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‘Intertwined, Interdependent’: US Director on Student-Faculty Bond at Commencement 2017

By: Jane Moore

Upper School Director

The 79 members of the Class of 2017 graduated from Berkeley Carroll on June 2. The following are Upper School Director Jane Moore’s Commencement remarks.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what graduation days mean from a teacher’s perspective. Though we participate in this ceremony every year, each graduation also signifies the passing of four years — the journey from ninth grade to 12th grade. Recently I was reading an article in Runner’s World magazine 1 about a recreational runner about my age who lives in a college town. “I live in a town,” he writes, “where 45 percent of the population is, and will always be, between 18 and 22 years old. They are perpetually in their prime. And in an unfair twist, I age one year annually as if I’ve been cursed by a witch. It’s a complete injustice! This is a reality that gets less and less pleasant to face the longer it goes on.” This is a version, I guess, of what it’s like to perpetually be in high school, something that most people would imagine as a circle of hell. But for most of the faculty, the twist is not that we age while our students are forever young, but that despite the ever-constant reminders of the passing of time (days like this), despite the ever-growing gap between us and our students, most of us gain energy and vitality from our proximity to you. As we run more slowly and get injured more frequently, our interactions with you — surprising meetings of the mind, heated challenges, lively debates, even mutual frustrations — these moments sharpen us and keep us in shape.

Over the years, I have heard lots of students articulate some version of, “High school is weird” — I think that line was even in a senior speech this year. I agree, though perhaps for different reasons. High schools are unique because they are defined by the transitory, four-year journey of their students, and also by a wide range of faculty, some who are new — to the school or to teaching — and some who have taught here for 15 or 20 or 30 years. How would a school be different if all of the teachers were also restricted to a four-year tenure? Longevity does not necessarily make someone a better teacher, but I think we can all agree that schools would lose something if teachers, like students, simply rotated out after four years. Those of you, for example, who have had the privilege of studying with Mr. Swarthout or Mr. Kohlmuller, know that that privilege stems not only from the history and French you have learned, but also from something more ineffable about their experience and wisdom — a kind of wisdom and love of place that only comes from having been somewhere long enough to know it well, to be it in some essential way.

From the perspective of long-time faculty, you, graduates, are a drop in the bucket in the life of the school — except, while it’s happening, it doesn’t feel so short. Like when you were in the middle of 10th grade, and thought to yourselves, “High school is never going to end,” or when you were ninth graders and you looked at your peer leaders and idolized them as distant deities. But I bet that at some point recently many of you have thought some version of, “Wow, it’s almost over.”

And we, the faculty, think the same thing — we think it, and it’s jarring to us, because during the four years you are here, you are the school. You inhabit it completely, and our lives — the faculty’s — and yours become intertwined, interdependent.

I have been at Berkeley Carroll a relatively short amount of time, so I have not yet experienced a full one of the four-year cycles that so define a high school’s rhythm. Yet, you, the Class of 2017, are the class I have seen the most and know the best. I had the privilege of working with some of you last year in American Studies, I have served on committees with you, worked on senior speeches with you, seen you in numerous performances and athletic contests, but I have also just observed you almost every day for three years, and I’ve watched how the other students and our faculty interact with you. I’m sure there are fights and feuds and tensions I know nothing about — but there is a certain truth that emerges from what is visible to the outside, and the truth that many of my colleagues and I have witnessed is your awareness that you are a part of a whole — your grade — and as such you have mostly operated and navigated with basic decency and respect, often with kindness and empathy and love. Those qualities emerge when you feel that one of you has been wronged, or when you rally to celebrate someone’s big moment, like a senior speech or a college acceptance or a great performance. So, thank you for making those qualities increasingly dominant ones in our school culture. I know that the students in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades have taken notice.

The impact of students — your impact — on the culture of a school extends to the faculty as well. I imagine that many of you could quickly choose one or two teachers who particularly changed your perspective or affected your learning (like Mr. Sanchez for Gala). Think of the faculty member you’ll look for first if you come back to visit next year, or the teacher you’ll be mostly likely to talk about with your college roommate. Teachers also have those students — and I’m not talking about favorites, I’m talking about young people who’ve challenged them, made them think differently, made them teach differently, either in method or content. I still remember — fondly — a student who spit out the window on my second day ever as a teacher (we eventually learned a lot from each other), and the first student whose facial expression told me she was re-thinking and re-considering her point of view.

So as I see it, the special energy of these years comes from the symbiotic, dynamic relationship between students and teachers that extends well beyond the four-year period that we think of as encompassing high school.

The runner from the college town1 says that he “sometimes dream[s] that [he] live[s] in a different kind of town. In this town are people just like me: they all have doughy, droopy middle-aged bodies and they all chug along at a reasonable pace…It is the most comfortable place that I can imagine, and it is the worst place in the world. I don’t want to be comfortable; I want to be uncomfortable.….” While those who don’t teach might think of teaching as a pretty comfortable existence, I think that many of us choose to live our lives in high school because it’s uncomfortable, because the younger citizens of this town can be impetuous and unreasonable and sometimes very sure that they are faster or more knowledgeable. But they surprise themselves and they surprise us.

The Berkeley Carroll faculty have invested their time, knowledge, experience and years in teaching and guiding you. You have been privileged to be taught by them just as I have the privilege to work with them.

I speak for the faculty when I say that we have also been privileged to teach you. Thank you for stopping by, thank you for making our last four years of high school so enjoyable.

1. Squance, Joe. “3 Advantages to Being an Ugly Runner in a Town Full of Beautiful People.” Runner’s World. Rodale, 26 May 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.

12th Grade Dean Celebrates Class of 2017 at Senior Dinner

By: J.P. Jacquet
12th Grade Dean

Wow, the Class of 2017, how should you be described? When you started as freshpeople you were the single biggest grade in the school’s history. Most of the subsequent classes now average around 80 students so your grade became the new normal for BC. It is clear the experiment worked. As a class you have a little bit of everything. There are several lifers in your grade, but you also had a new student, who joined just this fall. Regardless of when each of you arrived at BC you have all worked to make your mark both as individuals and as a grade. In a bit I will focus on your work in our classrooms, the athletic arenas and performance spaces, but I think it is right to start by stating that at its core this is a class of Berkeley Carroll dance trend setters. You made this known even in the 9th grade as the first class to start the now annual freshpeople spring dance. More moves were displayed throughout your high school career including several grade-wide flash mob dance videos. The class as a whole definitely showcased rhythm at prom and your latest dancing exploit occurred in the US Atrium Library during your last day of academic classes. I admit I was a bit surprised when several portable speakers started blasting music, but frankly, I should have known that your senior prank would be a farewell dance party to the school.

Having taught many of you in the 10th, 11th and/or 12th grade, I have appreciated the first-hand view of your personal growth, intellectual curiosity and spirited drive. As your senior class dean I can attest to the academic achievements your grade accomplished, in spite of some lateness speed bumps, which were surprisingly not cured by my 6 a.m. Google Classroom daily reminder. I guess I will have to go back to the drawing board. Tomorrow’s Recognition Assembly, which starts promptly at 10:10 a.m., will recap some of the instances of academic excellence you have achieved. This recognition will be based on internal BC measurements and external measurements by organizations like The Cum Laude Society, the Scholastic Art and Writing Organization, the National Latin Exam and the National Merit Scholarship Program to name a few.

In athletics, this grade helped our school achieve new individual and team honors that have cemented our strong sports presence throughout the state. Throughout your high school tenure we have seen increased participation numbers in girls, boys and coed teams. Your grade ushered in the era of our female sports teams competing in the very competitive AAIS league. The members of the Class of 2017 helped start and develop a girl’s tennis team, a coed frisbee team and most recently a Spirit Squad, which has injected large amounts of energy and enthusiasm into the overall BC community. In total, your class earned 31 all-league honors, set 11 individual swimming records, won nine ACIS league titles and one NYSAIS athletic state title.

Turning to the arts, the past couple weeks have provided a great taste of the accomplishments of this grade. Senior Arts Night, the dance performance, the night of jazz and the choral concert were all wildly successful events, in large part to the work, dedication and talents of your grade. Your grade also helped christen the new Sterling Place performance space last winter and you helped elevate the level of dramatic performances in this fall’s rendition of that not-to-be-mentioned Scottish Play that starts with an “M,” “Macbeth,” this March’s “Blood Brothers performance” and the memorable, student-directed production of “The Laramie Project.”

Unsurprisingly, your facility with spoken word and language has continued on the speech and debate stage. I never knew that that speech and debate was a combat sport until I recently spoke with one of your coaches. It was then that I learned about the severe breaking that gets done to reach prelims, octo finals, quarterfinals, semifinals and hopefully finals! You also “get hit or do some hitting” when you find out the next round’s opponent. And if a judge “discloses the round’s result” you either break or you drop. I am sure that if a student did any of these actions during the school day that student would have to meet with me or Mrs. Moore about their violent behavior. But as a former wrestler, I can appreciate why these actions would be rewarded at a speech and debate tournament and I am not surprised that this crop of seniors have done phenomenally well in these linguistic battles.

Yet with every accomplishment achieved or thoughtful gesture provided, you and your classmates have been a bit different this year. As seniors, by necessity, you have spent the year with one back foot firmly planted within this community, which you have helped shape and develop, while you look for a landing spot for your front foot. I know your college counselors have often used the phrase “college is a match to be made and not a prize to be won.” In my conversations with them and you, I know that you have truly taken this to heart. As the office recently shared with me, your class will be attending over 57 different schools of various student body sizes, across an array of different geographic regions. The few highlights of numerous other achievements I just shared stand as proof that each of you are ready and poised to tackle the world beyond the gates of Berkeley Carroll.

So about that piece of advice I promised to share. As many of you know I am the father of four young children, and therefore I get numerous opportunities a day to read some of the finest literature around. A current favorite of my oldest daughter is the Pete the Cat series by Eric Litwin. One book is titled “I Love My White Shoes.” For those familiar with the series, you know these books are set to song. The rest of the audience should be grateful that no singing will occur in the next few minutes. In this particular story, our main protagonist, an indigo blue-hued kitten is really excited about his shiny new pair of white lace-up sneakers … think Converse All Stars. Pete begins our story by singing about how much he loves his “white shoes.” Pete is a very energetic and busy cat and over the course of the day he walks through a strawberry patch that turns his sneakers red, a blueberry patch that turns his sneakers blue and a mud pile that, you guessed it, turns his sneakers brown. As Pete completes his harrowing hike he realizes that he “loves” his sneakers. He loved them when they were white, red, blue, brown and, spoiler alert, he loves his sneakers at the end of the story when they are wet … courtesy of an encounter with a large puddle. I love this story, I mean, my 3-year-old daughter loves this early age bildungsroman, partly because of the wonderful illustrations, partly because of the annoyingly catchy lyrics and mostly because she has a heightened awareness of the importance of appreciation and the value of optimism.

In reality, I know that these traits are not yet cemented into the fibers of any of my children and frankly, I am not sure if I have cemented them in my own core, but I do believe they are important. Life throws a lot at us and over the next few years I know that you, the members of the class of 2017, will experience great highs and some lows. That has been the case during the high school career of each member of this class, and it will be the case in college. Frankly, part of going through life is dealing with these ups and downs. I do believe that if you can keep in mind the individual good fortunes that you have, and continue to propel forward with a sense of optimism, you will be able to meet life’s challenges even if it means you are wearing soggy wet shoes.

Upper School History Chair Lorne Swarthout Reflects on World Affairs Breakfast Club at Reunion

Upper School History Chair Lorne Swarthout, who is retiring at the end of the current school year, addressed alumni, faculty and staff as the keynote speaker at Berkeley Carroll’s annual Alumni Reunion on May 19.

Mr. Swarthout founded the World Affairs Breakfast Club, a student/faculty group in which members talk about current events, often with expert guests, in 2001. His speech, “A Seat at the Breakfast Club Table,” focused on the group’s discussions of President Donald Trump since the celebrity-turned-politician announced his candidacy two years ago.

“I’m a newshound and the World Affairs Breakfast Club has given me an opportunity, a responsibility, to spend time, way too much time, reading and listening and watching what’s going on in the world,” he said. “What’s more, I’ve been able to talk about it with students who are witnessing this panorama for the first time. The Breakfast Club has been the very definition of a labor of love.”

Watch Mr. Swarthout’s full speech in the video below!

Read the World Affairs Breakfast Club blog.

Learn more about the World Affairs Breakfast Club in the BC Magazine.


New Play Yard Helps Lower Schoolers Develop Upper Body and Core Strength

By: Amanda Pike
Lower School Director

Berkeley Carroll opened its new, improved yard space at 712 Carroll St. this fall, a development which thrilled the PreK and kindergarten students who now use it on a daily basis. The yard includes parallel bars, turning bars, a one-way rubber track for running and tricycle riding, artificial grass and a climbing structure called a Spaceball.

The project took about two weeks to complete, from demolition to opening. The endeavor was the result of the efforts of a committee made up of teachers and administrators, including Kindergarten Head Teacher Victoria Misrock-Stein, who led the group, PE Teacher Lawrence Yasner, Learning Specialist Diana Richardson, PreK Head Teacher Heather Meagher, Lower School Director Amanda Pike and Head of School Bob Vitalo.

This group, which consulted with other faculty on the types of things the members hoped to see in a new yard, came to the conclusion that providing children with appropriately challenging equipment which would help them work on upper body and core strength was an important goal. Another objective was to create a defined space for children to ride tricycles or run safely. Both of these goals were met in the final design of the yard.

As each class came out for its turn in the yard, Lower School Director Amanda Pike and Assistant Director of the Lower School Ellen Arana welcomed the students with a ribbon cutting ceremony. They discussed some ground rules for using the new (one-way!) track and the colorful climbing equipment before the students tried out the space for the first time.

BC also worked with Designed for Fun, which has designed and installed many playgrounds and school yards in the New York City. The company helped the school choose the equipment and worked with BC to come up with a design for the yard which will allow students to have fun and develop their physical skills for years to come.

Not to be outdone, the 701 Carroll St. yard space also got a Spaceball of its own in November.

See more photos of the new yard.

Upper Schoolers Observe Live Heart Surgery at Morristown Medical Center

By: Jessica Smith
Upper School Science Teacher

Surgeons at Morristown Medical Center pulled back the operating room curtain on Nov. 18 for my Upper School Human Anatomy & Physiology students, who watched a live quadruple bypass surgery performed on a 59-year-old patient with severe coronary heart disease.

In class, we study human body systems in depth — how they interrelate, how they maintain homeostasis and the impact of disease. This was a rare opportunity to see how what we learn at Lincoln Place manifests in the real world and speak with professionals who grapple with these ideas every day.

The OR was equipped with three cameras showing the room, staff monitors and surgery so that we could watch from a theater at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. The cameras also had microphones so we could ask questions and hear what was going on.

We watched surgeons open the chest cavity, harvest veins and arteries that were used to increase blood flow to the heart, redirect the heart’s blood flow to a heart-lung machine and more. The highlight of the day was seeing the beating heart itself!

My class had a lot to say about the experience when we returned to Lincoln Place. Two of their written reflections are below:

“This was honestly my favorite school trip I’ve been on throughout my high school career. I was telling some of my international family friends and they were shocked that the school had arranged to take a group of students to see a live procedure — especially one as complex as a coronary bypass. I had gotten a couple of short video clips and I was just re-watching them all day on Friday. I even chased around Mr. Moyano and Mr. Fernández trying to get them to watch it too, but they didn’t have the stomach to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience through and through, although I thought I wouldn’t be able to sit through the surgery without needing to cover my eyes or leave the room. Thankfully, Grey’s Anatomy has helped me build up a tolerance to seeing blood and body cavities (yes, yes, I know it’s all fake in the show). I also was not expecting veins and arteries to look the way they did. Obviously I wasn’t expecting to see just red and blue lines like in all the diagrams we’ve seen, but if the surgeons hadn’t been harvesting them, I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish between flesh/muscle and the blood vessels.”

“I always thought these surgeries were very serious and there was no talking and the lights would be off and everything would be super strict, but I was surprised when they all seemed very calm and casual and they were talking to us and it was really weird especially because the life of a man was in their hands.”