Just before break I had the pleasure of getting together with alumni who live in the Bay Area. Catlin Gabel’s former students are always interested in what is new at the school and how we adapt to technology, globalism, and current trends in education. They also love to hear about traditions that they remember from their school days. Lower School Experiential Days, Middle School Breakaway, and Upper School Winterim are among our alumni’s favorite memories, and they are delighted to know that their alma mater continues to offer breaks from classroom learning for cross-graded extended blocks of time devoted to experiential learning.
I am impressed every year with the imaginative, educational, fun, and new offerings our students, teachers, and parents design for Winterim, Breakaway, and Experiential Days. This year for the first time we ran Breakaway and Experiential Days concurrently, so there were several groups that were not only cross-graded, but cross divisional, as well.
Learning by doing
The benefits of experiential learning are numerous. Most people learn best by doing. The hands-on activities offered through these multi-day immersions in an activity are truly hands-on. Lower School students in the “From Sheep to Shawl” project learned to knit and further immersed themselves in the topic by visiting a sheep farm to learn about turning wool into yarn. Middle Schoolers in the EnertiaKarts class designed and built both conventional and electric racing go-carts and learned about batteries, brakes, chassis design, and steering along the way. Upper School students interested in computer games didn’t just play computer games; they developed a computer game using design, programming, music, and creative skills.
Learning by traveling
Helping students take risks is a major component of experiential learning. One of our favorite ways to stretch students is through travel. Fourteen fifth grade students traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they stayed with host families from the Summit School. This exchange is a longtime tradition for our two schools. Middle School students who study French traveled to Martinique, which gave them a language and cultural experience they will never forget. A group of Upper School students traveled to San Francisco to explore the city’s cultural and ethnic history through museum visits, talks with history professors, and tours.
Learning by going outdoors
We like to encourage students who are not experienced outdoor adventurers to take advantage of Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim to try something new. Both the Lower and Middle Schools offer snow adventures for novice skiers or snowboarders. Hiking and rock climbing are also popular options. This year, 12 Upper Schoolers had the good fortune of traveling to the Grand Canyon to raft the Diamond Down stretch of the Colorado River and hike its many side canyons.
Learning by playing
Many of our students take part in sports experiences during our four-day learning periods. One of the combined Lower and Middle School offerings gave students a chance to learn about basketball from all angles. They played the game, went to a Trail Blazer game, visited the Nike campus to design shoes, and met with former Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey. Another group learned all they could about fly-fishing. Upper School students explored the world of sports in a Winterim dedicated to sports played around the globe. We’re not sure cricket will catch on at Catlin Gabel, but at least one group of students tried their best to learn the rules and ropes of the game.
Learning by helping others
One popular Winterim class is volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Catlin Gabel Upper Schoolers and faculty leaders work hard to improve housing in our community. Learning construction skills while benefiting our community epitomizes our commitment to experiential learning and service.
This is just a sample of the exciting, creative, and focused learning that happens during Experiential Days, Breakaway, and Winterim. Students gain enormously from the chance to engage in activities in depth, take risks, form new relationships, and make choices about what they want to learn. Catlin Gabel’s commitment to experiential learning is steeped in our progressive tradition. When our current students are alumni, they will ask if we still have experiential days programs at Catlin Gabel. We will most certainly answer in the affirmative.
I take this opportunity to share with you my enormous respect and appreciation for Emily Jones, departing Upper School head, who came to Catlin Gabel in fall 1999.
Emily’s leadership has had a profound effect on the entire school. She is utterly honest, highly ethical, deeply intel-ligent, truly caring, and incredibly engaged in her work as an educator.
Each year Emily tells students to take risks within the safety of their Upper School experience. She has encouraged teachers, staff members, and trustees to do the same.
She has been a vital voice in articulating the need for enhancing the Upper School area of the campus. The benefits for students and learning were always at the forefront of her conversations, which led to constructing the new library and modern languages building, and renovating the Dant House, humanities, and science buildings. Emily imagined a distinct Upper School campus where adolescents and their teachers would study and hang out together. Isn’t it ironic that Emily finishes her tenure at Catlin Gabel in an unattractive office in a double-wide trailer while her vision for the Upper School reaches completion?
Emily promoted the Upper School laptop program in spring 2002. Skeptics questioned the wisdom of this plan, but Emily had done exhaustive research and defended the notion with great care and sensitivity. Just five years later, our high school students and teachers cannot imagine academic life without laptops.
We have made great strides in globalizing Catlin Gabel through student exchanges, trips abroad, and curriculum im-provements. Emily, who is a world traveler, has championed the cause. She has encouraged an increasing number of juniors to spend a year abroad (four this year and last). Likewise, she has welcomed students from across the globe to come study at Catlin Gabel. Her experience teaching in Botswana and Thailand has benefited us all. She was an early voice in support of adding Chinese to our modern languages program.
Emily is a font of knowledge about teenagers and how to help them mature into responsible adults. Her sensible views on child-rearing have benefited countless teachers, parents, and children. So often after parent meetings with Emily, I hear from families who credit Emily with giving them advice that changed their family dynamics for the better.
Emily’s focus is on students. At the same time she supports the faculty and recognizes the strengths of each teacher. She is masterful at identifying people’s talents and positioning them for everyone’s benefit. She has developed a “kid team,” a group of adults charged with thinking about the whole child. Emily has hired excellent new teachers, while honoring and learning from the teachers who have long histories with Catlin Gabel.
A strong advocate for keeping pace with new research, Emily has supported the faculty in attending brain research conferences and passing along their new understanding to colleagues school wide. Teaching in classrooms across the divisions now reflects the latest information about how people learn.
The Upper School is in great shape. Emily has made sure of that. Her successor, Michael Heath, has an excellent foundation upon which to build. Thank you, Emily. The Catlin Gabel community will miss you.
After 39 years in the Upper School, it is hard to imagine Susan Sowles not teaching art at Catlin Gabel. Generations of students have benefited from her quiet grace, constant support, and wealth of knowledge. Alumni in the arts point to Susan and her influence when they remember their journeys to becoming artists. Susan has led the art department as longtime department chair, taught art history, weaving, ceramics, painting, watercolor, and calligraphy, and served as yearbook advisor. Her elegant calligraphy has bejeweled diplomas for as long as anyone can remember. Susan’s contributions to Catlin Gabel go far beyond the arts department. She chaired the faculty professional development committee, giving voice to the concept of furthering everyone’s educations at Catlin Gabel. She has worked tire-lessly on behalf of independent schools by planning two major PNAIS conferences on our campus. And she has made certain Catlin Gabel is evaluated in the best light, leading us through two self-studies for accreditation. Thank you, Susan, for your lifetime of dedication to Catlin Gabel. I wish you all the best in your well-deserved retirement.
Congratulations to the Class of 2007. You will be missed! Read a summary of the senior panel discussion with the PFA in the Campus Life section of the website.
This is the bittersweet time of year when we prepare for our seniors to graduate. As their final weeks of high school wane, the class of 2007 is engaged in the life of the school and year-end traditions. At the same time, they are clearly ready to begin their next adventures. Most seniors have decided where they will attend college next year, some are deferring for one year but have determined which college they will attend the following year, and several are postponing their final decisions until they receive wait-list news or financial aid offers.
How did our seniors fare in this year’s instensely competitive college admission environment? Beautifully! I congratulate the class of 2007 on their admission to a variety of outstanding colleges. The list is impressive (and will be published in the fall Caller). Further, I am proud of the support the students have shown each other during the anxiety-producing process, which, unfortunately, includes rejection as well as acceptance letters. The students have remained positive and focused on the goal: being well educated.
As you have probably read in publications including the New York Times, LA Times, and Business Week, this has been a record-setting year for college applications for four reasons: the Echo Boomers (children born between 1982 and 1995) represent a population bulge. More high school graduates are attending college than previous generations. The number of international students applying to American colleges has increased. Students apply to more colleges due to amplified competition and the ease of filing online with common applications.
What are some of the numbers the class of 2007 confronted? According to the LA Times “Acceptance rates for Stanford, Yale, and Columbia were 10.3 percent, 9.6 percent, and 8.9 percent respectively. That means thousands of valedictorians and people with grade-point averages of 4.0 or higher were passed over in favor of whatever form of superhuman DNA now constitutes a worthy Ivy Leaguer. Of course, as admissions officers are quick to point out, you can be an infinitely worthy candidate and still get a no.”
The pressure on our students is enormous, and the stress is compounded when parents have unreasonable expectations. Suppose you had a nine percent chance of getting a job. Would you apply for it? An optimist might, but certainly would not put all her eggs in one basket. The idea of setting your heart on one or two first-choice colleges is an obsolete notion.
We must broaden our minds when we think of good colleges. The big-name colleges represent a small fraction of the excellent schools scattered throughout the country. Great academics and first-rate faculties are characteristics of many colleges and universities with which you may not be familiar. Illustrating this point, Newsweek dubbed 25 lesser-known schools the New Ivies. Their list includes Bowdoin, Emory, Kenyon, Pomona, Reed, Rice, Skidmore, Tufts, and Vanderbilt. Hundreds of colleges and universities that are not household names offer excellent opportunities for our graduates.
Our college counselors, Kate Grant and John Keyes, are knowledgeable about institutions of higher learning nationwide, and make it their business to enlighten colleges about Catlin Gabel. They visit campuses, correspond with college admissions offices, attend conferences, and compare notes with counselors at other high schools. They also communicate with our alumni to gain the inside scoop on colleges from California to Maine. Kate and John are dedicated to building relationships with the students they counsel. They work with juniors to identify the students’ interests and strengths. Early in the senior year, each student meets regularly with either Kate or John to establish a list of good-fit colleges, prepare essays, and line up teacher recommendations. Parents often participate in the process, but we encourage students to take the lead. The personalized attention our students receive from the entire faculty throughout the college application process is extraordinary.
Talking about grades makes us uncomfortable because we deemphasize grades in favor of non-competitive learning for the sake of gaining knowledge and skills. However, we understand the best way to dispel myths is to address misperceptions directly.
The prevailing rumor that the Upper School’s uninflated grades prevent our students from competing does not bear out. While some high schools hand out 4.0 GPAs like candy on Halloween, Catlin Gabel reserves the highest grades for exceptional students. Currently—and we don’t expect this to change at the end of the year—the majority of this year’s seniors have between 3.0 and 3.5 GPAs. Twelve students have GPAs of 3.5 or more. The average GPA for 2005, 2006, and 2007 has been 3.113, 3.175, and 3.157 respectively.
When colleges see our grade distribution, they understand our grading patterns. They know from experience and from word of mouth that Catlin Gabel students succeed in college. College admissions officers are skilled at matching students to their programs and consider factors beyond grades and test scores. During the last three years our students with grade point averages between 2.8 and 3.3 have been accepted to Colorado College, George Washington University, Macalester, Middlebury, Reed, Skidmore, St. Andrews, Smith, University of California- Davis, University of Chicago, University of Puget Sound, Washington University, and Whitman, to name a few. Carnegie-Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Oberlin, and University of Pennsylvania have accepted Catlin Gabel students with 3.3 to 3.5 GPAs. And Amherst, Brown, Harvey Mudd, Harvard, Haveford, MIT, Pomona, Princeton, Stanford, Swarthmore, and Yale have accepted our students with 3.5 to 4.0 GPAs.
The numbers and rankings are distractions from our most important goals of creating meaningful and relevant curriculum and educational experiences, and cultivating close student-teacher relationships. We prepare students for advanced learning, wherever their paths may lead, by offering seminar-style courses, engaging labs, myriad extracurricular clubs and activities, and personal attention. Our students know how to work cooperatively and creatively, and communicate effectively. Catlin Gabel’s college counselors and teachers know our students well, advocate for them, and help them select and pursue the best college matches. Our alumni report that they are academic achievers in college because they know how to approach professors, ask for help, manage their time, work with others, and direct their own learning. Members of the class of 2007, like their predecessors, are ready to fully engage in the next chapters in their lives. I wish them all the best.
In late March we will resume campus construction and continue work on the Upper School facilities. The campus will be enhanced in many ways by the planned remodel of the Dant House, the humanities building, and the science building. The need for renovating these three buildings was identified when the concept of an Upper School village with a central quad was articulated.
The number of Upper School students has increased from approximately 240 in 1994 to 285 today. The increase provides an infusion of new students, allows for greater diversity, and expands our course offerings. We have boosted the number of teaching positions so that class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios have remained constant. Now it is time to complete the building expansions to better serve the curriculum and learners.
The Dant House is Catlin Gabel’s original defining building. Renovating this beloved and historic building will restore the house to its earlier beauty and make the spaces more accessible, useful, and environmentally responsible. Plans include retaining the original woodwork, fireplaces, and other historic features. The office area will be opened up to make it visible from the entrance, and new faculty offices will be created. Some of the walls, fire doors, and open sprinkler pipes that were required by old fire codes will be removed. The original plumbing, which is 60 years old and no longer functions properly, will be replaced. The oil-fired boiler will be retired and the building will be connected to the library’s efficient and environmentally friendly heating system. In fact, underground pipes were laid between the library and the Dant House, as well as the humanities building, in 2002 in preparation for this project. New weatherproof windows will further decrease energy usage.
Legendary Portland architect John Storrs designed the humanities building, which served as the Upper School library for over 30 years. John Storrs’ work, which includes the Oregon College of Art and Craft campus and Salishan resort, is historically significant. The architects and builders involved in previous remodeling projects all agree that the humanities building is a Portland treasure. The remodel will retain the architectural character of the building, while completing the structural transformation it needs to go from a library building to a classroom building. The classrooms will have improved sound insulation, and the learning center will be expanded. The addition of an outdoor deck provides a new outdoor space for the community. Like the Dant House project, the humanities building project includes new windows and a heating system linked by underground pipes to the library’s heating system. This project benefits the Middle School as well as the Upper School because the humanities building houses two Middle School classrooms and the Middle and Upper School learning center.
We are adding a new teaching lab to the west side of the science building. The addition of a new faculty office will create a courtyard linking the math and science buildings. Planned upgrades to the science building include removal of the unattractive and unsuccessful grey accordion partitions. Glass walls that allow for natural light from the central clerestory windows to shine in all the classrooms will replace the partitions. A new exit from the center of the science building will lead to the new math and science courtyard.
Funding for the Dant House, humanities, and science-math remodels comes from the school’s working capital funds and contributions made to the projects.
Making the move
Students and teachers need not move from the math and science buildings this spring. However, the Dant House and humanities building must be vacated before renovations begin. Students, teachers, lockers, and furniture will relocate to one of the indoor tennis courts and temporary trailer classrooms. We elected to start the renovations in spring so they will be complete by the time school opens in the fall. As the spring weather takes hold, the problem of temporarily losing student hang-out space will diminish when kids gravitate to the outdoors.
In order to make time for moving out of the affected buildings and into temporary digs, we are extending spring break only for Upper School students to include Friday, March 23, and Monday, April 2. The teachers will use those two days to move out of their current classrooms and offices and into temporary classrooms and offices. The students did not complain about this schedule alteration when we announced the plan in early January.
We recognize that the temporary disruptions cause some hardship, but our students and teachers have proven themselves resilient time and time again. This year’s seniors will no doubt complain that their final months at Catlin Gabel are disrupted, but I can imagine them at their 10-year reunion remembering the glory of ending their high school careers in temporary classrooms. Surely the class of 2007 understands that others before them withstood campus construction projects so that today’s seniors could benefit from a new Middle School building, a glorious track and field, a remodeled gymnasium, and vastly improved Upper School facilities. By next fall students and teachers will undoubtedly overlook this temporary inconvenience when they move into beautifully remodeled and expanded facilities.
We take every precaution to ensure student safety during construction. Most of the work scheduled for April and May will occur indoors. Exterior work will take place during summer vacation. Construction sites will be tightly fenced. We are working once again with Walsh Construction, which has a proven safety record on our campus. Their crews are particularly respectful of our students and teachers.
Facilities are an important factor in learning. Ambience, relationship with outdoor spaces, and quality of classrooms enhance learning. When we plan for facilities improvements we always look to school founder Ruth Catlin for guidance. In her philosophy statement Miss Catlin included the learning environment as an essential ingredient: “To maintain a school with the most enlightened ideals of education...in healthful, comfortable, cultural, simple and beautiful surroundings.” Our goal is to respect the inspiration of the architects who have come before and the historical memories of alumni while renewing and adapting to meet the needs of emerging generations of students.