Campus walkabout with Lark Palma, head of school

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Lark tours readers on a morning walk across campus

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. 

Start around 7:45 a.m. at the college-like quad at the center of the Upper School. Students arrive on campus, chatting about papers in the making as they organize their books for the day. They gather early in the science classrooms to set up experiments and consult with their teachers about their lab work. A senior girl is off to OHSU to examine the skulls of rats to analyze their proclivity for a certain disease.
If you walk to the Middle School by way of the back of the Dant House, peer into the old pump house with its rooster weathervane on top, a little gem of a building that reminds you that Honey Hollow was a farm before Catlin Gabel settled in.
The Middle School buzzes with energy, from both teachers and students. Seventh graders write interviews of each other, and in the process learn as much about writing as they do about each other. Sixth graders puzzle over challenging ideas in math, metaphorical lightbulbs going on over their heads as they begin to understand the solutions. Eighth graders create self-portraits in art class, learning to loosen up their hands and experiment.
As you walk toward the gym you pass by the 6th grade organic garden, which supplied some vegetables for lunch this week. Athletes are already out on the fields playing ball games that draw on their skills and develop new ones. Inside the gym, you can hear the clunk of machines from the second-floor weight room as people of all ages build muscles and endurance. Lower School students learn about core strength while they balance on balls of various sizes.
Take the path between the gym and the tennis courts, those cavernous buildings suitable for tennis, basketball, and the like. A thwack reaches your ears: sounds like badminton is the game of the day.
Wind your way up the steps of the Barn – peer in the kitchen as fresh meals of fish, meat, pasta, soups, and breads are prepared from scratch. The kitchen crew feeds about 800 people a day in four seatings – a remarkable feat. Every day the food is tasty and healthy with controlled but satisfying portions, and everyone leaves looking pretty happy.
No trip through campus is complete without a walk around the track, with its busy birds flying by. The silhouette of the trees against the western sky creates endless photo opportunities any time of day.
Have you ever seen the fairy tree? Or the old foundation of a building that time forgot? Start on the path back up, but then take the path less traveled, the one to the left, for some fun surprises. Alternatively, head directly back up the hill to the Lower School. Watch for fairy habitats amid the ferns and decaying logs that line the paths.
First stop in the Lower School is the homey and inspiring art barn, where odors and colors of clay, paint, fabrics, yarn, and hot glue mingle in lovely heaps that become things of beauty.
Enter the Lower School building by the door between the 2nd grade and science classrooms. Children in the science room measure, gather, think, and talk in quiet rapt voices about the data they are collecting. Enjoy the myriad fossils, geodes, feathers, and skeletons that line an entire wall enclosed in glass.
It’s circle time in most classes, where community is shaped by conversation about the children’s lives at home, plans for the day, and ideas of what lies ahead. Third graders talk about Oregon in preparation for geography lessons about the United States. First graders try out new “squishy seats” designed to help kids who wiggle by focusing their attention.
The library is quiet until the first group of eager readers arrives, but the librarians are busy selecting books for classroom projects and organizing displays to keep young readers intrigued.
As you walk through the Lower School, you can see that the theme this year is resiliency. Evidence of thinking about what that means abounds on the hallway walls.
Pass by the community-built play structure—climb to the top if you are so inclined for a grand view—on your way toward the Beginning School. The Beehive’s preschool and kindergarten students start their day with circle time, too. One group sings, and another group counts. Soon they will go to their work-play stations to continue the activities and ideas they started the day before – in storytelling, art projects, reading, and building. Later they will leave the Beehive to attend their “specials” classes for the first time this year, a big event for them. In P.E., music, library, and woodshop, small groups of our youngest students will run and jump, check out books, learn about rhythm, and learn to use a hammer. During morning break, the kindergarteners will enjoy their new outdoor water feature, zip around on trikes, and revel in a bit more independence in the Fir Grove.
Before wrapping up your walkabout, stop at the Cabell Center Theater to see the amazing exhibit by artist Ruth Patterson Hart. The foyer doubles as an art gallery, and this fall we are privileged to enjoy the work of a remarkable local artist with deep ties to Catlin Gabel.
My walkabout took about 28 minutes – and it was not in circles around the track. Taking in all four divisions reminds me that the more we know, the more we love. Now I’m ready for work, refreshed by seeing the results of all our efforts.