LAUNCH. Honors Diploma Program. LAUNCH Committee. Honors Seminar. Honors Thesis. LAUNCH Presentation. Thesis Presentation. LAUNCH Day. LAUNCH Week. LAUNCH Fest. I was even once called the LAUNCH Guy by a colleague who lapsed on my name.
The associations and nicknames at the intersection of the student event called LAUNCH and the academic program that is the Honors Diploma Program can get pretty crowded. For anyone who has arrived at Episcopal in the last four years or so, their differences may not even be noticeable. I hope this blog will highlight the unique way both contribute to an inclusive culture of learning at Episcopal. Subsequent blogs by better writers, and more worthy people than me, will share further details about LAUNCH 2018 and the Thesis Class of 2018. But as the LAUNCH Guy, I wanted to share my perspective--to share what each is and means to me.
Over the last ten years, Mrs. Sutcliffe and I have evolved Episcopal’s version to respond to the needs of each new crop of 21st century Baton Rouge students. We’ve incorporated things like character education and community building, to name a few. While there have been defeats and frustrations, Thesis has been the most exhausting and inspiring work I’ve done. It has shaped my philosophy as a teacher--to value process, not product, and to respect each student’s potential as equally deserving, if not equally measured.
LAUNCH, on the other hand, developed as the brainchild of Mrs. Sutcliffe’s first Thesis students. Their proposal envisioned a TEDx modelled day that celebrated student achievements. They campaigned for it and executed it themselves that year. While Thesis has served as the backbone of its participants, LAUNCH’s purpose was for any student to celebrate the achievements of each other. It was an inspired response to the need to honor student experiences. (Click here to read an interview with the original LAUNCH organizers Charles Cooper '14 and Adam Clausen '14.)
In the years since its first LAUNCH in 2014, it has accumulated other traditions that aim to celebrate student success in STEM and the arts. In my opinion, it’s most successful when it is most inclusive because it reminds us that both learning and joy aren’t exclusive to one student or experience at Episcopal. Subsequent LAUNCHes in 2015, 2016, and 2017 emphasized this.
LAUNCH and Thesis are both passions of mine. But each has their limitations. It takes sacrifice for a student to commit to two years of Thesis and still not earn a transcript item as universally understood as *AP. Similarly, it can be thankless to participate in the planning of LAUNCH. So I’ve often asked myself why bother with either. What does LAUNCH do for Episcopal? What is Thesis really doing for students? I can’t deny the uncertainty in outcomes or the uncertainty in the value of their rewards. This can make them very difficult to rationalize.
And then LAUNCH happens, and I’m reminded that parents don’t send their children to Episcopal because they want a single outcome. They send them because they are inspired by the promise of their child. Offering just one thing is never enough. We must curate many challenges and opportunities for that promise to be realized. LAUNCH works to showcase those challenges and honor the child’s promise.
So what does it do for the student? In the white noise of “honors” programs that reverberate throughout schools, we really can’t know. It is difficult to gauge a personalized experience from the outside. And that's a shame because it costs the student the respect they deserve, not for their achievements but for their struggles. Episcopal students do a lot that cannot be easily translated. So since students dream as earnestly as they do recklessly, LAUNCH aims to find reasons to say yes to their ambitions.
This can make a mess because LAUNCH really is indulgent in the students’ risks. These risks though make LAUNCH more youthful and dynamic than a traditional academic conference. We’ve helped students drop balloons on their audiences. We’ve herded people into the darkness of a “blackout” theater. Personally, I’ve even sacrificed my beard (for that Class of 2014).And I don’t think this is foolish. I think it’s what everyone is owed.
The intersection of where LAUNCH and Thesis meet may be crowded. But without Thesis students, Episcopal would never have discovered LAUNCH. And without LAUNCH, Episcopal may never have realized the full potential of its own students' passions and aspirations. The upcoming LAUNCH presentations, aren’t just some final assessment. LAUNCH isn’t just some random chaotic event. This isn’t just the end of the Thesis process.
LAUNCH is the celebration of many things--a child’s promise, a parent’s inspiration, and an Episcopal student’s ambition. At least, that’s how the "LAUNCH Guy" sees it.
Click here for the 2018 LAUNCH schedule.
"Evangeline” is Louisiana’s tale. Since the story was first told on the Greer Center stage here at Episcopal 20 years ago, it has become a defining piece for so many. The tale of long lost love set in the midst of the Acadian exile has impacted the lives of Episcopal families for a generation. Today’s cast is comprised of the children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends of those who have played the parts before them. For some, every member of the family has portrayed the same part and worn the same costume. It is a legacy that can only truly be told where it all began, by the people who created it.
Living in Louisiana and married to a Cajun local, Episcopal Band Director Paul Taranto felt compelled to share the story of the Acadians’ banishment from Nova Scotia in a way that would connect the audience with their plight. Having read the epic poem by Longfellow, Taranto began writing the songs and composing the music that would set the scene for Evangeline and her love Gabriel. The two were ripped apart the night of their betrothal as the King of England claimed their village of Grand-Pre. The musical follows the life of Evangeline as she stays true and faithful to the only man she ever loved. She never gives up and never doubts the commitment the couple forged the night before her home was burned, and so many of her loved ones were lost. Ultimately, she makes her way to the heart of the bayou, which becomes the new home of the Acadians.
Taranto initially teamed up with Episcopal Drama Teacher Danny Tiberghein and later Baton Rouge actor Jamie Wax to transform the story of Evangeline into a theater production. In November of 1998, this moving tale was first performed as a concert piece. The full musical came to life on March 24,1999, under the direction of Performing Arts Director Paige Gagliano. What resulted was a story that features the unbreakable spirit of humankind. “Evangeline” reminds the audience not to lose hope and that yes, the wait is worth it, if you are waiting for the right thing.
“Evangeline” proved to have a spirit all its own. It was more than just a play and its message truly hit home for those involved when they were dealt an unexpected tragedy. Before the play was ever complete, Tiberghein was killed, leaving a hole among the theater department staff that’s still felt today. As a result of this, the initial run was dedicated in Tiberghein’s memory. “We knew it was ordained. We knew it was bigger than all of us because it wasn’t about any one of us,” says Gagliano.
However, the story of “Evangeline” was just getting started. After LSU, LPB inquired about the production. The network wanted to broadcast the musical across the entire state of Louisiana. Again, Taranto, Gagliano and the Episcopal students were thrust onto a new and exciting stage and there was much more to come. There was a television recording done on the Strand Theatre stage in Shreveport and the performance was shared statewide, from Acadiana to New Orleans to Monroe. There were performances in Lafayette and visits to St. Martinville. There were CD recordings and local performances. CC Lockwood visited the cast and then-governor Kathleen Blanco met with the creators. Eventually, PBS picked up the performance and the story was broadcast to 46 states across the country.
Taranto’s vision of telling a tale that would connect with audiences has certainly become a reality. “Evangeline” has a dedicated following and elicits a deep passion that is still felt 20 years later. The play has been performed everywhere from Theatre Baton Rouge to Phoenix, Arizona to Nova Scotia, where the story originated so many years ago. The actors have spoken English and French and have included Broadway performers, amateurs and always, children. Everywhere the audiences have cried and laughed and ultimately risen to their feet with applause and praise.
“Evangeline” has such staying power because of its lasting message. It’s not only a story of long lost love, but also of faith, hope and promise. The story attempts to help people make sense of the world, regardless of the challenges that eventually befall us. It reminds us to keep going and keep believing and working toward our goals and ideals, even when they may seem out of reach or out of focus. Such faith and hope simply resonates with casts and audiences no matter the location, the language or the year.
And to think it all began with a cast of students from a school on Woodland Ridge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It all started from the musings of a talented and inspired band teacher who wanted to honor his wife’s heritage. It was crafted in honor of and in memory of someone who was passionate about theater and teaching students. It was and is for us all.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see where “Evangeline” takes you.
“Evangeline” is set to return to the Episcopal stage in honor of its 20 year anniversary. The show will run March 17th through March 24th. Tickets go on sale soon. All Episcopal alumni and previous “Evangeline” performers are invited to the closing night performance, which will feature a special opportunity to join today’s cast singing “Worth the Wait” on stage. Afterwards, a reception for alumni and cast will be held.
In south Louisiana we say “I love you” with a shared meal and a kind word. Think of your grandmother’s red beans and rice enjoyed with extended family or that pot of homemade chicken noodle soup served up when the flu set in. Food is as much a part of our culture as Mardi Gras and purple and gold.
For the past 24 years, a very special lady has shared this type of love with the students, staff and visitors of Episcopal. It’s difficult to convey the impact of someone like Mary Johnson or “Mrs. Mary” as she’s affectionately known across campus. On any given day you can find Mrs. Mary meticulously preparing meals for her second family. However, as is true with many southern cooks, there is so much more going into every chop of a cucumber and every stir of her homemade dressing. Mrs. Mary puts her heart into everything she does.
Mrs. Mary has spent years nourishing and nurturing students. You can see her watching and anticipating student needs when they arrive for their meals. You can find her pouring yogurt into tiny cups, perfectly sized for small hands. The personal greetings and quiet encouragement she shares with students make the school cafeteria feel more like one’s home dining room, providing a sense of safety and strength. Sitting in the cafeteria with a harmonica-playing coach and students and teachers dressed like super heroes, you quickly realize that Mrs. Mary’s domain is a hub of the school. It is here in Webster Refectory that students’ minds are fueled in preparation for learning and exploring.
When asked about her long tenure at Episcopal Mrs. Mary says, “I just love it”. What’s apparent is that the students and staff love her too. For Mrs. Mary’s birthday this year, the PreK-4 students brought her a cupcake and sang her a song. At one of the fall band concerts, Mrs. Mary was spotted happily dancing alongside a student. Seniors ask her to sign their senior shirts each May. At this fall’s Homecoming game, former students (who are now adults) couldn’t wait to hug Mrs. Mary or tell her hello. Even after all this time and the thousands of students she’s interacted with, she still remembers most of them by name.
There is a special bond among Mrs. Mary and her colleagues. She is a mentor, role model and mother figure for many on campus. Her confidence and talents are also a sense of immense pride for her team.
“She’s one-of-a-kind,” says Kenndra Lewis.
“She’s a rock,” says Charity Washington.
“You can’t mess with perfection,” says Chef Patrick Mahon.
Mrs. Mary is generous with her knowledge and more than happy to help. “Mrs. Mary took me under her wing. She calls me every morning on the way to work,” says Natasha “Tasha” Lemon, who has worked with Mrs. Mary for eight years. Tasha says Mrs. Mary is truly a joy to work with and that she has learned a lot thanks to her guidance. There is a camaraderie among the team that only comes from working together for years to achieve a common goal. In this case, it’s sharing their love with home-cooked meals.
Mrs. Mary says she learned to cook from her grandmother, but she never actually imagined that it would be her career. At Scotlandville High School she was a cheerleader and loved to dance – something she still enjoys to this day. Her first foray into the food industry was at LSU, where she worked for 10 years before joining the Episcopal community.
You’ve heard the phrase, you’ve seen the photos, and your child may have even presented what they’ve learned to you. But what exactly does “project-based learning” mean?
According to the Duke School, “projects are in-depth investigations that challenge students to apply skills, knowledge, and strategies from different content areas as they do authentic research, analyze data, think deeply about problems and draw conclusions”.
Project-based learning is rooted in educational standards. Teachers design each project after thoroughly reviewing the grade-level standards to ensure that all topics within a standard are covered. Because projects are in line with educational standards, they naturally progress, building upon the previous year’s experiences. Here at Episcopal, students begin this type of learning as early as PreK-3 and PreK-4.
“Learning of this kind provides our students with the tools necessary to make the world a better place,” says Lower School Division Head Bridget Henderson. Henderson says project-based learning units all begin with the end in mind.
Units are divided into three phases, which include:
Henderson says in phase one students make a connection to the topic by discussing and writing about what they know and wonder about regarding that topic.
The hallmarks of Phase II are investigation and research. Here, students are exposed to concepts such as data collection and analysis, problem solving, and drawing and testing conclusions as they explore the topic in greater detail to become “experts”. In this phase, students often go on field trips or learn from guest speakers. They also participate in the hands-on activities that generate excitement and enthusiasm for learning.
“This is where the projects come to life,” says Henderson. She says students, who are now the experts, share their knowledge in some way. This can take the form of a presentation for family and friends or puppet shows for classmates.
First grade teacher Heather Harpole has been using project-based learning to teach since the approach was introduced at Episcopal in 2012. Harpole and her fellow educators trained at the Duke School to learn more about the process. She says she has seen that the learning-by-doing philosophy results in actively engaged students, who process and retain the information because they take ownership of the project.
Harpole and Henderson say Lower School staff are particularly fond of the project-based learning approach because it is student-centered and student-led. Harpole says that means that while the project topics may be the same each year, they feel completely different because of the changing student interests. A great example of this is the first grade “Healthy Selves” project. Harpole says her class was very focused on exercise, while another first grade class enjoyed learning more about healthy snacks. Being able to accommodate student interests, while meeting the educational standards, ultimately makes the units more interesting for both students and teachers.
Project-based learning also allows for a collective “buy-in” for student learning. Depending on the unit, parents and other faculty may be called upon to share their expertise. For example, parents who are also doctors or dentists served as experts for the “Healthy Selves” unit. Members of the physical education department also shared their knowledge on everything from weight-lifting safety and caring for a bleeding nose to hiking techniques and kayaking tips.
Both Harpole and Henderson say they’ve seen positive results from the project-based learning experience. Harpole says not only are the learning standards met, but the students are also excited about what they’ve learned. In fact, Harpole says it’s fairly common for parents to report back to her that students are sharing their newfound knowledge with the family. For example, students may advise parents not to drink too much coffee because of the risk of staining their teeth or they may ask for each food group to be represented at every meal.
Project-based learning has proven to be a useful and meaningful method for ensuring that students learn and grow in the type of joyful and educational environment provided in Lower School. To learn more and see photos of students engaged in project-based learning click here.
For people of a certain generation, January 28, 1986 is a defining moment. After months of eagerly anticipating the launch that would bring a teacher into space, everything changed in a split second. For people who were school-aged at the time, it was the first major news milestone they experienced. They can usually recall with clarity where they were, what they were doing and who they were with when the day unfolded. They remember the images of columns of white smoke cascading down after the shuttle broke apart and the collective feeling of grief for the seven crew members on board who were not coming home. The memories are lasting for so many, including 1997 Episcopal graduate Barclay Mullins. Mullins remembers being at Trinity Episcopal watching the tragedy unfold with classmates, like thousands of others across the nation.
As the film was being cast, Mullins says the group received an unexpected phone call. Coach Les Miles had heard about the project and wanted to be involved. The project’s organizers, who were ecstatic to have interest from such a recognizable figure, cast Coach Miles as a bad guy. In the film he portrays the role of NASA engineer Nelson, who was determined to see the launch go on despite concerns about freezing temperatures and their potential impact on the orbiter’s o-rings.
Sharing a scene with Coach Miles only added to Mullins’ excitement. He is also thrilled to once again be working with filmmaker Nathan VonMinden whose 2011 film “Uganda Man” was made for less than $5,000, but earned more than $200,000. “Angry Men” was shot in San Antonio, Texas because of VonMinden’s connection to the city. Crews were given access to film inside city hall and the local army base, and even San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg made a guest appearance. “A lot of people in this film have a lot of experience,” says Mullins. “I’m very curious to see where this goes.”
moments that taught him an important lesson: “Live life by the Golden Rule and treat everyone the way you want to be treated.” He says he learned similar lessons while at Episcopal. “It did create structure, discipline and responsibility. You had to work for everything you got,” he says. Looking back he feels blessed to have been a member of the school community since the seventh grade. Last year, Mullins attended his 20 year class reunion. He enjoyed reconnecting with fellow classmates and says it was fun to share stories, memories and photos.
Congratulations on embracing life’s adventures. We can’t wait to see the movie!
Here’s a look at this week’s on-campus activities. What a week to be a Knight!
Lower School students learned about mimicry, camouflage, bluffing and more from the animal experts at Barn Hill Preserve. Students had the opportunity to see creatures including a bearded dragon, African grey parrot and even a two-toed sloth.
Congratulations to five Episcopal musicians who were selected for the District Four Honor Band! The students had to audition to be a part of the ensemble, which represents the best in the region.
The harmonies of the Foto Sisters rang through the Greer Center this week. Lower School students were captivated by Adelyn, Gaylyn and Katelyn as they sang and played piano, violin, viola and cello.
Family and friends of former Episcopal Head Chaplain Father Ralph Howe joined Upper School Chapel this week to dedicate the St. Francis window in his honor. Father Howe, who was part of the Episcopal family for ten years, had this advice for students - “Take advantage of your time here. It is a very special place.”
Each year Episcopal teachers and students join others around the world in celebrating World Read Aloud Day. According to LitWorld, which established the global observance, the day “calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud, sharing stories, and the idea of literacy as a human right by bringing communities together across the world to read aloud and change the world”.
Episcopal World Read Aloud Day celebrations included special guest readers during the Lower School Morning Meeting all week. Members of the Episcopal PreK-4 class read the book “Becoming a Butterfly”, which they personally authored and illustrated based on their experience with their school butterfly garden. Imagine reading before the entire Lower School division at age four! Listen and read along with PreK-4, Arkaitz Hamer.
Cross Country Coach Claney Duplechin also joined the students for a reading of “Cajun Cornbread Boy” by Dianne de Las Casas. With his signature Cajun accent and wit, Coach Dupe truly made the cornbread boy come alive for students.
Episcopal students even had the opportunity to read aloud with others from faraway places. Lower School Librarian Catherine Word organized Skype calls with children from places like Wisconsin and Hawaii. “This day is important because it celebrates the right to read as well as enjoying reading with others,” she says.
World Read Aloud Day is a great opportunity to remember the importance of reading to a child. Fortunately, there is a daily emphasis on reading at Episcopal from teachers attending reading conferences to learn best practices, to Middle School students competing in the Battle of the Books. Episcopal is a great place to be a reader!
“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi
The physical benefits of sports seem obvious. Sports allow children to be active in a world that makes it easy to remain inactive. Playing sports can boost motor development and encourages an interest in overall healthy habits. However, the skills and benefits an athlete obtains from playing sports go well beyond the physical. As Coach Lombardi references, the lessons learned from playing sports are things an athlete can take with them for the rest of their lives. These benefits far exceed the circle of sport.
Because sports provide structure, many athletes develop time management skills early on. For example, in practice, athletes have set times to run drills, brush up on offensive or defensive skills, or work on set pieces that are scenario specific. Students absorb this and use the structure and time management skills developed in practice to manage their academic load. They learn to balance their classes with sports and social obligations with their own personal “practice plan”.
As a team member who is fully committed to the team and its members, athletes learn trust. They must trust that their teammates are working just as hard as they are and even hold them accountable if they aren’t. They also develop a sense of personal accountability knowing that everyone has a role and a task, and they must perform their own assignment for the team to be successful.
Playing a sport, even an individual sport, also helps athletes develop socially. Athletes learn to interact with others and they have the opportunity to meet people they might not otherwise have known. I’ve often said to athletes I’ve coached that they don’t have to be best friends, but if it has to do with the team, each teammate is priority one. We’ve had athletes here that join a team and end up finding their place at the school or even a surrogate family.
Athletes learn to handle adversity. It comes in the form of injuries or a particularly bad flu season that runs throughout the entire team. They learn to lose and win with respect for others and they learn to lose and win together. All of this teaches them to be flexible in a range of situations, including unplanned events that often occur. In addition, athletes learn that not everyone can play at the same time or on the same level. Even in the NFL there is a practice squad comprised of athletes more elite than most, whose full-time job is only to practice. Many of them not elite enough to ever see Sunday playing time.
Goal Setting is a byproduct of this resilience that serves competitors well throughout life. Whether the goal is to score in soccer or be captain of the team, the concept of setting goals helps students learn to think long term about what they want to accomplish. They also learn that to achieve these goals they will have to commit and work through both successes and failures. This requires patience and persistence. We see examples of this in both present Episcopal students and our Episcopal alums daily; from Oliver Jack working on his jump shot before most students get to school and Lili Pellegrin placing in the 100 breaststroke in State to Olympian Meghan O’Leary competing for a spot in the 2020 Olympics and Todd Graves’ Raising Cane’s successes. Four people Four paths. The core of their goals list, I bet very similar.
We want them to do their best, have fun and learn a few things along the way. The majority of us won’t go on to be a Vince Lombardi, a Tom Brady or a Nick Foles; and that is okay. That said, sports can provide each one of us regular folks, no matter the path we choose, with the same skills those guys use to achieve their successes.
For exciting news on the future of Episcopal athletics, visit the Spirit Mind Body Campaign page by clicking the button below.
Randy is in his second year as Athletic Director at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. Randy is from Baton Rouge and attended Catholic High School before moving to Ruston to earn a degree in education from Louisiana Tech University. Since joining Episcopal in 2002, Randy has served in many capacities including Dean of Students, the Physical Education Department Chair, teacher, and coach for a variety of boy’s and girl’s upper school athletic teams.
Growing up, my parents, in subtle ways, fostered a love of reading in me. I can remember watching my mother make the grocery list and trying to copy it. I remember asking my parents questions about maps and signs that were always patiently answered, allowing my curiosity to continue to blossom. Memories of visiting the local library in my tiny town and cherishing my time with those books will never fade. Neither will the childhood books that my brother and I inherited from cousins, which in time, fell apart because we read them innumerable times. There were babysitters who played word games with us, cousins with whom we played school, and places we visited abounding with words that we “just had to know”. Looking back on my own childhood, along with my experiences as a teacher, I find that raising a reader truly is a multi-faceted adventure that has no exact prescription, but a mélange of elements of indefinable proportions.
One key element of nourishing young readers is cultivating patience. To truly raise a reader, one has to understand that reading is more than just words. It’s highly influenced by time, attitude, and effort. Consider a time when you were first learning something, such as playing an instrument. Once you got that piece of equipment in your hands, it felt like you struck gold, only to find out that you didn’t really know what to do with it (I speak for myself here back in middle school). It takes effort along with lots of practice to slowly but surely grow as a musician. The same goes for readers. Building a strong foundation for literacy is key to growing a successful reader. Know that making mistakes is not only acceptable, but a MUST, and they should be treated as blessings.
Another important element in raising a reader is positivity. We lead by example. I cannot stress the importance of children seeing their parents reading at home and sharing the joy and love of reading with their family. Growing up, my mother always read romance novels and my father hunting and fishing magazines. Their example drove a desire to be like them, to get pure enjoyment from reading as they did. With advancement in technology, many of us are glued to our phones for most of our reading (guilty as charged!). Children love their technology and seem to be more adept at using it than many adults. Instilling a LOVE of reading through use of electronic devices is vital to raising readers of the 21st century. It is all too easy for kids to get hooked on games and spend endless hours playing them. Imagine setting aside time for “e-reading” where children can see their devices as not only toys, but more importantly as positive tools for learning.
Raising a reader also includes tons of play that helps build a strong reading foundation. Kids are kids, and they enjoy just about any kind of game you present them, especially at a young age. Ways of playing with letters and words include singing of the ABCs, rhyming games, and word guessing games, to name a few. Children are naturally drawn to music, so make the most of it! Sing nursery rhymes, silly songs, and church hymns with your children so they can have fun building a literacy foundation. I can remember being in church at a very young age, wanting to follow along with the hymns. I truly believe that I grew to be a fluent reader because of my unrelenting desire to follow along and see what I was singing. Encourage your children to do the same! Their natural curiosity will reinforce the desire to read along with your support.
Reading would not be complete without a little persistence. It’s important to set aside time each day for reading, especially for elementary grades that are still developing the foundations of reading. Just twenty minutes of reading per day exposes children to 1,800,000 words per year. With this astounding number of words read, children tend to have a broader vocabulary and score higher on standardized tests. Keep shelves at home full of books that kids find interesting, and reread favorite ones over and over! Talk with your children about their reading to uplift and advance their understanding of the books as well as the world around them. Promote conversations with your children outside of reading, too! This grows their vocabulary, builds confidence in speaking and listening skills, and reinforces their curiosity.
Remember that there isn’t a magical formula for the perfect literacy upbringing. One can rest assured that being positive, patient, playful, and persistent will surely grow your little readers over time. In the end, not only are we aiming to set up success for our children by growing them as readers, but we are also striving to instill a LOVE for reading.