Active Education at Catlin Gabel

By Ken DuBois, Editor

How the school’s Wellness and Athletics programs build character, community, and healthy habits for life

On a Friday afternoon last fall, first-graders in the Mini Gym excitedly cluster around Wellness teacher Celia Richard as she explains the day’s challenge—to hop, skip, and jump across foam-padded obstacles positioned around the room. Soon they’re racing across the course, with Celia cheering them on. A student completes the final obstacle and calls out, “I did it!”

Later that same day, Upper School boys on the soccer pitch gather around varsity soccer coach Peter Shulman as he readies them for a different kind of challenge. The huddle breaks, players run into position, and a cheer goes up from hundreds of blue-clad fans. In this setting it’s the spectators—huddled under blankets, and crowding the sidelines—who can hardly contain their excitement.

These moments define the Catlin Gabel approach to health and wellness. At every stage, students are given opportunities to learn about their abilities, and test themselves physically and emotionally. From early lessons about self-care, including fitness, nutrition and rest, they develop deeper understandings about perseverance, resiliency, and collaboration. And at the center is the enjoyment factor—finding something active that they love to do.

“We’re giving them opportunities to develop healthy habits as a part of their everyday lives as they grow up,” says Athletics Director Sandy Luu. “And this benefits them in the long run. They’re growing their resilience, practicing teamwork, and developing respect for themselves and others. That seamlessly carries over in their lives, in any situation they encounter, whether it's an academic group project, working with coworkers, or running a large organization.”

November 2019: The Girls and Boys Varsity Soccer teams both won State Championships

And while character-building, fitness, self-care, and health for life are the primary goals of every Catlin Gabel wellness and athletic activity, the idea of challenging oneself intensifies as students reach Middle School and engage in team sports. Players begin to embrace an undeniable part of Catlin Gabel culture—we like to compete, and we like to win.

“Healthy competition is important,” Sandy says, “because it’s another vehicle to teach valuable life lessons. It’s important for our kids to learn about goal setting, resiliency, grit, and determination. They need to know how to measure their success, and learning about competition through athletics is a way to do that.”

This year, the community had many opportunities to revel in that competitive spirit. The Girls’ Varsity Soccer, Boys’ Varsity Soccer, and Girls’ Swimming teams all won State Championships. The school was awarded its 19th Oregon Athletic Coaches Association All Sport Champion Award, a recognition of the combined effort of all Catlin Gabel teams and individuals. And the remarkably high participation rate of recent years edged even higher: 80% of Middle School students now play team sports during their time at Catlin Gabel, and 75% of Upper School students.

The team dynamic provides openings to instinctively act with strong character and integrity, and soccer fans witnessed a stellar example of these principles during the 2019 Girls’ Varsity Soccer State Championship final. Freshman Grace Mueller had been cleared to play after a concussion suffered weeks earlier, but coach Chris Dorough sensed she was feeling her injury and pulled her out with only twenty minutes left to play. “She’s was an important player,” Chris says, “and we were in a tight one-point game. But no game—even the championship—is worth risking your health.”

Celia’s first-graders see that character and integrity modelled when they join in the big community athletic events, like Sea of Blue Night, Homecoming, and the Baseball Barbeque, and it reinforces the lessons learned in their Mini Gym wellness class. They internalize the concept of community as well. “They're watching the older kids, and they’re learning how to be an Eagle,” Sandy says.They get invested in the community, and in doing that they learn how to cultivate that community, and how to care for it. They’re learning that everybody plays a part.”