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Dan Griffiths selected to lead Upper School

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Letter from Lark Palma, head of school

I am thrilled to announce that Daniel Griffiths, PhD, is our next head of the Upper School. Dan, who is currently the US assistant head and dean of students, was selected with my full support and the unanimous support of the search committee.
 
Since joining the Catlin Gabel faculty as a science teacher in 2007, Dan has emerged as a skilled and visionary leader, energetic advocate for students, persuasive public speaker, innovative teacher, and superb colleague.
 
Dan stood out among a stellar pool of candidates from across the nation for the position of Upper School head. His Cambridge and Oxford training in behavioral science and education align with his natural leadership skills to make him a first-rate observer and evidence-based decision-maker. He is the right person to lead the Upper School.
 
 “I am overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from this community of great families, students, and colleagues,” said Dan. “I am excited by the challenge of implementing the new US schedule, nurturing the Knight Family Scholars Program and other innovations, and demonstrating the excellence of the Upper School. I look forward to working with faculty, students, parents, and alumni in my new role.”
 
Please join me in congratulating Dan and thanking the search committee members: Kate Grant, Barbara Ostos, Lauren Reggero-Toledano, Bob Sauer, Peter Shulman, Tony Stocks, and Miranda Wellman.
 
Best,
Lark

Tuition on the Track photo gallery

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The inaugural Tuition on the Track walkathon for financial aid was a huge success by every measure. Students of all ages, faculty-staff, alumni, and parents came together to walk, run, skip, talk, laugh, boogie, and pledge donations in support of our school. We surpassed the $25,000 goal with donations still coming in. Once calculations are complete, we'll share the final total.  

Thank you, sponsors: Twist Frozen Yogurt Lounge, the Portland Knee Clinic, Lamer Edwards Interiors, James E. John Construction, Sports Medicine Oregon, Frito Lay, and Hotlips Pizza.

Thank you, organizing committee and all seniors, for giving us the gift of your can-do spirit, sense of fun, and deep commitment to Catlin Gabel. We have no doubt you started a tradition!

If you were inspired by this incredible community event, please make a direct gift to Tuition on the Track. All gifts made to the walkathon support the Annual Fund designated to financial aid.

Tuition on the Track triumphs

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BRAVO!

The inaugural Tuition on the Track walkathon for financial aid was a huge success by every measure. Students of all ages, faculty-staff, alumni, and parents came together to walk, run, skip, talk, laugh, boogie, and pledge donations in support of our school. We surpassed the $25,000 goal with donations still coming in. Once calculations are complete, we'll share the final total.  

Thank you, sponsors: Twist Frozen Yogurt Lounge, the Portland Knee Clinic, Lamer Edwards Interiors, James E. John Construction, Sports Medicine Oregon, Frito Lay, and Hotlips Pizza.

Thank you, organizing committee and all seniors, for giving us the gift of your can-do spirit, sense of fun, and deep commitment to Catlin Gabel. We have no doubt you started a tradition!

If you were inspired by this incredible community event, please make a direct gift to Tuition on the Track. All gifts made to the walkathon support the Annual Fund designated to financial aid.

This letter from the event organizers reflects the enthusiasm everyone felt.

Dearest Class of 2012,

Wow. Tuition on the Track was absolutely amazing. And we couldn¹t have done it without you. Before adding in food profits, sponsors, per-lap pledges, and Twist's donations, and we will keep you posted with the numbers as they come, we are already above our goal of $25,000!!! So, the biggest THANK YOU goes out to all of you. Thank you thank you thank you. Everyone participated, everyone did their jobs perfectly, and we had FABULOUS SPIRIT. We could not be more pleased with how this event was run and how everything came to be.

It does need to be said, though, that many of you stood out for your extraordinary work during this process. For some, it was jumping off the stairs and running laps with firsties, punching holes or serving food for hours, or creating age-appropriate music options during your busy lives. But Tuition on the Track simply could not have taken place without the diligence and dedication of the core committee. Together, Lauren, Logan, Jared, Cydney, Taylor, Qiddist, Lizzie, Grant, Sarah, and Julianne have worked since last spring on logo designs, logistical organization, middle and lower school communications, food, activities, sponsors, setup, and incredible moral support, among other jobs. This crew is absolutely phenomenal.

Thank you hole punchers, thank you food team, thank you attendance, thank you music, thank you jazz band, thank you dance club, thank you captains, thank you committee members, thank you set up and clean up crew, thank you track and field trip participants, thank you ALL!!!!! It was a fantastic day (with SUNNNNN) and we hope all of you had some fun out there.... Especially with our firstees. Pretty special and memorable day!!

Also, thank you to all who have pledged!

Again, we are so so sooo impressed and we wanted to say that we have a pretty darn special class.

If you have any additional comments or questions, let us know.

Oh my goodness, we cannot say thank you enough!

Love
Kate and Brooke

 

Freshman Violeta Alvarez chairing citywide youth summit against violence

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Freshman Violeta Alvarez is chairing the 2012 citywide youth summit against violence on April 21. She and her sister, junior Perla Alvarez, are active members of the Multnomah Youth Commission, which advises the county and city of Portland on issues that impact the lives of young people.

The first part of the summit is for youth only to caucus, build community, and consider youth driven policy recommendations. Invited elected officials and community leaders are welcome between 2:15 and 3:45 p.m. to listen to youth’s stories of violence and engage young people in dialogue about how youth and adults can take steps to reduce violence in the community.

The goals of the summit are to:

Provide resources for youth to deal with violence they experienced and/ or currently experience in their lives

Inform policy makers with the experiences youth face regarding violence and provide potential policy recommendations to be considered

Educate youth and adults about Our Bill of Rights: Children and Youth and the importance of its implementation into all decision making arenas in the community

Bring diverse youth from across the region together to share ideas and experiences regarding violence and build a youth movement for social change

» Link to more information about the summit

» Link to Oregonian article
 

CatlinSpeak named best online high school newspaper

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The Upper School newspaper, CatlinSpeak, finished in first place in the best website category for the 2012 Edward R. Murrow High School Journalism Awards Competition. Junior Fiona Noonan won 3rd place in the best column category.

Each year, the competition recognizes the best student journalists at high schools in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Alaska. This year the committee received dozens of entries from high schools across the region. Washington State University sponsors the competition.

» Check out the current issue of CatlinSpeak

» Read Fiona's award-winning article

Search committee seeks community feedback on US head candidates

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We encourage everyone who attends one or more of the community receptions to complete an online comment sheet for the search committee.

» Link to feedback form

Upper School head candidate receptions
Warren Middle School Commons
3:45 – 4:45 p.m.
Light refreshments provided

Tuesday, April 3
Friday, April 6
Tuesday, April 10
Thursday, April 12

Summer Programs featured in Portland Family magazine

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Portland Family magazine article, March 2012

Robotics team qualifies for world championship

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Congratulations, Flaming Chickens!

The Flaming Chickens robotics team won both the field competition and the top honor, the Chairman's Award, at regionals in Oklahoma City. They will compete for the international title in St. Louis April 26–28.  The video below is part of that Chairman's submission.

Parents invited to meet US head candidates

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(Updated March 30)

The US head search committee has narrowed the search to five four highly qualified candidates. Parents are invited to meet the candidates at five after-school receptions. One candidate at each reception will present prepared remarks, followed by a brief Q&A.

We encourage everyone who attends one or more of the community receptions to complete an online comment sheet for the search committee.

» Link to feedback form

Upper School head candidate receptions
Warren Middle School Commons
3:45 – 4:45 p.m.
Light refreshments provided

Tuesday, April 3
Thursday, April 5 CANCELED
Friday, April 6
Tuesday, April 10
Thursday, April 12

 

Two CG students selected to compete in Intel International Science & Engineering Fair

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Oregonian article, March 2012

Two Catlin Gabel students have earned spots to attend the prestigious Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in May in Pittsburgh.

Freshman Valerie Ding won one of five spots as an individual high school finalist at the Intel NW Science Expo on March 23 with her project, "Shining Like the Sun: A Quantum Mechanical Study of White-Light LEDs."

Junior Terrance Sun earned a spot on 28-member Team Oregon, consisting of students who had won in six regional fairs in the Northwest Science Expo System.

Both middle school and high school students competed in the Intel NW Science Expo at Portland State University with 583 projects, and they were from from 87 schools and organizations statewide. Congratulations, Valerie and Terrance!

Read the Oregonian article.

Experiential week photo gallery

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Winterim, Breakaway, and Experiential Week

First through 12th graders spent one rainy, snowy, sunny week in March exploring a range of subjects and places. Catlin Gabel was on the go from learning to knit, sail, and sew to sailing, hiking, urban adventuring, and solving mysteries!

Photos provided by trip leaders and chaperones. Thanks!

Click on any photo to enlarge image and start the slide show.

Catlin Gabel's Eyrie Challenge Course

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Team building, risk-taking, and discovery

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By David Reich ’80, Challenge Course Manager

Catlin Gabel recently built a state-of-the-art challenge course in the wooded part of campus around the athletic fields. It is a great tool for hands-on learning in a beautiful natural setting and a new expression of the school’s commitment to experiential education.
 
I like to say that a day on a challenge course is like speeding up time, when it comes to individual growth or group dynamics. Like many outdoor adventures, the challenge course pushes participants out of their comfort zone and into areas of learning and growth. Participants push their own perceived limits, and discover how they perform under pressure. Teams learn how to constructively give and receive support, and individuals see how working with others collaboratively can help a team achieve more than they had previously thought they could accomplish.
 
Constructed from wood, cable, and rope, and strung between trees and platforms either just above the ground or high in the air, Catlin Gabel’s challenge course consists of four high elements and eight low elements. These “elements” or individual structures combine vertical climbing challenges and horizontal obstacle or initiative challenges. As a team is made up of individuals with complementary skills, it is important to maximize the opportunities for each person to contribute toward the team goals. The various challenge course elements allow participants to explore different levels of personal exposure, provide opportunities to learn about cooperation, open lines of communication, and develop skills in problem-solving, leadership, and coaching—and self-esteem.
 
Challenge course activities provide an environment that is full of new experiences and personal discoveries. They establish a setting that allows the facilitator to work with the group, helping them with debriefing and reflection, focusing on teamwork objectives and preparing them for bigger challenges— or the challenges found in the everyday world. We invite groups or organizations outside of Catlin Gabel to use the challenge course. It’s a great opportunity for corporate team building and professional development, designed to:
 
• Build team interdependence
• Build collaborative problem solving
• Develop risk-taking skills
• Open channels of communications
• Identify and develop leadership skills
• Clarify roles and responsibilities
• Strengthen relationships
 
Based on the needs and assessment of the particular visiting group, we will design a unique program to provide the best possible experience for group members. The course was designed and built according to national guidelines and standards, and a trained and certified facilitator with experience in working with adult groups supervises all activities on the challenge course.
 
Half or full day programs are available, with a gourmet chef to prepare lunch on campus. Call (503-297-1894 ext. 386) or email me for an appointment to tour the facility or to discuss your specific group needs. Visit our pages on the Catlin Gabel website, too.

 

Catlin Gabel News, Winter 2011-12

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From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

FAREWELL TO MICHAEL HEATH

Michael Heath, head of the Upper School and assistant head for co-curriculars, is leaving Catlin Gabel in June to become head of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, South Carolina. Among Michael’s accomplishments since arriving in 2007 are realigning the grading structure, examining and adjusting the homework load to better serve students, encouraging cross-disciplinary teaching and collaboration, insisting that the ethical and moral lives of students are central to the school’s mission, and providing leadership in bringing the Knight Family Scholars Program, PLACE, and the Global Online Academy into prominence. A search process is in place for his position. Look for the next Caller for more about Michael and this year’s retiring teachers.
 

FACULTY RETIREMENTS

Catlin Gabel will miss the three teachers who are retiring this year, and wish them well in this new stage of their lives: Laurie Carlyon-Ward, Upper School art; Véronique de la Poterie, Upper School French; and Wally Wilson, Middle School Spanish. Said Wally, “Life at Catlin Gabel is a lot like St. George. There’s good, positive energy at the start, some star will always unexpectedly shine, and you leave feeling great at the end.”
 

NEWS FROM HONEY HOLLOW

Joan Gardner joined the development team as major giving officer. Her 15 years experience as a fundraiser and wealth manager includes work with Smith Barney, the Berry Botanic Garden, and the University of Oregon School of Music. . . . Eric Adjetey Anang, a Ga fantasy coffin sculptor from Ghana, was artist in residence in November. He and students from all grades worked together on the Barn deck to built a coffin shaped like a woodworker’s hand plane. . . . Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, visited CGS this fall as a Jean Vollum Distinguished Writer. . . . Poets Carl Adamschick, Jae Choi, Matthew Dickman, Emily Frey, Endi Hartigan, Michael McGriff, and Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen visited Upper School for two days, reading their work at assembly and teaching workshops and classes. . . The Diack Ecology Education Program awarded 7th grade science teacher Pete Ritson and his students a grant to study Balch Creek and measure, record, and identify macro-invertebrates, then analyze their data.
 

CATLINSPEAK PUTS ON A GREAT DEBATE

In January the student staff of CatlinSpeak, the Upper School student newspaper, conceived of, planned, and executed one of Portland’s finest mayoral debates. The three front runners who debated praised the students for their organizational skills and perceptive questions.
 

OUR AMAZING STUDENTS

The Catlin Gabel Roboticons—Robin Attey ’17, Jasper Gordon ’17, Matt Maynard ’17, Grace Wong ’17, and Sage Yamamoto ’17—won the first place inspiration award at the state FIRST Lego league robotics competition in January. . . . Hannah Rotwein ’13, Zoe Schlanger ’13, and Kenny Woods ’13 are Gold Key art winners, the highest regional award given in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program, sponsored by New York’s Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. . . . Julien Leitner ’16 and Allie Rosenfeld ’17 were featured in the Oregonian for their philanthropy projects. For more student achievements, read the All-School news, compiled by Karen Katz ’74.
 

ATHLETICS AND SPORTS

Both the girls cross country team and the girls soccer team placed second in state. Ella Turkot ’14 was named league MVP for soccer. Senior Zoë Frank was accepted into the Guinness Book of World records for breaking the world record for balance board. Zoë took on the challenge as a fundraiser for a women’s clinic in Zambia. . . . 6th grader Isabel Larson won 1st place on vault in the 2011 women’s compulsory gymnastics state championships.   

 

Where Resiliency is Tested

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Three of our alumni in the military talk about their lives in a most demanding job

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

MURPHY PFOHMAN ’08

U.S. Military Academy, West Point 
Murphy Pfohman made a decision in her senior year that set her apart from her peers and on the road to an extreme of rigorous training and a changed life. She applied to— and was accepted by—the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There she has been tested to her limits, and has discovered great reserves of resiliency and strength.
 
Murphy’s biggest shock came during “Beast Barracks,” the first seven weeks of basic training. The first day was brutal, with people yelling constantly at her and her fellow cadets, demanding they do things they didn’t know how to do. The second day, Murphy woke up to the 5:10 a.m. whistle thinking, “What am I doing? Why didn’t I do better research on this? I wanted to tell the squad leader that I want to go home, but I was too scared. Then I told myself I could do it,” she says.
 
“I focused my mind. I broke my day down a little bit at a time, until the chunks of time got bigger. I could do the next 30 seconds, and then the next 10 minutes, then the next hour and a half, then the next four weeks. It always ended up being way better than I thought, and I built confidence,” says Murphy. “Part of the reason I hung in was what my family instilled in me: I never quit anything without serious thought,” she says.
 
Murphy is now a senior at West Point. After her years of intensive preparation in Army life and increasingly responsible leadership positions, she intends to serve as an officer in military intelligence after graduating and attending the basic officer leader course. Intelligence appeals to her because of its cerebral qualities, and because all her teachers in the discipline were very much like her—calm, organized, and smart. “I have learned a ton about leadership. But the best thing about West Point is the people, and that’s the reason I stay here,” she says. “They all want to serve their country. Everyone has the best intentions and wants to do the best they can.” “At Catlin Gabel, when I told people I was going to West Point, they thought it was very out of the box, but they were supportive,” says Murphy. “I’m positive about my future.”
 

RUPERT DALLAS ’97

Former U.S. Marine Corps
Rupert Dallas joined the military right after his time at Catlin Gabel, enlisting in the Marine Corps and leaving for boot camp only 30 days after graduation. “Catlin Gabel prepared me to be a critical thinker, to rely on my reason and intellect. Being well educated was a gift, and I was happy to take it with me through my experience in the Marines,” he says.
 
His work in the Marines entailed risky and dangerous missions, and Rupert found strength in his dedication to the Marines’ mission, and to the people at his side. “Facing danger was not easy,” Rupert says. “Training only gets you prepared to do what is necessary, but the belief in what you are doing and the trust you have to put in the Marines who are with you will help you carry on, even when faced with the most dire of situations.”
 
“Learning quickly is key to survival,” Rupert says about the lessons he took from his time in the Corps. During his time with the Marines, Rupert developed profound convictions. “The courage of those who took the oath before me and those who took the oath with me was and always will be inspiring. I learned that some bonds can never be broken if they are tempered through sweat and tears,” he says. “I learned that by looking a person in the eyes when they give you their word, I can measure the character of that person. I learned that to protect my family and those who I love, I was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, and I would do it again if asked. I take with me so many lessons learned and I use them every day.”
 
From 2002 to 2008 Rupert worked while he attended college, earning a BS in urban development from Portland State University and an MBA in management from George Fox University. It was difficult to do both at once, but Rupert says that the degrees have been invaluable to propel his professional life forward. After holding positions at Coca Cola and ECOS Consulting, he now works as client service director at Ecova, an energy and sustainability management company. “I believe that what I learned at Catlin Gabel academically and the life experiences I gained in the Marines are the foundation on which I live my life today,” he says.
 

SANSARAE PICKETT ’01

Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
Sansarae Pickett went straight from Catlin Gabel to the U.S. Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, then attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Her first tour was on the USS Whidbey Island, where she learned the foundations of naval leadership. After deploying to the Mediterranean, she was promoted to Surface Warfare Officer, having mastered, among many topics, seamanship skills and knowledge of weaponry and equipment on warfare ships.
 
Sansarae’s naval career has taken her off the coast of Somalia and to Bahrain. Today she is back at the U.S. Naval Academy, coordinating the visits of outside groups for events such as reunions and visits from foreign military delegations.
 
As a new officer Sansarae was much younger than many of the sailors and Marines she led on the USS Whidbey Island. She had to communicate the expectations of the commanding officer to her many charges and ensure the quality of their work. At the same time she was completely dependent on their engineering and maintenance expertise—and responsible for making sure they kept their lives in balance. “With attention to detail, and much trial and error, I soon gained the trust and respect of my sailors by being honest, remaining a superior, and not allowing myself to become a ‘friend’ to those who I worked and lived alongside every single day—no easy task in itself!”
 
Sansarae says her resiliency comes from her sense of integrity and responsibility, which her parents taught her. “Maintaining my personal sense of integrity has never failed me,” she says. “There were many nights in the pilot house of my ship with not a single object to look out for, and for five hours at a time I would stand on my feet guiding the ship to its next destination. I didn’t feel that I was any less happy with my responsibilities living a ‘Groundhog Day’ lifestyle. I knew I was doing something in support of an entity much larger than myself.”
 
Sansarae married Marine Buki Aghaji in November, and is now expecting their first child. She plans to transfer to the Naval Reserves to have more shore time to spend with her new family. “I would like to still be afforded the opportunity to serve my country, and advance as a proud officer in the Navy,” she says.
 

Nadine Fiedler is the editor of the Caller and Catlin Gabel's director of publications and public relations.

 

Giving a Helping Hand to First-Years

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From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Sue Phillips and David Zonana

Students new to Catlin Gabel, as well as those arriving from our Middle School, find a perfect opportunity to reinvent themselves in their freshman year. While the adults in the Upper School community welcome this reinvention, we know that teenagers find this change both exhilarating and frightening. Fortunately, the freshman team made up of teachers and staff are there to support the students through their first year, cheer them on, and help them when they struggle.

The Freshman Toolkit

This year we reinvigorated the five-year-old Freshman Toolkit. Our 9th graders typically have, for the first time in their school lives, several unstructured free periods each week. To help them establish habits that will support their success, a group of Upper School faculty developed the Toolkit curriculum, which includes structured skills sessions and supervised study time. During the weeks between the beginning of school and Thanksgiving break, freshmen attended two Toolkit sessions each week: a skills session, and a supervised study session managed by a rotating group of committed faculty and staff. The skills sessions taught students strategies for keeping a calendar to manage their assignments, meetings with teachers, sports practices, and after-school activities, and emphasized managing multi-step assignments that require work over the course of a few weeks.
 
Other skills sessions focused on students’ learning styles, working effectively with an academic adviser, and developing a plan for fulfilling community service hours in a meaningful way. Our freshmen met a second time each week in their groups, and followed a protocol of reporting on the homework they planned to complete during that time. The overall purpose of Toolkit was to help our 9th graders understand how to organize and prioritize their lives so they can get their work done in time to enjoy dinner with their families, have a chance to socialize with friends, and get enough sleep to be ready for the next day.
 
Our learning specialist Cindy Murray is a key supporter of Toolkit, and was central to its establishment this fall. She says that it’s effective because students have learned how to start to take responsibility for their learning in ways that allow them to become successful. While the program will evolve based on feedback, we anticipate continuing to offer it next year.

The freshman class trip 

The freshman class trip is an important first step in helping our 9th graders become part of the Upper School community. During this three-day experience, new freshmen get to know each other, connect with faculty, gain understanding of the culture of the Upper School, and begin to form an identity as a cohesive class. For the last three years, this trip has taken place at Scouter’s Mountain, a woodsy camp where students sleep in rustic boxcars and teepees. The setting of the retreat and the activities that fill each day are designed to provide a context for the development of strength of self and community that will be important for students’ happiness and achievement in the Upper School. The values, support from upperclassmen and faculty, friendships, and willingness to put oneself in some new and uncomfortable situations provide a starting point for the open-minded and resilient traits found in many of our Upper School students.
 
The freshman class trip is made up of a variety of activities, from the simple, practical tasks of preparing and cleaning up meals for over 100 peers to an evening of square dancing called by Dave Corkran, retired history teacher. Students on the trip participate in a day-long community service project in collaboration with the National Forest Service. This year, the class of 2015 spent a day in the sun planting hundreds of trees and completing important habitat restoration work along an old road in the Mt. Hood National Forest. The on-site ropes course provides another afternoon of group and individual challenge, and a setting for problem solving and bonding. Simple challenges, such as one that requires the group to pass a carabiner from one end of a rope to another, become moments of intense focus, communication, and collaboration.
 
Students also take part in quiet activities, such as nature sketching, writing workshops, and community values discussions. This year, international mountaineer Willy Oppenheim came to give an inspiring talk about his most recent trip to Pakistan, where he combined research on girls’ education with an attempt to scale an unclimbed Himalayan peak. On the final morning of the trip, students draft letters to their future selves that we give back to them when they enter their senior year. We end the last night of the trip with a talent show around the fire. This year, as spirits were high on this final evening, and many members of the class of 2015 had already shared songs or silly acts, freshman Matthew Bernstein came to the front of the group with just his guitar, voice, and a thoughtful original song and captivated the entire audience. We will remember that for a long time.

Support from older students

This year we’ve had some of the strongest leadership ever by older students on behalf of the new 9th graders. Each spring, the faculty nominates seniors for leadership roles on the freshman class trip. These students consistently impress us with their commitment as role models, camp counselors, dynamic leaders, and gentle confidantes to their younger peers, both on the trip and afterward. For many freshmen, this is their first experience of having an older, established student as an ally and potential friend, and the experience is powerful. Seniors have a vested interest in transmitting all that they find best about the culture of the school they have grown to love, and they’re cognizant of their responsibility as mentors and role models.
 
Last spring, junior Ella Bohn called a meeting among members of her class to gauge interest in establishing a junior mentors program. Nearly half the class turned out and signed up to help, and late this past summer Ella met with us to match each freshman with one of the juniors. The mentors met, planned, and reached out to the 9th graders one on one to ask how they were doing. Ella said she had realized that “it might have been helpful to have someone to talk to about all the things people think you are supposed to know” by the time you arrive in the Upper School. Juniors have been here for three years, and they are a friendly, approachable group who “know how things work.”
 
The freshman class may not realize the framework that has quietly been constructed to support them through their first year in the Upper School. We are proud that their team of advocates includes not only teachers and staffers, but also trusted older students who are more influential than they recognize. Their peer-to-peer mentoring creates caring, supportive, and respectful collaboration with the 9th graders, and importantly, encourages the transmission of Catlin Gabel’s values and ethos to this next generation of younger teens.
 
Sue Phillips has been the Upper School librarian since 2004. She is a research geek who loves to laugh, work in the garden, and play early music. David Zonana is an outdoor education teacher who has long held an interest in the potential of adventure for growth and learning. Since 2006 he has led students on mountaineering, rafting, backpacking, llama packing, rock climbing, and sea kayaking trips.   

 

Travel Makes You Stronger

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Middle Schoolers prepare well for travel to Martinique--and come back changed
 
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”—Marcel Proust
 
“Traveling outside the country has made me so brave. If I didn’t travel to Martinique, I don’t think I would have grown so much with my French skills. Also, now I will be able to travel to more places and be more confident.” —Student traveler
 
March 2012 will mark the third trip for Catlin Gabel’s 7th and 8th grade French students to Sainte-Marie, a town on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Similarly, middle schoolers from Le Collège Emmanuel Saldès of Sainte-Marie have come to Portland twice. What our young travelers learn as guests in the home of their famille d’accueil (host family) serves them well when it is their turn to host the following year. The experience gives more meaning to the word “empathy” and fosters serious reflection on being on both the receiving and giving end of an exchange.
 
“In the beginning a lot of the things that I feared would happen did happen, although in the long run none of those things mattered: Not liking a meal, or not falling asleep at night. None compares to the things I gained and the great memories.” —Student traveler
 
Our students are asked to think about the differences between experiencing a place abroad as a traveler, as opposed to as a tourist. They quickly become aware that, unlike a vacation where one seeks to satisfy one’s yearning for pleasure and relaxation, the guiding principles of our exchange are openness, collaboration, and a readiness to have one’s comfort zones stretched.
 
“Going to Martinique with the idea of pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone really made the trip so much better than if we had just made it a vacation for relaxation.” —Student traveler
 

A brief historical perspective

 Martinique was a French colony until 1946. In 2003, it was named a French Région d’outre-mer (overseas region). Slavery was abolished in Martinique in 1846, but discriminatory practices lingered until 1946. The scars, though fading, are still part of the collective memory of the majority, the Martiniquans of color. French is the official language, but créole, the language spoken by all Martiniquans of color, is given the proper consideration as a legitimate language. The small white minority continues to control nearly all of the island’s economy. When visiting Martinique, my students become aware of how this Caribbean culture was shaped, that the grandparents of their host brother or sister grew up in a very different Martinique, and that this past has had an effect on the family they are visiting.
 

Pre-trip, on-site, and post-trip work

Before we leave, we hold several meetings where we not only discuss logistics, but also touch on the history and some of the cultural traits and experiences the students might encounter during their two-week stay there. I ask the students to consider certain questions in writing before their departure, including: What are your goals during this time away, what are you nervous or excited about, what impressions or expectations do you have of the host country, and what does it mean to you to be a citizen from your native country or culture? During the trip, reflections continue: what similarities do you see, what differences, what has surprised you the most, what do you miss the most from home, how is your language-learning going, how does the host culture seem to view American culture? Finally, at the end of the year, the students evaluate the trip and write about the challenges and successes they experienced.
 
“No matter where I went in Martinique, there was something different from the life I live. It was about discovering past the vanishing point of my experience.” —Student traveler
 
We also address the bigger question of what the term citizen of the world means to these students. We go through a list of resiliency tools that each one of us can find within ourselves at various times. For example, everyone can relate to the meaning of patience, assertiveness, honesty, kindness, respect, humor, courage, detachment, consideration, flexibility, and gentleness. We may not be able to practice each one all the time, nor all at once, but if we can remind ourselves that we do have the option (or the opportunity!) to use one of these tools at various times of need, we will most likely end up feeling empowered, less stuck, and able to move on. We talk about possible testy situations that might come up during the stay and then consider which tools would be most helpful to get through these.
 
“The things that went wrong turned out to be moments of laughter and memories.” —Student traveler
 
Values can manifest themselves differently within a culture, but there most likely will be an even sharper distinction between cultures. At home, we have the benefit of knowing what it takes to makes us feel secure, satisfied, fulfilled. There are handy “feel-good” points of reference to resort to and, as we grow within a culture, we learn which points of reference to turn to in times of need. Abroad, the more the culture is different from ours, the more we need to turn to our sense of resourcefulness and observation for a sense of stability and orientation. We need not feel like we’re lost, or fragile, or vulnerable.
 
“Everything I experienced, good and bad, was helpful to my understanding and learning.” —Student traveler
 
As we observe people doing things differently from us, we can remember that we need not feel threatened or destabilized, but can simply let others be who they are. Being gentle with ourselves allows us to be gentle with others and not be afraid. We can simply observe the differences and allow enough space to connect, get closer, and navigate our way with greater ease.
 
“I understand so much more now about my culture, other cultures, my classmates, and myself. . . . I saw what everything really was instead of what everything was supposed to be.” —Student traveler
 
We recently visited Mercy Corps to prepare for our trip with various activities. When we had to relate an important event in our life without using words, it led us to brainstorm about the meaning of communication. To our big surprise, the one word that was not mentioned until the very end was “language.” Then when we looked at what we understood culture to be, we recognized the strong interconnection between culture and language. It was encouraging for those who would like to be a little more fluent in French as they are heading to Martinique to see that a great deal of communication can still occur without the use of language. We considered behaviors and beliefs that we as a group have in common, and realized that we were actually talking about culture. This led us to see how culture shapes how we see the world, and how we see ourselves and others. We become much more in tune with how much we are shaped by our culture when we go abroad.
 
“You don’t really know what life is like in a new place until you live it, and staying with a family teaches you a lot.” —Student traveler
 
Another pre-trip activity had to do decision-making styles: Am I a compromiser, avoider, joint problem-solver, accommodator, or controller? Once we had analyzed our style, we read about its advantages and drawbacks in different situations. Then we thought about how we might use a different decision-making style in different scenarios. Some of us switched our styles to match the situation, while others tended to stay the same for most situations.
 
“The trip teaches us skills that will be very helpful to know later on, such as speaking up for ourselves, trying new things, and being completely open to new experiences.” —Student traveler
 
Finally, we talked about how easy it is for us to assume what is coming next in a situation and to guess at meaning before we know enough about it. But withholding judgment and taking in details of a situation before we interpret it must occur before we can evaluate it. This important practice will prepare the traveler to work towards win-win interactions.
 
“There were times that I knew I was supposed to be there . . . and there were also times when I felt left out, bored, or angry. But there wasn’t a single time that I wished I wasn’t there.” —Student traveler
 
It would be unfair to expect resiliency from our traveling students if we did not prepare them well for their adventure abroad. We would be remiss to let them think that the only challenges they will face abroad might be a language barrier and being far from home and their familiar lifestyle. The journey of getting in touch with ourselves individually and as a group has started. It has sensitized us to the necessity of an open mind as we prepare for Martiniquan families to welcome us into their homes.
 
“While I was there, I thought the best times were just hanging out with my American friends doing something fun, or watching something beautiful. But now that I look back on it, I think that the best times really were just being dorky with my home stay and really connecting with her family. When we were able to connect, we could really understand each other despite the language barrier.” —Student traveler
 
Monique Bessette was raised in Québec City. She came to Catlin Gabel in 1997 after having taught at Valley Catholic High School. She has taught in Upper School and is now the Middle School French teacher. Aside from the Martinique trip, she has led six other international trips with students to France and Québec.

 

Congressman Earl Blumenauer writes about his visit to Catlin Gabel

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Earl Blumenauer's official website, article, March 2012