Dear St. Andrew’s Family,
I’m already looking forward to Arts Weekend, but I’m thankful that the Arts Department doesn’t have a monopoly on creativity at St. Andrew’s. My favorite aspect of our Math Department team is our mutual recognition that true mathematics is a creative endeavor. I am not tasked with showing students how to solve problems “my way” and hoping they will “learn” by mimicking my skills. Anyone can do that math—or anything, including many free math apps available on my phone. Our insistence that students think for themselves and generate their own solutions is the primary reason I am still teaching math after twenty-five years.
I am privileged to learn from my students every single day. As I observe their group work on whiteboards and glass walls around our math classrooms, I often spot a group who seems to be headed down a very strange path, but I don’t stop them because I believe that making mistakes is an important part of the learning process. When I circle back to the group that’s gone astray, it’s not uncommon to find the correct solution written on the board. It becomes the highlight of my day when they explain the original thinking that enabled them to solve the problem. In that wonderful moment I can look those students in the eye and authentically tell them I’ve never seen their particular method. The powerful message I convey with those words is: “You are a mathematician.”
To illustrate my point, I’m including three recent problems that were solved in creative ways. I challenge you to attempt the problem on your own, then click on the links below to see Katie Boyer ’25, John Plummer ’25, and Kayley Rivera ’26 explain their own original thinking. There are classic algorithmic methods to solve each of these problems, but these three students beautifully demonstrate the power of thinking for yourself.
Katie Boyer, Geometry: “Brooks and Avery are running laps around an outdoor track, in the same direction. Brooks completes a lap every 78 seconds while Avery needs 91 seconds for every tour of the track. Brooks has just passed Avery. How much time will it take for Brooks to overtake Avery again?” Watch Katie’s solution here.
John Plummer, Geometry: “Points A, B, C, D, E, and F are the vertices of a regular hexagon and also trisect the sides of two overlapping equilateral triangles. Given that the area of hexagon ABCDEF is 24, find the remaining area of the described figure.” Watch John’s solution here.
Kayley Rivera, Honors Algebra: “Taylor has enough money to buy either 90 granola bars or 78 pop-tarts. After returning from the store, Taylor has no money, 75 granola bars, and p pop-tarts. Assuming that Taylor has not yet eaten anything, figure out what p is.” Watch Kayley’s solution here.
We all need the students of St. Andrew’s. They will be the ones who solve the problems my generation hasn’t been able to crack, but they won’t solve them by learning only what is already known. It’s my hope that our students will cure cancer and halt global warming, but they can only do so if they learn to think for themselves. I’m proud that our academic program allows them to hone those problem solving skills from the moment they step into a St. Andrew’s math classroom.
Notes from Noxontown
Dear St. Andrew’s Family,
The winter is one of my favorite times at St. Andrew’s—not only because of my February birthday and love of snow, but because to me, January and February are the best time of the school year for building and developing the culture and community of St. Andrew’s. In winter, the Front Lawn, often the hub of student life during the warmer months, becomes a rare luxury, reserved only for the mid-Atlantic’s sporadic warm winter days. I’ve heard such days fondly called false spring, and they only serve to tease students with the hope of what the spring will hold. But while they wait, the cold, windy, gray days of winter in Delaware are the true test of our community’s resilience and present all Saints with the opportunity to forge the culture in which we wish to live. How students choose to engage with others, show up, and lean into our culture in the winter months sets the tone not only for the spring to come but for the start of the next school year.
January and February are filled with formal and informal school traditions that bring together the community for reflection, wonder, and celebration. Such traditions include the annual MLK Day chapel service and celebrations of Black history and Black excellence throughout the month of February—events that center our community in the both somber and triumphant moments of the ongoing fight for equity and social justice. The high-octane St. Andrew’s Indoor Soccer League (SAISL) brings us together through competition; those with developed soccer talent and those in search of some good old-fashioned fun come together for weekly indoor soccer battles, spurred on by their raucous peers in the stands. The annual Crump Physics Lecture, this year featuring NASA astrophysicist Dr. Ronald Gamble, encourages the community to explore the nature of our existence and ask: “What if?” February’s Semiformal dance gets our students to invent creative ways of asking each other to attend; shop for, cook, share, and clean up pre-dance group dinners at faculty homes; and ultimately, of course, to dance the night away (and as some of us may recall from our own high school years, ALL of these tasks require a bit of courage, even from the confident). As we approach Spring Break, athletes are preparing for hard-earned winter sports conference and state championship games, matches, and meets, and artists are working on major projects and preparing for performances. Through this work, students are learning the benefits of persistent work and daily practice. And of course, throughout these months, there are the many, many hours spent in the Dining Hall, long after dinner ends, playing ping-pong and cards, discussing life, telling stories, and simply being together, all in one space.
Without the ready escape of the outdoors and the easy shared fun on the Front Lawn, these winter traditions and moments of togetherness become the lifelines of our community. They bring the community together to strengthen and reinforce our bonds, and require each member of the community to show up and bring their authentic self. It is through this regular and daily commitment to being present that our community flourishes. In that way, the winter becomes a celebration of St. Andrew’s—a time when new friendships are formed and lasting memories are made. And this is why the winter continues to be my favorite time of the year at St. Andrew’s; through the winter’s community-building, we emerge in the spring as a community ready to blossom.
On the first day of math class, I write an equation on the board:
love = attention
Each school year, I work to create a classroom culture that helps the students in the room feel safe and loved. I tell the students that I love them, and I ask that they love one another. We set the ground rules of listening to each other. We are polite. We ask questions. We work together. And, I remind them, whenever our attention is divided—whenever we are distracted—we miss an opportunity to love.
I believe our work as humans is to wake up to our lives. As we practice waking up together, we cultivate the ability to focus our attention and, therefore, our love. By writing this equation on the board, I call on students to sow the seeds of mindfulness and love for each other. When we become aware of the intrinsic relationship between attention and love, it is an opportunity—as Sharon Salzberg says—to do something different with our lives.
Though my SAS nametag states I am a teacher, I am a student, too. As students, we are seekers. As seekers, we wonder about the nature of ourselves, our world, and our lives. I have many teachers, including Dipa Ma, a Buddhist adept, who was once asked whether she recommends mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation to students. Her response was that for her, there is no difference between the two: “Meditation is love. Enlightenment is great love.” So Dipa Ma is also the first mathematician that the students meet in my class; she is the author of the equation above.
Another of my teachers was Dave DeSalvo, legendary SAS math teacher and chaplain. In his last year of teaching, I overheard Dave end some of his classes with the goodbye, “I love you; God loves you.” As a secular Buddhist, I usually think “universe” when I hear “God.” By virtue of the very fact of our existence, the universe, itself, quite literally, is “aware” of us. You could say that we are being loved into existence in each moment. I think Dipa Ma and Dave are sharing two perspectives on the same truth. It is this truth that I want my students to glimpse. I believe The Beatles were right when they harmonized: “All you need is love.” Our lives consist of waking up, over and over, to the truth that love is all there is.
Does this mean that there is no hate, sorrow, war, or division in the world? Of course not. I would argue that these rise in proportion to our collective mindlessness. In Buddhism, there is the concept of bodhicitta, the aspiration “to wake up with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings.” In our age of distraction, I have found this to be both a skillful and timely prayer. Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice about meditation puts this idea another way:
“Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it.”
I sometimes think of my role at St. Andrew’s as an “academic anthropologist.” In my visits to classrooms, I observe and document our academic program in action. In doing so, I am attempting to pin down exactly what it looks like when the values of St. Andrew’s academic program—careful listening; open-minded, critical thinking; and creative exploration—are put into action. I also want to understand how our students respond to these values, and how our academic habits and practices connect to our ever-changing world. Here are just a few highlights of these student experience “field notes” from the first semester:
In a recent Foundations in Visual Art class, instructor Bertie Miller encouraged students to experiment with approaches while working on a challenging self-portrait assignment. Here are some of the things I heard Miller say to their students: “Try it out … this is a ‘trust the process’ thing … I can come work with you on that …” Through this language, Miller not only supported but encouraged student risk-taking and emphasized the importance of process rather than results. The Foundations of Visual Arts course also teaches students the language of constructive critique; students learn to frame specific, detailed observations in judgment-free conversations about their peers’ work. Whether this would be their first of many visual art classes or a one-time experience in the art studio, all of the students were immersed in the process of creating, reflecting, adjusting, and just trying something out.
Our electives give students opportunities to explore different subjects and stretch their creative thinking in a variety of ways. In a recent Computer Science class, Dave Myers’ students created apps in teams, then presented their work to their peers, demonstrating the apps and explaining the logic steps they followed (this was the part of their presentations I vaguely understood) as well as the technical work they undertook (this was the part of their presentations I understood nothing about). What was clear to the classroom audience that day was the imaginative leaps these students had made—they put themselves in the shoes of potential users, anticipated a user’s choices, and then coded solutions.
At St. Andrew’s, our students live with and learn from one another—not only from their classmates, but from older students as well. A wonderful example of this was on a day last semester when Will Porter’s ninth-grade English class visited Martha Pitts’ senior English class. Dr. Pitts’ students demonstrated for the ninth-grade audience a “mini-class” seminar discussion: they modeled risk-taking, testing new ideas, listening closely, and building from one another’s comments. The younger students then had a chance to ask questions and reflect with the seniors on what makes a good discussion and what one does in discussion to help create a productive, dynamic class. The ninth-grade students gained a clear picture of the skills and habits they are striving to develop, and the seniors reflected actively, too, on how their work together around the table generates new thinking and stretches their understanding. The seniors laughed over the occasional awkward moments, too—such as when a student was unsure of where their comment was going, until a classmate picked up the point and connected it to the next idea—so the ninth graders saw, too, the camaraderie that gets built through collaborative work.
Many of the most important learning experiences at St. Andrew’s connect students with leaders, artists, thinkers, and experts from beyond campus. In October, students spoke with writer and scholar Mark Oppenheimer in Chaplain Jay Hutchinson’s History of Religious Thought course. As Oppenheimer spoke about the choices he made in deciding who to talk to and what to focus on while writing his book about the Tree of Life temple massacre in Pittsburgh, Oppenheimer challenged students to understand why he decided to interview a neo-Nazi Holocaust denier. “I want to understand all of humanity,” Oppenheimer said. “It’s up to us to be open … to not give up on anyone.” Students were challenged to see that “we can all get better … it’s on us” and to see the humanity in those who have dehumanized others. Essentially, students wrestled with the challenge of seeing things from multiple sides, and they heard how Oppenheimer, as a writer and as a human, prized careful listening above all else.
At the Payson Art History lecture in January, curator and magazine editor Sarah Meister encouraged students to think about photography in the broadest way possible, and to be open to the ways images can reflect the messiness of life. Her talk encouraged us to “look longer” at images to discern the complex, nuanced messages they convey about our world and ourselves. Students talked with Meister about what it means for a photograph to be a work of art, and how her own work as a scholar and curator has become an artistic practice of sorts, too. Throughout the conversation, students were invited to think carefully about what images are telling us, and to think critically about what constitutes “fine art.” I am guessing that Meister's lecture also encouraged some students to think creatively about their eventual possible career choices and paths.
These moments from our academic program are presented here at random, but I hope they convey to you what it looks when our students embrace the opportunities they have at St. Andrew’s to think flexibly and openly, try new ideas, and explore deeply. In practicing these intellectual habits, we hope they are building the foundation for a lifetime of engaging the complex world around them.
A student’s progress through secondary school is a special kind of odyssey, one of change and growth and discovery. As I reflect on my time here at St. Andrew’s, I see that I have been on a parallel journey.
When my St. Andrew’s career began in 2004, I worked in the Advancement Office with then-Director of Advancement Joy McGrath, now our head of school, who was and continues to be my mentor. I dove into learning the rich history of the school and enjoyed the company of my coworkers—most of whom were teachers, advisors, and coaches—and the alumni and parents I met through Advancement activities.
But something was missing. I began to envy the meaningful interactions my colleagues had with the students of St. Andrew’s. I was developing a bad case of FOMO: the students were, after all, the reason we were here . . . but I had no real relationship with them.
Three years in, a new position became available in the school’s library, which needed someone to assist with faculty and student research and to begin a new project: the school’s archive website. This new position seemed like the perfect fit for me. It would allow me to both engage with students and keep my connection with alumni through the archive work.
After years of having minimal contact with students, I discovered the joys of having even the smallest interactions with them, from supplying tissues, pens, and paper, to having conversations about our favorite authors. Ten-plus years later, I still love helping students learn how to navigate a database and flesh out their topics for research papers. I still treasure their looks of happiness when I help them select the perfect book for pleasure reading over a long school break.
The library is involved in some great history projects at St. Andrew’s. Melinda Tower’s AS History: World at War class has a unit of study that asks the students to conduct research in the school’s digital archives. It’s wonderful to delve into the history of St. Andrew’s with the students and to see and hear their reactions to events and eras of the past 90, going on 100 years.
Last year, senior Zhenia Khalabadzhakh ’22, who hails from Ukraine, approached me to ask if she could go through the library’s collection to help weed out and update our materials on Ukraine and Ukrainian history. Now a freshman at Princeton, she has a library job there, working with the university’s Slavic archives. I hope to visit her there and to continue learning from her.
While students literally “grow up” during their years at St. Andrew’s, they also mature in more subtle ways. Arriving here at boarding school as tweens—who are still very dependent on the adults in their lives—St. Andrew’s students are taught habits of independence from their first day on campus. We ask students to think, write, create, and problem-solve independently and collaboratively; we ask students to be responsible for themselves, their peers, and their surroundings. As III Form students, they’re not yet sure of who they are, but by their VI Form year, they’ve developed a better sense of both their identity and their potential, even as they continue to grow and evolve.
I got a closer look at the students of St. Andrew’s from 2008 to 2012, when my son was one of them. It was deeply rewarding for me to get to know his friends, teachers, coaches, and advisors on a more personal level and to be able to host them in our home from time to time. Nearly 11 years later, some of the bonds I forged then still exist, as of course they do for my son and his SAS friends. As someone who never attended her own high school reunions, I am amazed to see how St. Andrew’s relationships stand the test of time.
Students here truly love their classmates, their roommates, their teammates, their teachers, their advisors, and their coaches. It’s a privilege to witness their lives every day.
Yesterday, I attended our weekly School Meeting with a representative from the Delaware Food Bank; she was on campus to be presented with a ceremonial check from St. Andrew’s students, who had raised funds throughout December for local residents living with food insecurity. As I sat there in Engelhard with this person, who had never been to the school before, I found myself having to explain so much of the humor and culture of St. Andrew’s to her.
This was the first School Meeting after a long holiday break, so we had the usual “Housemaster’s Inspection Awards” given by Co-Deans of Residential Life Mr. Rehrig and Ms. Duprey to the students who had the cleanest rooms and corridors on campus prior to the break. What always amazes me in these moments is how excited our students get about these inspections—how much they want to win in this simple “competition of cleanliness” (not least because of the promised prizes of Playa Bowls or pizza for the victors). When the one dorm champion, Moss, was announced, literal shrieks of joy went up from the Moss residents in the audience. I outlined to my guest exactly what was going on in that moment, and she looked at me as if to say, “Come on, Jay, are you going to tell me that a bunch of teenagers care that much about keeping their rooms clean?”
And suddenly, it dawned on me. It is exactly because of this level of care for the minute details of school life, that we as a community were able to be so successful in raising money ($5,000 on campus and another $2,000 online) to help those in our wider community who go to bed hungry every night. The work that we ask students to do to take care of each other and our spaces on this campus each day is directly connected to the work we hope students will do to care for and contribute to the broader world. There is a real joy in taking responsibility for yourself and the community in which you live—and we are called to spread that joy to others.
“Showing up” at St. Andrew’s means that we delight in the little triumphs of school life, like winning Housemasters’ Inspection, without losing sight of “the big picture”—like the fact that through collective effort, we can provide 21,000 meals for hungry folks in Delaware. And students’ awareness of all the potential energy bound up in this community just might start in the simple act of cleaning their dorm’s common room sink—even when they didn’t leave the dirty dishes in it!
My hope and prayer for all of us in 2023 is that we continue to teach, and live out the idea, that attending to the small details of everyday life allows us to be prepared to respond to the needs of the world around us in genuinely meaningful ways.
May God bless you and your families richly in the New Year.
In addition to being a faculty member, I am also a current parent to two students. And as such—I’ll be honest: when I receive the Friday News, I usually skip past this letter and all the other opening text to seek out photos of my children in the remainder of the email. Then, having scanned the entire array of images and perhaps spotted one of my daughters, I come back to see what the opening letter contains. It is not that I am not interested in what my colleagues may have to share in this space. It’s just that I love to see visual proof that Hannah ’24 and Margaret ’26 are growing into strong, independent young adults.
This growth looks different for each student, depending on where they are coming from, and where they are in their St. Andrew’s journey. For a new student, this growth can look like forging new friendships, managing basic responsibilities (laundry, dorm jobs, planning for the week), discovering how they will approach and participate in classroom life, or trying out a new activity. Returning students might be working to balance demanding academics, athletics, and leadership roles; starting new initiatives at St. Andrew’s; and considering how they might want to serve and give back to SAS or to the wider world around them. Sixth Formers—our oldest students—do all this while also preparing themselves for their next steps after St. Andrew’s and setting an example for all the younger students. At each stage, they are growing in their self-efficacy.
Students at St. Andrew’s ask a great deal of themselves, stretching themselves into the adults they yearn to become. Not only do they take on many roles, but they also do so genuinely. My children often report feeling “stressed.” But when I think through their courses, sports, arts, chapel, and community service commitments, I realize that many of their activities are commitments they themselves have chosen, knowing the demands that come with them. St. Andrew’s provides plenty of not-exactly-optional structure, of course: study halls and advisory functions, family-style meals and room inspections, chapel and a great deal of faculty presence. Adolescence brings with it enough excitement, change, and occasionally chaos; what we can give our students is the opportunity to live their adolescence in an environment that is generally predictable and orderly, but that also allows them to gain more and more freedom, and to take on more independent responsibilities, step by step, year by year.
After many years of teaching, I still experience a frisson of joy when I experience that unfeigned interest that is the norm in any SAS classroom. Recently, V and VI Form students entering my Ethics class read on the board the title of a thought experiment I was going to introduce in that class session, and around which I was going to choreograph a discussion. Instead, the students immediately figured out what the thought experiment was arguing, and began discussing it passionately among themselves. I moved my chair back from the table and allowed the conversation to flow. Laughing and shouting, various students produced logical, thoughtful points from different perspectives. I took notes on the board so we would not forget what had been said. When the discussion began to get repetitive, I added in a new question. In this class, I could see the use of modes of engagement students had learned in earlier humanities classes, and I observed (and I modeled) emerging behaviors they would use in advanced college seminars and beyond. It was exciting to watch. And that is just one more reason why, despite being glad to hear from the adults in this community in a Friday News letter such as this, I will always seek first the images of our students.
Director of Athletics Neil Cunningham shared this letter with the community in the November 18, 2022 issue of the Friday News.
Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed some new athletics logos popping up around campus—in the paint on the football field this weekend, for example, or on coaches’ t-shirts and quarter-zips. I am excited to share with you today the sources of these logos: our new St. Andrew’s athletics identity, designed by our very own Associate Director of Communication Amy Kendig. This brand kit represents years of conversations, work, and research on the part of the Communications Office and the Athletics Department, and incorporates both school history and feedback from students, coaches, alumni, and other stakeholders.
I used the word “new” above, but this term is a bit misleading. The logos in this kit are modernized versions of an athletics identity that has been in use at St. Andrew’s for most of the school’s history. The primary brand mark is an updated version of the “StA” logo that has appeared on Saints baseball hats since at least the 1950s:
The secondary brand mark is a simplified version of the 1929 shield you all know and love—and this white cross on a red background is what has appeared on the school’s crew oars since the 1930s:
In rolling out this new athletics branding kit, our goal is to strengthen and centralize the visual identity of Saints athletics. You know what it means to compete as a Saint. I hear and see student-athletes, their coaches, and their fans expressing the core values of SAS athletics every day. But for many years now, the school has not had one centralized athletics logo that says to all who encounter it, “We are St. Andrew’s.” The school has appended various athletic identities and logos over the decades, including the griffin, the cardinal, and even the formal school crest. But at the heart of this fluctuation, there’s always been one constant: we are the Saints. Since 1929, the school’s athletic teams have referred to themselves as Saints (see page 41 of A History of St. Andrew’s School) and St. Andreans have been singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” for nearly that long, too. You scream “Go Saints!” on the sidelines. You chant “1-2-3 Saints” in your pregame huddles. Even local newspapers refer to us as the Saints. Turns out, we don’t have to decide if we’re griffins or cardinals or anything else because we’ve always been Saints. This athletic branding fully embraces our core identity and puts it front and center on your uniforms, where it always should have been.
You can explore the full branding kit here. These logos and wordmarks will not immediately appear across all team uniforms—all of which are on three to five-year replacement cycles—or throughout our athletic facilities; this transition will take years of hard work by many people. In the meantime, athletes and families can order warmups and other team gear with our new athletics brand identity here. These fall and winter team stores will close on December 4; spring team stores will be up and running in the new year. If you are interested in ordering custom team gear, please contact me to start that process. Further, I welcome all questions and conversations about this new SAS athletics identity—please reach out to me at any time to discuss. (And, if you are a student, I encourage you to join the Athletics Committee!)
At the end of the day, what makes an athlete, a team, an athletic program strong? It’s not the logo on your shirt or the colors on your sleeve. It’s the person—the heart—inside the gear.
But a great uniform definitely doesn’t hurt.
Neil Cunningham (aka Mr. C.)
Director of Athletics
The work of inclusion and belonging at St. Andrew’s is to lift up the voices of our students, faculty, and staff; to appreciate the diversity of our community; and to fully recognize each other’s humanity. Our classrooms, our residential spaces, and our playing fields offer countless opportunities for us to embrace inclusive practices, celebrate differences, and consider our collective responsibility to create the just and equitable world in which we want to live.
To share a bit about myself, I am a native Delawarean who also calls South Carolina “home.” I am a fourth-generation educator who follows a long maternal line of Black women who’ve served both within the classroom and in school administration. My great-grandmothers were teachers and principals in segregated high schools in Montgomery, Alabama. My grandmother and mother, both English teachers, were outstanding influences in my life—and are the reasons I chose English as a major in college. My late mother, Alice Carson Tisdale, was selected as District Teacher of the Year in Smyrna, Delaware, in 1986. As one of a handful of Black teachers in the district at that time, this distinction was one in which she, and our entire family, took great pride. My mother retired in 2019 after 21 years in secondary education, and a subsequent 25 years of service as a college administrator.
Standing on the shoulders of these women, I see education as a calling and feel grateful to work at a school where my talents can be put to good use. I am a very proud graduate of Spelman College, a private, historically black, women's liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia. I completed an M.A. at Temple University and a doctorate at Emory University. My career has taken me all over the country, and I have had the great fortune of working in both higher and secondary education settings. To share what I’ve learned as a student, as an educator, and as a servant leader with this community is an incredible privilege.
My decision to join St. Andrew’s as a dean of inclusion and belonging was not made lightly. In my first conversation with Head of School Joy McGrath ’92, however, I began to understand just how special this school is and how committed our students, faculty, and staff are to the practice of inclusion and belonging. When I visited the school last spring, I met with students who were enthusiastic about rolling up their sleeves and working diligently to ensure that St. Andrew’s is a place where all students can thrive. I was also deeply inspired by the faculty and staff whose unwavering commitment to students is unmatched. I knew, after that visit, that St. Andrew’s was not only a place where I could be impactful, but a place where every day would offer me—and my family—opportunities, as American author and social activist bell hooks writes, “to work in community, and to be changed by community.”
I am honored to be entrusted with the awesome responsibility of building upon the foundation laid by those committed to this important work at St. Andrew’s before me: Treava Milton ’83, Stacey Duprey ’85 P’04,’10, Giselle Furlonge ’03, and Devin Duprey ’10. I lift these names up to acknowledge the considerable contributions of alumnae of color whose dedication to advancing diversity and inclusion at St. Andrew’s, both past and present, cannot be overstated. My goals for this year extend from their work and include developing a formal infrastructure for the office of inclusion and belonging; offering effective and meaningful diversity education programming for students, faculty, and staff; and providing robust educational opportunities for affinity group faculty leaders and affinity group members.
I look forward to working in collaboration with colleagues, students, parents, and alumni to meet these broad goals and to reconnect. I welcome your ideas, your curiosity, and your honest feedback on our work together. I am deeply grateful for your generous support and am excited about all that is to come!
Danica Tisdale Fisher
Dean of Inclusion and Belonging
As students, faculty, and staff welcome the beginning of another school year, campus is bustling with excitement for what the year holds. With fresh notebooks in hand and new dorm rooms to decorate, robust academic class schedules and warm sunny weather, September is often when we get to set the rhythm for our return into life at St. Andrew’s. As you embark upon this year, here are five ways you can create a well-balanced semester:
Create a routine
Routines can help you strike a balance between the structure you need to meet your goals and adaptability to welcome the inevitable spontaneity of a school year. When creating your routine for this year, first figure out what needs to be part of your plan so that you can prioritize. Many students find it useful to map out the different areas of their schedule, like academics, afternoon activities, self-care, free time, and community service (to name just a few). Utilize your St. Andrew’s planner and/or your Google Calendar account to help you visualize your day, week, and monthly schedule, and be sure to carve out space for fun, time with friends, or even time to recharge alone.
Did you know research shows being in green spaces like the forest and fields lead to an increase in positive emotions, reduced stress levels, and heightened levels of attention (Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019)? St. Andrew’s is located on 2,200 beautiful acres of nature, so there are plenty of options when it comes to surrounding yourself with greenery. Next time you’re looking for something to do, be sure to take a hike on the trails around Noxontown Pond, head out to the Organic Garden, or snag a campus bike to ride around campus roads and fields.
Try something new
From around age 12 to 24 (also known as our adolescence), the brain shifts to favor novel and new experiences, leading to increased feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. As you dive into the rest of the fall semester, keep your eyes open for chances to experience something new:
- Sit next to someone new in class or at dinner
- Join a new club
- Volunteer during service block on Wednesdays
- Pick out a book you’ve never read from the Irene duPont Library
- Start a game of spikeball or four square on the Front Lawn
If goals are the destination at the peak of the mountain, micro-goals are the little campsites you hit along the way. When your overall goal feels overwhelming, try breaking it down into smaller, more manageable goals. Be sure that your micro-goals are measurable and achievable—and don’t miss out on the opportunity to celebrate each micro-win! 🥳
Get to know your faculty
You know them as dorm parents, teachers, coaches, advisors, directors, and more. Getting to know your faculty beyond all the many hats they wear at St. Andrew’s can lead to more meaningful and lasting relationships. Next time you are at family-style lunch or waiting for class to start, strike up a conversation or learn a fun fact about your teacher. Here’s one to get you started: Which member of the faculty, at one point, has eaten every item on the Wendy’s dollar menu in under an hour?
I hope you have a wonderful start to the fall semester and that you are looking forward to a bright and healthy year!
Curious about the Counseling department? St. Andrew’s has three full-time mental health counselors who offer counseling in a caring and supportive environment. If you are interested in meeting with one of the counselors, you can send an email at email@example.com or fill out an appointment request form here. The counselors are committed to maintaining confidentiality, serving each student holistically, and meeting each student where they are. Don't hesitate to reach out if you’d like to meet or have any questions.
English teacher Will Torrey on the capital-Q-questions of teaching
As Opening Day of the 2021-22 school year neared, I found myself especially eager to make a great plan for the first day of class for my two sections of seniors in English 4—one that would not only engage my students and encapsulate the goals of the course, but one that would help me answer—for them as well as myself—the capital-Q-questions I think of all the time:
Why do we talk about literature?
What’s the point of this class?
I thought for a long time about what to show, do, or discuss with my students on that first day. And finally, the day before the first day of class, I wheeled my one year-old son past the Organic Garden in his stroller and was reminded of a conversation I’d had the previous spring with my then-advisee Riley Baker ’21. On a day shortly before Commencement, Riley came back to dorm from working in Organic Garden and told me that while digging in the dirt, she’d been listening to an episode of the On Being podcast in which the host Krista Tippitt interviews the writer Ocean Vuong.
“Mr. Torrey,” she said, eyes bright. “It was, like, the most profound thing I’ve ever heard. You should listen to it; I think you’d love it.”
So I did listen to it, and it was profound, and I did love it.
And then I forgot all about it—until that sunny Labor Day afternoon a few months later.
“There it is,” I thought. “My plan.”
At the end of the interview—during which Vuong covers everything from his immigrant childhood in Hartford, Connecticut to the power of language and its capacity to evolve—Tippit references an essay of Voung’s, in which he, in the face of a family tragedy, embarks on a walk through Manhattan and can’t stop noticing, of all things, fire escapes. They are everywhere, Vuong writes, clinging to the sides of our homes, calling out to us “with the most visible human honesty: We are capable of disaster. And we are scared.” Vuong goes on to assert that literature—the poem, the story, the novel—is itself a form of fire escape, a safe haven that’s often ignored but always at hand, a place of intimate vulnerability where we, as readers, as people, can find refuge. We hurt, Vuong’s essay asserts, because we’re afraid to bear ourselves. But by studying the stories of others, by witnessing their pain and triumphs, we move toward a better understanding of ourselves and a solution to our common crisis of communication.
As soon as this seed of an idea had been planted, ideas for other pieces to discuss on the first day came to mind faster than I could process. By the time my first section rolled into my classroom the morning of September 7, I had a thick packet of readings for them: Barry Hannah’s “Water Liars,” George Saunders’s “Sticks,” a scene from Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. We dove in and enjoyed an intense (in a good way) seventy-five minutes of rapid-fire discussion.
For me, and I hope for my students, this first class was not just great, but wonderful. As I made my way home, I felt more excited about teaching than I had in some time—maybe since the beginning of the pandemic. I was excited to have connected with my students, and to watch them connect with the ideas buried in our readings. I was thrilled by how eager, how perceptive, even how open to being vulnerable they all were. But most of all, I was humbled. A five-minute conversation I had had with a student three months earlier had suddenly bloomed into the answers to my questions.
Why do we talk about literature?
To move toward a better understanding of ourselves and a solution to our common crisis of communication.
What is the point of this class?
To be a place of intimate vulnerability where we—as readers, as people—can find refuge, and bear ourselves.
How was the first day of classes?
The familiar question, asked in the hallways at school and over phone, email, and text from everyone close in my life, feels particularly poignant this year.
In short, Tuesday, September 7 felt to me like a celebration. Students donned dress code outfits—not without much debate and perhaps some consternation on the part of a few students—and found their way to classes in Amos, Founders, and O’Brien. Teachers enjoyed coffee and breakfast pastries in the new faculty room. And all our beautiful campus spaces—no classroom tents this year—were gleaming and ready for the learning to begin. Great anticipation, planning, and energy went into our collective preparation for the first day and for the 2021-22 school year.
Teachers and students alike have been thinking deeply about the opportunities and the challenges before us. All our students, faculty, and staff are back together again on campus, and we once again have the ability to hold immersive, 75-minute in-person classes. Because we’re returning from a period of interruption and distance, we’re noticing with fresh eyes what it means to learn and teach here at St. Andrew’s. It’s almost as if all of us are new this year.
During our opening meetings, faculty focused intensively on ways to build and rebuild our inclusive, collaborative academic culture, and how to teach the habits and skills of genuine intellectual engagement. With those goals in mind, on the first day of class, teachers talked a lot about:
- how to listen
- how to take part
- how to support
- how to concentrate
- how to manage time
These skills are the first rails on the scaffolding we will build for our newest and youngest students as they learn to problem-solve, reason, write, debate, and deduce. But after the dislocation of the past 18 months, even our VI Formers—indeed, even our faculty—may need to dust off their intellectual toolkits. As teachers, we attended closely to where students are in their learning of these core skills and content—or, as we say in the Faculty Handbook: we worked to get to know each student as a learner. Our job as teachers is to adapt and build from there.
We asked III Form students in a survey this week what they most looked forward to; the top responses were building relationships with teachers and classmates. And in our meetings with new faculty in August, teachers explained that they joined St. Andrew’s to be part of a school where positive teacher-student relationships, strong engagement, and respect and trust between all members of the community are the foundation of the culture. The “joy of learning”—something we talk a lot about here—is always going to be rooted in that moment of discovery, or that feeling of understanding or doing something that you previously thought you could not. However, this year, I think all of us appreciate more than ever the type of intellectual joy that is rooted in making connections—not just between concepts, but with other people. We are even more aware of the joy of togetherness—the joy of listening, taking part, and supporting each other. Of course, all of those skills can be practiced over Zoom, but there is a kind of irreplaceable intellectual alchemy that occurs when humans occupy a space together.
So what will we do with our togetherness this year? That’s what we’re all here to find out.
In January, the school watched and wept through the film Just Mercy together. Last Wednesday, Onyx and Essence, St. Andrew's black male and black female student affinity groups, treated us to a Chapel service celebrating Black History Month. In the words of Dean of Teaching & Learning, Elizabeth Roach, this service "...taught us—through song, dance, stories, poetry, and readings—about suffering, courage, resilience, the power of the arts and storytelling, and the importance of remembering the truth of our past and present as we strive for a better, more equitable, and inclusive world today." In such moments, suffering stirs compassion, which liberates the mind from its default-mode petty concerns, and we feel the vibrancy and vitality of living in a body, with a heart and a purpose.
Last summer, I traveled to upstate New York to sit for my first meditation retreat. I have been trying to understand the Buddhist concepts of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self since I first learned about them at St. Andrew's a quarter-century ago. And, though I know my memory is fallible, I feel like I have been fascinated by these themes (especially impermanence and death) as early as I can remember. It is completely unsatisfactory that all of us will one day die. This fact is among the most horrific of all the facts that I know. And yet, paradoxically, this fact has so much to teach us about love, peace and happiness. Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh introduces a helpful analogy about suffering:
Everyone knows we need to have mud for lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell so good, but the lotus flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud, the lotus won’t manifest. You can’t grow lotus flowers on marble. Without mud, there can be no lotus. Without suffering, there's no happiness. So we shouldn't discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.
It is only by looking at suffering and death that we get the beauty and vitality associated with life. By confronting the fact of suffering directly and often, it is possible to have a richer, happier, more compassionate connection with the living (and dying) amongst us, including ourselves. Unless we understand this at a deep level—unless we confront directly the suffering of all the rest of the world—there can be no true happiness. The single-minded pursuit of pleasure can, at best, provide an illusion of happiness; it is like trying to grow a lotus flower on a marble floor without the mud. True purpose—purpose worth living and dying for—comes from both witnessing and developing the compassion to respond to the suffering and setbacks of other people and concerns. Rhonda Magee, author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice, writes about this dynamic. We hope, she says, "to inspire the more heartful path of turning gently toward the particular and unnecessary suffering caused to so many and exacerbated by the very ways that we go blind to the operation of race and racism in our own lives and in those of our fellows in the world.”
Today, students left campus for Spring Break, and, in less than three months, the Class of 2020 will depart school for the last time. I once found it unbearable to dwell very long in these final moments of separation. I left parties without saying goodbye, and even silent pauses in conversations made me uncomfortable. Though I still struggle with life's mud, I have learned to turn toward these moments. They offer a priceless gift: when we contemplate endings, we are presented directly with the power, the immediacy, and the ineffability of our moment-to-moment conscious experience. How magical is it that we have life at all?
Over Spring Break and beyond, let’s seek out moments to turn toward the pain of racism, of separation, and of the innumerable deaths throughout our lives. For, in these moments, we get a glimpse of how full our lives can become. As we contemplate impermanence with compassion, we become a little less attached to ourselves and our wishes, a little less afraid and a little more free. In the process, we practice opening up to opportunities to remake the world.
The other afternoon I wandered a bit during a free period. I walked through the cloister past a student reading a book—a library book, for fun—on a bench in the sun. Just down the way under the arched entryway sat another student, deep in thought, concentrating on a notebook of math problems. I walked past a classroom where students perched in the window seat, typing and thinking and writing. I headed for the library, filled with students and teachers reading, grading, or writing at tables that look out on the Front Lawn. As our students settle into the academic year, building their capacity to sustain focus and pursue challenging academic work, the St. Andrew’s campus culture of deep engagement is essential. We also know that it is increasingly precious and rare.
In stark contrast to SAS academic life, in most of our daily lives, a sentence or two of reading quickly gives way to interruption and distraction–phones and devices and emails consistently, relentlessly intervene. Even as I write this letter, my email tab sits a tantalizing one-inch scroll away. How do our students stay focused on their work amidst the alerts, clickbait, and pop-ups, all designed for quick responses and a constant state of distraction? I would argue that the practices of our campus culture – from our classroom layouts to our daily schedule—actively enable and reinforce deep focus. Because we put phones aside for the bulk of the day, and because we are deliberate about how we use technology and how we use time, St. Andrew’s creates the space for students to concentrate deeply and tackle complex questions.
James Williams’ recent book Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy examines how phone apps and digital devices “privilege our impulses over our intentions” as they persuade us to turn away from our tasks and goals. Williams even sees these distractions as a “fundamental risk to individual and collective will” and a threat to our very values. His book forced me to look even more critically at what may be happening to our ability to read, think, form opinions and set goals. But when I walk through our SAS classroom spaces, or glimpse into study rooms during study hall, I wish Williams could come to our campus; I think he’d be quite reassured.
This week my advisee Marvi Ali ’21 shared with me what it was like to immerse herself for an hour and a half in an assignment for her Global Studies class. Totally absorbed by an article on immigration, she lost track of time and found herself reading for most of study hall. Moreover, she was inspired to share and talk about the issues she was studying with her family that night, and she plans to bring the article’s points and questions to the Current Events Club she formed two years ago.
It’s moments like these that make me aware St. Andrew’s is truly unique in its ability to encourage capacities for learning, concentration, and connection. Because we commit to our cell phone policy and protect time and spaces for study, we can hold discussions and conversations where we focus on one another, not on our blinking phones. Our students can read deeply, answer hard questions, and generate layered arguments, and most importantly, they can respond thoughtfully to the issues and demands of the world they’re learning about.
All my best,
Dean of Studies
As I write this, young people around the world are demonstrating ahead of Monday’s Climate Action Summit at the United Nations, in an effort to demand action from the world’s leaders. We’re joining them with a teach-in that includes writing letters to local newspapers in support of climate change legislation, such as those proposed by the new bipartisan climate caucus in the Senate.
My journey to this moment began with recently retired life sciences teacher Dr. Peter McLean. For other alums, it was likely William H. Amos. Both men decided to dedicate the bulk of their professional lives to educating young people on the beauty, splendor, and necessity of the natural world and, in turn, to doing everything they could to protect it.
Working quietly on my bird, wildflower, and leaf projects or taking weekend trips to Hawk Mountain under Dr. McLean’s direction wasn’t nearly as much about being able to identify species as it was about planting seeds to care. When asked recently what individuals can do to help solve the climate crisis, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg responded, “Educate themselves.”
Our stewardship of St. Andrew’s 2,200 acres, a sanctuary within the continued sprawl of Middletown, places the School in a unique position to educate outside the classroom—and to lead. Mr. Amos and Dr. McLean both understood this, and we are building on their legacy.
More than 100 students signed up for the relaunch of our Outing Club, led by history teacher Grace Gahagan, with 19 students stepping up to lead camping trips, hikes, and boating adventures. Three new canoes joined the Noxontown Pond fleet this week, and weekend plans more intentionally include outdoor experiences. This weekend features a planting party in the Organic Garden, a sunset canoe trip, a beach cleanup at Elk River Beach, apple picking, and a guided hike through the Noxontown woods. The III Form embarks on a night hike this evening, while the VI Form will gather around a campfire for s’mores under the stars. Next Saturday, our annual Pond Day features over 20 outdoor adventures for students, which we hope will lead to many more unscheduled adventures throughout the seasons.
Simultaneously, campus continues to become more environmentally sustainable thanks to the ongoing collaboration of students, alumni, Director of Sustainability Diana Burk, Head of School Tad Roach, our Facilities Team, and the Board of Trustees. The newly renovated Amos Hall will be the latest LEED-certified building on campus. Six new electric charging stations were installed last week, and for the first time ever, 100% of St. Andrew’s electricity now comes from renewable sources.
There’s still much more work to do, but the will is there and ideas are leading to action. I hope you will be part of the conversations here on campus and let us know how we can share our energy with you in your efforts at home.
Will Robinson ‘97
Dean of Student Life