Sometimes all you need to provide healing is a pen, a pad and an old guitar. Episcopal band director Doug Gay and his team at BR Music Studios are offering their version of healing and support to Louisiana veterans through free Veterans Songwriting Collective workshops.
Doug and his team began this journey two years ago when they were approached by the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development to create a program specifically for veterans. BR Music Studios already had programs in place for preschool musicians and individuals with adaptive needs and Doug says they were eager to work with veterans as well. “We say yes and then we figure it out,” he says. The group did figure it out by adapting an existing program to fit the needs of veterans. One need that Doug and his team identified quickly among the veterans was the need to be heard. These men and women have stories that many don’t understand and it’s comforting for them to be in a place where their story is not only heard, but also appreciated.
During the pilot programs, which were offered in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Alexandria and Shreveport, participants spent considerable time simply talking about what they had experienced. In fact, Doug says the sessions all ran much longer than initially planned and going forward he plans to allow more time for discussion. After participants shared their stories, the music educators helped them put their thoughts into lyrics. You might think it would be hard to narrow down so many experiences into one song, but Doug says it always comes together. “It’s magic,” he says with the excitement of someone who has dedicated his life to helping others discover their musical talents.
"I want the audience to get the same goosebumps I get."
Doug says it is powerful to hear the stories of the Veterans Songwriting Collective participants. As you speak to him about the project, the sense of awe and respect he has for the veterans involved is immediately apparent. For Doug and his team, the Veterans Songwriting Collective project is truly a way to support and recognize veterans. He is honored to share this experience with them and humbled by the part BR Music Studios is playing. “We’re just teaching how to write a song,” he says. But clearly, there is much more.
For workshop participant Army Specialist Chad Chenevert, who is married to Episcopal Director of Technology, Michelle Chenevert, the experience was particularly meaningful. At the workshop, SPC Chenevert reflected on what inspired him to serve and the importance of his grandfather’s military hat for his entire family. “My grandfather was my hero, and since the first picture I saw of him in uniform…I only hoped I could grow to be like him,” says Chenevert. “He marched me around his house in Alexandria calling out cadence while I tried to keep that big hat on my young head straight and proud.” Once SPC Chenevert became a man big enough to wear that hat, he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and joined the Louisiana Army National Guard at only 17 years old. “I turned 18 in the gas chamber at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO and have tried to serve my country in anyway I can, even after my honorable discharge,” he says.
As stories such as SPC Chenevert’s are told during the workshops, there is a sense of understanding among the attendees. Participants can relate to one another and the challenges they have all faced. Veterans Songwriting Collective sessions are filled with laughter, tears and the comfort that comes from being with those who understand. While the goal is for veterans to come together to write a song about shared experiences, the journey and bonding that occurs are the true takeaways.
Thanks to the expertise of Doug and his team, these shared stories are transformed into meaningful songs. Doug and his workshop co-creator, Sarah Burke, have partnered with Nashville Star finalist and Army Specialist David St. Romain, to voice the songs and a team of BR Music Studios musicians supply the rhythms. There truly is a magic in the experience as men and women who once felt their story was unheard, now have the opportunity to hear their story in song.
Specialist Chenevert says the Veterans Songwriting Collective experience was incredible and he is confident it can help other veterans who are struggling with their challenges. This sentiment around music therapy is gaining traction. Music therapy has existed since the early 1800s with the first university music therapy courses introduced in the 1940s. Now, the National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to help members of the military deal with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Creative Forces, which is a National Endowment for the Arts initiative that works with military personnel, music therapy can help “optimize feelings of safety and reduce perceptions of threat during emotional risk-taking.” The organization also points out that music therapy “contributes to improvements in social integration, quality of life, and overall motivation in the recovery process.”
After seeing the value of the initial pilot sessions, the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Lt. Governor's office have begun the process of approving two additional workshops in the spring of 2020. Doug and his team are especially interested in bringing the events to smaller, more rural areas so that more veterans can easily access them. In the meantime, songs such as those inspired by SPC Chenevert’s own experience will serve as a reminder of those who serve and the sacrifices they make. “My grandmother absolutely cherishes it, as it was her husband who wore the hat,” says Chenevert. “We are very appreciative for the talents of Doug Gay, David St. Romain, and all the others who volunteered their time to organize the event,” says Chenevert’s wife, Michelle. “Our family was moved to tears as we listened to the song created called ‘PawPaw’s Hat.’”
To SPC Chenevert, his grandfather and so many others, we say thank you for your commitment and service. Click here to listen to "Paw Paw's Hat."
Happy Veterans Day!
The Knights football team will host a first round playoff game this Friday, November 15th at 7 pm! The team finished the regular season with an 8 and 2 record after a win over Port Allen last Friday.
Congratulations to the Middle School boys cross country team! The team won their division at the St. Michael's Cross Country meet. The varsity boys and girls teams were runners up. Senior James Christian was the first place finisher in the varsity race. Next up - the state meet in Natchitoches on Monday, November 18th.
Friday night the Episcopal home crowd had one last regular season opportunity to cheer on senior members of the football team, as well as the cheerleaders, dance ensemble dancers, and drum corps musicians. Senior Knight at Episcopal is a special time for these students and their families as they celebrate the last regular season home game in an athletic career that may have lasted one season or numerous years. Students also had the opportunity to attend the Squires Club's Friday Knight Live.
To learn more about what it's like to be an Episcopal athlete click here. Seniors Sara Be, James Christian and Nick Johannesson share their thoughts on athletics and academics.
Episcopal student athletes of all ages have already had a great fall. Lower School students enjoyed an exciting flag football season. Fifth graders teamed up with sixth graders to play on the navy or gold flag football teams. Lower School students will also have the opportunity to compete in volleyball, which takes place in the spring.
This fall, the Middle School Knights competed in cross country, swimming, football and softball with tremendous results. The Middle School boys and girls cross country teams each won the Episcopal Round Table Run with four girls in the top 10 and three in the top five, and six boys in the top 15 and four in the top 10. At the West Feliciana Relays, the Middle School boys broke the course record by 1:04 and recently they earned the metro championship title for their performance at Highland Road Park. The Middle School swim team earned a title of their own as they won the city championships and were named Division 2 champions. There were numerous individual and relay champions, including Lucy Cramer, Ella Kate Johnston, Faith Johnston, Jack McConnell, Olivia Melancon, Ryann Richard, Rylee Simoneaux and Charlie Williams. In the opening meet, Middle School swimmer Olivia Melancon was an individual double winner. Three swimmers won their events – Olivia Melancon, Faith Johnston and Matt VanDeMaele. Rylee Simoneaux, Baylen Sims, Ryann Richard, Ella Stephens and Charlie Williams also placed in the top five in their individual events. The Middle School football team is well on their way to playing on Friday nights with an enthusiastic and engaged home crowd. The squad had a great season with big wins including a dominating victory over Dunham. The softball girls fielded a sixth grade team and a combined seventh/ eighth grade team this season. The teams fought hard all season with exciting contests against Dunham, Parkview, UHigh and Central. It will be exciting to see how these Middle School athletes continue to grow as they transition to Upper School sports.
Senior members of the Knights football team can be proud of the 8 and 2 season they put together. The squad won their Homecoming contest against Catholic High of Pointe Coupee and there have been numerous high scoring games in which the Knights simply ran away with the game. Junior Ryan Armwood’s name has been called throughout the season for scoring touchdowns for the Knights. Two Knights, RB Ryan Armwood and QB Dylan Mehrotra, were nominated for WBRZ Player of the Week honors. The first round of high school football playoffs gets underway this Friday, November 15th with the Knights hosting the game.
In what has become a tradition, the Knights cross country team is prepared for a trip to the state championship meet on November 18th in Natchitoches. Look for senior captain James Christian to make a big impact at the meet. James was recently the top boys runner at the St. Michael's meet. He also placed 5th in the Metro Meet and the Catholic High Invitational. Over the course of his senior year, he has put up personal bests and arrived at the line among the top six finishers at each event. However, James is much more than just a great athlete. Coach Dupe says James truly is a leader, staying after practice or meets to help pack up and really pitching in wherever he is needed.
The varsity swimmers will make their way west for the state swim meet on November 20th and 21st. Both the boys and girls teams finished in third place in the recent Capital City Swim League City Meet. At that meet, sophomores Eugene Jiang and Alexa Ryon Bennett earned individual wins and the 200 medley relay team of Ben Naquin, Evan Jurkovic, Nick Johannessen and Eugene Jiang broke a 16 year old Episcopal record by one-hundredth of a second.
The volleyball Knights made it to the first round of the playoffs! They faced Thomas Jefferson High School in the bi-district round earlier this week. The team put together an exciting season with big district wins against Capitol and Northeast and a fourth place finish in the Northeast tournament in September. They finished the regular season against Parkview Baptist for the Cox Game of the Week.
We hope you will support your Knights whether they are in Lower, Middle or Upper School. Mark your calendars now for upcoming winter sports dates. Go Knights!
This was the best day ever!
Such an exclamation is frequently heard in the kindergarten classrooms in Frazer Hall. Kindergarten students still have the enthusiasm and willingness to get messy and explore the world through play, while also reaching critical academic milestones. In many ways kindergarten is the sweet spot of Lower School. Here, students are developing skills that will forever change the way they interact with the world, such as reading, writing and adding. At the same time, Episcopal kindergarteners still have the opportunity to play and have fun while learning.
Recently, students in Sara Henderson’s classroom began putting books in their book box. The excitement for such an occasion is obvious in the wide grins on students’ faces. Students, teachers and parents have every reason to be excited about what is happening in Frazer Hall. Students may begin the school year only knowing letter sounds or recognizing the letters of their name, but by May they are reading. Kindergarten provides a tremendous transformation for these little Knights and it’s something Henderson is delighted to be a part of even after 17 years of teaching.
Kindergarten students are five or six years old. They are still filled with the wonder of exploration and discovery. They are eager to learn and eager to share what they have learned. Henderson and her fellow teachers, Maria Campbell and Erin Dufour, recognize this and intentionally make learning fun. “We try hard to balance between academics and play,” says Henderson. A sight word hunt, learning stations or pumpkin game day are examples of that balance. Students are having a great time on these adventures while also learning new skills.
"Let them be little."
Henderson says it’s important to remember that kindergarten students are still trying to make sense of their world. They may become overwhelmed with busy schedules and “big kid” expectations that are placed upon them. Allowing kindergarteners to be little and learn in age-appropriate ways helps them develop a love of learning that will serve as a solid foundation for their educational journey. For example, playing something as simple as Uno can be a great learning opportunity for kindergarten students. The classic card game helps them think strategically while also helping them with color recognition and fine motor skills. The same thing happens when they play with Legos, paint or make up performances in the puppet center.
Kindergarten is also a time when students are learning how to work with each other. Henderson says social/emotional learning is a big component of kindergarten learning. One example of this is the All About Me project in which students participate at the beginning of each year. Students share information about themselves and truly get to know each other. This helps them build a community and develop friendships with their classmates. Henderson says they use the responsive classroom approach to boost that sense of community throughout the year. Episcopal kindergarteners also have the opportunity to be a part of the larger school community. Each year, students are partnered with a senior as part of the senior buddies program. Senior students participate in special events with the kindergarteners, such as a Halloween party or the annual kite fly. The senior buddies program is one of Episcopal’s most beloved traditions with alumni remembering their buddy even after graduation.
Fundations, project-based learning, responsive classroom.
The kindergarten team is using best practices to help these little Knights reach their academic goals. The best part is that the teachers are staying true to the students’ age and tailoring the lessons in a way that resonates with five and six year olds. Whether students are making sets of ten using pumpkin seeds or visiting the band room to learn about sound, they are developing a true love for learning. Ultimately, the kindergarten adventures set the students up for continued success as they transition to first grade and beyond. They will be well prepared for adventures such as the first grade triathlon, the third grade vocabulary parade and the fifth grade global marketplace. These little adventurers are tomorrow’s leaders and we look forward to seeing where they go.
Are you looking for the right early childhood learning opportunity for your little adventurer? Episcopal is now enrolling for the 2020/2021 school year. Join us for a Lower School mini open house event on November 19th or December 3rd from 8:30 am to 10:30 am to learn more about the Episcopal experience. You can also contact our admission office at 755-2684, firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.episcopalbr.org/admission.html for more information or to set up a campus tour.
What does it mean to be an Episcopal athlete? We asked Episcopal senior athletes to share more about their experience.
“Athletes at Episcopal must learn to have mental stamina, being able to truly balance academics with sports, pushing themselves in multiple areas of their lives to be the best they can be, sometimes exhausting but always fulfilling,” says swimmer Sara Be.
“The thing I most enjoy about being an Episcopal athlete is the community that comes from being on a team,” says swimmer Nick Johannessen. “It has always been good to know that I had friends across all grades due to the friendships I made through the swim team.”
“The aspect that I enjoy most about being an Episcopal athlete is the comradery that comes from being a part of a team,” says runner James Christian. “Every day, the team creates an atmosphere that is different than any other. You are surrounded by people who go through many of the same difficulties as you. When you are around these people, you can relax and just be free with others who understand if you are having a tough time.”
Academics are important for all three of these athletes. “Coach reminds us that academics are more important than athletics,” says James. “Coach Dupe teaches us every year of what he believes to be the priorities in life: First is God, second is Family, third is school/work, fourth is sports/extracurricular activities and last is social. To him, academics should be above cross country. This is what helps me juggle the two. I realize I need to prioritize school.”
Academics are equally important for Sara and Nick who are National Merit Semifinalists. Nick says while it is challenging to juggle the rigorous academic program at Episcopal while competing, it’s not impossible. “I learned to be more efficient with my time and listen to my body,” he says. “I also made sure to use my study halls and office hours to their maximum potential, meeting with teachers, and doing homework during these times. Staying ahead on homework helps minimize some of the stress caused by the time crunch of practice and schoolwork.”
Episcopal truly does provide students the opportunity to explore a diverse array of interests. “Being an athlete at Episcopal is not a label, it does not limit any individual,” says Sara. “The swim team has three students participating in drum corps, attending morning swim practice and nighttime football games on Fridays. The football team this year includes three boys who race to select choir after practice on Mondays. This diversity of talent and character within the athletics department is priceless; sports teams gather a spectrum of types of students, forming seemingly unlikely connections and relationships that end up possessing enormous value.”
Students gain a range of important life skills from their participation in sports. “From my athletic experiences, I have learned the values of competition, leadership, teamwork, and hard work,” says Nick. “From competition with teammates in practice to actual swim meets, competitiveness is a crucial component of swimming. Teammates are always pushing each other to improve and be better at practice. Swim meets are the chance for all that hard work to shine, where you can prove to yourself and others what all that hard work has done.”
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Coach Dupe. “This is a quote that we hear every year, and it represents one of the most important lessons I have learned from my Cross-Country experience,” says James. “It is always important to be willing to put in the hard work. No matter how good you might be at something, it is hard work and dedication that will get you the farthest in life.”
Team is Everything.
Putting together a successful team and a championship season, truly is a team effort. “As a member of relays, races made of teams of four, I have also learned the value of teamwork,” says Nick. “A relay would not work with only three people. It takes everyone on the relay to make it work. Relays are my favorite races to swim because there are other people to celebrate your team's success. It takes the hard work of all four swimmers for a relay to be successful, and it is a fantastic feeling when it works.”
“Being on a team also brings you closer to people you might not have ever known,” says James. “Those people can become some of your closest friends.”
Sara points out that even those who are not officially on the team contribute to success in meaningful ways. “To be invested and engaged with Episcopal athletics doesn’t necessarily mean enrollment in a sports team,” she says. “Positive energy radiates through the stands when students of all grades gather together to cheer on the football team. In this nature, students build networks of support, elevating the school spirit and overall quality of life at Episcopal through athletics. In other words, sports at Episcopal facilitate mutual support from students, people lifting each other up when they need it the most.”
Congratulations to all of the Episcopal athletes who are accomplishing great things in the classroom and in competition. Go Knights!
Teachers and students in all three divisions got into the Halloween spirit this year. Here’s a look at some of the fun.
Pumpkins with Pops
The smell of freshly carved pumpkins filled the Greer Center as first graders and their pops took part in the Pumpkins with Pops event. This annual tradition has become a favorite among families with dads using saws, knives and stencils to carve a variety of unique and clever designs. Students also had the opportunity to learn more about their pumpkins at the measuring and weighing stations.
How do you make a science lesson on the engineering process a little spookier and more exciting? Turn off the lights! Sixth grade teacher Stacy Hill challenged students to build a pumpkin pillar with only 20 notecards, scotch tape and scissors. The classroom was only lit with black lights and the pumpkins were painted with glow in the dark paint.
Trick or Treat!
Prek-4 students got an early start on their Halloween festivities with a little trick-or-treating in Upper School. Many of the teachers joined in the fun with costumes of their own.
Are you afraid of heights? How about snakes? Episcopal eighth graders enjoyed their retreat to Mo Ranch this week. Students participated in a range of team building and leadership activities including a ropes course and a canoe trip. There was also a chance to spend time in nature and to get up close with a few creatures. A panda and a few Care Bears were even spotted in the crowd.
Through a collaboration with her peers, Lower School teachers, and Arts teachers, Episcopal Dance Master Seminar and Senior Thesis student Christine Myer recently got to serve as a dance teacher to 45 first graders. Christine shares that experience as well as a few of the discoveries she’s made as a dancer and researcher that has inspired her to become a vocal proponent of encouraging dance in young children.
I approach around forty-five eager first graders as they wait for my instruction. I begin to lead an age-appropriate warm-up, which precedes teaching choreography to a minute-long song--just enough to get their blood pumping. One kid had just told the room that she hates dancing, another told me he was okay with it, some kids loved it, but most of them did not appear to be beyond thrilled. While these first graders were in the middle of their “healthy selves” unit, I wanted to show them how dance is a perfect example of a healthy habit. The movements within their dance were not overly simplified, but they were not impossible either; they would require practice and motivation, but the goal, in the long run, was to create a sense of pride and confidence among the kids. At such a young age, they are not as prone to the comparison they will soon face in the world, but it is crucial that we establish this self-confidence and healthy esteem in these kids before they try to seek satisfaction from other sources.
Imagine yourself as a teenager, or even tougher-- a tweenager (in-between kid and teenager). You are awkwardly growing into who you are, forming your belief system and developing character traits. You most likely came face to face with true pressure, conflict, and unsureness for the first time during these years. Imagine life back then, but add social media and the internet to the mix. How would you have handled Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter and YouTube when you were younger? Wouldn’t it make adolescence even more complicated than it was?
We frequently hear that kids and teenagers are a vulnerable group, but why? Well, their brain development is complex. They face two major developmental tasks over the course of adolescence: forming their identity and making decisions. But both of these tasks, though, rely on brain structures that are not fully developed until after their teenage years, as described by Eugenia Ives. This means that children and teens must navigate their identity and decisions without the development and knowledge that an adult possesses. Instead, kids’ brains are forced to make quick, fight or flight decisions that are not always logical or well-thought-out, especially when it relates to an emotional issue. Therefore, teenagers have a lower capacity of self-regulation, which gives way to peer pressure and risky behaviors among the age group. Adding the fast-paced, spontaneous world of social media to this situation only complicates the teenage brain because it provides teens with an accessible place for their risky behavior. The brain produces dopamine, a feel-good chemical, during technological stimulation, so interactions on social media provoke excitement and instant gratification among users. This is what makes social media addictive. Because it feels so rewarding, it easily influences the vulnerable teenager and is capable of separating them from one another.
With this information, it is crucial that teens are aware of what holds them back, and they should know how to cope with their developing brain. The complexity of a teen’s brain development, especially with the influence of social media, can produce harmful effects including poor body image, low confidence, and overall weak self-esteem. The modern teenager needs a way to stimulate their brain in a healthy manner, in a way that combats the impact that social media has on it. Physical activity successfully does this, and dance, to be specific, has the power to boost self-esteem and help us navigate our life and identity.
When the body exercises, the brain feels stress and releases the same chemicals that are released during interactions on social media. Endorphins are our bodies’ natural pain killers, so they serve as a potent mental health and esteem booster and give exercise its addictive effect.
Here are some more reasons on how dance provides teenagers with more of the simplicity and clarity that they need:
So whenever you think back to when you were a teenager, think of how you coped with stress and compare it to today’s world. Encourage the younger generation to gain satisfaction from more reliable and healthy sources. Social media and the internet help us in our daily lives, but too much dependence on it alters our vision of reality and leads to unnecessary stress, whereas we can find a strong sense of reward and boost of esteem by merely dancing. Like one of the first graders told me after dancing, dance “makes [you] have a big, big, big, big, big smile on [your] face!”
Christine Myer is a senior who has attended Episcopal since Pre-K. She is senior class president and a member of student vestry. As an active student of campus, she is in dance ensemble and is involved in musical theater. Christine is also a writing fellow, student ambassador, and member of National Honors Society. She loves the community and opportunities Episcopal offers through programs like Thesis and the arts.
When new students arrive on campus on orientation day, for tours or for a shadow day, I love to be the student ambassador with a friendly face that is there for them to answer all of their questions and to try and show them the special aspects of the Episcopal community.
It all started with my eighth-grade self, an outsider to Episcopal, who was terrified to show up to orientation day. I had no idea where anything was, who anyone was, and what exactly I had to do. However, when I arrived at school, two student ambassadors greeted me, answered all of my questions, and took me through my first orientation day with ease. They made me feel at home.
I thought to myself as I was going home, “I would love to help new students and families the way they helped me today.” So, when I got the email from Mrs. Manton asking students if they wanted to be a student ambassador, I immediately filled out the application. I saw this as an opportunity to show new and prospective students around our beautiful campus. Taking them through the VPAC hall with the student-made murals, giving them a taste of what the classrooms and teachers have to offer by introducing them to our wonderful teachers, and showing them the athletic facilities that a majority of our students participate in all the while answering questions about student life, workload, my favorite lunch (cheese ravioli), and anything else they think to ask. That is my favorite part of being a student ambassador.
For me, the job of student ambassador is a way for new and prospective students and parents to hear the voice of the students. It is important enough to me that during my free study on Tuesday mornings last year, whenever there was a tour, I would volunteer to be one of the students to lead it instead of getting ahead on school work or taking a much needed nap. I was upbeat and happy to be there at 8:00 in the morning to meet new families and prospective students, which I will say is rare for any teenager, but it happened.
Every student ambassador walks a different path at Episcopal, but we all make up the community here. We represent all of the opportunities students are given here and are able to talk about them because we participate in them. We provide a different voice, the voice of the student, the kids who live the Episcopal life every day, which is why I love being a student ambassador.
Sydney Summerville is a member of the senior class of 2020. She is a student ambassador, a writing fellow, participates in the select choir, and has played basketball and softball all four years of high school. She plans to play softball and major in nursing in college.
Student Ambassadors play a key role in welcoming new students to the Episcopal community. To learn more about the Episcopal admission process, click here or click on a button below.
The day I got an email from Yale accepting me to their summer pre-college program (YYGS), I felt all sorts of emotions. I was surprised, excited, and anxious all at the same time. I could not believe that I would be spending two weeks of my summer with top students from all over the world at one of my dream schools. In the last two weeks of summer, there I was driving down York Street in New Haven, Connecticut, ready to settle into my new home for the next two weeks: Davenport College, one of the fourteen residential colleges at Yale University. I stepped into the beautifully manicured courtyard of the college and immediately received friendly hellos and warm welcomes. Once the program got started, I attended several lectures, seminars, and simulations. Each day, I got to experience something new and exciting related to biology. I heard a lecture from one of the most famous climate change researchers in the world. I got to see the labs where graduate students were researching new types of cancer treatment. And I even tried writing computer code. In one exercise, my new friends and I exchanged ideas on how to stop an influenza outbreak. In another exercise, my group members and I bounced ideas off one another for our Capstone presentation, a camp-long research presentation; ours was entitled “Save the Bees.” These are only a few of the incredible things I got to experience while attending YYGS.
But these experiences were only the beginning of all that I received from the program. By the time it was over, I had made friends from all over the world. Some of my closest friends were from Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and South Korea. I still keep in touch with all of them and hope to continue our friendships well into the future. With people coming from so many different places, I was naturally worried about culture clashes. However, I was pleasantly surprised once the program began. I was amazed at how so many diverse people with such different values had gathered together because of their shared passion for biology and medicine. In this group, I did not feel like an American studying the basics of biology; I felt like a part of a global community. We were all curious students who wanted to make a difference in the world. Everyone brought the benefit of their different experiences. While we did celebrate the uniqueness and diversity of the students in the program, we also chose to focus on our similarities. We focused on how we all loved biology and medicine. We focused on cooperating with one another to solve problems, learning new concepts, and thinking about how we could make an impact in our communities.
When I first accepted the invitation to join the summer program, I was initially doing it for the academic opportunity. I did not think I could do any better than to study at Yale. While these opportunities were great, they were superficial features of the program. There was a deeper purpose for the program. I discovered that this opportunity was not about what school I spent two weeks at. The YYGS program is about the people in it, and our collaboration, cooperation, and passion. YYGS was one of the most incredible opportunities that I have been able to experience. The activities I participated in and the people I met were like no other. There truly is nothing that compares, and I am glad to say that I am a YYGS alumna.
Katherine Scarton is a junior in her fifth year at Episcopal. In addition to her involvement in the Thesis program, she is both a math and writing tutor and an active member of Mu Alpha Theta, Science Olympiad, and the Center for Service Learning. She also plays varsity soccer and serves as secretary of the Spanish National Honors Society. Katherine enjoys being such an active member of the Episcopal community and wants to continue exploring the opportunities that Episcopal has to offer.
“We didn’t wake up one day and say let’s get in the dog treat business.” Veni Harlan ’77
Sometimes life takes you in unexpected places. For Veni Harlan and her family, this has certainly been the case. The Harlan siblings, including Veni, Hansel ’83 and Gretel ’89 have developed a one of a kind dog treat that also has the potential to save Louisiana’s wetlands.
Marsh Dog is an all-natural, eco-sustainable, Louisiana Certified dog treat made from wild nutria. Yes, the orange-toothed mammal you’ve likely seen gnawing on vegetation in the swamp. Who knew these native beasts would be a delicacy for dogs across the country?
The Harlan family loves animals. As in, fostered-more-than-100-birds-after-Hurricane-Katrina, loves animals. Veni remembers cages and cages of everything from parrots to parakeets being delivered to her mom’s home after the storm. In fact, Veni still has one of the birds even now. Veni also has five dogs who are like members of the family. She and her siblings have long made their own dog food, so it wasn’t really a stretch for them to create dog treats, even if the main ingredient was a little unusual. Veni says inspiration came from Hansel who was familiar with nutria having studied in South America. When a state-organized, multi-million dollar campaign to promote wild nutria for the human market failed, Hansel mused that use of wild nutria would be the ultimate eco-sustainable protein source for dogs.
With their imaginations sparked, Veni and Hansel got to work. They submitted a business plan and grant application to the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and were awarded a small mini-grant. “Our goal was to go out of business!” Veni remembers saying.
The Harlans started with a biscuit concept in Hansel’s kitchen. Veni says all of the ingredients were sourced from Louisiana. They did everything by hand, grinding the sweet potatoes, cooking the rice, and hand-cutting biscuits. The Harlan family had plenty of canine taste testers to approve their creation. They weren’t at all certain their concept would be embraced by dog owners but to their delight, people embraced the idea. More importantly, dogs loved the treats.
Demand was such that they soon realized they needed to scale production. Hansel and Veni invited their sister Gretel Harlan Kelly to join the team and along with husband Bob, the two brought an essential financial perspective. Once a major manufacturer was selected, new recipes had to be developed. The Harlans conducted extensive research calling on state and federal agencies as well as AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control) for guidance. Every ingredient was carefully chosen for quality, sustainability and environmental impact. It was also important to the Harlans that all ingredient sourcing, manufacturing and packaging was exclusively USA. The second generation of Marsh Dog treats were accepted into the Louisiana Certified product program and available nationwide in July of 2019.
Local and national media picked up the unique entrepreneurial story helping the Harlans spread the word nationwide. Within a few months, dog owners and retailers across the country were placing orders for Marsh Dog. “We like to think our products are part of an awareness campaign that tastes good and does good,” says Veni.
The products and mission of Marsh Dog have been heralded by conservationists across the country. Recognition from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary are helpful in reaching the product’s audience. “We probably have the most unique partners in the pet food industry,” Veni says. We table with multiple environmental groups like the Tulane Environmental Law Summit, the LSU School of Veterinary Science, as well as support organizations that train dogs to sniff out invasive species, area welfare groups, law and service entities like Louisiana Search and Rescue and Louisiana Warriors Unleashed which employ dogs to help veterans.
A big part of Marsh Dog’s mission is education about nutria, wetlands and environmental stewardship. “Louisiana wetlands are an invaluable asset to the entire country,” says Veni, who points out the role of wetlands in carbon sequestering, a $3.5 billion seafood industry, habitat for endangered and migratory fauna, flood aid, storm surge, recreation and strategic energy and port services. “80% of US coastal land loss occurs in Louisiana. Nutria are just one of the challenges,” she says. Scientists estimate current coastal loss at the rate of one football field every hour. “If we were losing the Smoky Mountains at the same rate there would be a worldwide uproar,” says Veni.
The Harlans are hopeful and proud of the work being done to save the wetlands and the part that Marsh Dog is playing. “We can’t control hurricanes and oil spills but we can each do something,” says Veni. “We believe employing man’s best friend is fun and easy. A dog goes from being an ordinary pet to a Canine Conservationist!”
The Marsh Dog experience has been quite educational for the Harlans. “The joy of Marsh Dog is that we’re always learning something and meeting amazing people working for the environment,” says Veni. Veni also enjoyed learning during her time at Episcopal. She joined her siblings on Woodland Ridge for her senior year of school. This adventurer says she was scared, but curious about transferring to a new school. In the end, she says Episcopal “enriched her life in a really fabulous way.” She made lifelong friends with many people like Betsy Harper, Jeanie Frey, Susan Phillips and others who literally took her under their wings. “Episcopal did change my life because of the people I met,” Veni says. “I gained a greater appreciation for academics.” Veni went on to LSU and has enjoyed a successful career in graphic design, fine arts and teaching. Hansel earned a law degree at LSU and operates his own practice in Baton Rouge. Gretel is also an LSU graduate and resides in Dallas with her family.
Everyone in the extended Harlan family was recruited at some point by Marsh Dog and deserves proper credit for their contributions, including mom, Suzanne Danna Harlan, Gretel’s husband Bob, sibling Jeff ’87 and his children Chuck ’14, Isabella ’16 and Alexander, a current Episcopal senior.
Congratulations, Harlans! Your story is proof that everyone can have an impact.
Episcopal prepared me. As a member of the Episcopal community, you’ve likely heard that slogan. You may even ask yourself, prepared for what? Episcopal alumni are artists, researchers, CEOs, teachers, coaches and everything in between. They are prepared for these roles and for lives of meaning and purpose. Recent grads are also attending a range of universities, including highly selective institutions. Class of 2019 graduate Douglas Robins is in his first semester at Princeton and already he can appreciate the preparation he received in high school.
“If I have to think about how Episcopal Prepared Me, the first thing that I can really say has prepared me is the quality of the teachers that I had,” says Robins. “Because the teachers that taught me are not only great teachers but experts in their field, I was prepared to be able to come to college and have these deep profound discussions that exist beyond the readings and beyond the textbook. These are conversations that can only be had with people who have an intimate understanding of the material as experts, and the teachers at Episcopal have pushed me to be able to interact with experts, students, and material in that way.”
In speaking with Episcopal alumni, they all share the same sentiment of preparation. As a storyboard artist, Miguel Jiron ’02 credits Episcopal with helping him develop critical thinking skills. He remembers discussing a range of topics with his classmates and teachers and how those discussions helped him think for himself and find his own voice. Megan Escott ’14 says the emphasis on critical thinking taught her to synthesize her thoughts. The focus on independence also gave her the skills necessary to be responsible for her own lab and her own experiments while at Tulane University.
From his room in Princeton, New Jersey, Robins realized the significance of the Episcopal Honors Seminar. This semester he is enrolled in two seminar courses. “I am taking a seminar this semester about poverty with a world-renowned professor who won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Genius Grant,” he says. “He is kind of something of a celebrity and it makes people intimidated to speak up during our seminar discussions. Because of the practice that I have had in sharing the way that I see the world and having these conversations across both years of Seminar and Thesis, I am not afraid of contributing. Learning how to be in a seminar is hard (especially if your first time is with someone this decorated) and because of the education that I received at Episcopal, there was no learning curve.”
Episcopal faculty and staff encourage students to explore their passions throughout their time as a student. The ability to work around multiple commitments helps students learn to prioritize and manage their time. Robins says juggling a range of interests throughout high school helped him know immediately how to structure his time once he moved on to university. Class of 1988 graduate, Chris King’s Episcopal experience also required him to learn to manage his time wisely. King worked long hours while attending Episcopal which made high school personally challenging. He says such an experience helped him understand what it means to have high standards. Years later he sees a common thread between his family, the Cajun Army with which he volunteers and the Episcopal Honor Code.
Not all lessons learned at Episcopal take place in the classroom. An education such as the one received at Episcopal, pushes students outside of their comfort zone. For graduate Kris Jackson ’17, the experience altered the trajectory of his life. Kris was not originally a runner, yet he graduated as a state champion cross country athlete. He found family among his teammates and among those involved in efforts such as U-Knighted Club. Mike Diodene ’99 remembers the lessons learned as a member of the Knights football and track and field teams – work harder, study longer and bring value to your team. By drawing on these lessons, he earned a spot on the LSU football team and went on to a successful military career.
As graduates such as Jimmy Williams ’97, Clare Crespo ’86 and Ashley Fabre ’02 reflect on the preparation they received at Episcopal, it is comforting to see that that level of preparation remains the same with recent graduates like Robins benefiting from a similar experience. “I could go on and on about my time at Episcopal but there is no better way to sum it up than by saying that Episcopal prepared me,” says Robins. “My transition to college has been exponentially easier than I anticipated because I have been getting ready for college and life for the 4 years in upper school. I truly received the best possible education that I could have asked for and I can say hands down that the best decision my parents ever made for me was sending me to Episcopal.”
As Robins forges ahead at Princeton, it will be exciting to see what’s in store for him. No doubt he will be one of the many successful Episcopal alumni who return to campus to share the story of how the school prepared them to be the next generation of leaders. Preparation is a key component of the Episcopal mission and ministry. It is central to the Episcopal experience.
Whether an Episcopal graduate attended the school beginning in PreK-3, Middle or Upper School, the education garnered certainly changed their life. You can learn more about the Episcopal experience at an upcoming Lower School Mini Open House or by scheduling a campus tour. To learn more click here.
Upcoming Lower School Mini Open House dates:
November 5th or 10th