It feels like we’re hugging an angel.
It’s so fuzzy.
A sweatshirt may be just cotton, polyester and thread but for today’s Episcopal fifth grade class the garments mean so much more.
Fifth grade students and their families recently participated in the seventh annual sweatshirt ceremony during morning Chapel. This rite of passage marks the beginning of the children’s last year in Lower School. Father Skully advised them that they are now a collective community that will be together to support one another and grow together. They will now be seen as leaders of the Lower School. No longer are they known as the fifth graders – they are the Episcopal Class of 2025.
At Chapel there was excitement in the air as the younger children craned their necks to see the big kids and moms and dads stretched their arms to get that perfect photo. Each fifth grader was officially presented with their sweatshirt and photographed with their teacher. Later, the fifth grade teachers said this is essentially the children’s introduction to the concept of being a class and now begins the gradual process of them evolving into Middle Schoolers.
For second grade teacher Renee Crousillac, sweatshirt ceremony day is an emotional one. “It always makes me tear up. I love seeing them grow,” she says. Looking forward to Middle School, Mrs. C. offers the following advice for the Class of 2025: “Always strive to do your best and take risks.”
After the sweatshirts were bestowed and the official photo was taken, students and families migrated to the VPAC for a reception and more photos. For first year parent Laura Macias this is an especially exciting time. “I love the idea of them taking a leadership role in Lower School. My daughter is very excited,” she says. The smile and excitement exuding from daughter Sophia confirms this. When asked about the new attire, Sophia says “I think it’s really cool!”
Watching your child grow and achieve new milestones is a rewarding part of being a parent. Perhaps Sophia’s father James sums up the feelings parents experience best. “I’m scared. It will be here before you know it,” he says smiling, while reflecting on his daughter’s trek to graduation.
2025 will indeed be here before we know it. It won’t be long before today’s fifth graders are donning caps and gowns and making plans for college. For today, we simply celebrate the soft, fuzzy sweatshirt and the hope for a bright future.
I remember back when I was a preteen and enjoyed using three way calling - yes, a high tech feature - to connect with multiple friends. We rode bikes to the nearest playground to hang out, and our main video game systems were Atari and then Nintendo, with two player options if your friend was right beside you. Today's preteens are finding their playground online - it's called instagram, Snapchat, twitter, and a variety of other venues. Video gaming is now digital, connecting teens all over the world. Times and interests for adolescents haven't changed but the WAY they connect has shifted. The online world available to teens brings a host of new challenges in parenting.
As an adult, I enjoy technology, browsing Pinterest and Facebook in the grocery store line or while relaxing after work. The dangers that those leisurely activities present are few. But what dangers do I worry about for our children online? As a middle school counselor, my primary concerns are the physical and emotional well being of our students. Cyberbullying, online predators, and exposure to violence and pornography can be damaging to their physical and emotional well-being.
How can we, as parents, help our children navigate their digital world safely? Here are some suggestions:
For more discussion on safety in the digital world, join the Episcopal Counseling Team for a book study of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and survive) in their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, PhD on October 19th at 10 A.M. in the Alumni House Parlor Room.
Common Sense Media- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
Teen Safe https://www.teensafe.com/
Bailey, Tricia “Talking to Your Kids About Social Media Safety” retrieved from https://identity.utexas.edu/id-perspectives/talking-to-your-kids-about-social-media-safety
Heitner, Devorah (2016) Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. New York, NY: Bibliomotion, Inc.
Alicia Kelly has served as a School Counselor at Episcopal since 2001. As the Middle School Counselor, she has a passion for helping preadolescents reach their potential, academically, emotionally, and spiritually. Alicia holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, Masters in Health Sciences - Rehabilitation Counseling, and is a Certified School Counselor.
An old expression goes, “He’s a poet and doesn’t know it.”
At Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, a more appropriate expression is, “We have a poet and everyone should know it!”
That poet is none other than the Head of Upper School, Dr. Thomas “Spree” MacDonald.
It is not surprising that few members of our community know about Dr. MacDonald’s poetry. He is genuinely humble about his accomplishments. Rather than discuss his accolades, he prefers to engage students, parents, and visitors in conversations about the amazing projects and events happening at our school. Also, during the school week and most of the weekend, he is focused on his duties at Episcopal and on his family rather than on his creative pursuits. For a few hours on Saturday mornings in local coffee shops, however, Dr. MacDonald, Upper School Head, becomes Spree MacDonald, published and prize-winning poet.
Dr. MacDonald has been a creative writer since elementary school, when he wrote a poem in 3rd grade that his teachers praised. In middle school, he delved into the poetry section of a discarded literature anthology he found and was inspired by the poems of his two greatest influences, Langston Hughes and T. S. Eliot. Throughout high school and college, he wrote hundreds of poems and some fiction. Soon after graduate school, and no longer having to focus on academic writing, he felt a sense of urgency about taking his poetry to a professional level, seeking not only to improve his craft but also to learn the ins and outs of being published. Within a year, he began to see the coffee-induced fruits of his labor rewarded, as his poems were published by such literary journals as RHINO, Transition Magazine, and Berkeley Poetry Review. One of his poems, “Snow Globe Explosions,” was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States.
Dr. MacDonald describes his poems as “narrative, with plots and characters.” He also values the musical and imaginative qualities of his poems’ language. While some of his poems are challenging, he strives to infuse his work with a sense of playfulness. He finds inspiration for his poems mostly through observation: sitting in coffee shops, taking long drives with his wife, being a spectator at Louisiana’s many festivals and parades, and listening to his children’s conversations. While his short-term goal is to continue publishing individual poems or chapbooks, he aspires one day to write a book-length poem, one that would combine his interests in storytelling and lyrical language. He also hopes to write more about memories of his childhood spent in Oregon and Michigan, as well as his experiences in South Africa.
Though he manages to separate his roles as Upper School Head and award-winning poet, Dr. MacDonald believes his work at Episcopal informs his poetry in important ways. He states, “I’m fortunate to be able to talk to teachers and administrators who love knowledge and have made a lifelong commitment to learning.” Conversations with his colleagues keep his mind active and searching for ideas. As important, his daily interactions with students show him the necessity for growth, an important theme in many of his poems. “To see young people rapidly embracing change,” he states, “reminds me of my own potential for change – in life and in poetry. I want my writing always to be evolving.”
With its embrace of change, its striving for intellectual growth, and its celebration of playfulness and adventure, Episcopal School is a natural fit for Dr. MacDonald, Upper School Head and poet. And we know it.
Dr. Alan Newton
Dr. Alan Newton hails from Alabama and received degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, and University of Kansas. At Episcopal, he has taught eighth grade World Geography and History of Religion in addition to his new roles as English teacher, Writing Center Director, and College Block Coordinator. Dr. Newton has taught English and Social Studies classes and served as a college admissions consultant for more than twenty years, predominantly at college preparatory schools in the United States and South Korea. He is also a published poet and playwright whose play, Whiteout (2001), won a national Kennedy Center award. Outside of school, he enjoys theater, world travel, and playing drums. He is married to Dr. Rebecca Kuhn.
Eight Episcopal Seniors Achieve National Merit Semifinalist Status
Congratulations to this year’s National Merit Semifinalists!
This year’s group represents eight percent of the graduating class!
According to the National Merit Scholarship Program, close to two million students compete each year, with approximately 16,000 making it to the semifinal round. Semifinalists are top scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT test in their state.
National Merit finalists will be announced in February with winners named in the spring. The selection committee reviews student grades, activities and leadership, as well as school information to determine the winners. Scholarships are then awarded from the National Merit Scholarship Program, corporations and colleges and universities.
This is a tremendous accomplishment for our students and we wish them luck in the finalist round.
Congratulations to Episcopal's KnightVision 3991! The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge Upper School robotics team recently won the 2017 Red Stick Rumble held at Woodlawn High School on August 26.
If you’ve never been to a robotics competition, imagine a high energy, intense, competitive atmosphere with students scrambling to complete delicate tasks with a robot they only had six weeks to build. This season, students had to program their machine to cross the field of competition, pick up gears and place them precisely to activate a group of rotors. Once complete, the robot then had to finish by hanging upside down in the arena - no easy feat for 100 pounds of metal! Did I mention, these are teenagers who are building, programming, piloting, driving and working together to accomplish these feats?
It takes tremendous teamwork to bring these amazing machines to life. During competition season, we eat, sleep and breathe robotics. Team members spend countless hours together outside of the regular school day fabricating and testing the robot. Team parents bring us snacks or run to the store for extra parts. For everyone there is a sense of pride and ownership that comes from working toward a common goal.
In robotics, teamwork also extends well beyond individual schools and teams. In the final rounds of any competition, teams are paired up into alliances comprised of three teams which then compete for victory as one larger team. This setup allows for unprecedented teamwork and cooperation in a competitive setting. For example, KnightVision was able to come to the rescue of a fellow Red Stick competitor by loaning them a piece of equipment they needed to complete their next round. We were also the benefactor of such teamwork when our robot’s gears began to heat up during the last rounds and another team stepped up to help us with a quick fix, allowing us to continue on.
The Red Stick Rumble victory was especially sweet for our KnightVision seniors. “We’ve gone to the same competitions for four years and we’ve made it to the finals every year and were just barely out. It’s good to finally win,” says Rohit Gondi. There are 20 students on team KnightVision, spanning all four years of Upper School. These students take on roles such as pilot, driver, programmer and drive coach. Team members Will Bodron, Marcus Botos and Logan Robertson all reported a sense of accomplishment after the win. “This is something we’ve worked on since January,” said Bodron, who is in his senior year. Logan Robertson, who is also a senior and a new member of the team, says he’s glad he joined after seeing the action.
Aside from creating camaraderie and a cohesive team, robotics is also a great opportunity for students to flex their future engineering muscle. While Bodron, Botos and Robertson may have different feelings about math and science they all agree that robotics makes learning fun. Meanwhile, Gondi says he most enjoys the competitive environment, the constant need for improvement and the workload during the season. All of the time and dedication poured into a robotics team can certainly have long term benefits as well. Listing participation on a school’s robotics team is definitely a plus for students when applying to a college. In addition, there are millions of dollars in robotic scholarships available each year.
On August 26th, KnightVision wasn’t thinking along those lines. The team was simply focused on getting the robot to obey their commands. Our first Red Stick Rumble victory caps off the end of this season’s robotics competition and we will retire this robot on a high note, having put up the highest scoring match of the day several times.
A new season kicks off again on January 6th when the teams are issued a new challenge to build a new robot to accomplish new feats. Like this past season, we’ll have six weeks to build the machine and prepare for battle in hopes of making it to the Einstein round of the world finals. As Gondi puts it, the team will need to strategize better and work faster and more efficiently in order to compete at this level. I know we are up to the challenge!
If you’d like to join us in next year’s challenge please contact me or any member of the KnightVision team
Melissa Estremera is the Upper School Science, Math and Creativity Instigator for Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. In this position she helps enhance curriculum, develops inquiry based lessons and assists teachers in integrating STEM into their classrooms. Additionally, she is the head mentor for FRC Knightvision, Episcopal's high school robotics team, and directs the ESTAAR program, a supervised science research program for Upper School students. Although Melissa originally worked in research and development in the medical industry, she transitioned to education because she loves working with students and developing their interests in research, computer science and engineering. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a Master of Education in School Administration from Regent University.
How would you brush your hair without using your hands?
This is a question being posed to students in one of the Design Studio courses being offered this year on campus through a partnership between Episcopal's Upper School and NuVu Studio of Cambridge, Massachusetts. As their introduction to NuVu’s methods, these students are asked to think beyond the brush and even consider the room around them in the components of their design. Naturally, they are fearless and simply dive into the project. A few begin browsing the internet to learn more about hair brushes, others begin sketching and brainstorming, while still others immediately begin cutting and measuring cardboard for their prototype. All of this is exactly what NuVu Fellow Dyani Robarge, Upper School Instigator Melissa Estremera, and I want the students to do.
NuVu describes itself as an innovation school. The overall concept was created by MIT graduates Saeed Arida, Saba Ghole, and David Wang, based on the architectural studio model and geared around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. In short, students are presented an open-ended question or challenge and asked to identify and create innovative tools or processes to solve it or improve upon it while working in collaborative groups.
This kind of smart, innovative learning is just what Head of School Hugh McIntosh envisioned bringing to the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. Project-based learning is such an integral part of what happens here that NuVu was an easy addition to our campus. NuVu also answers the call for more hands-on learning opportunities for those students who learn best by doing.
NuVu offers a full-time school in Cambridge, Massachusetts for middle and high school students. The NuVu X program, which is what is offered on site at Episcopal, allows other schools to integrate NuVu’s approaches into their own school day. Former Episcopal board member Jennifer Eplett Reilly, Jewel Reuter, Sarah Pulliam and Hugh worked for some time to bring NuVu home to Episcopal. Now that the studio is up and running, our students have access to a laser cutter, 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, a workshop and even a sewing machine and fully stocked electronics cabinet. All of these tools help students make their designs a reality.
NuVu will be a constant partner in the Episcopal Design Studio courses, with Dyani Robarge serving as the school’s full-time, on-site Fellow. Dyani is an architectural designer, having earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Ohio State University and a Master’s of Advanced Architectural Design from Carnegie Mellon University. She previously worked for The Neighborhood Design Center and Triad Architects in Columbus, Ohio. Her areas of interest include building renovations, graphic design, model-making and data visualization. Together with Dyani, we will coach the students throughout the NuVu research, design and production process.
This year, the inaugural group of NuVu Episcopal students will tackle four large projects:
Elizabeth "Betsy" Minton is the Instigator at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. She enriches instruction by generating interdisciplinary curriculum, spearheading hands-on, project-based learning, and supporting faculty in the application of education standards in innovative and creative ways. In addition, she coaches the Middle School robotics team and is the Design Studio coordinator. She has over a decade of elementary classroom experience in general and special education with graduate coursework in literacy, special education, and technology integration. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Bates College and was a 2002 Teach for America Corps member.
Everyone is welcome in Chapel, no matter their religious beliefs.
Douglas Robins has been a member of the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge Student Vestry since eighth grade. Douglas recently led Upper School Chapel - introducing the scripture and prayers and serving as a guide for the congregation. The service was well orchestrated with readings projected on a large screen, the school choir in attendance to add to the feelings of worship and the junior class officers presenting a summary of their recent class retreat. All of this was planned and executed by the Upper School Student Vestry.
A vestry in an Episcopal church is made up of members of the parish, who work with the clergy to shape the spiritual life of the community. They are there as leaders of the church to represent and speak for the overall church population. In a similar way, the student vestries here at Episcopal give participants a powerful voice in students’ spiritual life. The Upper School Vestry and Middle School Vestry groups lead Chapel services, plan the themes, select the speakers and even serve as speakers before their classmates.
Having a student vestry makes our Chapel services more accessible to the many diverse students that make up our one student body. As Douglas suggested, Chapel is inclusive and intended for everyone on the Episcopal school campus. Spiritual development is a cornerstone of an Episcopal education and allowing our students to have such a large role in their own development truly provides them with a sense of ownership and empowerment that further encourages their overall growth.
An Episcopal education centers on integrating spiritual formation into all aspects of life. What better way to do this than by letting students serve as the guide! I invite you to learn more about our Episcopal school identity by clicking below.
The Rev. Kirkland "Skully"Knight
The Rev. Kirkland “Skully” Knight has served in Episcopal schools for 24 years. The first ten were spent as a teacher and coach with the last thirteen as a teacher and chaplain. Skully has been at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge since 2011 and serves as the Senior Chaplain and Associate Head of School for Service Learning. Skully earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his M. Div. from The University of the South at Sewanee. He has been married to his wife, Mary Sue, for 23 years and they have two daughters, Emily who is a senior and Katie who is in 9th grade.