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The Mandate for Teaching History Well: A Farewell From Outgoing Head of School Lark Palma

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Lark P. Palma

If taught well and thoughtfully, history helps a student develop a unique capacity for comprehending human situations. It fuels a conversation about the importance of action from the lessons of history. It’s meaningful to me that my last article for the Caller is about history and social studies, as I believe history is the single most powerful discipline for analyzing the past, living the present, and predicting the future. Most importantly, studying history well helps us become thoughtful, informed, and committed to exercising our rights as citizens, especially our right and privilege to vote. This issue is a testament to how well our superb faculty teaches history, and their eagerness to fine-tune the curriculum, create experiences that make history immediate and important, and seek connections to social, political, artistic, and economic situations.
Recently, when packing boxes to move back to South Carolina, I came across my 8th grade required history text, The History of South Carolina by Mary C. Sims Oliphant. She found it adequate to talk about slavery for one and a half pages, and the glorious generals of the “War Between the States” for several chapters. The economic justifications for slavery were never connected to the immorality of the war. What if I hadn’t come from a progressive family that had lively debates at the dinner table? What if I had not been exposed to any other points of view? My ability to participate in our fundamental right to express our citizenship would be severely compromised.
Catlin Gabel and the teachers who teach history and social studies understand well the mandate of their work.
• Students learn how the past shapes the present and probably informs the future. The Transitional Justice course clearly shows the direct effect of a law, its enactment, and the success of social change as a result.
• Students learn to develop empathy by reading original texts written by the people experiencing the events. For instance, 6th graders study the context of the Civil War and write a first-person journal.
• They learn to read critically to distinguish between evidence and assertion and understand competing points of view. In doing so, they learn to interrogate the text and artifacts, make hypotheses, and draw conclusions so that they extract every bit of meaning. Through these interrogations, students come up with real questions. Who is not represented in the study of history, and why? Why is the history of real lives of the poor, women, minority groups, or children so sparse in relationship to the history of political leaders, wars, politics, treaties, and policies? Why isn’t there more work published by women and minorities? In a sense students are calling for a wider exposure and deeper content to intensify their understanding of the course of history.
The study of history reveals its evolving narrative. Students learn that what happened in the past is not the final truth, so what they study and how they study it has to change. Courses that have been added to the Catlin Gabel curriculum include Middle Eastern studies, the Sixties, 9-11, Islam, gender studies, and other courses that emphasize social history and bring in more interdisciplinary learning.
I leave Catlin Gabel this summer to contemplate a curriculum for another school, in Charleston, South Carolina. The first plaque acknowledging that city’s role in the slave trade was erected in the 1990s. It is clear how the teaching of history should develop there, with the city itself as the curriculum. If any of you travel there, I will be a willing and proud guide. I will miss Catlin Gabel deeply. I will miss writing for the Caller, but there are books and blogs inside me ready to emerge.

Learning in Action

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A Chat with First Graders

Our first graders are studying food and have selected topics of deep interest to study using an inquiry process. Three students came in to see me.
Child 1:  Can we ask you some questions about dairy products? We heard you are an expert about dairy products because you raised cows! (Always nice to know you are considered an expert at something…)
Vicki:         Sure! When?
Child 2:     Right now!
Vicki:         Okay! (Well, I have a few minutes before my next meeting.) The three enter my office and open their “Field Study Journals”.
Child 3:     We are going to take notes in our Field Study Journals!
Vicki:         Great idea! What are your questions?
Child 1:     Well, actually, we only have one question. (He flips through several pages of notes.) WHAT IS A CURD? (Feeling less and less like an expert by the moment….)
Vicki:         So what is a curd? (Stalling tactic, how am I going to answer that for three 7-year olds? Now really, how would YOU answer that for three 7-year-olds?)
Child 2:     Right, we think it might be for making cheese.
Vicki:         Yes, have you heard the rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey… (Using great expression and a sing-song voice)
All three children scrunch up faces and purse brows: No.
Child 1:     What’s a whey? (Oh dear, better see if I can answer the curd part first…)
Vicki: (Leaps over to desktop, googles CURD.) Here’s a picture of a curd! (The children all gather around my computer.) You were right, it’s part of the process of making cheese. To make a curd you mix vinegar with milk. (Wikipedia saves the day)
Child 2:     Wow! Let’s write that down! (They sound out v-i-n-n-a-g-u-r-r…)
Child 3:     I’m bored. Can I go back to class now? (Guess she’s done….)
Vicki:         (I explain the stomachs and show a poster of the cow’s stomachs.) When cows eat grass they eat in a hurry and it goes into the first stomach to hold it until they have time to chew it up. Then later on, when they’re relaxed and have the time, they gulp it up and chew it up. That’s called “chewing their cud.”
Child 2:     (Looks horrified) YOU MEAN COWS EAT THEIR PUKE?
Vicki:         No, they just gulp up the grass so they can chew it up later so it can go to the second stomach….well, actually, I guess it’s sort of like throwing up (Explaining this stuff is indeed humbling…)
Child 1:     WOW! THIS IS SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN READING A BOOK! (Great, this will likely be dinnertime conversation. Your hard-earned tuition dollars at work….)
Child 2:     Can we make curds?
Vicki:         I don’t have any vinegar but I can show you creamy milk and watery milk (We go into the faculty lunch room and I get both out of the refrigerator)
Child 2:     OH! This is so much more fun talking to you than reading a book!
Child 1:     Do you have any vinegar? (Points to the cupboard)
Vicki:         Sorry, this is where we keep tea and coffee (I open the cupboard to prove my point and there in the middle of the second shelf is – you guessed it – a bottle of vinegar.) OH! It’s your lucky day! (How in the world did a bottle of vinegar get there?! We talk about first grade as being magical and I guess it really is!)
Child 1:     WE’RE MAKING CURDS! (We mix milk with vinegar and it curdles)
Child 2:     LET’S GO SHOW EVERYONE! (They race off to the first grade…)
Inquiry in action – a reminder of why we’re all in this business!

Lark's farewell BBQ photo gallery

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The sun always shines on the righteous!


Biking the backroads of Lane County

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Sunny weather and covered bridges

A classic Oregon adventure-- biking the old roads of the Willamette Valley, crossing covered bridges, and having fun on a warm and sunny afternoon.  

The adventure began Friday night with a showing of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent classic “The General.” A small group of trip students and parents enjoyed the film greatly and looked forward to sighting familiar settings during our trip.  We departed Saturday at 8:20, the expeditionary force consisting of 6 students and 2 leaders. We pulled into Baker Bay Campground, in a Lane County Park, right on the lakeshore.  We arrived 3 hours after leaving Catlin.  Despite the governor’s drought declaration for Lane County, the reservoir was completely full. We ate our lunches around a huge table in the midst of a fairy-tale ring of our camping tents that had sprung up, thanks to our busy group, all around the periphery of the site. After lunch we secured the campsite against roving animals and the (highly remote) possibility of rain, and climbed on to the bikes to set off on our explorations. We started with a fun 2 mile descent, past the earthen dam, through open fields filled with yellow and white daisies, and by the Army Corps of Engineers campground at Schwarz Park below the dam. We crossed the outlet stream well below the spillway, and cycled west to where the Row River Trail crossed the road.


The Row River Trail is a former logging railroad that has been converted to a trail.  The entire 15.6 mile length from Cottage Grove to Culp Creek is paved and wonderfully smooth for biking on. At Harms Park we looked high and low (even taking a detour up a hilly side road) to look for a trestle used in “The General.”  We didn’t see anything remotely like what we’d seen in the film.  Disappointed and let down by the guide book, we stopped for a rest in the park. After our break we headed eastward again along the lake.  The trail emerged more into the open as we got to the marshy upper end of the reservoir.  Our route continued on past the town of Dorena, and climbed ever so gently up the inlet river. After milepost 13.5 the trail became wilder. None of the bridges we saw on this trip are usable by cars anymore, but we were able to bike and walk on all of them.  We headed back on Shoreview Drive to the campsite. It was about 5:00 when we returned to camp, and there were still many hours of daylight left.  After settling chore duties for the rest of the trip, an expedition to the lake shore was mounted. Near the floating barrier protecting the mooring area there was a clear path into the lake.  The floating barrier consisted of long sections of corrugated plastic pipe linked end to end like a long lake-snake.  The pipes were a meter in diameter, and closed at the ends so they would float.  They looked highly roll-y, but the students were able to get up on them and sit or stand on them.


We returned to the campsite to change and prepare dinner.  The meal was burritos with all the fixin’s, followed by triple chocolate brownies.  Nobody went hungry, and despite many dirty dishes, a very efficient clean-up crew dealt with them quickly.


We walked down to the lake shore to admire the sunset over the water and the trees across the bay. A game of Presidents was quickly organized.  The rules were explained to the neophytes, and all 8 of us played. When it finally became too dark to see the cards, we started a fire in the fire ring in the midst of the tents. Once sufficient coals had developed, s’mores were toasted, constructed, and consumed.  This was a first introduction to these traditional camp treats for several members of the party.  All agreed that they were deliciously tasty.


As the night was so fine, several of the students decided to sleep out on a tarp, rather than in tents.  They were still cocooned in their sleeping bags when the wake-up call sounded at 7:30, and the traditional Frying of the Spam commenced at 8:00 to begin the day properly. Lunches were made and stashed for eating later in the day.  We washed up, packed away the kitchen gear, struck the tents, and loaded the bikes in the trailer.  By 9:15 there was no sign we’d ever been in the campsite, and we drove away to Cottage Grove.


In Cottage Grove we cast about to find the city end of the Row River Trail.  After searching for parking, we unloaded the bikes, stashed the gear from the trailer in the bus, and set off to follow the bike trail eastwards.  There was a huge organized bike ride going on for the weekend which had all the downtown section of Main Street closed off to car traffic.  There were ride volunteers at many of the street crossings, which eased our ride to the city outskirts. We came to the day’s first covered bridge at Mosby Creek.  We crossed the river on a steel railroad bridge a few yards away.  The next covered bridge we saw across a field, with no direct access.  We had to cycle beyond it then back on Row River Road to see Currin Bridge.  When we continued on, such was the enthusiasm of the group that all members charged gung-ho on up the trail beyond the road crossing before the last in line realized that that crossing had been the intended turn around point; it was where we had first gotten on the trail the day before.  We ended up doing the climb to the dam again.  After a full afternoon of biking a wide variety of roads, including some particularly steep sections which required a few riders to walk their mounts up the inclines, we rode to a nearby Dairy Queen (scouted when we first entered Cottage Grove the day before) for a well-earned treat.  Then it was time to return to the bus to load up the bikes for the drive back to Portland.  On the 2.5-hour drive north the gray skies cleared, leaving smudgy clouds like pencil-erased holes in the blue sky.  We arrived at Catlin on schedule at 5:00 pm.


This was a marvelous trip.  The weather was fine, the spring greenery and flowers very scenic.  The biking was easy and low key, the on-trail parts particularly beautiful and soothing.  The covered bridges were plentiful and varied.  The crew was wonderful: friendly, inclusive, enthusiastic, helpful, adept at keeping themselves amused, and despite the wide range of biking, camping, and outdoor program experience, they stuck together and enjoyed themselves and the group.


Lifers ceremony photo gallery 2014

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So long, it's been good to know you (BUT STAY IN TOUCH!)

Students who have attended Catlin Gabel since preschool, kindergarten, or first grade, and their parents, join Beginning School families and teachers for a very special Friday Sing.

Click on any photo to enlarge or download the image.

HMS Pinafore photo gallery

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Bravo to the class of 2018

 Click on any photo to start the slide show or download an image.

Klickitat River Rafting May 17

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Fast moving water & lots of splashy fun!
Trip leader Yen-Ling Wang was unable to take photos, but reported a great time was had by all. The group departed Catlin on time at 7 am. The weather was chilly in the morning, but with full wet-suits, breaking sun, and no showers, everone remained comfortable and in good spirits. Filling 3 rafts, students and adults alike took on full paddling responsibilities, with lots of whitewater excitement and, happily, no items lost overboard!  The day stretched out longer than originally planned, but early calls to families ensured smooth pick-ups back at school when the bus pulled in at 6:30 pm. As of this report posting, some of the Klickitat rafters have already signed-up for the June 29 trip to the White Salmon River! 


Video: 2014 seniors talk about their college choices

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Catlin Gabel seniors are about to embark on an exciting new chapter in their lives. Five seniors speak here about their college choices, and how they found a good fit for them.

»Link to list of where all seniors are going to college
»Link to article by college counselors about the admission year and college trends

Thomas is going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!

Emmarose is going to the University of Southern California!

Chris is going to Princeton University!

Liban's going to Swarthmore College!

Sadie is going to Barnard College!

College list for Catlin Gabel 2014 seniors

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Here's where the class of 2014 is going to college!

(as of 5/22/14)
Amherst College
Barnard College
Bates College
Berklee College of Music
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Brown University
Case Western Reserve University
Chapman University
University of Chicago
Claremont McKenna College
Colorado College (2)
Colby College
University of Denver (2)
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Hamilton College, NY
Harvey Mudd College
University of La Verne
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
McGill University
Montana State University, Bozeman
Mount Holyoke College (2)
New York University (2)
University of Notre Dame
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
University of Oregon (2)
Portland State University
University of Portland (2)
Princeton University (2)
University of Puget Sound (3)
University of Redlands
Reed College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2)
Scripps College (3)
Smith College
University of Southern California (2)
Southern Oregon University (2)
Stanford University
Swarthmore College (3)
Tufts University
Tulane University (2)
Union College
Whitman College (5)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Summer Borrowing is Underway in the US Library!

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8th grade films win awards at Middle School Media Festival

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Three films by Catlin Gabel 8th graders received awards at the Middle School Media Festival at Bush School in Seattle:

"Free Yourself" by Andrei Stoica and Katie Truong: Honorable Mention

"Welcome To The Hood" by Stuart Ryan, Mason Snider, and Elliott White: Audience Award

"One Fish Two Fish Dead Fish Chewed Fish" by Piper Kizziar, Kathryn Putz and Rachael Underwood: Audience Award & Teacher’s Choice Award

Congratulations to the filmmakers and their teacher, Brendan Gill.

Nic Bergen '16 wins Grand Prize at International Silent Film Festival

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Sophomore Nic Bergen's film "Continuous Quest" won the Grand Prix--first place, best film--last night at the selective International Youth Silent Film Festival, competing against films from the U.S., Canada, and China. Nic received a generous cash prize and time on the set of "Grimm," and will be featured in the Rose Festival. Watch for news of a public screening on June 4. Congrats to Nic and our other finalists, Søren Anderson, Becca Dunn, Gus Edelen O'Brien, Zulema Young-Toledo & Elena Lee, Ben Waitches-Eubanks & Javin Dana, and Vikram Nallakrishnan & Reuben Schafir!

May 17 Mt. Hood summit hopes

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Climbing Oregon's tallest peak is not always blue skies!

Climbing Mt. Hood (Oregon’s tallest peak) is not always blue skies and sunshine.
What this trip was about:
  • To learn to work together as a group
  • To face challenges and difficulties and successfully overcome them
  • To learn mountaineering skills
  • To have fun!
A group of eight upper schoolers, along with three experienced adult leaders, attempted to reach the summit of Mt. Hood over the weekend. Our team left Portland on Saturday, May 17, at 8 am and drove up to Timberline Lodge, where we got geared up for snow school. We began the school at about 10:15 and ran until a bit after 3:30 p.m. Starting with a short course on dry pavement, we discussed the importance of communication, eating, hydration, sunscreen, the parts of an ice axe, how to walk with an ice axe, climbing pace, step length, improving steps, and more. We then went out into the slushy snow to practice. We discussed and worked on several moutaineering techniques, various methods of snow travel, self-arrest, and then rope work. We had a great time and even had fun testing different “anchors.” The weather was quite nice and we enjoyed some incredible views of the mountain.

After snow school, we drove down to the Mazamas Lodge, parked (luckily) at the lower lot, and met lodge caretaker Joe, who very kindly had made us a delicious lasagna dinner. Our group was hungry and, according to Joe, we “cleaned them out of all the food.” We reviewed the forecasts and looked at the telemetry from 7000’ to the summit. Indications showed the morning would be cold and breezy.

After dinner, three of us spent a very memorable half hour helping Joe wash the dishes while he blasted “A Tribe Called Quest.” Once the dishes were done, we packed our summit packs, and went straight to bed. The alarm went off far too early at 1 a.m., and we rolled out of our sleeping bags down to the lodge’s main room, where Joe had prepared a generous bacon and egg breakfast. With full stomachs, we drove up to Timberline Lodge and got started on the climb. We made good time (53 minutes) up to Silcox Hut, 1,000 feet above Timberline, and kept climbing up the Palmer Snowfield as the wind picked up and snow began to blow. Our left sides began to look flocked, like Christmas trees. By the time we had reached the top of the Palmer Snowfield at the Palmer lift house, we were all very cold, and visibility was fairly low as well. After some deliberation among the group, we decided to head back down, and after an hour and a half of glissading we were shedding our dripping Gore-Tex inside Timberline Lodge, glad we were out of the elements. We loaded up the bus and drove back to Portland, happy to have learned a good lesson in the mountains.

We would like to thank Joe for the incredible hospitality and of course our great group of students who made up a great Mt. Hood ascent team!

May 10 Beach Conditioning Hike

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Summiting Saddle & Neahkahnie Mountains in one day!
A hearty group of 18 upper schoolers and 2 middle schoolers ventured out to the Oregon coast for a day-long conditioning hike Saturday, May 10. We started in the rain at the base of Saddle Mountain, but by the time we reached the peak, the clouds were clearing and we had intermittent views of the Pacific Ocean. We ate lunch on top, then headed back down the trail and over to Neahkahnie Mountain, right on the coast. The sun stood out for the whole hike, and we enjoyed ourselves in its warmth on the summit. Eventually, we got hungry, descended, and drove to Camp 18 for dinner before driving home, fully satisfied after a good day of hiking.


Students summit Mt. St. Helens

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Tough weather makes for a big challenge

Our intrepid group met at 9am at Catlin Gabel and 15 students 4 leaders boarded a bus and headed northeast towards the Mt St Helens National Monument. Our first stop was at the Ape Caves where the students explored the lower lava tube and ate lunch. After lunch we proceeded to our campsite at Marble Mountain Snow Park where we set up our tents. Saturday afternoon we took a 5-mile hike to June Lake. The weather Saturday was beautiful and sunny, a pleasant surprise after a dismal forecast.  We enjoyed a dinner of chili and corn bread followed by a fireside chat and headed to bed early anticipating a full day.
At 5 am we got up, ate some breakfast and headed out the Swift Creek trail up the Worm Flows Climbing route. There was a steady drizzle through out the morning that changed in to a steady rain as we broke from the trees. We continued to climb for another 2 hours until about 10am. At this point many of the students were quite wet and getting cold. Some elected to call about 5500 ft their high point and turn around.

The summit-bound group broke into nicer weather above and made its way to the top, arriving at 11:50 a.m.  The summit was devoid of other climbers, but also of any view whatsoever.

The descent group returned to camp and their waiting sleeping bags.
The groups joined again at camp at 3pm and left the snow park at 330pm, returning to Catlin at about 5:30.

Valerie Ding & Nikhil Murthy win awards at Int'l Science Fair

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Catlin Gabel sent two finalists this year to the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair held the week of May 11 in Los Angeles. Both Nikhil Murthy ’17 and Valerie Ding ’15 came home with awards.
Valerie Ding won four awards:
1.      4th Place Grand Award in Physics & Astronomy
2.      3rd Place Internationally & 1st Place Nationally (USA), SPIE International Society for Optics and Photonics
3.      Top 6 Nationally, from American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society
4.      New American University Provost Scholarship, Arizona State University (awarded to 22 projects nationally).
Nikhil Murthy won 2nd Place Grand Award in the category of Chemistry.

Congratulations, Nikhil and Valerie!

»Link to Oregonian article