With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - the High Holy Days - upon us, we celebrate the religious and cultural diversity of our Episcopal School community. This is just one example of the many beliefs on campus.
In the words of the National Association of Episcopal Schools, “An Episcopal school is comprehensive and inclusive.” NAES goes on to say that: “Our church encourages respect for the other person’s beliefs. An Episcopal school may be expected not to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or national origin, and actively seek out faculty and students of diverse backgrounds and traditions in the belief that they bring something to be valued and respected, and because we would like to be broadly inclusive of the community we serve.”
Today’s world is diverse and our school should reflect that. In our Chapel and classrooms every day students sit side-by-side with others of differing faiths, beliefs and backgrounds. Because everyone is invited and valued, everyone should feel welcome.
Our Episcopal identity says that Episcopal schools have been established not solely as communities for Christians, like a parish church, but as diverse institutions of educational and human development for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Episcopal schools are populated by a rich variety of human beings, from increasingly diverse religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds.
Our Episcopal identity recognizes what a wonderful thing it is to learn together no matter the religion, culture or background. Students functioning together in a diverse setting, such as the one here at Episcopal, is great preparation for living future purposeful lives in a diverse world.
The Rev. Kirkland "Skully" Knight
The Rev. Kirkland “Skully” Knight has served in Episcopal schools for 24 years. The first ten were spent as a teacher and coach with the last thirteen as a teacher and chaplain. Skully has been at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge since 2011 and serves as the Senior Chaplain and Associate Head of School for Service Learning. Skully earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his M. Div. from The University of the South at Sewanee. He has been married to his wife, Mary Sue, for 23 years and they have two daughters, Emily who is a senior and Katie who is in 9th grade.
Middle School Robotics
Middle School Robotics Club members trade flex time for building time. Lance Clark and Glynes Hill recently spent time tinkering in the NuVu Design Studio. The duo enjoyed working with the same set-up as members of the First LEGO League Team.
Why Middle School Sports?
“This is the first time they put on an official school jersey, giving them the chance to represent the Knights with pride. Middle School sports teaches them to be good athletes and prepares them well for varsity.” Coach Brenna Perez says Middle School sports are pivotal in a young athlete's life.
Knights’ flag football gives fifth and sixth graders an introduction to the basics of football and what it means to be a school athlete. The team takes to the field again on Saturday at 8 am and 9 am after coming off of a winning weekend at their last outing.
The Middle School football team is comprised of seventh and eighth graders eager to develop skills and talents in preparation for varsity level action. These students played their first home game against Most Blessed Sacrament recently coming up short with a final of 16 to 6. We look forward to the rest of the season.
The Middle School cross country team hits the road this weekend for the Battlefield Run in Port Hudson.
In addition, the Middle School swim squad has already made a splash. At a recent meet the girls swam for first and the boys placed fourth. Episcopal earned 13 overall top ten swims.
Want to be a part of the Middle School action?
Now is the time to sign up for Middle School basketball, soccer and wrestling. Contact the coaches now to get involved.
Go Middle School Knights!
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
It is with these words that we close our daily Lower School Morning Meeting or Chapel services. This charge, a familiar dismissal in many Christian faith traditions, is not the first time we hear the word “peace” in the service. In our opening prayer, we ask God to help us to be “peaceful and generous, compassionate and caring.” Peace is a big idea, and we have spent the last few weeks together exploring what it means to be a people of peace as we prepared for the International Day of Peace on September 21st.
I have recess duty a few days every week. I watch 2nd graders and 4th graders play on the playground. If you have ever been around classrooms of children during recess, you know that “peaceful” is not a word that comes to mind if asked to describe them. They are loud, fast, and they are often changing from one game or area to another.
When we think about peace, images of calmness, quietness, stillness, or stability are typically what comes to mind. We think of people getting along, being happy, or not being afraid or worried. But what we are teaching the kids is that peace is much bigger than any of those things.
Ronald Reagan once said, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
If we understand peace to be something more than just not fighting, then we allow the kids and ourselves to see new opportunities to be a peacemaker. Kids will disagree and argue, just like adults. We are all different, and we celebrate these differences instead of trying to force everyone into a false sense of sameness that fails to value the uniqueness that makes up each person.
On any given day, in the midst of watching the children run and play during recess, I see them living at peace. I see a girl invite another girl to come and play with her. I listen to the boy who comes to tell me that his friends are excluding another friend, and he needs help finding a way for them to be able to play all together. I see a girl stop in the middle of her run across the playground because she noticed a friend standing tearfully near the wall, and she goes to see how she can help. I hear a boy suggest a different game when one game gets too rough.
And it’s not just in the moments when tensions rise that they become peacemakers. They are peacemakers when they laugh, when they enjoy the sunlight and fresh air, and when they find rest in the middle of their other classes.
For the International Day of Peace, every child in the Lower School made a peace pinwheel and “planted” it in the front lawn as part of our Peace Day service. These pinwheels serve as a reminder to us of simple joys. The pinwheels are made of paper, a pencil, and a pin; and the only thing needed to power them is a gentle breeze. The collage of different colored pinwheels, each designed in a unique way, remind us of the beauty found in all of the things that make each person special. The simplicity of the pinwheel serves to remind us of the little joys in life that we can celebrate and the small things we can do on a daily basis to make the world a better place by being a peacemaker.
Sam Oakley started as a Lower School Religion teacher at Episcopal in August 2017. She previously served as the Associate Director of the Center for Family and Community Ministries at Baylor University where she conducted research, developed resources, and edited a journal. She received her M.S.W. and M.Div. from Baylor University. Sam is married to David Oakley, who serves as the Youth and Children’s Minister at Broadmoor Baptist Church. They have three children: Elijah, Taylor, and Sadie.
Congratulations to the Episcopal Mathletes! These students recently competed against 15 other schools in the Division 2 St. Paul’s School Math Tournament. Every Episcopal competitor brought home a trophy or a ribbon or both! With only 13 students on the team, we placed 3rd overall!
Episcopal Students Treated to Live Poetry Reading by Internationally Acclaimed Poet Naomi Shihab Nye
It’s not every day that a poet stands before you and personally recites one of her works upon your request. However, that very thing happened recently at Episcopal when internationally acclaimed, award-winning poet and children’s author Naomi Shihab Nye paid a visit to Upper and Middle School students. Mrs. Nye recited her poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann" at the prompting of AP Language and Poetry class students and the full school assembly.
It was a tremendous honor to have such an accomplished poet take time to visit campus and share with students and staff. Mrs. Nye began writing as a child and has since seen her works read across the globe in a multitude of languages. She has authored and/or edited more than 30 volumes over the course of her career. Mrs. Nye has earned extensive recognition for her poetry, including being named a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress). She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, the Robert Creely Prize, “The Betty Prize” from Poets House and the American Library Association’s 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award, in addition to many other honors.
Mrs. Nye’s connection to Episcopal began in San Antonio, Texas, where she met Hugh McIntosh, who was then the Head of School at Keystone School, which Mrs. Nye’s son attended. The renowned poet and author established a Keystone poetry group in which Hugh participated, even offering his Head of School office as a meeting site. Hugh and Mrs. Nye’s friendship has continued over the years now with him serving as Episcopal Head of School.
During this recent visit, Mrs. Nye spent a full day speaking with students about the writing process and the impact that simply putting a thought on paper can have on a person. The language and poetry class students enjoyed the opportunity to speak with her about the poem "Catalogue Army", which they had all recently studied. The students were receptive, asking thought-provoking questions that Mrs. Nye enjoyed answering. They were also prepared for the discussion, quoting their favorite lines from her poetry and engaging with her words.
During assembly, the VPAC was full of teenagers with varying levels of appreciation for writing. However, one thing the students all had in common was their attentiveness and commitment to listening. In fact, Mrs. Nye complimented the near-capacity crowd for their compassionate, generous listening skills as she read and discussed some of her favorite works. She expressed how at home and welcome she felt when visiting Episcopal for the second time.
Before parting, Mrs. Nye left students with a suggestion to scribble down three little things or thoughts each day so that they can remember and reflect upon them later. She also advised students to find writers they can follow and learn from and to frequent the local library.
During the learning process students are introduced to poetry and writing in books and classrooms. At Episcopal, we are blessed to be able to take this a step further and personally introduce the students to the poets and authors who penned the works. We look forward to future visits from Mrs. Nye and others.
What an amazing way for our students to learn more about writing!
The last stanza from one of Naomi Shihab Nye's beloved poems entitled “Kindness”.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye
It feels like we’re hugging an angel.
It’s so fuzzy.
A sweatshirt may be just cotton, polyester and thread but for today’s Episcopal fifth grade class the garments mean so much more.
Fifth grade students and their families recently participated in the seventh annual sweatshirt ceremony during morning Chapel. This rite of passage marks the beginning of the children’s last year in Lower School. Father Skully advised them that they are now a collective community that will be together to support one another and grow together. They will now be seen as leaders of the Lower School. No longer are they known as the fifth graders – they are the Episcopal Class of 2025.
At Chapel there was excitement in the air as the younger children craned their necks to see the big kids and moms and dads stretched their arms to get that perfect photo. Each fifth grader was officially presented with their sweatshirt and photographed with their teacher. Later, the fifth grade teachers said this is essentially the children’s introduction to the concept of being a class and now begins the gradual process of them evolving into Middle Schoolers.
For second grade teacher Renee Crousillac, sweatshirt ceremony day is an emotional one. “It always makes me tear up. I love seeing them grow,” she says. Looking forward to Middle School, Mrs. C. offers the following advice for the Class of 2025: “Always strive to do your best and take risks.”
After the sweatshirts were bestowed and the official photo was taken, students and families migrated to the VPAC for a reception and more photos. For first year parent Laura Macias this is an especially exciting time. “I love the idea of them taking a leadership role in Lower School. My daughter is very excited,” she says. The smile and excitement exuding from daughter Sophia confirms this. When asked about the new attire, Sophia says “I think it’s really cool!”
Watching your child grow and achieve new milestones is a rewarding part of being a parent. Perhaps Sophia’s father James sums up the feelings parents experience best. “I’m scared. It will be here before you know it,” he says smiling, while reflecting on his daughter’s trek to graduation.
2025 will indeed be here before we know it. It won’t be long before today’s fifth graders are donning caps and gowns and making plans for college. For today, we simply celebrate the soft, fuzzy sweatshirt and the hope for a bright future.
I remember back when I was a preteen and enjoyed using three way calling - yes, a high tech feature - to connect with multiple friends. We rode bikes to the nearest playground to hang out, and our main video game systems were Atari and then Nintendo, with two player options if your friend was right beside you. Today's preteens are finding their playground online - it's called instagram, Snapchat, twitter, and a variety of other venues. Video gaming is now digital, connecting teens all over the world. Times and interests for adolescents haven't changed but the WAY they connect has shifted. The online world available to teens brings a host of new challenges in parenting.
As an adult, I enjoy technology, browsing Pinterest and Facebook in the grocery store line or while relaxing after work. The dangers that those leisurely activities present are few. But what dangers do I worry about for our children online? As a middle school counselor, my primary concerns are the physical and emotional well being of our students. Cyberbullying, online predators, and exposure to violence and pornography can be damaging to their physical and emotional well-being.
How can we, as parents, help our children navigate their digital world safely? Here are some suggestions:
For more discussion on safety in the digital world, join the Episcopal Counseling Team for a book study of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and survive) in their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, PhD on October 19th at 10 A.M. in the Alumni House Parlor Room.
Common Sense Media- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
Teen Safe https://www.teensafe.com/
Bailey, Tricia “Talking to Your Kids About Social Media Safety” retrieved from https://identity.utexas.edu/id-perspectives/talking-to-your-kids-about-social-media-safety
Heitner, Devorah (2016) Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. New York, NY: Bibliomotion, Inc.
Alicia Kelly has served as a School Counselor at Episcopal since 2001. As the Middle School Counselor, she has a passion for helping preadolescents reach their potential, academically, emotionally, and spiritually. Alicia holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, Masters in Health Sciences - Rehabilitation Counseling, and is a Certified School Counselor.
An old expression goes, “He’s a poet and doesn’t know it.”
At Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, a more appropriate expression is, “We have a poet and everyone should know it!”
That poet is none other than the Head of Upper School, Dr. Thomas “Spree” MacDonald.
It is not surprising that few members of our community know about Dr. MacDonald’s poetry. He is genuinely humble about his accomplishments. Rather than discuss his accolades, he prefers to engage students, parents, and visitors in conversations about the amazing projects and events happening at our school. Also, during the school week and most of the weekend, he is focused on his duties at Episcopal and on his family rather than on his creative pursuits. For a few hours on Saturday mornings in local coffee shops, however, Dr. MacDonald, Upper School Head, becomes Spree MacDonald, published and prize-winning poet.
Dr. MacDonald has been a creative writer since elementary school, when he wrote a poem in 3rd grade that his teachers praised. In middle school, he delved into the poetry section of a discarded literature anthology he found and was inspired by the poems of his two greatest influences, Langston Hughes and T. S. Eliot. Throughout high school and college, he wrote hundreds of poems and some fiction. Soon after graduate school, and no longer having to focus on academic writing, he felt a sense of urgency about taking his poetry to a professional level, seeking not only to improve his craft but also to learn the ins and outs of being published. Within a year, he began to see the coffee-induced fruits of his labor rewarded, as his poems were published by such literary journals as RHINO, Transition Magazine, and Berkeley Poetry Review. One of his poems, “Snow Globe Explosions,” was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States.
Dr. MacDonald describes his poems as “narrative, with plots and characters.” He also values the musical and imaginative qualities of his poems’ language. While some of his poems are challenging, he strives to infuse his work with a sense of playfulness. He finds inspiration for his poems mostly through observation: sitting in coffee shops, taking long drives with his wife, being a spectator at Louisiana’s many festivals and parades, and listening to his children’s conversations. While his short-term goal is to continue publishing individual poems or chapbooks, he aspires one day to write a book-length poem, one that would combine his interests in storytelling and lyrical language. He also hopes to write more about memories of his childhood spent in Oregon and Michigan, as well as his experiences in South Africa.
Though he manages to separate his roles as Upper School Head and award-winning poet, Dr. MacDonald believes his work at Episcopal informs his poetry in important ways. He states, “I’m fortunate to be able to talk to teachers and administrators who love knowledge and have made a lifelong commitment to learning.” Conversations with his colleagues keep his mind active and searching for ideas. As important, his daily interactions with students show him the necessity for growth, an important theme in many of his poems. “To see young people rapidly embracing change,” he states, “reminds me of my own potential for change – in life and in poetry. I want my writing always to be evolving.”
With its embrace of change, its striving for intellectual growth, and its celebration of playfulness and adventure, Episcopal School is a natural fit for Dr. MacDonald, Upper School Head and poet. And we know it.
Dr. Alan Newton
Dr. Alan Newton hails from Alabama and received degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, and University of Kansas. At Episcopal, he has taught eighth grade World Geography and History of Religion in addition to his new roles as English teacher, Writing Center Director, and College Block Coordinator. Dr. Newton has taught English and Social Studies classes and served as a college admissions consultant for more than twenty years, predominantly at college preparatory schools in the United States and South Korea. He is also a published poet and playwright whose play, Whiteout (2001), won a national Kennedy Center award. Outside of school, he enjoys theater, world travel, and playing drums. He is married to Dr. Rebecca Kuhn.
Eight Episcopal Seniors Achieve National Merit Semifinalist Status
Congratulations to this year’s National Merit Semifinalists!
This year’s group represents eight percent of the graduating class!
According to the National Merit Scholarship Program, close to two million students compete each year, with approximately 16,000 making it to the semifinal round. Semifinalists are top scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT test in their state.
National Merit finalists will be announced in February with winners named in the spring. The selection committee reviews student grades, activities and leadership, as well as school information to determine the winners. Scholarships are then awarded from the National Merit Scholarship Program, corporations and colleges and universities.
This is a tremendous accomplishment for our students and we wish them luck in the finalist round.
Congratulations to Episcopal's KnightVision 3991! The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge Upper School robotics team recently won the 2017 Red Stick Rumble held at Woodlawn High School on August 26.
If you’ve never been to a robotics competition, imagine a high energy, intense, competitive atmosphere with students scrambling to complete delicate tasks with a robot they only had six weeks to build. This season, students had to program their machine to cross the field of competition, pick up gears and place them precisely to activate a group of rotors. Once complete, the robot then had to finish by hanging upside down in the arena - no easy feat for 100 pounds of metal! Did I mention, these are teenagers who are building, programming, piloting, driving and working together to accomplish these feats?
It takes tremendous teamwork to bring these amazing machines to life. During competition season, we eat, sleep and breathe robotics. Team members spend countless hours together outside of the regular school day fabricating and testing the robot. Team parents bring us snacks or run to the store for extra parts. For everyone there is a sense of pride and ownership that comes from working toward a common goal.
In robotics, teamwork also extends well beyond individual schools and teams. In the final rounds of any competition, teams are paired up into alliances comprised of three teams which then compete for victory as one larger team. This setup allows for unprecedented teamwork and cooperation in a competitive setting. For example, KnightVision was able to come to the rescue of a fellow Red Stick competitor by loaning them a piece of equipment they needed to complete their next round. We were also the benefactor of such teamwork when our robot’s gears began to heat up during the last rounds and another team stepped up to help us with a quick fix, allowing us to continue on.
The Red Stick Rumble victory was especially sweet for our KnightVision seniors. “We’ve gone to the same competitions for four years and we’ve made it to the finals every year and were just barely out. It’s good to finally win,” says Rohit Gondi. There are 20 students on team KnightVision, spanning all four years of Upper School. These students take on roles such as pilot, driver, programmer and drive coach. Team members Will Bodron, Marcus Botos and Logan Robertson all reported a sense of accomplishment after the win. “This is something we’ve worked on since January,” said Bodron, who is in his senior year. Logan Robertson, who is also a senior and a new member of the team, says he’s glad he joined after seeing the action.
Aside from creating camaraderie and a cohesive team, robotics is also a great opportunity for students to flex their future engineering muscle. While Bodron, Botos and Robertson may have different feelings about math and science they all agree that robotics makes learning fun. Meanwhile, Gondi says he most enjoys the competitive environment, the constant need for improvement and the workload during the season. All of the time and dedication poured into a robotics team can certainly have long term benefits as well. Listing participation on a school’s robotics team is definitely a plus for students when applying to a college. In addition, there are millions of dollars in robotic scholarships available each year.
On August 26th, KnightVision wasn’t thinking along those lines. The team was simply focused on getting the robot to obey their commands. Our first Red Stick Rumble victory caps off the end of this season’s robotics competition and we will retire this robot on a high note, having put up the highest scoring match of the day several times.
A new season kicks off again on January 6th when the teams are issued a new challenge to build a new robot to accomplish new feats. Like this past season, we’ll have six weeks to build the machine and prepare for battle in hopes of making it to the Einstein round of the world finals. As Gondi puts it, the team will need to strategize better and work faster and more efficiently in order to compete at this level. I know we are up to the challenge!
If you’d like to join us in next year’s challenge please contact me or any member of the KnightVision team
Melissa Estremera is the Upper School Science, Math and Creativity Instigator for Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. In this position she helps enhance curriculum, develops inquiry based lessons and assists teachers in integrating STEM into their classrooms. Additionally, she is the head mentor for FRC Knightvision, Episcopal's high school robotics team, and directs the ESTAAR program, a supervised science research program for Upper School students. Although Melissa originally worked in research and development in the medical industry, she transitioned to education because she loves working with students and developing their interests in research, computer science and engineering. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a Master of Education in School Administration from Regent University.