W+H Media Mashup
A true test of an individual or an organization really comes to light in a crisis. COVID-19 is certainly one of those times when individuals, groups, communities and our Wardlaw+Hartridge family are being tested.
When I was a senior in high school, I missed eight weeks of classes - two months - starting in late September. Actually my entire public school district and many others in the Wilmington, Delaware area did not have school because our teachers went on strike.
As Upper School Head, I have the privilege of witnessing acts of care, joy, selflessness, support, giving and love, to name a few, every day from students, parents and faculty. Let me share a few from the past several weeks that keep me encouraged and demonstrate the indomitable W+H spirit.
“I just want to say thank you. I had a good time. I would still rather be at school for Field Day, but I had fun dressing up my dad and playing the fun games. So, I just wanted to say thank you.”
Last Thursday, May 27, was one of those special, memorable days on the Wardlaw+Hartridge calendar. Although I spent an exhausting 15 hours on campus that day, it was my favorite school day of the 2020-2021 academic year. Two signature events highlighted the final day before a much-needed and well-deserved long Memorial Day holiday weekend – Lower School Field Day and the 12th annual Cookin' Cabaret. If you love games and live entertainment, May 27 was a great day to be a Ram.
Two of our finest teachers and departmental leaders deserve an enormous amount of credit for leading two events that rank among my annual favorites on the school calendar. Lee Nicholls, whom Head of School Andy Webster called the "benevolent deity of Field Day" in a social media comment, orchestrated another outstanding Field Day. Sharon Byrne, Performing Arts Department Chair, introduced our community to the Cookin' Cabaret 12 years ago when she arrived at W+H and it has become a popular staple ever since. She and the students took it to another level this year.
What some folks may forget is that Mr. Nicholls and Mrs. Byrne are full-time teachers who work with students most of the day. Planning and executing these events are additional duties that they consistently fulfill with style and substance.
Our Lower School students had a blast playing with their classmates and friends on the rear athletic fields. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendly competition in person, while remote students also participated in challenges from home. Mr. Nicholls absolutely thought of everything to make this an awesome day for the Lower School. He even found a way to get the faculty involved in the final event, an egg and spoon race, which was very competitive and a little controversial.
Field Day ended with the traditional large group photo, which provided a challenge for me this year. Instead of taking a few small steps up the sideline bleachers to snap a photo of the participants on the turf field, I had to climb to the top of the tower to capture a wider angle of a socially distanced group of students and teachers. Although I was a bit winded and overheated, I'm proud to say I made it up and back without any pulled muscles.
After working up a sweat during Field Day, I'm grateful that Mrs. Byrne provided me with a new Cookin' Cabaret T-shirt for the evening performance. It was wonderful to see parents join students live and in person at the Cookin' Cabaret, which was held outdoors for the first time since its inaugural performance in 2010. And what a show it was!
All the performers were impressive and it was great to see the seniors who have endured a difficult final year of high school enjoy one final chance to shine before a live audience. Ensemble performers Simone Erachshaw '21, Brian Machado '21, John Papetti III '21, Leila Hernandez-Webster '21 and Neil Shah '21 and smooth saxophone player Nicolas Hernandez-Webster '21 left the W+H stage in style under the stars on an absolutely perfect weather evening.
From the warm sun of the afternoon on the fields to the comfortable cooler conditions of the evening in the amphitheatre, the W+H campus was alive with excitement. Although people wore face coverings, it felt like the good old days to see our community come together again.
The end of any school year is filled with many events such as graduations, awards ceremonies and final presentations, yet some of my annual favorites at this time of year are not at all related to receiving a diploma, trophy or grade. This is the time when creativity takes center stage.
You’ll see creativity everywhere in the W+H classrooms, hallways, stage and athletic fields. Students, artists and athletes, along with their teachers, directors and coaches, are showcasing a virtue that’s among the most important within the field of education.
Creativity is defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Many years later, Einstein has been proven correct. In a digital age during which knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips, the elements of creativity and imagination stand out as more important.
I’ve seen countless examples of creativity on display recently at W+H. Earlier this week, I watched a group of eager fifth graders build a coin drop for the school’s India COVID relief fundraiser. They worked together under the guidance of STEM teacher Erin Maciorowski but conducted their own collaborative problem solving skills to build the structure.
In the Middle School, creativity is infused in many activities and one of my traditional favorites in the sixth-grade cell project. Students are asked to prepare a model plant cell but to use items for the organelles that resemble the function of that cell part, rather than focus on its appearance. This year’s students continued that tradition with another round of stellar presentations in classes taught by Andrea Barnett.
One of this year’s most interesting Upper School projects was offered to AP Human Geography students in Jean Castellano’s classes. The students literally “cooked up history” in a three-week partnership with City Labs in which they explored culinary history, shared their family recipes and created their own cookbook. I can’t think of too many better examples of creativity than cooking.
I started my scroll of creativity examples with academic projects from all three divisions for a reason. Creativity is most typically associated with the fine and performing arts, as exhibited by the definition listed earlier. However, at W+H, creativity is not confined to artistic works.
Our singers, musicians and visual arts students have been working hard in a year that has been particularly challenging for performing artists and their teachers. Despite the many restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the shows have gone on for our choir and band ensembles. Last week’s combined Middle and Upper School Virtual Spring Concert was a real treat. The creativity of the sound and video professionals who edited more than 500 individual recordings to put together a one-hour concert was amazing. Kudos to choral director Sharon Byrne and band director Rick Fontaine for their work in delivering the next-best thing to a live show. Their creativity and vision yielded a wonderful final product.
The exclamation point and culmination on our recent splash of creativity will come next Thursday night, June 3, when W+H unveils its first-ever All-School Art Show. This virtual showcase of fine art will include work from all students in PreK-Grade 12. I’m really looking forward to what the students of our fine arts teachers, including Middle School veteran and Department Chair Tanda Tucker and newcomers Sara McDermott (Lower School) and Andrew Sullivan (Upper School), have in store for us.
Our students have even found a way to combine fine art and athletics in their creativity. Claire Lu ’24, one of the stars of our state championship girls’ golf team, won the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) Great Junior Golf Design Challenge in April. Claire and her talented teammates have also shown lots of creativity on the course, leading to many impressive scores and championship trophies.
While trophies and accolades are wonderful to receive, creativity is a vital part of any successful process. Wardlaw+Hartridge students and teachers are displaying creativity every day.
Personal attention has long been one of the hallmarks of a Wardlaw+Hartridge education. It’s an important strength of small schools like ours. Students know their teachers and, perhaps more importantly, teachers know their students. These connections lead to relationships that help guide our students, not only during their W+H years but often long after they graduate, attend college and embark on successful careers. Many of our students genuinely appreciate these connections, not only while they are here on campus, but also later in life as alumni who come back to visit us.
Imam Khalid Latif, a W+H graduate from the Class of 2000, spent the day here on April 14 for the Upper School Symposium as a keynote speaker and panelist. Imam Latif is one of our most accomplished graduates and a recent recipient of the W+H Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is the Executive Director and Chaplain for the Islamic Center at New York University. In 2005, Latif was appointed the first Muslim chaplain at NYU. In 2006, he was appointed the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton University. His accomplishments and accolades are too vast to list in this blog post – Google him if you want to learn more.
Several times during his contributions on the morning panel and keynote address in the afternoon, Iman Latif mentioned how fortunate he felt to have been educated at Wardlaw+Hartridge and how it set him up for future success. He offered words of motivation to the students in the audience and challenged them to take advantage of their similar educational privilege and be active participants in the solution: “When you graduate from this place, you take your degree and you go and change that kind of foolishness. You can hear stories all day but if you treat them just as stories, you’re going to sit back and be a part of the problem.”
Iman Latif clearly believes in the Wardlaw+Hartridge education, but his warm feelings for our school go beyond the fact that he has become an enormous success in life. Walking through the halls with him during Symposium Day, I had the pleasure of watching him reunite with several former teachers. Latif met with Gerard Gonnella ’89, our current Director of Admission and Financial Aid, who taught him history in the late 1990s. He ran into Jim Howard, who has been teaching mathematics for more than 40 years at our school, and Tanda Tucker, a Middle School art teacher for more than two decades. Finally, Latif reconnected with Lower School veteran teacher Ellen Ritz as he was departing campus. Latif and his two older siblings were W+H lifers.
Clearly, the personal attention Latif received during his years as a student made an impact on him. He dropped dozens of names of teachers and classmates throughout the day as we walked past the science labs, art displays and athletic fields.
At the conclusion of his keynote, Iman Latif generously offered to help any W+H students who needed assistance and provided permission to contact him via email. This personal connection will be a valuable resource for students wishing to pursue it.
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