My Final Column
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

This is the final installment of the Wednesday Envelope for this year - and, obviously, my final EMS Letter from the Head.  Thank you for reading the Envelope and my letter each week.   I have enjoyed hearing from you when you agree or  disagree with my take on a certain topic and when you want to discuss the implications of a topic further.  Education and child-rearing are complex, layered, abstract pursuits, and I have appreciated the opportunity to reflect on them with you from so many angles. I never expected, when I began writing weekly five years ago, that this space would become the conversation starter it has, and I thank you for engaging with me and these letters.  

Writing every week has helped me build a stronger voice as an educator and a leader.  I have often joked that I would have thought that I would have been more likely to have shared a spreadsheet of the week rather than a letter, such was my comfort zone.  Nevertheless, the routine of observing all week, thinking all weekend, and writing first thing Monday morning has become a powerful and meaningful one for me.  At times in the early years, I struggled to find topics to discuss; now, there are many themes that I have to leave unwritten for now since there are not enough Wednesdays.  Thank you again for reading and engaging in this conversation and in the education of your children.

I wish you a relaxing, rejuvenating summer and the very best in the future.  It has been a tremendous honor and a great responsibility leading EMS and working with those who inspire, challenge, and mold your children every day.  I have enjoyed every minute of it and cannot wait to see the great things that are in store for EMS in the future.  If you would ever like to be in touch with me, please do not hesitate to reach out to my personal email address. I would love to hear from you.  It is now time for me to sign off. In the words of Edward R. Murrow, “good night and good luck.”
 

The Power of Culminating Events
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

At last week’s Kindergarten Circus, Lower School Head Beth Brennan told the audience about a question she received years ago asking why we do not have a kindergarten graduation.  The answer has several parts, one of which is that a culminating show of learning is so much more constructive, reflective, and growth oriented than a simple moving up ceremony.  The Kindergarten Circus is just that, with the students joyfully demonstrating their confidence, their collaboration, their artistry, and even their literacy skills.  It is a great highlight.  

At EMS, we believe firmly in the value of such culminating events.  Opportunities for students to showcase their work benefit them in several ways.  They have a sense, even if they are not explicitly talking about it, of all the steps they have taken to get to the point of culmination.  All of the learning, the lessons, the challenges all come together at the end, and students innately recognize that.  Intertwining performance with such events results in better retention, as the mental process of preparing for the performance actually requires the brain to engage with the material again, ending with deeper understanding.  At EMS, with its child-centered approach on everything, culminating events are an integral part of the learning process.  

Recent weeks have showcased our early childhood students in the Mary Hawkins Fair, our second graders with their poetry breakfast, our first graders’ Peter Rabbit Assembly, our third graders’ study of Colonial America, our fifth graders’ play showcasing their American History learning, and our sixth graders’ Medieval Day celebration, to name a few.  

Better yet, there are several more to come, and we hope that you will join us at as many of these events as you can.  Tomorrow, the middle school will put on its Festival of the Arts, starting with an art exhibition in the Russell Berrie Music Room at 6 p.m. and the concert  in the Peter Lawrence Gymkhana at 7 p.m., followed by middle school Field Day around campus on Friday June 8, from 8:45-11:45 a.m.  Eighth grade graduation will be on Tuesday June 12 at 1:00 p.m. in the Gymkhana, and the Little School Celebration of Art and Music will be Wednesday June 13 at 10 a.m. in the Cohen Center.  We hope you will join us to celebrate all that our students have learned this year and to help them and us ring in the beginning of summer!


 

A Curious Mind Shaped by EMS
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

This weekend, our sixth grade daughter, Julia, spent time with her grandmother in Connecticut. One of her grandmother’s favorite pastimes is going to estate sales, and Julia tagged along to several over the weekend.  At one, they were talking to a gentleman about some artwork when the man suddenly excused himself to approach another man wearing a Korean War veteran hat to thank him for his service.  When the gentleman returned, he said to Julia and her grandmother that he, too, was a veteran, but, “I am older than him. He is a Korean War Veteran; I am World War II. I just don’t like wearing the hat.”

When Julia returned home after her time away, she told us this story and then all about the WWII veteran.  She had engaged him in conversation and learned about his having volunteered at 17 to join the Army Air Force, about the many missions he flew over Germany and Poland, and several specific stories of his adventures.  She also reflected on her awareness that there are fairly few WWII veterans still living and that she was aware how special this interaction was. The conversation made quite an impact on her.

While listening to Julia tell her story and feeling her excitement, it dawned on me that this interaction was quintessentially EMS.  Our students have both the intellectual curiosity and acumen to want to speak to someone like a WWII veteran at an estate sale and the personal confidence and poise to engage that person in conversation.  That is an important and fairly rare combination. I am often asked by parents of younger students - and I have now lived much of this journey as a parent myself - when their children will have the confidence to speak to adults in public or when they will develop lifelong passions or when they will show interest in just learning something for the sake of it.  I always answer the same way - such growth is not a linear nor a pinpointed process.  Every student develops uniquely, and it is the accumulation of years of experiences that helps them develop their habits of mind.  The magic is in the process itself, for it is through repetition that we develop habits.

Our mindset at EMS is that we are educating our students for the long run; we are focused on laying the foundation of intellect and character that will stay with them for their lifetime, and setting that foundation takes time.  That is why I cannot directly answer those parents when they ask me that question. Many of them come back to me as their children age to reflect that they have recognized that such habits have developed; it was just hard to see in the moment.  

Many of you have heard me tell about my daughters’ grabbing my legs as three year olds, hesitant to even walk into the classroom.  After years of engaging, challenging, impactful experiences in the classrooms of EMS - once they finally entered them! - Julia showed this weekend that she has developed the intellect and character to engage in a chance encounter that made a real impression on her.  Kara and I credit her education at EMS with so much of that development.

Welcoming New Employees and Thanking Those Who Leave Us
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

With Memorial Day on the horizon and as our calendars steadily march towards June, thoughts inevitably stray towards summer and the future.  The summer reliably interrupts the rhythms of the school year, with its clear beginning and end. The boundaries of the school year provide us with the opportunity for reflection and gratitude on growth, on experiences, and on those who impacted us.  They also result in new paths for some, and we take this opportunity to thank those employees who are ending their time at Elisabeth Morrow after this school year.  We communicate it now so that you will have time to wish them well and thank them for their impact on your children before our summer break begins.  

Sixth grade teacher Ronnee Lipman, as I shared this past winter, is retiring to Florida, and middle school math teacher Alan Ziaman is leaving to pursue other teaching opportunities. Sandy Ozkaya, Accounting Manager/Business Office Coordinator, is relocating to Turkey this summer to be closer to her husband’s family.  We will miss the unique qualities that Ronnee, Alan, and Sandy brought to our students and our community, and we thank them for their time, energy, talents, and dedication.  We wish them all well in their future endeavors.

Every spring in schools involves interviewing prospective employees, and EMS is blessed with being a very attractive place to work.  We are inundated with dozens of applicants for each job, and it is clear that great people want to work here.  The culture of our school, the quality of our students, and our ability to provide competitive salaries and benefits drive this demand.  We have hired several new faculty and are in the final stages of interviewing for other positions.  

I am delighted to announce that we have hired Annie Rasiel, an EMS graduate from the class of 2007, to teach middle school English.  A graduate of Riverdale Country School and Oberlin College, Annie is expecting her Masters Degree in teaching English from Teachers’ College, Columbia University, this spring.  She has taught in two schools in Manhattan after, notably, spending several years starting and running a non-profit theater organization pairing underserved middle school students with theater professionals for performances in the greater Cleveland area.  

Joining Annie in teaching middle school English is Nicole Siegel who joins us after teaching English and history for the last 15 years at the Town School, an N-8 school in Manhattan. She joined Town after stints at Nashoba Brooks School and Brookwood School, both in Massachusetts, and New Canaan Country School in Connecticut. 

We have also hired Alan Caro to be a middle school learning specialist as we expand that program. Alan has worked as a learning specialist at several schools in Maryland, California, New Jersey, and, most recently, at a charter school in the Bronx.  We have also hired Keila Pernia to be our Accounting Manager/Business Office Coordinator.  Keila joins us from the law firm Sills, Cummis & Gross, where she served as Benefits and Human Resource Manager. Keila will be starting on June 11 to overlap with Sandy Ozkaya, who will remain at EMS through mid-August, and to provide continuity through the fiscal year end on June 30.  

This summer, as in past years, we will provide a full introduction of each of our new teachers and employees.  I wish you all a restful and enjoyable Memorial Day holiday this weekend, as we unofficially kick off summer.
 

The True Meaning of Nurture
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

Throughout the past week, our instrumental musicians have performed in their culminating concerts of the year - beginning with the cello rockdown last Friday and continuing with the violin playdown this past Monday.  The final concert will be the Superband concert this Friday at 4:15 p.m. in the Gymkhana, featuring our percussion, brass, and woodwind students.  It is sure to rise to the level of the other two, and I invite you all to come and enjoy the show if you are able to do so.

After the violin playdown on Monday, I thanked Amelia Gold and the arts department by reflecting on the notion of nurture.  When I came to EMS 15 years ago, there was considerable internal debate about whether nurture was a term that we wanted to be part of EMS’ reputation. Some thought that it connoted a softness that no longer was relevant, appropriate or compelling in our world of higher pressure and anxiety.  I have always felt otherwise, that at the essence of nurture are the notions of growth and of care.  If we are most concerned with growth and we care enough to consider the individual ways that each person develops distinctly, then nurture in this sense looks like a lot more than soft coddling. It looks like motivation, practice, focus, and words of encouragement.  It looks as much like a metaphorical kick in the pants as it does a metaphorical arm around the shoulder.  

Nurture in this sense stems from very high expectations coupled with unwavering support.  In such an environment, students feel safe enough to take the intellectual risks - being willing to fail - necessary to grow.  One can see nurture at work throughout the EMS campus on a daily basis, and I feel tremendous gratitude to our teachers for creating such an environment.  The concerts this week are the latest public display of nurture at work, and the results are phenomenal.  I hope to see you on Friday at the Superband concert and to celebrate our children growing up in such a nurturing environment.