The final week of July has arrived, and in spite of more than a few decades of experience as a student and an educator, I find I again am experiencing that familiar blend of mixed and contrasting feelings –anticipation, excitement, anxiety and even a bit of fear - that always accompany the beginning of a new school year. The more relaxed and peaceful summer days will soon fade into the past, and the busyness and business of school life will again provide structure, focus, and purpose for my daily life. While there is always some regret that comes with the end of a fun summer, there also are the feelings of hope and optimism that arrive with the new school year – a new beginning, a blank slate waiting to be filled with exciting activity, meaningful challenge, and the pleasure of guiding our students through another important stage of their educational experience. While the upcoming year with our students certainly will be unpredictable and hectic at times, one joyful reality I have learned through years of experience is that it also will never be dull or monotonous.
I can remember the years when my children were young that the end of summer presented a welcome relief for all our family. My boys had had enough of vacation trips, visits with extended family, summer camps, and unstructured days of sleeping late and staying up late to enjoy movies or their favorite video games. We all needed and, if we were honest, wanted the structure and purpose that being back at school would provide. We were eager to be back with our friends and engaged in the variety of fun and exciting activities that our school community offers. Even now that I no longer have the challenge of preparing both my children and myself for school, I still have the sense that it is time to get serious and settled, to prepare for the adventure ahead.
I encourage parents to remember that even as they experience the relief of having their children reengaged in the learning process that the school year affords, throughout their PreK-3 through 12th grade experience, children want and need parental help for the transition back to school. In order to be successful students, kids of all ages need home to be a place of safety, structure, and support. Healthy breakfast to start the day; a regular place and time for homework preparation, reading, and studying; guidance for manageable involvement in co-curricular activities, family dinnertime together; age-appropriate chores to benefit cohesive family life; reasonable limits for screen time of all types; and sufficient time for rest and sleep are components that parents should strive to provide consistently, and especially as the year begins.
This summer I have enjoyed reading the two selections our School Counselors have chosen for this year’s parent book studies. Both authors emphasize the important role that parents must serve as mentors for their children. I do not think that this concept can be overemphasized in the fast-paced and complex culture in which we live. Parents do not serve children well by acting like their buddies or peers. Young people need the wisdom and emotional and spiritual guidance that come from their parents’ life experiences. They need their parents’ time and listening ears as well as their thoughtful limits, timely advice, and meaningful discipline. Mentoring young people is a challenging job, and I am grateful to work in a community where so many parents and teachers take this responsibility seriously and manage it with great skill and care. I hope to reassure our parents that a fine group of professionals in your school community welcomes partnership with you for the sacred job awaiting us in the new school year. August is approaching; here we go!
Lucy holds a B.A. degree in English from Millsaps College and a M.Ed. degree from Louisiana State University in school counseling. Additionally she maintains credentials as a Licensed Professional Counselor. After one year of teaching in the East Baton Rouge Parish School system, she joined Episcopal’s high school faculty in 1979. She has served Episcopal in a variety of capacities: high school English teacher, Upper School Counselor, Upper School Division Head, middle school English teacher, School Counselor, and her current role, Middle School Division Head. Throughout her tenure of leadership in the Middle School, she has taught sixth grade religion. She is the proud parent of two Episcopal alumni.
As a send-off for their peers in the Writing Center, students in the Honors Composition class composed Senior Tributes for each of the graduating Writing Fellows. The tributes feature the seniors’ favorite Writing Center memories as well as their advice for new Writing Fellows in the Upper School. The tributes were originally featured on the Writing Center’s Instagram account (@episcopalbrwc), but we thought you’d enjoy seeing them here.
College Choice: Louisiana State University, Honors College
Prospective Major: Economics
John Harris worked in the Writing Center for two years, and became a key piece of the writing fellow community. Through his unique, easy-going, and approachable personality, John successfully managed writing sessions with many students across all grade levels. He helped with Literacy Narratives, short stories, and literary analyses, but particularly remembers a session with a younger student who was truly invested in making his paper the best it could be. John described this experience as a, “two way street,” which made the appointment much easier and much more successful for both parties.
One of the most memorable parts of the Writing Center for John was his help with the seventh graders’ short stories this year. He really enjoyed working in the in-class workshop with some of the seventh graders and watching them take the lead. Through his two years as a writing fellow, John learned the importance of remembering that “it is their paper, not yours.” We would like to thank you for your light-hearted, easy-going, and fun-loving nature that made everyone’s day brighter.
- David Whitehurst
College Choice: Wellesley College
Prospective Major: Mathematics
Graduated senior Kirby Phares began her career at the Writing Center as a junior. She hit the ground running contributing to the writing community at Episcopal hosting a “Writing on Tests” writing workshop and helping with this year’s gratitude grams. The helpful personality and willingness to tutor younger students that brought Kirby into the community led her to conduct many productive sessions. Some of her favorites include those with 7th grade short story writers with their “vivid young imaginations.”
Kirby’s parting words for future writing fellows are, “Don’t be afraid of older students. You probably know what you are talking about.” This air of confidence followed Kirby everywhere she went and established her reputation in the Writing Center as the person who always asked questions she wanted to ask, even if there was no one willing to answer them.
– Taner Morgan
College Choice: Louisiana State University, Honors College
Prospective Major: Biological Engineering
Madison Ruston became an integral part of the writing center during her three years of service. She was always ready to help when called upon, and she played an incredibly important role in helping the 7th graders finish their short stories this spring, especially when staffing was short and there were many clients. Madison has tutored students across all grade levels with many kinds of composition, such as English writing, history writing, and creative writing. She is particularly fond of a session she did as a junior with an eager sophomore student, in which she learned that not every session with a stranger needs to be awkward.
While Madison is unable to recall one specific memory of the Writing Center that stands out to her, she does enjoy the infallible sense of community that the WC creates. Throughout her years as a writing fellow, Madison has learned that it is fine for a tutor to "stray from the script,” and that it is "important to let the session happen a bit more organically.” We would like to thank you for your friendly, determined, and caring nature that made a difference in your community both in and out of the Writing Center.
- David Whitehurst
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I started reflecting on summers as a teenager early this July when the weight of this fact hit me: my students were about to begin a third week of voluntary work sessions at school to research, write, and conference about their thesis projects. This year begins my sixth involved with the Thesis program, and I finally recognized just how much I admire the way our students embody Episcopal’s mission even when, especially when, we’re apart.
Cliche sitcoms and sentimental marketing might lead you to believe that summer for teenagers is a wasteland of video games, sleeping the day away, and luxuriously unstructured time that is listless and aimless. But from my view, that trope doesn’t tell the full story. When I really think back on my own summers as a teenager, I know there was much more activity than my immediate memory recalls. Still, even between summer jobs, music camps, and devouring books, I know for certain that I did not pursue the sorts of opportunities and passions as fervently as Episcopal students.
Leisure time was once the marker of true wealth and advantage, though this recent article in The Atlantic describes a new American “status symbol”: busyness. Silvia Bellezza, Columbia Business School professor and researcher explains this phenomena she has been studying, noting that neither extreme, constant leisure or incessant working, makes for a healthy person or society. Instead, according to Bellezza, a balance of work and play is desirable, though often tough to negotiate in reality.
But, what I’ve noticed from my students, especially this summer, is the way many of them have seemed to naturally broker a pretty healthy arrangement. There is certainly active effort and learning involved in many of these experiences, be it reading or camp or internships, thesis writing or college visits or a language immersion experience abroad. But what energizes me is that I notice a joyful attitude toward these opportunities and toward the work itself: it is meaningful and fulfilling because it comes from a place of choice and intention.
Take these eight caffeinated kids sitting around the seminar table. Each of them is pursuing an area of research that taps into a curiosity and passion they can’t get out of their mind. There is focus, sometimes frustration, and serious contemplation, to be sure. But, there are plenty markers of play and community, too. I hear hearty belly-laughs as someone refills a cup of cold brew and throws a friend a granola bar and genuine inquiries about how each person’s project is coming along.
Before this week, some of them unplugged entirely at camp, taking a much needed break from the often punishingly perpetual stream of snapchat stories. And before that, some of them were at Girls or Boys State, passing bills that reveal innovative solutions to many of our challenges. Whatever the activity may be, this break from the barreling-forward school schedule gives older teenagers some independence to structure their time with a bit more autonomy. There is important developmental work happening here when these adolescents are given the chance to pursue their own agenda just a bit more.
Of course, I hope that there is time, too, for sleep and swimming and the gloriously idyllic pictures of summer that will become romanticized in their memories. But, I’m heartened that the busy days are filled with welcomed “work” that might further help our students uncover more about who they are in the pursuit of our mission’s ultimate goal: purposeful lives.
Katie Sutcliffe is beginning her seventh year at Episcopal and has served in many capacities involving writing and service learning. Currently, she directs the Thesis Program, teaching both Seminar juniors and Thesis seniors, and is the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie’s own history involves this blend of service and writing: after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Indiana with an English degree, she moved to the Deep South with Teach For America where she taught middle school English and worked passionately on issues of educational inequity. She later earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh and returned to Baton Rouge where she has continued freelance writing. Katie infuses social justice initiatives into her curricula and seeks to help her students make meaningful connections with those living a different experience within our larger community. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that have practical implications for understanding and addressing real world challenges.
College Choice: Rice University
Prospective Major: Economics and Managerial Studies (minoring in Business and/or Spanish)
If the couch is the throne in the Writing Center, then Kate would be the queen. Rarely would a tutorial go by that you didn’t see Kate sprawled on the plush cushions, laughing, smiling, and sharing stories with her friends. However, Kate relinquished her spot on the sofa often to aid students in their writing, most likely with English papers or Spanish essays on bullfighting. Though most of these sessions were relatively simple and easy, her most memorable session is the opposite—she had quite a hard time helping one student find material to cut out of his paper, which was “SO good…so well researched and thoughtful and coherent.” Though they struggled to find information to take out, she loved seeing the student grow, become a better writer, and realize his talent.
Kate was also a fountain of new ideas for the Writing Center and a leader in the famous Waffle Workshops, one of which had so many people who wanted to participate that the Writing Center had to turn them away. From all that Kate’s learned in her three years as a Writing Fellow, her advice to new Writing Fellows is: “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn and grow with each session but also don’t be scared to show that you know what you’re doing and [that you’re giving] people meaningful feedback and help.” Kate,thank you for your service to the Writing Center. The impacts of your reign will be as infinite as the floral pattern on the couch.
– Alyssa Macaluso
College Choice: Louisiana State University, Honors College
Prospective Major: Interior Design
Mary Oliver served as a writing fellow since her sophomore years and was always a vocal leader on the staff. She helped the Writing Center expand its offerings in the Foreign Language department by helping her peers with their assignments for Spanish. She also enjoyed assisting students from both middle and high school over the years. Last year, Mary led a Spooky Stories Waffle Workshop with Elliott Kellam, and she has volunteered her time at other events and workshops. Her favorite memories revolve around sitting on the couch with Harrison, John, Kirby, and many other writing fellows. She also will always remember a conversation with a seventh grader this year about a hilarious short story.
For next year’s writing fellows, she advises them to learn from their peers. Mary said, “I learned the most about my own writing just by tutoring others. Also, don't worry about being the perfect fellow. As long as the person you're tutoring walks away with one new idea, your job is done.” She hopes to be remembered as someone who liked being in the Writing Center. “I feel like I spent a large amount of my time in the WC, and I'm going to miss it and all of the people I became close to in it. It's probably one of the things I'll miss most about Episcopal,” she added. The feeling is mutual, Mary. Your friends in the Writing Center and the countless students you helped will miss you, too!