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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

Confidence for the College Process

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From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Nancy Donehower

In helping students develop confidence, college counselors build on something our faculty members do every day, in every division: teach resilience. At Catlin Gabel, we often say “the student is the unit of consideration,” and this is taken seriously— students are taken seriously—by the faculty. We don’t expect them to be perfect, but we have confidence in them, and demonstrate that every day.
The college application process differs from the classroom, though, in that it isn’t something you do repeatedly. Because it is a unique experience, that can amplify anxiety at each stage of the process. It should help to know, however, that although the college process seems like something really different and scary for students, the skills it calls for are the same skills students have developed in a variety of contexts throughout their years here.
As the New York Times and other print and web publications seem to remind us almost weekly, the college admissions process is hyper-competitive these days. At many colleges and universities, the volume of applications has been extremely volatile over the last few years, leading to less predictability about the process and its outcomes—on the college side and on the applicant side. In general, colleges have not increased the size of their entering classes over the past few years, so as applicant numbers have increased, the percentage of students admitted has decreased. Consider, for example, Pitzer College in Southern California. A dozen years ago, it admitted approximately 65% of applicants, while in 2012, it offered admission to only 24%. It’s difficult for students involved in the process to anticipate all the twists and turns it may take, but the process can teach valuable lessons about resilience, about having faith and trust in yourself, and about developing confidence in your ability to work with whatever life throws your way.
Throughout their years at Catlin Gabel, students work to acquire the tools that will enable them to be successful adults. They ask questions and they learn how to do research, evaluate various types of evidence, and appreciate and respond to the opposing point of view. They become adept problem solvers who work well in teams and aren’t afraid to try new approaches and have fun with ideas. Our students are not “taught at,” but are treated as responsible collaborators in the learning process. This clearly conveys trust that they are up to the task, and also helps students to develop a strong sense of agency about their own learning.
Most importantly, though, students are given many opportunities to reflect on their learning, which is a key to developing self-awareness. If you know that it’s just part of the plan to stop periodically, ask yourself what went well, what didn’t go so well, and how to be more effective in the future, it builds skills to cope with a project that doesn’t achieve the desired result, and helps develop the confidence to try a different approach next time. In the Upper School, paper conferences that students have with teachers are just one among many ways this approach is implemented. The Agent of Change projects, and co-curricular activities such as Mock Trial and outdoor education program, offer opportunities for experiential learning and subsequent reflection that help students develop confidence in themselves and their abilities across a variety of situations.
Our college counseling process builds on this foundation. We start by asking students to reflect on themselves and what is important to them, and encourage them to find and follow their own paths through the college admissions maze. We encourage students to take advantage of this socially sanctioned time to pause, reflect on where they’ve been and where they are going—to really let their experience speak—and then use that inner voice as a guide for the college process ahead. We also work to inform parents about how a progressive education serves their student, how their students will have several good-fit choices for college, and how the student is at the center throughout the college counseling process.
We offer information, support, and guidance all along the way. We host a variety of programs in which admissions and financial aid directors work directly with our students and parents, providing the most up-to-date information possible and giving students a clear sense of the admissions process. We then work with each student individually, helping develop a list of prospective colleges that has the right balance of optimism and realism. Our students apply to many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country and abroad, but with admission rates under 10% at many of these schools, everyone must have other options. We work intensively with students as they write their applications, helping each one make a strong presentation. We trust them to think carefully about themselves, to evaluate the many, many types of information and opinions that we consider with them as they research schools, and to make thoughtful decisions about which colleges to apply to, and which one, ultimately, to attend. At the end, whether the letters from colleges contain offers of admission or not, we find that our students handle the outcomes well.
To hear our students talk about this process and the paths they follow is inspiring. At a “Life After Catlin Gabel” program in May 2011, several alumni discussed their experiences here, in college, and in the working world. It’s clear that the skills and resilience they developed in classes and co-curricular activities here provided a great foundation for future endeavors.
We’re never going to put the “stress genie” that accompanies the college admissions process back in the bottle. Demographics, the sensationalization of the process by the media, and ongoing recruitment wars among colleges guarantee that this rite of passage for teenagers will remain challenging. But as the lives of our alumni amply illustrate, Catlin Gabel students develop the skills and perspective to cope with those challenges— and go on to create happy and successful lives, no matter what paths they take.
Nancy Donehower has worked in the college admissions field for almost 30 years. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She began her college admissions career at Sarah Lawrence College, then served as senior associate director of admissions at Duke University. Following that, she became dean of admissions at Reed College. Before joining Catlin Gabel in 2008, she was director of college counseling at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, California. Her articles and commentaries about college admissions have appeared in the Oregonian, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and on public radio.  


Resilience: personal resiliency builders & environmental protective factors

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From Winter 2011-12 Caller

Personal Resiliency Builders

Life skills
Inner direction
Positive view of personal future
Love of learning
Personal faith in something greater

Environmental Protective Factors

Families, schools, communities, and peer groups that:
Promote close bonds
Set clear, consistent boundaries
Teach life skills
Provide caring and support
Set and communicate high expectations
Provide opportunities for meaningful participation
(Adapted from Resiliency in Schools: Making it Happen for Students and Educators, Nan Henderson and Mike Milstein, Corwin Press, 1996)


Creating Positive Change in Our Athletes

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An athletics program based on character

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Sandy Luu, Catlin Gabel athletics director

Character development is my top priority as I guide Catlin Gabel’s coaches and student athletes—and I would like to see excellence in all athletic programs at Catlin Gabel. In my career I have seen many coaches who taught physical skills—but thought that the development of character would just naturally arise from being part of a team. To develop athletes of character, we need to intentionally teach the skills that will help them make choices based on beliefs and principles. Our job is to build habits in our athletes that will help them make tough choices, and to consistently follow through with them.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be great athletes and win every game we play? Unfortunately, just like other areas in life, it’s not always easy, and we have to work at it. When athletes have to sit on the bench for the first time, they learn to be better teammates. When they have to battle injury for the first time, they learn to push themselves harder than they have before. The resiliency we learn through sports will last a lifetime. Take our boys varsity soccer team, for example. Last year they won the state championship and graduated 11 seniors off that team. This year they had a new coach, Roger Gantz ’89, and only three seniors. At the beginning of the season I watched these three seniors as they rallied their young teammates, learning what it takes to become leaders from Roger and from one another. They had tough losses, but they learned more about each other as they went through the semester. I was pleased by the growth that I saw as this team came together and learned to trust and rely on each other.
Our primary goal in athletic programs is to love and care about the kids we work with. I learned its importance personally, in my first experience with high school sports. After my father died when I was in 8th grade, one of the many changes in our lives was that I had to go to a new high school as a freshman, in our town near Sacramento, California. I had just grown five inches and turned from a confident athlete who was a leader on the court to a nervous, awkward new kid on the block. After the first volleyball practice, the coach cut me from the team, saying, “Sandy, unfortunately, you don’t have a future in volleyball.” He didn’t know about the difficult transitions I had gone through; he was only worried about having the best team out on the court. I learned that I had to be resilient and not feel sorry for myself. If I was going to make it happen, I had to work hard. I ended up playing junior and senior years on the varsity team (and also played basketball and softball) and received a scholarship to play at Concordia University. If I had listened to that first coach and stopped playing the sport I loved, my life would be very different today. I want to make sure we don’t have any kids who are made to feel the way I did. In one of the schools where I worked before Catlin Gabel, we had a sports team that was dysfunctional on and off the court. We made a difficult decision to replace the coach. I told the new coach that I hoped to see character growth as his number one priority. After losing the first three games, he came into my office, dispirited, slumping in his chair. I assured him that the team would improve as soon as he helped them learn to be better friends and teammates. Over the next two years, he helped them grow into one of the best teams that school had ever seen. He held them accountable for any negative behavior and taught them how to be good basketball players, but more importantly, to be athletes of character.
Coaches are the key to creating positive change in our athletes. This begins with modeling respect and responsibility. Coaches share their vision of what is right, teaching confidence, commitment, and the importance of fulfilling obligations. The daily lessons we teach about being ethical are as essential as the training we do in each sport. Developing these lessons such as honesty and responsibility will last much longer than any championships Catlin Gabel wins.
During my last year at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, the new head baseball coach’s team lost their first nine pre-season games. I told him that, even if it was difficult, to exude as much positive energy as he could muster. I asked him to remember that it’s great to win, but that winning is the icing on the cake—that character development was our goal. He went back and told his team that he believed in them, and he stayed optimistic. It paid off in the end: they went on a winning streak and ended up only one game away from making playoffs. The boys never gave up, and I was really proud of that. These athletes learned to overcome, rather than hanging their heads low and blaming the new coach, or each other. It’s easy to fall into that trap, but we want to teach our athletes about resiliency.
I am tremendously encouraged by what I have seen at Catlin Gabel during my first year here. I spent the first half of the year observing our teams and our coaches. I asked questions about character, and I have been impressed with the answers. The coaching staff has impressed me with their ability to relate with the athletes; it is clear that they truly care about our kids. The athletes here have a strong work ethic and show a tremendous amount of trust and care for each other.
I would love to see our students participating and contributing to our program all year long. It is important that we build a strong connection to younger students so that they feel more connected to our program.
To make Catlin Gabel athletics the best it can be, we need the best coaches guiding our athletes, great athletic facilities, and students willing to become athletes of character. One head coach said it best—we should strive to make Catlin Gabel athletics as amazing as our academic program. It’s wonderful at Catlin Gabel to see alumni coming back to campus to shoot around with their coaches, attend games, and spend time with current athletes. Our coaches understand how important it is to find the connection and build on it. I’ll definitely be part of continuing this tradition. I look forward, as the years go by, to hearing about our students’ successes—and their important challenges—as they go through their lives.
Sandy Luu has been athletic director at Catlin Gabel since August 2011. She played volleyball, basketball, and fast pitch softball during her years at Concordia University and earned a master’s in athletic administration from Ohio University. She taught and coached in China, Vietnam, and Taiwan for 13 years while she lived there with her family. In Taiwan, she served as athletic director for middle and high schools.


Resilience: How We Foster an Important Life Skill

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A roundtable with counselors Kate Grant (Upper School), Kristin Ogard (Middle School), and Jonathan Weedman (Beginning and Lower School)

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

What is resiliency?

Jonathan: Resiliency (or resilience) is the ability to bounce back from hardship, which is part of life. Things happen all the time. Resiliency is about what you do, or what’s around you that helps you bounce back and move on.
Kristin: When I talk about resiliency with kids, they look at aspects of their personalities: Do I have a sense of humor? Is the glass half full or half empty? Am I able to try something else when my approach doesn’t work? It’s crucial for students to know which attributes they possess so they can use them when they’re stuck.

Is resiliency an innate trait?

Jonathan: Research dating back to the ’50s tells us that resiliency is built in. Some of us get it quicker than others, but eventually we all figure it out. Our goal as counselors is to teach children specifically how they’re resilient now and what they’re good at so that they can use those tools here at Catlin Gabel, and in college and their work lives. Just like we teach math and writing and reading, we teach resiliency skills. There are two kinds of resiliency builders: our innate, personal traits, and the things and people around us, what we call protective factors. With both those components in place, we can handle every hardship we encounter.

What we can do as a community to help children recover from hardships?

Kristin: Our first job is to recognize their strengths and nurture them, and the second job is to put in place the external factors that support our children. When you consider the big picture, focusing on strengths is more effective than focusing on what’s wrong or a person’s weaknesses. We can all overcome adversity.
Jonathan: When life coach Dr. Kathy Masarie spoke here she talked about the idea of the fragile “teacup kid.” Many kids have a sense that you get what you need from life, and everything’s going to be fine. But you have to go through hardship to be resilient. So I spend a lot of time helping kids understand that it’s a normal part of life and help them understand how they handle hardship--so when those difficulties come, they don’t fall apart.

Kristin, how do you teach Middle Schoolers about resiliency?

Kristin: We begin with every 6th grader figuring out his or her personal resiliency traits, and then their parents do the same exercise at home, and then they compare the responses. Back at school, we fill out a worksheet on “What are my strengths and how can I use them here at school when I get stuck?” The students put it in front of their binder for the whole year as a focus and a reminder of their strengths.

Kate, do we have that kind of training in Upper School?

Kate: We talk about resiliency in the 10th grade health class, and there’s a lot of self-reflection that goes on in Upper School. In English classes, there’s the “Who Am I?” essay and the sophomore “Embarrassment” essay and reflection on the writing process as a way to improve. In a way resiliency is filtered through different parts of the Upper School curriculum and, of course, in the college process. We want students to know they can grow and change and gain a new perspective. The faculty talks a lot about how to foster resiliency and to support its development.
Jonathan: In the Lower School we trained all the teachers in the resiliency curriculum, we have a bulletin board about it, and we talk to kids individually to pinpoint how they’re resilient. Recently a 5th grader helped me rewrite the resiliency builders so that kids would understand it better. It’s about really making it live here every day. When a child has a conflict or a problem, I always start our conversation with, “How do you bounce back?” or “How are you resilient?” Or I’ll say, “I notice you use your humor a lot. That’s a great way to bounce back.” Or “I notice how flexible you are. That’s a great way to be resilient.”

Is resiliency connected with bullying and victimhood?

Kate: It’s a huge part of our bullying discussions. It’s about how you keep going in life. You’re always going to face people who might push your buttons even if they’re not fighting you or hitting you: it’s often more subtle. But you do have to come up with your own resources, take a breath, see what you really feel and think, and decide how to react in the moment and in the future. We teach our students on both sides—both bullies and victims—how to get help from adults and how to think about their behavior.
Kristin: My students and I think about non-defensive strategies for responding to verbal put-downs—like using humor or ignoring it, always being honest and assertive. A genuine response to someone making fun of a sweater would be, “Oh, I like this sweater. My grandmother made it, and it’s important to me.” So they’re being genuine back, and not defensive, which tends to just stop the teasing.

Do you see kids building confidence when they learn how to cope?

Jonathan: A great example from a few years ago involved one 5th grader who failed a test and was very upset, but I knew he was a really positive guy. So I said, “What can you say that’s positive to bounce back from this?” And he said, “Well, you could say that it’s a practice, because I’m not taking a real test until 6th grade, and I guess I’m learning, because I’m here to learn.” After only 10 minutes of talking he said, “I feel so much better!” And I said, “Now you know what you need to do.” He came back a week later, and said, “I used that again! It really helps!” We know our kids really well, so we can talk to them specifically about how they can bounce back.
Kristin: In 6th grade we start out talking about superheroes, and their resiliency factors—Transformers, and the ability to be invisible or fly. Then we shift our focus to famous people who are resilient, and next we talk about resilient people they know personally—like their parents, coaches, or grandparents. In the last part, we talk about our own resiliency traits.
Kate: It’s important for parents to support their children’s resiliency. Kristin has this expression, “Don’t interview for pain.” Instead, support the growth and the lessons they’ve learned.
Jonathan: The biggest thing parents can do is interview for resilience. So when a kid comes home and says, “So-and- so was mean to me,” instead of saying, “That must have been horrible! Tell me more about it!” you say, “What do you want to do about that?”
Kristin: And that empowers them. They’re getting a subtle message from you that you believe they can take care of it.
Kate: What we know about brain research is that you can train your brain to think differently. So if you have enough practice, instead of thinking, “Wow, I’m just a dork,” you can think, “This experience was hard, but it can really help me.”
Jonathan: It’s super-important for parents to model their own resiliency for their kids. Parents can say, “I had a really rough day today. So I called my best friend, and now I feel so much better.” Or, “I’m just going to be flexible and change how I operate.” Kids pick up on everything we as adults do. They don’t miss anything.

Can resiliency be confused with just letting kids fail?

Jonathan: Sometimes failure is a part of the process. But we don’t just let kids fail and say, “Too bad.” We say, “Okay, so that didn’t work out. Let’s talk about how you bounce back from that.”
Kristin: Sure, there can be failures, but we also have protective factors in place. When things fail, it’s important to examine what you can try differently. And then you try again.
Kate: To keep it in perspective, most of the situations our kids encounter are not life altering, but their attitude toward them may be. So when they run into something difficult, they’re better able to say, “This is really awful. But I do have some inherent strengths to deal with this.” People can turn even small failures against themselves if they aren’t interpreted in a way that helps them think, “Ah, this is an opportunity for me to learn something.”

What do we do well as a school to build resiliency in our students?

Kristin: Oh, we’re great at protective factors! For one, we started the Freshman Toolkit, which is great for students in a vulnerable time. (See the article in this issue on Freshman Toolkit.) We also have C&C advisers, who track kids carefully.
Kate: We have a small student-to-faculty ratio, so students can learn from thoughtful adults and older students. When we have freshman and sophomore trips, we take upper-class students along so they can model self-reflection.
Jonathan: Our teachers use their first names, which speaks to adult support and mentoring. Opportunities for meaningful participation are also protective—like Experiential Week in March, student council, the outdoor program, service, and Campus Day. It’s also good that we set high, but not impossible, expectations for our students. That gives them a message that we know they can do it, and we know we can support them in that. And we all teach important life skills.
Kate: During Experiential Week, students who haven’t had the sense of shining in other areas get to shine in their own areas. They develop some sense of their own strengths and worth.
Kristin: We have a huge playground at school, if you will, with ways for kids to discover their strengths. And we do a really good job of celebrating them.
Kate: What’s important is that we give students more than one chance. Students are not known by one action here, but by a lot of different actions. Adults are always waiting for a kid to make the right decision here, and that helps them think, “I did make a mistake, but I can get beyond that.”
Kristin: I’m working with a student right now who is not resilient in many areas, but she excels in the arts. We jump on those moments immediately to reinforce and praise our kids— because that’s where the shift takes place.

So if they feel successful, it becomes easier to carry on.

Kristin: When they see evidence of what they can do one day, and we praise it, there’s the suggestion that they might be able to do it again tomorrow.
Kate: I was struck once by what a student’s mother had written in his application to Catlin Gabel. She wrote, “I hope that my child will have enough growing self-confidence and enough successes to appreciate the success of others.” We wish that for all our students.
Kristin: I have to keep coming back to the importance of resiliency, because research shows that when you’re focused on something that’s positive and strength based, you will shift more quickly in that positive direction.
Kate: A part of this is taking responsibility for what you could have done differently in a difficult situation, because it helps you both realize that it wasn’t just that other person. We have to help kids feel strong enough to both take care of themselves and optimally to take care of each other, if they can. We want to help them recognize an inherent strength that’s different from all the other things going on in their lives.

Does the focus on resiliency tie into overprotectiveness?

Jonathan: Yes, because we’re seeing products of what happens when kids are super-overprotected: they fall apart when they go to college on their own. It’s instinctual for parents to feel they should protect their kids, but there’s a balance. It’s not about protecting them from every single thing, but it’s also not just about throwing them out there on their own. Unlike the ’50s, when you could go out and ride your bike . . .
Kristin: “See you when the sun goes down!”
Jonathan: Often kids feel like that they can’t leave the house, because something bad’s going to happen to them. They pick up on this message of “I can’t do anything, and the world is not safe. If no one gives me the tools to deal with it, then I’m not able to deal with it.”
Kristin: “And I’m not effective. I’m a victim.”
Jonathan: So now we need to check in as a society and a community to say, “Whoa! Overprotection was not the answer. Completely throwing them out there on their own was not the answer. What is the answer?” The answer is to let kids fail a little bit, and then we’ll show them how they’re resilient, so they can learn from that.
Kate: Sometimes, when kids are down, I ask them if anything, even something small, has changed for the better. Then we explore what inside them allowed them to change.
Kristin: One of my students had a great sense of humor about her skills. She said, “Oh, I am so half-empty, I think of everything that way.” But she could laugh at herself, and she was very flexible—so even if the day looked horrible, she could make the shift and move on.
Jonathan: It’s really not about having about all the personal resiliency builders. It’s about having a few of them, and knowing what you can use.
Kate: And it takes the focus away from being stuck. Since our brains are plastic—especially when we are young—we can learn to shift how we think about things. So we can start early on having kids think they have some agency in life and can think about a situation in a different way, instead of thinking “The world is out to get me.”
Jonathan: If you’re faced with adversity and say, “Here are all these things I know I can do. I’m doing something,” you feel empowered. This approach works from everyday little things to big, tragic things. And any time someone feels like they can do something, they feel less desperate, less down, less miserable.
Kate: To me, the whole point is that life presents challenges to us all. It’s going to throw everyone some curveballs. So in the same way we educate our students to figure out a math problem or delve deeply into literary analysis, we want to be able to teach them how to live in a way that will sustain them. To me, resiliency is a huge piece of that learning.
Kate Grant has served as CGS college counselor, US dean of students, and counselor since 1997. She holds an MEd in counseling and consulting psychology from Harvard University and an AB from Smith College. Kristin Ogard has been teaching and counseling for more than 22 years. She came to CGS in 2001 and received her MA in counseling psychology from Lewis & Clark College. Jonathan Weedman joined the Catlin Gabel community in 2008.
More on personal resiliency builders and environmental protective factors


Sophomore Lawrence Sun advances to U.S. Physics Team semifinals for second consecutive year

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The American Association of Physics Teachers has announced the top students chosen to advance to the semifinal round of U.S. Physics Team selection. Approximately 3,000 students participated in the first phase of the selection process, the Fnet=ma Exam. Lawrence is one of 390 students nationwide to make it to the second round. He awaits the results of a second exam that is used as the basis for selection of the 20 members of the U.S. Physics Team.

Go, Lawrence!

Tuition on the Track community walkathon for financial aid

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A student-generated event

Letter from Kate Rubinstein ’12 and Brooke Edelson ’12

The English department developed the Agents of Change assignment 15 years ago, for the purpose of giving Catlin Gabel students an opportunity to employ their rhetorical skills to affect positive changes in the school community. For Kate’s Agents of Change assignment, she proposed a school-wide community walkathon fundraiser designated to tuition assistance. She and Brooke have worked hard this year pursuing the idea and planning the event.

Dear Catlin Gabel families:

Kate '12 and her 1st grade buddy, Ben, will see YOU on the track!

We are excited that the entire senior class passionately endorses Tuition on the Track and is helping us bring the walkathon to life.

The inaugural Tuition on the Track walkathon is on
Thursday, April 12, from 1 to 3 p.m.

Our goal for Tuition on the Track is to establish a new community tradition that follows in the footsteps of the Rummage Sale, which supported financial aid. We hope to raise $25,000 (one financial aid scholarship), while bridging school divisions and immersing the greater community in Catlin Gabel spirit.

Students in grades 1 through 12 will collect funds through an online pledge system and will be supported through a process similar to canvassing for the Rummage Sale. We are meeting with students in all divisions to explain the process and generate enthusiasm.

Our dream is for Tuition on the Track to become an annual tradition that makes it possible for students who could not otherwise attend Catlin Gabel to benefit from the exceptional academic and social experience our class has enjoyed together.

Thank you to all the students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni who are joining our effort. Thanks, especially, to the class of 2012, who have joined forces to organize the event and make this effort our senior class gift to the school.


Download the pledge form below. Print and complete the form as you canvass for pledges. Then enter the information online.

» Enter your pledge form data. 

» Parents, enter pledges for your younger students here.

Questions? Get in touch with us at tuitiononthetrack@catlin.edu

Warm regards,
Kate & Brooke
Tuition on the Track coordinators

Thank you, sponsors!




Two mock trial teams advance to state

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Twelve teams competed at regionals and two of the three teams going to state are from Catlin Gabel. That's a first! The Blue and White teams wil argue a case about a burn victim who is suing a coffee company after spilling a hot beverage on himself. The claims are negligence and strict product liability.

White team members are co-captains Talbot Andrews, Grace McMurchie, and Megan Stater, with Audrey Davis, Rachel Caron, Lauren Ellis, Mira Hayward, Harry Heath, Andrew Hungate, Fiona Noonan, Eli Wilson Pelton, and Henry Shulevitz.

Blue team members are co-captains Curtis Stahl and Terrance Sun, with Alexandra van Alebeek, Abby Doctor, Ian Fyfield, Trevor Luu, Chris Park, Tyler Quatraro, Emily Siegel, Elise Thompson, Mary Whitsell, and Brandon Wilson.

The Silver team, composed primarily of first-year won their first two matches at regionalsbefore losing a razor-thin battle with our Blue team. The following students very nearly advanced to state: Jonathan Bray, Tyler Perzik, Elise Thompson, Theo Knights, Nick Petty, Nama Rosas, Nick Rhodes, Liv Phillips, Anisha Adke,  and Will Rosenfeld.

Thank you, volunteer coaches Scott Thompson, Anushka Shenoy '04, Nell Bonaparte, Jim Coon, and Bob Bonaparte '73, and adviser Dave Whitson.


Lower School Newspaper in a Day

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An all-day care production

Lower School students in the all-day care program during parent-teacher conferences created this newspaper in less than one day. They conducted interviews, took photos, wrote articles, laid out pages, prepared files for printing, and took their files to our friends at pod4print where they learned about every aspect of printing a newspaper. The newspaper staff received copies of their newspaper to take home and share with all of us on campus.

Student Led Conferences

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Notes from Vicki

Student Led Conferences

I hope you enjoyed your student-led conference. I saw many kids grinning ear to ear. Even many of the upper grade students going through the super-cool-don’t-show-your-emotions stage couldn’t wipe the smile from their face. And why should they? After all, they’ve just had the undivided attention of their parents and teachers -- some of the most important adults in their lives -- who celebrated their strengths and supported their efforts to work on their weaknesses and challenges. The dynamic of unconditional love is downright intoxicating. Even those who felt a bit more somber with the weight of needing to make some immediate improvements knew they were surrounded with support to do their best. I witnessed incredible courage on the part of students and parents in “going there,” even on hard issues.
I know you’ve heard me say this a million times, but teaching is about relationship building. Once healthy bonds are made between the teacher, the student, and their parents, there is no limit to the learning that can take place. Student-led conferences are an opportunity for the child to be an active participant in the reporting of his/her progress. Let’s face it – the adults can talk until they are blue in the face, and set the most meaningful and relevant goals in the world for the child, but they will never be realized until the kid is actually involved. Our goal is for the children to be intrinsic learners; we’ll never get there unless they are empowered to be part of the process.
Effective student-led conferences can only happen when there is quality instruction including meaningful instructional assessments, daily feedback, and ongoing opportunities for students to honestly self-reflect. They take a great deal of front-end loading on the part of the teachers, and then the children actually practice communicating the most important things you as parents need to know. As the students get older you will notice they are more and more involved in the selection of which pieces of work to show you, and their goal setting becomes deeper and richer.

What if my child’s self-assessments are inaccurate?
Our experience shows us that if students are given ongoing opportunities to be part of the evaluation process, and are expected to be honest and show integrity, that their self-assessments are amazingly “right on.” Their own perspective brings a richness and an authenticity that we would never be able to fully know without their involvement. In fact, we find that more times than not, students are actually harder on themselves than we would be as evaluators – that’s how seriously they take this process! In the occasional case where a child overrates him/herself, the teacher finds time to privately compare the differing perspectives. If a child has perfectionistic characteristics and is being unreasonably hard on him/herself, the teacher works with the child on this issue.
What if we didn’t get through all of the work samples chosen to be shared at the conference? Students share only a sampling of work for the conferences. Many of them were involved in the selection of such work samples that illustrated their strengths as well as areas they need to improve. Please find time at home to have your child finish showing you their work.
I’d still like to talk to the teacher privately but there wasn’t time. Our teachers schedule in time for the teacher and parent to chat privately following the student-led conference. If you did not get this time or still have questions you’d like to discuss, please feel free to contact the teacher to set up another conference.

So if student-led conferences are so valuable, why don’t more schools do them? There are many reasons why some teachers and schools hesitate to conduct student-led conferences. They take a great deal of extra time to prepare for, and with the increasing number of students in a classroom, it is difficult to have a meaningful loop of feedback, assessment, self-evaluation and individual student goal-setting. It would also be fair to say that some educators may not be familiar with or convinced of the value of student-led conferences. And just because you have student-led conferences does not mean the students attain the depth we are looking for – it could simply involve the students explaining/sharing a few pieces of pre-selected work samples and that’s it.

I remember sitting in the long empty hallway of my elementary school while my mother attended the parent-teacher conference. I truly had no idea what the teacher was saying to my mother. Later that day I’d be shown my report card with letter grades that seemed fairly random. I was always surprised by my grades. I was never invited to participate in the process of figuring out where I needed to improve in school. It was much later in my life when I actually learned what I needed to do my best work and how to advocate for myself; our goal is for our students to be able to have this self-understanding as early as possible, as it will open doors for them for the rest of their schooling, and the rest of their lives.


Gambol 2012 photo gallery

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March 3 at the Governor Hotel

Thank you, Paul and Pam Monheimer, for the photos!

Click on any image to start the slide show.

Calendar highlights for next year

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2012-13 calendar-at-a-glance

Upper School orientations, book pick-ups, locker assignments (specific dates and times for each grade level to follow)
Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5

Middle School kick-off and classes begin
Tuesday, September 4

Lower School open house
Tuesday, September 4, 10 a.m. – noon

Lower School classes begin
Wednesday, September 5

Preschool classes begin for half of class
Kindergarten orientation
Wednesday, September 5

Preschool classes begin for half of class
Kindergarten classes begin
Thursday, September 6

Upper School classes begin
Thursday, September 6

Beginning School – all classes in session
Friday, September 7

Thanksgiving break
Wednesday, November 21 - Sunday, November 25

Winter break
Saturday, December 15 - Tuesday, January 1

Classes resume
Wednesday, January 2

Martin Luther King Jr. Day - no classes
Monday, January 21

Presidents' Day - no classes
Monday, February 18

Spring break (note: Friday is a no-school day)
Friday, March 22 – Sunday, March 31

Memorial Day – no classes
Monday, May 27

Last day of classes
Friday, June 14

Saturday, June 15

Reserved days for closure make-up (if we have three or more unplanned closures)
June 17 – 19