Nance Leonhardt (far left) - Teaching at Catlin Gabel since 2007. Bachelor's in fine arts, radio, TV, & film, Evergreen State College. Master's in teaching, Seattle University. Herb Jahncke (far right) - Teaching at Catlin Gabel since 2007. Bachelor's in biology, Rollins College. Master's in teaching, Lewis & Clark College.
Teachers and The Future
by Tim Bazemore, Head of School
Catlin Gabel is a thriving school today because our mission creates confident and skilled graduates. The teachers who interpret that mission into instruction and relationships are the heart of our educational process. It is common to imagine a future in which technology will render traditional classroom learning less vital—and that may become the case, as learning becomes an anywhere, anytime experience. But at [recent] retreat we were drawn to the inescapable conclusion that the personal presence, guidance, and expertise of a teacher will only become more important as the world changes. As we are seeing the role of librarians expand from curators of books and spaces to teachers and resources who work all around the campus, we will see classroom teachers add new layers of complexity to their role, interacting with colleagues, technology, and self-directed learners in new ways and structures.
The good news is that Catlin Gabel teachers already are stepping into the future. Across the school a team of teacher experts is training peers to design curriculum driven by compelling questions and relevant assessments. In the Upper School, science and arts teachers have developed interdisciplinary courses on structural design and engineering and the chemistry of art. In a Middle School class, students are reading about civil rights, equity, and justice, and writing expository "problem-solution letters" to Portland urban planners. In the Lower School, teachers and tech colleagues are looking at new ways for students to use technology to record and show their understanding of concepts. From Northeast Portland to the Oregon coast, teachers across the grades are challenging children to answer political, social, and environmental questions by integrating skills from traditional disciplines.
No one knows what the future holds, [but] we have an obligation to look ahead and decide how we can best enhance the value of a Catlin Gabel education. [We have begun to] renew our commitment to our mission and to curriculum and activities that we know serve children well. We also will begin to identify the most promising directions for our school, pursuing with vigor the charge Ruth Catlin gave us in 1928 to be an "educational laboratory." As we approach the exciting opportunities that lie ahead, we do so knowing that caring, dedicated, and skillful teachers will always be at the center of what makes this school great.
Herb’s teaching inspiration: A course at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in Maine, during the summer of my junior year of college, inspired me to work with kids in experiential education. One of the challenge course elements at my first job was a zip-line across a ravine. My role was to encourage and support the kids, sit them down on the edge of the platform with feet dangling in the open space above the ravine, and strap them safely to the zip-line. When they were ready to slide across the ravine, they would scoot closer to the edge of the platform; grip the line with both hands, drop off the edge and careen down the wire to the other side. One day, a camp director said to me, “Do you feel that sudden lurch in your stomach when they drop off the edge?” I replied that I certainly did. He said, “When you don’t have that feeling anymore, it’s time to find a different job.” His main focus was on students’ physical safety, but I recognize that this simple rule still applies today. In outdoor education, the perceived and actual risks are what make the experiences so powerful. In indoor education, the risks are just as real and the stakes higher. We, as teachers, expect the students to take risks every day by sharing their thoughts, ideas, strengths, challenges, hopes, and dreams. We encourage them to seek out their developmental “edge” and reach a safe level of discomfort to learn and grow. As they do, I am right beside them, providing a safety line, and watching them take the risks and reap the rewards. If it ever comes to be that I don’t feel that visceral concern for each student as he or she pushes off on their own, it’ll be time to get another job.
Nance’s teaching inspiration: I became a teacher because of my classmate Steve Parkey. I must have spent more than 75% of my young life with Steve, and the only thing I could say about him was that he wore a lot of brown. Everything changed during my sophomore year when I enrolled in a graphic design class. My teacher was a working artist (known by her last name, Hall), the epitome of cool, who wore chic French clothing and oversized tribal jewelry. One day in class, I heard her shriek, “Oh, Mr. Parkey, how MARVELOUS!” She pulled us around to see his illustration—a Boeing commuter heading for work in a series of panels where the vehicle shifted from a pogo stick to a 747. Hall pointed out the clever mutation of lines, the way the drawing seemed to accelerate across the page and come to life. In that moment, she was able to tease out the rare and beautiful in Steve Parkey. He morphed from brown to golden and glittered in our eyes. Under Hall’s tutelage I learned how to silkscreen, solder, and edit video. She fed us a steady diet of new techniques and mind-contorting design prompts. Each person’s solution was cause for celebration in Hall’s studio, and I saw her greatest creative work in those moments. When I reflect on my years in the profession, everything links back to my days with Hall. I teach the same topics, I occasionally wear chic French clothes, etc.—but her imprint is most evident in my relationships with students. I’ve been proud to send students to USC Film School or see them launch creative careers. However, it’s those whose artistic brilliance may be less evident, those who land in careers far afield of what they’ve done in my classes that call me to teach each day. They keep in touch, reminding me that I’ve glimpsed the golden in them, and that is divine.
Follow him on Twitter @TimBazemore.
Inclusion and Outreach
What’s Happening in the World of Inclusion
This past December, Catlin Gabel sent a large group to the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference (PoCC) in Anaheim, CA. We also sent several Upper School students to its companion conference, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in the same location. Catlin Gabel had one of the largest contingents representing 22 people from faculty and staff (across all four divisions) as well as six Upper School students.
Many schools must work hard to make sure they have at least six students (the conference limit) in attendance, but at Catlin Gabel we had 35 students apply to go to SDLC. Those who attended all had a wonderful time and brought back many resources, lessons and new ways to approach our inclusion work at Catlin Gabel.
The SDLC students will facilitate activities and share their experiences and will be responsible for planning one of the upcoming faculty and staff professional development meetings around inclusion. They will also coordinate the Middle and Upper Schools’ annual Martin Luther King assembly and have already met with our Head of School to start the process.
As we move toward the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the school will first honor his birthday at the Middle and Upper School assembly through song, dance and a focus on non-violent protest. In addition, our Lower School students create a social justice assembly honoring civil rights leaders of their choice. January is a month filled with student activities and actions with our students taking the lead. Our students have a lot of agency and ideas and, as adults, we do our best to support them.
From Your Admission Team
How are admission decisions made?
When we speak with prospective families about the timeline for the admission process, which culminates with admission decisions delivered via email on Friday, March 9, we are often asked how admission decisions are made.
Admission committees, consisting of faculty and staff, engage in a very thorough process that reviews and considers each applicant in a holistic way. There isn't a single portion of the application that determines whether or not a student is offered admission, but rather, each piece is considered as part of a larger picture.
After committee members individually review the applications, they then meet as a group to discuss each candidate and determine which applicants show the strongest potential for success at Catlin Gabel. As the list of those who meet the standards for admission is created, the committee also thinks about the degree to which each student will contribute to the current community of learners. We add this layer to our decision-making process because we believe that each student’s school experience is enriched by engaging with students who represent many different perspectives. This diversity comes in many forms, including racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, gender identity, sexual orientation, family structure, temperament, geographic, and learning style. It is our imperative to help prepare students to be culturally competent world citizens by providing opportunities to engage with many different types of people.
Prospective parents also ask if Catlin Gabel gives priority in the admission process to applicants who are children of alums, children of faculty and staff, or children of Catlin Gabel community families. While we very much value the special relationships we have with all three of these groups and we do note it in the applicant file, it does not guarantee admission for any student nor does it carry more weight in the admission decision than such factors as academic preparation and leadership potential. We work hard to strike a balance between honoring those relationships with families who are already affiliated with the school and ensuring that new families have access to this community.
And finally, parents who are considering applying for financial aid often wonder if their financial aid status affects their child’s admissibility. At Catlin Gabel the vast majority of admission offers are made without considering an applicant's need for financial assistance. However, with a comprehensive yet finite financial aid budget, financial need is considered as final admission decisions are made simply to ensure that we have enough available funds. Our advice to families in need of financial assistance is to apply to Catlin Gabel with confidence that their admission decision will be based on merit and if admitted, the school is committed to providing an appropriate level of funding to enable their child to attend.
With limited space in each grade and many wonderful applicants, difficult admission decisions are made each year by committees who take their roles very seriously. We are confident that our process is thorough and fair and acknowledges the many ways a child can contribute to our learning community.