Head of School’s Blog

2017 Art Fair – Thursday, April 20, 2017

With the processing of report cards, this has been a week of reading rather than writing for me. It was great to see so many of you as we once again celebrated the arts this week at TDS. Expanding to two days this year, the TDS Art Fair featured more than two hundred works of art, including one or more pieces from each student. Individually, these artworks are striking. Viewed collectively, they highlight a talented group of aspiring artists, two creative and dedicated teachers, and the progress that students make over time. The most beautiful example of this progress is the group of seventh and eighth grade paintings – stunning pieces – which will be on display in the Commons for the next few weeks. Please come take a look.

The Art Fair also featured a new element this year. Yesterday, Middle School classrooms were transformed into maker spaces. Students were given piles of “scraps,” or random supplies, and tasked with working in small groups to construct a vehicle. As Ms. Lucas pointed out, fewer directions can lead to much greater creativity. Please come take a look at what our students created. Thanks to Ms. Lucas and Ms. Hughes for all of their efforts to make the Art Fair a huge success.

Also new this year, Ms. Bassler invited all Lower School parents to observe a regularly scheduled Lower School music class. Many parents and grandparents found their way to the trailer to see kids singing, dancing, drumming, counting, reading music, practicing rhythms and melodies, playing games, and having fun. Thanks to Ms. Bassler for establishing these “Informances;” our students definitely enjoyed having an audience.

Stereotypes in Children’s Literature – Thursday, April 13, 2017

If I can stay awake long enough, I like to read to Kate, our fifth-grade daughter, each night. Every few months (I presume when she has had a rough day), she will eschew whatever she is currently reading and opt for an old favorite, The Berenstain Bears. What can best be described today as the literary equivalent of comfort food, these bears, who live “in the big tree house down a sunny dirt road in Bear Country,” were the books of choice for many years in the Norry household. Perhaps that is why I was thrilled to oblige when, earlier this week, Kate pulled Report Card Trouble off the shelf. My enthusiasm subsided, however, when I remembered that I have some issues with Papa Bear.

Put in the kindest terms, he acts like a child. In Report Card Trouble, when Brother Bear comes home with less than stellar grades, Papa’s yelling and screaming – “the biggest explosion ever heard in the tree house” – brings his son to tears. And Papa’s character issues extend well beyond his temper. In The Trouble With Chores, he makes excuses for not doing his share of the housework, and he advocates “easing up on the chores a little.” In Too Much TV, Papa protests against the no-TV week, and he is caught sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch television. In Too Much Junk Food, he cannot bear to give up his Choco-Chums, and he makes several runs at the refrigerator, only to be intercepted by the cubs. Finally, in The Bears Get The Gimmies, the cubs’ greedy behavior is attributed to the overindulgence of Papa, who buys them things to avoid a tantrum.

While Papa Bear has his moments, too often he is portrayed as lacking any semblance of willpower or self-control, prone to angry outbursts, and downright lazy. By contrast, Mama Bear is the voice of reason and responsibility; she remains calm, identifies the problem and then initiates a solution to help the family.

When compared with how women are portrayed in many children’s books, Mama Bear actually fares pretty well. Plenty of scholarly research suggests that these books often depict women as passive, dependent, and incapable. While the needle has moved somewhat in recent years, the problem persists today. Other articles point out that “boy books” focus on robots, dinosaurs, cars, and pirates, while “girl books” involve princesses, fairies, flowers and butterflies.

Why does any of this matter? At a minimum, children come to understand at a young age that society has different standards and expectations for boys and girls. This is incredibly limiting, and also confusing for many kids. By contrast, there is evidence to suggest that non-sexist books can lead to positive changes in self-concept and behavior.

Of course, gender does not have a monopoly on stereotypes in children’s literature. Racial stereotypes abound and can be equally harmful. What can we as parents do to counteract these influences? First, be on the lookout for these stereotypes, and help your children – in age-appropriate ways – identify and deconstruct them. Kate and I had a fascinating conversation about how I was similar to, and different from, Papa Bear. Additionally, while I don’t think it’s necessary to empty your shelves and start over, consider augmenting your collection with some books that defy or redefine traditional gender roles and racial stereotypes. Here are two resources to help with this.

International Festival Recap – Thursday, April 6, 2017

Last Friday afternoon featured a signature TDS event, which took on a new format this year. Students, teachers, and parents explored and celebrated cultures, rituals, and traditions from all corners of the earth during the International Festival. Beginning in the gym, Lower Schoolers, many of whom dressed in traditional clothes from their own cultures, performed songs from Kenya to China, and from Hawaii to the Middle East. From there, students fanned out to a variety of experiences and activities:

  • TK students learned an Indian dance from Nayna and Bhupendra Patel and wrote their names in Hindi and Gujarati. They also created papel picado, a decorative craft from Mexico, with Suzanna Hernandez.


  • Kindergartners focused on Colombia (thanks to Lina and Ben Boytor for the interactive slideshow!) and South Korea, making puppets and learning about tae kwon do.


  • First graders made galimotos, African toy vehicles, with Eleanore Shianna. They also sang both German and Persian songs with Ulrike Hoffman and Fariba Mostaghimi.


  • In second grade, students participated in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony (thanks to Matt Oettinger!) and created crafts and games from the Philippines.

Our upper elementary students encountered a diverse set of experiences as well, including:

  • Writing their names in Urdu, learning the rules of cricket, and exploring Pakistan with Mariam Ali and Taha Afzal.


  • Writing Chinese characters with Shilan Wu.


  • Receiving Henna tattoos from Heena Mehta.


  • Learning an Indian dance from Emma Riebl.

Finally, Middle School students learned the salsa and merengue with Jason Straus, practiced traditional drumming techniques of the Congo with Pline Mounzeo, or investigated the science behind Aboriginal music with Dr. Melissa Rooney of the Durham Arts Council.

Sandwiched between these experiences were trips to the International Cafe, where students dined on delicacies and family favorites from sixteen different countries. Thanks to the many parents who volunteered, both in their own kitchens and in the cafe, to make this happen.

With 140 performers, 200+ participants, and 40+ volunteers, this was truly a community event. Thanks to Ms. Bassler – TDS music teacher extraordinaire – for her vision and organizational wizardry. We are already looking forward to next year!

Plays, Acting, & Pi Day in one week – Thursday, March 9, 2017

It has been quite a week of activities and performances leading up to spring break. On Monday, our second graders morphed into famous changemakers during their Wax Museum. Parents, grandparents, and several other Lower School classes learned about the lives of Jackie Robinson, John Muir, the Wright brothers, Rosa Parks, and several more heroes. Culminating a lengthy research project, students dressed the part and spoke in the first person, explaining a hardship they had overcome, why they were admired, and a lasting contribution they had made to society.

On Tuesday, our fourth and fifth graders performed “Great Americans of the Twentieth Century,” a musical highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of many, including a few who aren’t featured prominently in history texts. The audience learned about Martha Graham and Babe Didrikson, watched a feud play out among the Roosevelts, and laughed at the literary antics of Ernest Hemingway.

Following a study of William Shakespeare, today, our seventh and eighth graders traveled to PlayMakers Theatre in Chapel Hill to see “Twelfth Night.” Tomorrow, all middle schoolers will take part in a day-long, off-campus excursion. Groups are traveling to Duke, UNC, the State Capitol in Raleigh, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, and Eno River State Park for a day of learning outside the classroom. More on these Mini-Mester experiences after break!

Finally, we celebrated Pi Day today. All Lower School classes chose a circular object in their rooms, measured its circumference and diameter, and used this data to calculate pi. Congratulations to the fifth grade for coming the closest to the actual value; they were off by less than two thousandths.

And of course, no Pi Day celebration would be complete without the Memorization Contest. Congratulations to our class champions:

  • TK – Lucy Dandridge
  • Kindergarten – Avery Owens (Ms. Morgan) and Patrick Dean (Ms. Cowan)
  • First Grade – Nicholas Strohlein (Ms. Mandl) and Calla Golembesky (Ms. Fisher)
  • Second Grade – Joseph Schneider
  • Third Grade – Parker and Lily Soderberg [tie]
  • Fourth Grade – Wil Schneider
  • Fifth Grade – Kate Norry
  • Sixth Grade – Noah Rokoske
  • Seventh Grade – Ally Fox
  • Eighth Grade – Emily Norry

In total, these thirteen students memorized well over one thousand digits.

MATHCOUNTS Competition – Thursday, February 22, 2017

Founded in 1983, MATHCOUNTS is a non-profit organization that offers a series of programs designed to “improve attitudes toward math and problem solving” in Middle School students. The Competition Series, one of the signature MATHCOUNTS programs, took place earlier this week at the Staff Development Center in Durham. Mathletes from fifteen local Middle Schools vied for a spot in the next round, the state competition.

On Tuesday, I accompanied six TDS students to this event, pacing the aisles and watching as they battled their way through three rounds of challenging problems. While I haven’t seen the results, I was proud of our students (Jacob Dye, Ally Fox, Graham Hairston, Emily Norry, Ethan Smith, and Evie Taylor), many of whom also endured a Language Arts test in the morning and a Physical Science test in the afternoon.

In a morning full of equations and calculations, it was a personal narrative that captured my attention. Kevin Primus, organizer of the Durham chapter, recounted how, as a Middle Schooler in the mid-1980s, he won this very competition. Primus acknowledged his affinity for all things numerical, but he stressed that, in his case, hard work made the difference. He shared how he tackled problems with his teacher before and after school (his own version of ‘two-a-days’), how his victory gave him the confidence to realize that he could find success in other areas, and how he remains in touch with that teacher more than thirty years later.

Why did this story resonate with me? First, Primus’ tale of the two-a-days made me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. The author highlighted a study of violinists at Berlin’s Academy of Music in which students calculated how many hours they had practiced throughout their careers, and faculty rated these musicians as “stars,” “good” or “unlikely to play professionally.” On average, the “stars” had practiced for 10,000 hours, the “good” players for 8000 hours, and the others for 4000 hours. Gladwell concluded that, once a musician has a certain level of ability, “the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it” (39). Or, to quote someone that some of our students idolize: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard” (Kevin Durant).

Second, when Primus relayed how his success inspired confidence, I thought of Dr. Ralph Davidson, former Head of Greensboro Day School. Dr. Davidson put forth one simple question that he hoped every GDS student could answer: What are you good at? At TDS, we work with students on this path toward self-discovery. Finally, Primus’ lifelong connection with his math teacher illustrated the importance of relationships. Spending time in our classrooms, I see these connections developing each day, and I’m never surprised when graduates return to school – they make a beeline for their teachers!