How Big Is Your Classroom?

Greg Krauss is an experienced kindergarten teacher who has fully embraced the early childhood discovery learning model. Read below to be transported back to a time when learning opportunities could be found in the most unlikely of settings.

After meeting with Kim Barnes, the Head of Early Childhood, to discuss writing a blog entry for the school website, I was determined to write a piece that would give everyone “a glimpse of a day in our classroom.” As I thought about all of the experiences that my classes have had over the last few years and the children I have had the pleasure of teaching, I realized that so much of what I wanted to share never happened in our “classroom,” or at least not in the roughly 800 square feet of room 803. Our “classroom” is where we explore, question, discover, experience and ultimately grow and learn; we do that all over campus and beyond.

One day might be highlighted by a discovery walk around campus to find the perfect stick for roasting marshmallows a lesson that included measuring and comparing lengths as well as a discussion about how close we could get to a fire before we “burned up.” Honest truth…I singed a few eyelashes at about two feet when we roasted the marshmallows, so we were actually able to have a great follow up discussion.

Some days are remembered because of the time spent on the playground. Children get together to coordinate the building of a river from the water table. Think about the social skills that are developed when seven six year olds are left to their own devices for that type of a project. Another favorite pastime from the playground is the age-old favorite monkey bars. I would need more toes to keep count of how many kindergartners have come to me to share an overwhelming sense of accomplishment because they finally made it out and back on the monkey bars. This, of course, was only accomplished after many attempts (all of which were notable failures necessary for future success).

We have planted and harvested our own garden to learn how responsible one must be to take care of even just a small plot. We measured the plants, discussed the essential “needs” of most growing things and even had to work through the challenges of keeping hungry peacocks away from all of our freshly planted (and sprouted) seeds. A fence and three versions of a scarecrow later, we are still on high-alert for the colorful intruders.

We have cooked fresh cut green beans to learn about fractions and angel hair pasta to discover the challenges of estimating. We have climbed trees to learn about risk-taking and learned a lesson or two about gravity by falling out of them (NOTE: no kindergartners were harmed during this activity). We have looked at a still creek on campus to learn about reflection and stuck large sticks into the same creek to witness refraction. We have read stories aloud under the shade of a tree to discover just how enjoyable books can be.

In kindergarten, our “classroom” is the world around us, indoors and especially outdoors. I can’t imagine how much less authentic and significant the lessons of our days would be if they were all taught in room 803.

Sixty-one Years Ago …

Today’s blog entry is written by Tom Perryman, ’81, Assistant Head of School. Tom brings last week’s Founders’ Day events to life and crystallizes the importance of us all taking a look back on September 11.

There is no day quite like the first day of school – the palpable energy and audible hum… the unbridled enthusiasm… the hope and anticipation of a new year of challenges and friends and fun. You’ve got to love the first day of school.

Homecoming, too, brings a vibe to the Hill that is unlike any other. The campus is awash in green and gold, the students – young and old – gush school spirit, and it is a blast to welcome back “old” friends to campus. Homecoming is a terrific day to be part of this school.

And Grandparents’ Day exudes warmth and love, linking generations and embodying the sense of gratitude that is so much a part of that season.

Still, Founders’ Day is my favorite day of the school year. It is the day that, to me, is so beautifully “Greenhill” in a nutshell. It’s the one day set aside to celebrate our roots, our birth from an idea and a mission that is as noble today as it was unique back in 1950. It is a day to tell our “family story” and remember the heroic deeds of those who have gone before us. And after 12 such days now, it feels to me as deeply ingrained and as much a part of the fiber of the school as any of our time-honored traditions.

I’ve been on the Hill for the better part of the last forty years, but I cannot recall a single celebration of our founding until the 50th anniversary committee came up with the idea for an all-school convocation in September 2000. What an occasion that was! The entire school community came together for a fabulous birthday party… and a new tradition was begun. I recall being deeply moved that day by the sight of all four of our heads of school – Bernard Fulton, Phillip Foote, Peter Briggs, and the newly installed Scott Griggs – on the stage together… a striking visual symbol of the long-tradition of strong leadership that has been a hallmark of this school.

Fortunately, we decided that this 50th anniversary ceremony should not be a one-time event, and so we gathered again on September 11, 2001, to continue a new tradition of remembering our founding. That day, of course, will forever be etched in the memories of those who were present as a day different from any other in our lifetime. I will never forget Elaine Velvin dashing to the stage just as we were about to begin to whisper to me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Alas, Founders’ Day would henceforth involve the odd, bittersweet taste of happy celebration and sad remembering as we recognize a birthday that we share with tragedy.

For those of you who have never attended a Founders’ Day assembly, each year the gathering allows the whole community to share virtually the entire range of human emotions and experiences:
* hospitality, as we welcome our newest students and employees;
* veneration, as we acknowledge the commitment of our Legends and the master craftsmanship of our Faculty Leaders;
* friendship, as we lock arms and join together to sing that oldie-but-goodie learned in first grade: “Best Friends;”
* sadness, as we remember the horrors of September 11, 2011;
* common purpose, as we sing “Hail to Greenhill;”
* pride, as we are led through the ceremony by the wisdom and gifts of students in Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools;
* and accountability, as we are charged before setting forth to find ways to bring peace to our world.

And this year’s ceremony took each of these components to new levels. The Singers, Band, and Orchestra kicked things off with a rousing national anthem, and later the Phillips Gym rocked to “Best Friends.” Mr. Griggs reminded us of the courage of our founders and poignantly placed our celebration in the context of the sobering events of 2001. Senior Eric Klein got the crowd fired up with his reporter-on-the-street trivia work, and senior Jordan Palefsky introduced the annual Estelle Dickens Service Drive on behalf of the GIVE service organization. We recognized our latest Faculty Leaders – Frank Lopez, Andy Mercurio, and Aaron Timmons. We welcomed two new Heart of the Hill Heroes – Lorene Richardson (our longest-tenured employee at 45 years) and Dr. George Birdsong ’75 (the first student of color at Greenhill in 1967). The Heroes were eloquently introduced by Francesca Riddick ’16 and Will Kraus ’12. And Griffin Rutherford ’20 may have stolen the show with his reminder that we would have the annual Ice Cream Social at lunch to honor Helen Fulton’s memory. Student Council President Myra Noshahi ’12 offered some moving reflections on the role that our school and its students can play in bringing peace to the world.

And perhaps my favorite moment each year is when we all sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I can’t remember a year when more folks sang, and the effect was beautiful. The better part of sixteen hundred voices joined together to lift up the wish for peace – a wish shared by all of our myriad faiths, backgrounds, and perspectives – and the swelling sound was thrilling.

Founders’ Day is a celebration for the whole Greenhill community, and I hope that next year, even more parents and alumni will join us to remember and to dream… to honor our past and imagine our future… together… as the Greenhill Family. Get it on your calendar now: Tuesday, September 11, 2012!