Learning in the Real World
Jan Abernathy

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Catalino gave me an assignment I will never forget.  A passionate Boston Celtics fan, on the nights of games ‘Mr. C’ canceled the regular homework for one student and replaced it with the assignment to watch the basketball game and give a statistical report of the game the next morning in class.  When it was my turn, I recruited my parents and the older of my two sisters to help, outfitting them with clipboards and the assignment to track certain statistics for certain players.  After the game, and staying up well past my bedtime, I compiled the numbers and analyzed them, determining things like the average points and rebounds for starting players and the point differential between players of corresponding positions on each team.  

More than thirty years later, I remember the assignment, where each member of my family sat as we watched the game, and the presentation the next day.  I also remember the math.  Certainly, Mr. C tapped into budding interests in sports and in math in me, but more so, this assignment has such impact for me because he involved me in an experience that allowed me to apply what we had been learning in class.  That notions of experience and of connecting to students’ interests are long-held tenets of high-quality education.  Quite simply, lessons and units that involve authentic experiences and  that connect with students’ interests result in better retention and more understanding, as my fifth grade experience demonstrates.

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling with our eighth grade to Washington, DC for their traditional culminating trip.  The trip was, as it always has been, excellent, and it provided a set of experiences for our students that will ensure their learning this year remains vibrant and impactful for them.  The eighth grade history curriculum looks at American History, with a special focus on government, from Civil War to Civil Rights.  Trips to meet Congressman Gottheimer of the 5th district in New Jersey, of meeting the President of the African-American Civil War Museum, of laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier, of reciting the Gettysburg Address at night on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and of visiting several museums, notably the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture collectively helped reinforce the students’ understanding of the curriculum and its relevance and importance.  

When we returned on Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of joining families of our three and four year olds with Chilton House teachers for an evening of learning about the math program in Chilton House.  All of our Chilton House programs are about experiences, as math concepts are contained in everything from block-building to morning meeting, and the vast array of ways that students can learn concepts of numbers, counting, ordering, and relativity allows teachers to present activities that speak to students’ interests as well.  These are but two examples from last week of the hundreds of ways our teachers involve our students in their learning, present curriculum and activities that meet our students’ interests, and ensure that student experiences in class allow them to apply the concepts they are learning.  These tenets of excellent education are constantly at the forefront of our faculty’s minds as they plan and deliver every lesson. 

An Important Englewood Anniversary
Jan Abernathy

Throughout the year, as part of their Leadership Symposium class, eighth graders lead an assembly on a topic of their interest.  Last Friday, a group of six presented on the school’s history.  They highlighted the notable history of the Morrow family, from Mr. Morrow’s time as US Ambassador to Mexico, to Mrs. Morrow’s work in the community and with Smith College, and their daughter Anne’s literary career and marriage to Charles Lindbergh.  Then, they focused specifically on Elisabeth and her college classmate Connie Chilton’s dreams of opening a school and traced the school’s history, decade by decade, from its founding through to today.  It was an enlightening and thorough overview that was also well-timed.

An organization founded in Englewood, the Community Chest of Eastern Bergen County, is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.  It was founded in 1933 by Elizabeth Morrow, mother of Elisabeth who founded our school, as a response to the Great Depression and its effects in Englewood.  It was founded on the premise of neighbors helping neighbors, and played a major role in helping local families survive the Depression.  The city fathers, in their notes regarding the founding of the Community Chest, stated that there was no better person than Mrs. Morrow to found the organization because she was so civic-minded and had such strong relationships with so many Englewood families.  

Eighty five years later, the Community Chest continues to be a vibrant organization, raising over $300,000 per year that is distributed to more than two dozen worthy organizations in the area supporting needs ranging from education, terminal illness, and domestic violence survivors to hunger, mental health, and poverty.  

The Community Chest approached me earlier this year with an idea to celebrate their anniversary by celebrating the incredible leadership of three local women, all named ‘Elizabeth:’ Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, founder of the Community Chest, Elisabeth Morrow Morgan, founder of EMS, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, leader of the women’s suffrage movement.  

These three women are the inspiration for a Women's Leadership Luncheon being held on May 17th in the Music Room in Morrow House, originally the entertaining parlor for the family home.  The luncheon program will feature two prominent women leaders, Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle and Dr. Jeanne Clark Rance, former resident of Englewood and esteemed educator (retired) who spent many hours of her childhood at Memorial House where she was inspired to study hard and succeed.  Both will share their thoughts about women and leadership.

At the luncheon the Community Chest will award a $2,000 to a graduating senior from a local high school that has demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities. All members of the EMS community are invited to this special event.  If you are interested, please visit: http://celebratingtheelizabeths.com/ to register.  I hope to see you there at what promises to be an event that not only recognizes our founder and her mother but also supports the next generation of female leaders.  The connections with our school’s history and the history of Morrow House, the family’s home for so many years, are obvious, and we are proud to be hosting this wonderful event.

Celebrating Longevity at EMS
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

Last Thursday, our board of trustees and our entire faculty and staff gathered for our annual faculty/trustee event.  The highlight of the event every year is the celebration of faculty reaching milestone years at EMS.  We recognize those who have been here 10, 15, and 20 years (you read about Lorra Baylis, Gil Moreno, and Melissa Ebeling’s 20-year EMS journeys in the last issue of the APPLETREE). We honor those who have reached every five-year milestone beyond that and this year, we celebrated with song, speech, laughs, and tears Michele Bower and Amelia Gold for 25 years, Janis Wein for 30 years, and Mary Ann Rota for 35 years of service.

As I thought about the tributes shared about each of our honorees and the speeches that each gave reflecting on their time at EMS, several themes emerged.  Each expressed a clear love for and dedication to the school, unsurprising given their time here and yet still inspiring and motivating for everyone in attendance.  Each reflected on change - in curriculum, in physical plant, in pedagogy - that shows how the school continues to evolve and live by the words Elisabeth Morrow desire to instill our school with “the best of the old education and the best of the new.”  And, a theme that ran through each tribute and which each honoree embodies is the trait of consistently going “above and beyond” for their students, whether it be extra time outside the school day, developing new programs, or simply caring enough to connect personally with each one.

On Sunday, I had the privilege of experiencing one of these “above and beyond” moments as I joined over 100 students and families at NJPAC to witness our students performing before the Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road concert.  An orchestra of second through eighth graders played EMS classics like Canon in D, Orange Blossom Special, and Twinkle along with previews of pieces they will perform in our spring concerts on a full range of instruments. The students had the chance to listen to Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road’s sound check beforehand, take a picture with Yo-Yo Ma, and then stay for the actual concert.  In all, learning opportunities as rich as this come from the dedication of our faculty - more than six faculty members chaperoned the students on Sunday - and the willingness to always search for something more meaningful and better for our students.  Special thanks to Amelia for leading this and to all the teachers who supported it.  

Special congratulations to Michele, Amelia, Janis, and Mary Ann for their love of EMS, their dedication to our students, their embodying Elisabeth’s philosophy on tradition and innovation, and their willingness to do whatever it takes to make a difference for their students.

A Snowy Start to Spring!
Aaron Cooper

Welcome back to a snowy start to our spring semester!  Despite the odd beginning, the spring is sure to pass quickly as always and be packed full with rich learning opportunities that stretch and inspire our children.  I look forward to reflecting on some of those with you in this space as the spring progresses.

I hope that you and your family enjoyed a restful and rejuvenating Spring Break.  My family and I had the opportunity to travel to Spain for the first week.  We backpacked through the country, briefly spending time in a handful of cities and traveling by train, bus, plane, and automobile at various points.  We enjoyed the fantastic food scene and engaged with the history of Moorish and Catholic traditions in the south of Spain as well as the current continued political unrest in Catalonia as we got a sense of the various forces that shape the Spain of today.  It was a great trip, and we feel fortunate to have been able to experience it with our girls. Whether you traveled or stayed local, I hope that your break held similar learning opportunities for your children.

As always when school is not in session, EMS remained quite busy.  On the first week, we held a vibrant Spring Break mini-camp, complete with its first-ever snow day, and our facilities crew was busy throughout both weeks as they always are when fewer people are on campus. Though the multiple snow events and continued grip of very cold weather took away from some of the plans - especially on the grounds - the team made much progress, particularly on areas that cannot be easily serviced when school is in session.  Several areas, including our Admissions Office and parts of Morrow House, were painted, and several HVAC units were replaced and prepared for the alleged onset of warmer weather.  Plumbing and electrical work, including replacing pipes, moving outlets, and servicing transformers, was completed.  Finally, two bathrooms in Little School were replaced and improved, and an area on the learning hillside between Little School and the field was cleared and prepared for planting of pollinator-attracting flora.  All in all, it has been a productive Spring Break here at EMS, and we all hope it was the same for you. Now, let’s hope we get some actual spring weather!

A Great Vision
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

Last Saturday’s Visioning Day was a resounding success.  Over 120 students, parents, faculty, and staff gathered in on campus to envision EMS’ future. Participants drew on surveys that more than 600 members of the community completed, and external research, and considered four strategic drivers: ‘an exemplary academic program,’ ‘a transformative student experience,’ ‘an engaged community,’ and ‘a sustainable EMS future.’  

The day was filled with rich discussion, great enthusiasm for EMS both in its present and its future, opportunities for people throughout our community to connect, and a lot of fun and laughter.  Each of 12 groups presented a vision statement to those gathered.  After everyone voted on those statements and those words and phrases that struck them as most powerful, the groups reconvened to articulate goals that might help EMS attain the vision. As a result of so much input from our community, the vision that emerges from all this work will be one that is shared across constituents.  As such, it will be much stronger and more powerful and likelier to remain vibrant.  As I mentioned to those gathered at the end of the session on Saturday, a shared vision also transcends individual leadership.  That results in a vision that is longer lasting and, given the upcoming leadership transition, one that provides a guiding light for the next five years even as an interim head and a new permanent head are learning the community.  

From here, the strategic planning steering committee will synthesize all of the feedback from Visioning Day and present to the Board of Trustees a recommended vision and set of goals that will form the backbone of the plan.  The board will approve the final vision and set of goals in April.  From there, we will invite everyone to one final opportunity to provide input.  

On the afternoon and evening of April 25, the entire community will have the chance to brainstorm initiatives that might help EMS attain the goals of the plan.  Please join us then for a two-hour gathering to think about how we may accomplish the goals that will help EMS attain its vision of the future. The entire plan will be finalized and communicated by the end of the school year.  Thank you again to those who dedicated so much time on Saturday to impacting EMS’s future.