Head of School’s Blog

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!

Science Expo – Thursday, February 16, 2017

With more than sixty experiments, demonstrations, and research projects on display in the gym, and just as many budding scientists proudly displaying their hypotheses, results and conclusions, last night’s Science Expo was a stunning success. During the first hour, students took turns standing by their projects and visiting those created by their peers. As I made my way around the gym, I learned: how to make ice cream; what type of flour makes the best brownies; about static electricity, crystals, and roller coasters; and how the New York Times has covered panda bears over the past fifty years. I also saw some excellent social science experiments as well.

During the second hour, students and parents migrated to the main building, where students from Duke University led a wide variety of engaging, hands-on activities. Our students extracted DNA from strawberries, investigated all sorts of physical properties and principles, and got up close and personal with the microscopic world of bacteria and fungi. In the Commons, high school students from Trinity School explained how they built different robots, and then turned over the keys – or the remote controls – to our students.

It was wonderful to see so many of you supporting your children, and all of their peers, last night. In particular, I’d like to thank Dan Forringer, Karen Fisher, Erin Nelson, Morgan Schweller, and Steve Butera for their hours of planning, organizing, and working with our young scientists. Our students chose a topic of personal interest, performed research, designed and carried out experiments, and displayed and explained their results.

These positive experiences serve as a wonderful foundation, often propelling our graduates to continue their interest. As one example, Akshay Mankad (TDS Class of 2016) won first place in the Jordan High School Science Fair earlier this year. He advanced to the Regional 3A Science Fair and placed second among all area high schools in the Physics category. Akshay will compete next month in the North Carolina State Science Fair.

Akshay’s project: “Heat Transfer Capabilities of Natural and Polymer Textiles: Phase II,” encompassed two years of research. As an 8th grader at TDS, he was curious about the effect of color on a fabric’s ability to dissipate heat. His experiment yielded some support for the adage: “white clothes keep you cooler in the summer while black clothes retain heat.” This year, he focused on textile type, testing brand name versions of technical fabrics as well as cotton. He learned that in a controlled environment, both technical fabrics did transfer heat much faster than cotton. However, the brand name did not out perform generic fabric.

Akshay grabbed hold of the microphone last night, encouraging all students to participate in science fairs after graduating from TDS. His creativity and intellectual curiosity – ignited and nurtured at TDS – continue to serve him well in high school!

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, click here to view an 88,000 word essay on the Expo.

“The voice in our child’s head” – Thursday, February 2, 2017

Our children grow and develop each day, but their progress is far from steady. Instead, it’s punctuated by a series of milestones or “firsts,” many of which both open doors to further growth and cause a shift in our parenting techniques and strategies. A baby takes her first steps, and we soon realize that we must keep a closer eye on her whereabouts. Our children’s first day of school comes with the realization that they will now be spending half of their waking hours with peers and adults who we barely know, so we choose carefully, and we aim to get involved. And then there’s the threshold that our son Will just crossed – obtaining a piece of paper from the state of North Carolina that allows him to operate a motor vehicle.

As a warning to the majority of you who have yet to experience this milestone as a parent, it opens a dam, ushering in a flood of emotions. Pride? Absolutely. Relief at the thought of less errand running? Sure. But those are just part of the mixed bag.

Starting with the obvious, I worry for his safety. Insurance rates are astronomical for male drivers under 25 for only one reason: they are based on statistics. Along these lines, I was interested to read a summary report of the National Young Driver Survey, entitled “Parenting Styles and Teenage Driving,” which appeared in Pediatrics. More than five thousand high schoolers were asked to rate their parents’ style as: authoritative (high support; high rules/monitoring), authoritarian (low support; high rules/monitoring), permissive (high support; low rules/monitoring), or uninvolved (low support; low rules/monitoring). Compared with the “uninvolved” group, teens with authoritative parents were half as likely to have been in a crash, 71% less likely to drive when intoxicated, half as likely to speed, and twice as likely to use seatbelts. While correlation doesn’t necessarily equate with causation, there are clearly positive outcomes associated with parents paying attention and making rules, while still listening to their children.

Statistics aside, Will’s safety behind the wheel is only part of the equation. A license, in the purest sense, means independence and freedom. Granted, Will’s license is provisional. For now, either Carrie or I must be in the car, so we have a year to warm up to the concept. Soon enough, however, he won’t need to rely on us to get around. I have no doubt that, when it comes to his driving, we will constantly negotiate the where, when, and with whom, but there’s no denying the significance of this step toward adulthood.

Faced with this milestone, I enjoyed reading Perri Klass’ piece in the New York Times earlier this week, which artfully frames this transition. Given that Klass resides in New York, it wasn’t his son’s license, but rather his needing to take the subway (alone) to school that opened the door. Klass reflects, “The long arc of this parental negotiation is about losing, gracefully, over time.” Perhaps “graceful” is a nod to the authoritative, high-rules and high-support, parent. Even when we say NO, it’s temporary. “We’re slowly and thoughtfully negotiating a time lapse surrender, a handover of increasing power and independence.”

Klass refers to a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Good judgment is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgment.” Knowing that, in the end, our children’s safety hinges on their ability to make sound decisions, we walk this line, desperately wanting skinned knees, yet not anything worse when behind the wheel. We supervise, we restrict, we make “stupid” rules, knowing that there’s a balance to this game, and the line of scrimmage moves with each passing day and month. In the end, no matter our style, our children will eventually make their own choices for one simple reason. They’ll be adults one day. At that point, we simply hope to be what Klass calls “the voice in our child’s head.”

Mean vs. Strict – Thursday, January 26, 2017

With report cards and comments in production, this has been a week of reading rather than writing for me. Please look for an e-mail from Kelly Aguilar on Monday with instructions on how to access your children’s reports.

These reports will offer you a good sense of where your child is right now in a variety of realms. In all cases, teachers have identified both strengths and areas that would benefit from more attention. Please keep that perspective in mind as you engage your children in conversations about what they are most proud of, and how they think they can improve.

Now that I said I wasn’t writing anything…

Last night, our daughter Kate (5th grade) was complaining about one of her soccer coaches. In her words, “he’s so mean.” After a few follow-up questions, I diagnosed the issue: he sticks to the drills and doesn’t allow her or her teammates to goof off. Just as I was teeing up a lecture, complete with logical reasoning and helpful anecdotes, on the difference between “mean” and “strict,” my wife interrupted – thank goodness – and shared a narrative published in The Players’ Tribune yesterday by Jeff Capel III entitled “The Tree.”

Jeff Capel burst onto the college basketball scene in the mid-1990s as a star on the Duke basketball team. After graduation, he entered the coaching world, and today he serves as the Associate Head Coach for his alma mater. His story, written as a beautiful tribute to his father who is battling ALS, gets to the heart of “mean” vs. “strict.” While I know that, in all likelihood, none of us is raising a top-25 basketball prospect, and many bleed Carolina blue, State red, or simply aren’t interested in the sport, I would nonetheless encourage you to read the words of this 41-year old son.