a school of our size retain an endowment of at least $50 million. It is clear we must increase Catlin Gabel’s endowment to protect our academic integrity, develop new programs, and remain financially strong.
Catlin Gabel’s endowment is on par with some independent day schools, but well behind others we aspire to emulate in this regard. The Blake School in Minneapolis has a $50 million endowment; Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles has $56.5 million; Honolulu’s Punahou School (where former CG headmaster Jim Scott now leads) boasts a $177 million endowment; and Lakeside School in Seattle has a $154 million endowment.
Catlin Gabel has reached a mature stage when increasing our endowment must be one of our top priorities. A robust endowment will ensure thoughtful growth and give us the breathing room we need to secure a strong future for teachers and students. I look forward to the day when our endowment provides the school with the freedom to turn all of our aspirations into reality.