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Students Initiatives 2016

Student-led efforts that impacted life on campus and in the greater Portland community

Interviews by Ken DuBois



Fifth graders Claire Williams, Emma Miller, Sydney Slusher, and Megan Selden initiated and led a clothing and toy drive in December 2015, and engaged the entire school in the effort. Toys were donated to a local fire station to distribute, and clothes were given to Portland’s William Temple House.

CLAIRE: It was really hard to find someplace to donate all of the toys, but then we all kind of worked together and we found a place to do it. And it was actually on Christmas Eve when we donated them. I just felt really great about it afterwards because everybody deserves to have a great holiday.

EMMA: It was really cool to see the people that worked there, their faces. They seemed so happy that they got so many donations. And I thought it was cool that we did it kind of on a holiday, because for the people who do celebrate that, I feel like it’s kind of like a gift to them, like a Christmas gift in a way.

SYDNEY: If we keep helping out the kids, then there will be less kids in so much need. And then the kids who are really struggling can get a little bit more. Since we all have the privilege to have all this stuff, it’s good for us to help other people. Because if we have a happy life, we want other people to have one too.

MEGAN: I think it’s important to step up and do something, because if you just lay back and think that other people are going to do it, then other people will do that, and nobody will help anybody. And I think that it’s a good influence on the younger kids. When they’re older they can do more projects like this to help the community. 


Freshman Avi Gupta, Seth Talyansky, Solomon Olshin, and Hansen Lian organized and presented the school’s first all-ages open chess competition, which drew 123 players to the Catlin Gabel campus from 30 Oregon schools. The festival welcomed players of all skill levels and all grades, kindergarten to high school, and was sanctioned as an Oregon Scholastic Chess Federation qualifier for the Oregon State Championship.

AVI: When Seth and I founded the Chess Club this year, we decided that the key goal of the club would be to foster a community of chess players, both at Catlin Gabel and in the greater Portland area. The Chess Festival was a big step towards that goal, as it brought together students from all around the city for a day of chess.

SETH: Few chess opportunities exist in Oregon. Chess fosters students’ academic success. Catlin Gabel teaches us not to learn passively and work for our desired change. Our team took action to create opportunities. I appreciated my friends’ sharing my passion for action, and, with the support of the school and volunteers, we all worked together to start a new tournament in Portland.

HANSEN: The Chess Festival offered many kids their first taste of the strategic game of chess. These first-timers, as well as numerous seasoned players, got to play four or five games. The experience motivated many to pursue other chess tournaments in the future.

SOLOMON: The crowd at the Chess Festival was quite a diverse one. It gathered communities and generations in a fun environment. Through organizing the Festival, we raised the profile of both Catlin Gabel and the Chess Club and encouraged new participation from across many communities. We worked together to build and maintain a sustainable platform for the tournament while uplifting the community and fundraising for the newly founded Chess Club.


Maya Rayle ’18 and Hayle Meyerhoff ’16 recognized a sustainability issue on campus, and stepped up to lead. By generating campus-wide interest, and collecting hundreds of signatures, they effected one of the few student-led policy changes in the school’s history: Starting in fall 2016, Catlin Gabel will no longer sell drinks in plastic bottles.

MAYA: Take a few sips then throw the bottle in the trash? The plastic bottled drinks sold at Catlin Gabel, including Honest Tea and sparkling water, are often recycled improperly, causing the entire recycling to be thrown away, or the bottles are thrown in trash cans. Hayle and I, student leaders of the high school Environmental Action Team, recognized this issue and decided to do something about it. Last spring, our group built an A-frame structure out of Honest Tea bottles to spark conversations about our school’s plastic waste. We collected student signatures in support of ending the sale of plastic bottled drinks. We presented ideas to Head of School Tim Bazemore and other members of administration. After a year of hard work, Catlin Gabel will stop selling drinks in plastic bottles.

HAYLE: We felt it was important for the Environmental Action Team’s first project to impact the whole school. We hoped the bottle initiative would be a way to invite all members of our community to actively participate in making our campus a better place. As we went around asking for signatures on our petition, I was thrilled to see the wide array of people who care about the environment and who believed we could accomplish our goal. It is really special to be part of a community that takes students this seriously. The success of this project is due to the sincerity with which people listened to us, and the commitment the community has of helping Catlin Gabel evolve.


To give voice to a variety of perspectives on the topic of police use of force, juniors Grace Masback and Jessica McDermott organized a public dialogue and panel discussion with representatives from law enforcement, the legal community, academia, and the activist community. The event drew concerned citizens from throughout the city.

JESSICA: The divisive nature of police use of force results in polarizing and passionately-held viewpoints. Catlin Gabel teaches us to think critically to develop our own perspectives, but I often worry that viewpoints expressed prominently in the media impede my ability to cultivate my own fully-informed opinions on issues. As a response to the controversial nature of the discussion about force, Grace and I created a dialogue between people who hold diverse viewpoints. While we could not resolve every issue in one evening, we succeeded in shedding light on the multifaceted nature of this topic. We strongly believe that understanding opposing viewpoints is the first step in working toward solutions to the most contentious debates.

GRACE: Our goal for this event was to actively embrace conflict as a means of finding common ground and a way forward. We encouraged productive, well-founded debate around an incredibly polarizing issue. Although I had to defuse some challenging disagreements in the course of the forum, the results were largely positive. The issue of police use of force in Portland requires continued dialogue and Jessica and I are committed to working toward meaningful change in this area. I am grateful to Catlin Gabel and The CENTER for giving us the support and space we needed to make it happen and look forward to taking part in additional student initiatives that take on difficult topics and connect with the Portland community.

The CENTER is Catlin Gabel’s new learning and event space in Northeast Portland.