Dear Upper School (US) Parents & Guardians,
A bit of a surprise admittedly (as was last week’s winter weather), but we’re now here, on the eve of our Thanksgiving holiday break. It’s a great time to reflect on the fall thus far, and also look ahead to the coming weeks. I’ve recorded a new JoeCast (my periodic podcast), and below are some photos of recent events as well as timely reminders of upcoming US activities and programs.
Vaping, as you probably know, has become a prevalent activity amongst high school students, and a real cause for concern. Dwight-Englewood is not immune to this trend, and we know that there are many students who have thought about, tried, or are present users of these e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, with the major manufacturer being a company called Juul. The word juuling, then, has become synonymous with this activity, although there are another types of devices. Also, as I am sure you know, there are all sorts of chemicals that can be found in the juices that are vaporized and then inhaled, above and beyond the nicotine that they were created to contain.
In an effort to help our students grapple with this trend, we invited Tim Shoemaker, an expert in this area, to speak with our students and faculty. Tim had been here in May for a presentation to parents, and that was so successful that we had him return to the Upper School, and he will be coming back in January to speak at the Middle School, to meet parents, and do some follow-up work in the Upper School.
Tim’s presentation was dynamic and chock full of information, directed at delivering messages about the contents of those cigarettes, the types of false advertising that takes place and how companies are deliberately marketing these products to adolescents. His goal was definitely to inspire students to stay away from vaping, rather than risk becoming addicted or injured. He used the film Titanic as a double metaphor. On the one hand he asked the question that if you knew the end of the movie, would you have every gotten onboard the Titanic in the first place, and he likened that to the notion that if you knew what could happen to you down the line from vaping, would you ever start in the first place? Of course he picked Titanic because of the type of story it tells, something that looks wonderful and safe at the start turns into something very different later on.
Tim also delivered a lesson about media literacy and false advertising along the way, which was very well tuned to the critical thinking skills we are working on in School.
It was a jam-packed hour, and actually ran over our allotted time, and I let him go long because he was still finalizing the message, and because students were paying close attention to him. I was glad that I did, and had we not been off Friday we would have followed up right away, because there are lots of pieces to continue talking about. In lots of individual conversations after the presentation, Tim learned more about the behaviors in our school, and also how some kids are looking to quit or build the resistance skills to stay away from this behavior. We will come back to this after break, certainly, and I urge you to see Tim’s presentation when he returns in January.
Looking forward to the coming weeks, please note that Winter 2019 Driver’s Ed is once again being offered at the School by D-E 360° in partnership with FNL Driving School. For details and to register online click here or go to www.d-e.org/driversed.
In the event your Thanksgiving holiday weekend gatherings include conversation about summer plans, you may want to consider the outstanding D-E 360° International Summer 2019 trips available. Led by members of our own D-E faculty, this year’s trips include China, Italy, South Africa, and Salamanca (Spain). All the trips have an early December initial deposit deadline so it’s best to confirm plans soon. You can find details including itineraries and cost information here or go to https://de360.d-e.org/d-e-travel/
I also encourage you to ‘save the date’ for an upcoming December 5 “PEP” talk, which is a Parents’ Association-hosted parent ed. event on the topics of resilience and self-reliance. D-E Parent Paola Bettelli is graciously facilitating this conversation scheduled for Wednesday, December 5, at 8:15 AM.
Finally, a note to check out the photos included here from the events of the past week, including last week’s Fall Sports Banquet, US Diwali Assembly, and Stage Band’s Jazz Brunch, plus this morning’s All-School Thanksgiving Assembly. Suffice it to say, all these gatherings showcase just some of the exceptional talent prevalent within our entire student body, and are a tribute to both our families and our faculty/staff and coaches as well.
I wish you a relaxing holiday weekend and look forward to seeing you all next week, after the break.
A year ago, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why generated lot of strong responses, to the content of the series, to the dramatic nature of some of the scenes, and to the way it was seen to glamorize teen suicide. It did fuel lots of positive conversations about important issues, but it was also seen by some to be inappropriate for younger adolescents.
Well, the second season of 13 Reasons Why is being released this Friday, May 18, and so I thought to let you all know that, in case you are not already aware. Apparently this season is also dark and intense, and includes scenes that are violent in nature as well as some that show sexual violence as well.
Not that it will necessarily be as popular as the first season, but if so then we can expect many of our students to be watching this over the weekend and during the next few days. In speaking with our psychologists, we thought to remind you that our Student Support Page on the D-E website has resources for you to read if you’d like. That page can be accessed by clicking here. I also wanted to point you towards Common Sense Media, a valuable resource that has prepared several pages that might be of help with this show. You can find them by clicking here. Of course, if you’d like some specific advice or information, feel free to call us.
When children walk out of the auditorium program saying things like “that was the best assembly ever,” or “that was amazing,” I pay attention because those statements mean something. While I don’t always know what it means, in this case I knew exactly what it meant because I had the identical reaction. I think the entire room did.
With help from the Grace and Mercy Foundation, we had the good fortune to welcome the Director of an organization called Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). Hannah Song spoke with us about the work that this NGO does for North Korea. She opened by asking what came to mind when thinking about North Korea. Responses were, as she anticipated, related mostly to Kim Jong-Un or nuclear weapons, or the upcoming summit or, on this particular day, the three prisoners who were released from North Korea and arrived that morning in Washington.
Ms. Song wanted to expand our view to issues of human rights in North Korea, and hoped that her presentation would help us understand more clearly the restrictive lives of North Koreans, and the work that her organization does to help “change the narrative” so that the people of the world know the truth. Another piece of LiNK’s work is helping refugees escape to freer societies around the world, and no matter how much she had convinced us of the value of this work, the message hit home in a visceral way when she introduced Robert, a refugee who escaped from North Korea several years ago and was making a new life for himself in the US.
This young man, who you may have probably about from your child, told a harrowing story about his journey that was riveting, both in the drama of what he had to do, but also riveting in the way he had internalized it and used it to make incredible strides in his life. Students remarked at how happy he was and how easily he spoke about himself and his experience, which begins with his father abandoning him at age 5 and then his mother passing away when he was 12, and includes jumping out of moving trains and forging rivers in the middle of the night to escape from North Korea to China. You should ask your child to relay the story he told us because it’s incredible, and my words on paper won’t do it justice. Robert is now all of about 22, speaks remarkable English having started high school at age 17 when he arrived, is studying coding and working as an intern at LiNK. He wants to open a restaurant someday (food – or the lack thereof – was a major theme of his story), and was pleased to tell his audience about being hooked on video games for a while when he first arrived.
On many levels this was indeed an amazing morning. As a personal story, as a study in perseverance and determination, and as a story about how we can help others, the tangible response from many has been to try to start a chapter of LiNK on campus to be more closely associated with the human rights work of this organization. Students also remarked, and they were completely right, that you can watch lot of videos and read accounts of these harrowing escapes, but hearing these stories in person and being able to react to the words, emotions, and body language elevates the experience to a level that we hope inspires. Our students’ worlds are so video and media heavy that sometimes we worry about their connections to real life, so I was very glad to hear them recognize the importance of live interaction.
D-E’s annual all-school Spring Carnival, sponsored by our US student clubs and the Parents’ Association, is set for Sunday, April 29, on Leggett Field (or, in the Myrna B. Sherman Gymnansium in the event of inclement weather). 15+ booths and activities including free BBQ lunch, live music by our US students, tie-day Tshirt making, photo booth, ‘make your doggie treats’, and a STEM Festival with drones, “dry ice” ice cream, slime making station, and more. Free admission and open to D-E families of all ages. For more details click here or go to www.d-e.org/activities (D-E LogIn required).
Last week the Upper School sponsored our first annual community service fair. To assist students in understanding and choosing projects and locations and interests, we invited service organizations from around the county and in the city to come and talk about what kinds of service are available for high school students. The groups ranged in scope from Englewood Hospital to a teen volunteer theatre troupe that performs educational skits about important current social issues for middle schools.
We plan to repeat this fair every year, and to bring more organizations as we increase our focus on the value of service to others. Below you can view some photos from the Fair. To view a list of the participating organizations that attended click here or visit www.d-e.org/activities(D-E LogIn required.)
Here the latest Podcast on Upper School programs and more, from US Principal Joe Algrant!
We have now entered the final phase of the scheduling process for next year. As you work with your child, I wanted to clarify a change that we are making in the Health and Wellness department. It’s actually a new philosophy and guiding principle for the department, much aligned with other changes taking place in the Upper School curriculum.
The specific change is that we have reduced the requirement in health and wellness from all eight semesters of high school to four semesters total. One semester must be taken in ninth grade, and serves as the introduction to the department’s curriculum. It will focus on skills, habits, and knowledge that will prepare students for later life by training in different types of exercise, and teaching subjects like nutrition and body fitness. The electives that follow will offer students several choices that focus on different ways to establish life-long fitness habits and patterns. We believe it’s vital for students to take advantage of well-established understandings about the impact of exercise on long term vitality, health, and happiness.
The elective choices include options such as yoga and mindfulness, spinning, weight training, cpr and first aid, self-defense and kick boxing, strength and conditioning. Students over their time will be able to learn different ways to exercise and stay healthy in adulthood.
These are courses that we believe are important for all students to have while in high school, and therefore we have also decided to eliminate the opportunity for students to be exempted, either for playing on teams in school, or for out of school activities. Unlike the old curriculum, which was very much like what students were doing on teams, these courses are quite different, and designed for team athletes as well, who are not learning the skills for later years.
For some, especially the current ninth graders, this may feel like we are taking away a privilege that previously had been available, for they will have to take two more semesters of health and wellness during their next six terms. We return to the reason that we have changed the department’s curriculum, that these courses focus on the exposure to and development of life-long knowledge and behavior. Present 10th and 11th graders have completed their requirements, and can choose elective courses as they want over the next year, which we hope they do.
This shift, towards more relevant, life-long study complements what we are adding with our new seminar courses in grades 9 and 10. Apart from what happens in the health and wellness department, these seminars cover other aspects of physical and mental health, alongside transition to high school issues (grade 9), sex education, and an investigation of identity and diversity.
The health and wellness faculty have developed these courses in the hopes that they transform the ways in which students approach thinking about their future selves, in much the same way other departments in the school aim to prepare for a life of study and work. The shift we make next year represents a further step in our understandings about the connections between mind and body, and how those connections make for academic success as well as a more balanced, happy life.
- Medication Authorization Forms can be completed for parents who approve of the MS/US Nurse providing medications to your child(ren). Click here for our 2017-’18 Medication Authorization Forms, or go online to: www.d-e.org/nursescorner.
- Please do not send your child to school with any medications other than those for life-threatening conditions such as asthma inhalers, insulin or epipens.
- All other medications should be given to the MS/US Nurse along with a signed letter from your doctor, allowing medication to be given at school.
We stopped what we were doing yesterday morning for a moment of silence at our assembly, led by our student government president, to honor and remember victims of the Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As we went through the day, we realized that there were several Dwight-Englewood connections to students and teachers in that school, as well as connections to residents of Parkland itself. These connections generated an emotional impact on the Upper School student body, and there was a palpable feeling of sadness in the division. Beyond the general horror, this incident had a direct bearing on members of the School, which also heightened some anxiety and had some students feeling a little jittery about being in school at all.
I spoke briefly to students before we held our moment of silence, and recognized the connections and the sadness, shock, and grief that was in the room. I also tried to remind everyone that we work hard on community safety, but in the end our best safety comes from community awareness and the willingness of every member of our D-E family to stay alert to issues with friends and peers, and to say something if they see something or feel that someone they know is distressed. In a community like ours I will always hope that our empathy for others will motivate any member to react if something does not feel right to them.
As students went through the day, continuing to process the events, it was fascinating and heartwarming to hear their thoughtful reflections. Older students especially were asking all the right questions about the incident, wondering about important aspects of the incident that ranged from the availability of guns to the security in the school to the horror that this young man was so public on social media. Alongside their sadness they were reflecting their critical thinking about such issues, indicating maturity and insight that was wonderful to see and encouraging to see in our future citizens and leaders of society.
It does not get easier to respond to these events of violence, in schools or elsewhere, but today we felt a closer emotional tie to the incident that will linger as community members mourn the death or trauma of friends and family.