Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.
Episcopal Middle School students are learning considerably more than reading, writing and arithmetic. In keeping with the traditions of an Episcopal education, teachers strive to instill each lesson with exercises in empathy and respectful discourse. Students also take part in activities to encourage the development of critical and independent thinking. This approach is felt throughout all divisions and subjects, with geography and history exhibiting perfect examples.
she has found a way for students from across the globe to lend their voice to the lesson. Recently, during a study of Syria, geography students read Refugee by Alan Gratz. This historical fiction novel follows the story of three young people escaping unimaginable circumstances. For the Episcopal geography class, students read the story of Mahmoud and his family as they journeyed to Europe after fleeing Syria. While St. George’s students were only assigned to read portions of the book, she says because students connected with the characters many have elected to read the entire novel.
It is St. George’s hope that students will develop a more global perspective, realizing that there are both differences and similarities among people. In speaking with students, it seems that the goal is being accomplished. “The novel Refugee brought us closer to and made us empathize more with the merciless extirpation of the Syrian people than all else and was a very valuable learning tool not only in the classroom, but in real life,” said student Skyler Adams. Inspired by the character accounts, students felt compelled to take the experience a step further. They elected to help local refugee families by collecting household items which were donated to Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge for distribution. In the end, students gained much more from the lesson than basic geography.
Similar to St. George, history teachers Virginia Day and Julie Weaver employ a range of teaching methods, including debate, to fully engage students in thought-provoking discussions. Actually debating topics, such as globalization and whether it is beneficial or harmful, requires students to research both sides of a situation and become quite familiar with the concepts involved. On debate day students are divided into groups and required to present their side of the issue in front of a room full of their peers. This type of experiential learning generates excitement among the students in a way that simply reading a textbook may not.
“We want kids to learn how to have an opinion and for it to be an educated opinion,” says Weaver, who helps students dissect the Bill of Rights in her class. One way in which Weaver attempts to accomplish this is to introduce them to real-world cases and recent Supreme Court decisions. Weaver says she and her students discuss all aspects of the cases from multiple sides in hopes that such an exercise helps students develop a better understanding of others.
For a few hours each spring you may not even find history students in their classroom, as Day uses an unconventional method to teach students about Alexander the Great. Students race throughout campus in “Ms. Day’s Amazing Race” in search of clues about the ancient conqueror. The contest, like the debates, has proven to be a fun and successful method for bringing history to life for students.
Whether it comes in the form of a debate, a race or a novel, Episcopal Middle School students are exposed to more than basic course requirements. No matter the subject, students are taking part in learning that lasts and makes an impact on their lives. At Episcopal, students are called upon to lead meaningful and purposeful lives, committed to service. Across all divisions, students are learning more with the hopes that they will be well prepared for their roles as future leaders. It’s what sets Episcopal apart.
“Ms. Day, my legs are so sore from all that running yesterday!” exclaimed one of my 6th graders breathlessly as she entered my classroom at the end of class. That’s not a sentence you normally hear in a history class, but it’s one I hear every year when my students participate in “Ms. Day’s Amazing Race.”
I have always been a fan of the hit CBS reality show, The Amazing Race. My family even auditioned for the family edition when I was in 9th grade. I still cringe when I think about the matching “twin shirts” that my twin sister and I wore to the open casting call because my mom thought they might make us stand out to the producers. As it turns out, the producers did not find our clever t-shirts memorable. Instead I was left to dream of traveling the world, and to make my own “scavenger hunts” for kids I babysat over the years.
When I began teaching at Episcopal, the idea of doing an Amazing Race was passed on to me by James McCrary, who taught 6th grade social studies before me. As he showed me the details of his version of the Amazing Race, my mind began to spin as I thought of what my version would look like.
Over the past four years, 6th graders have followed a trail of 8 clues about Alexander the Great. The clues are hidden all over campus and students work with a partner to find the locations using their knowledge of Alexander the Great, ancient Greece, and a handful of map skills. When they find a clue, it has one of two task cards inside- a Detour or a Roadblock. Detours give students a choice between two tasks, one of which they must complete in order to move forward. Roadblocks are a series of questions that must be answered before moving on. There is also a Fast Forward card, which challenges students with a question related to Episcopal’s history.
The first year that I did the race, I thought it would be a fun way for the students to review the material before the test. Over the years though, I have noticed that they learn more from it. In addition to mastering the content, students learn practical skills, such as teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving.
For example, during the race, a clue told students to go north. This prompted one student to ask, “Ms. Day, which way is north?” As I shrugged my shoulders and told them to try and figure it out, his race partner suddenly whispered, “Ohhh I know how we can find it- the sun! Ok, that way is east because the sun rises in the east!” I then watched as the two boys started mapping out the direction they needed to go based on the position of the sun. Directions are hard for 6th graders and I spend a good part of each school year trying to reinforce to students that north is not “up”. To see students apply knowledge from class to solve a practical problem was extremely cool! There are countless other examples of students working together to figure out clues, problem solve, and think outside the box. It’s incredibly fun to watch and listen as they work to put the pieces together!
Each year one team in the 6th grade wins the grand prize of an ice cold Sprite, a box of sour patch kids, and of course, eternal glory. This year’s grand prize winners were Katie C. and Teagan A.
Virginia Day, a 2008 graduate of Episcopal High School, returned to her alma mater in 2014 as a sixth grade World History teacher. She received her undergraduate degree in history with a minor in French from Louisiana State University in May of 2012. Before joining Episcopal, Virginia began her teaching career in West Baton Rouge Parish.
Episcopal School of Baton Rouge recently hosted the annual Scholars Recognition Breakfast recognizing the school’s top academic achievers in Middle and Upper School. A total of 107 students were honored at the event hosted by Head of School Hugh McIntosh. Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees!
Episcopal students recently attended the Annual Louisiana Junior Classical League Convention. The Lower Latin certamen team (think quiz-bowl for the Classically-minded) was captained by eighth grader, Justin Dynes, and ninth grader, Jacob Hart. Certamen teams usually field teams of four players. Even against those odds, Dynes and Hart placed third in the state for Lower Latin Certamen. The team easily won its first match and picked up second place in the second finals. However, the points earned during the two matches placed Episcopal in third place.
Episcopal individual students awards included:
Jacob Hart -- First place: Marathon.
Justin Dynes -- Fourth place in Latin Derivatives and second place in Latin vocabulary
Episcopal’s small delegation, which also included Eason Guirard and John Pojman, co-chairs of the Episcopal Chapter of the Junior Classical League, also placed second in the Spirit Contest during the opening assembly.
At the LJCL Convention, students participated in academic, creative and graphic arts contests as well as seminars, workshops, a Roman banquet, dance and karaoke.
“In short, it was fun, but also very exhausting,” said Mr. Micheal Posey, convention chaperone and this year’s chair of the Louisiana Classical Association (LCA).
What English adjective derived from a Latin word for "heel of the foot," is synonymous with "stubborn?” If you were one of the three Episcopal students that medaled on this year’s examination of the National Classical Etymology Exam (NCEE), this was probably one of the easier questions you faced. The answer: recalcitrant.
Administered in October 2017, the NCEE is based on English vocabulary words that are derived from Latin and Greek, with emphasis on academic and SAT vocabulary words.
The exam, organized by the National Junior Classical League, tests a student’s ability to handle both Latin and Greek derivatives and their usage in the English language. This is the eighth year of the exam and over 5,400+ students from around the country participated.
This year’s winners Megan MacMillan (Gold-Advanced Level), Lauren Reed (Bronze-Advanced Level) and Hudson Graham (Bronze-Intermediate Level) are also members of Episcopal’s Junior Classical League chapter. Graham also merited an award on the 2017 NCEE Assessment. She earned a silver medal on the Intermediate Level.
According to the US Department of Labor, employment is projected to increase by 11.5 million over the next decade. Healthcare, community and social service and computer and mathematical occupations are all expected to see faster than average growth by the year 2026. No doubt the job market will be vastly different thanks to rapidly changing and advancing technology.
Today’s Episcopal Middle Schoolers will be a part of this new and exciting workforce. While students today may simply have fun learning activities such as coding and robotics, these skills will likely prove invaluable in the future, regardless of their chosen career field. School Instigator and Design Studio Coordinator Betsy Minton continues to find opportunities to introduce students to these skills, whether it’s through the Introduction to Coding class or special groups that build together during or after school. All of these opportunities are preparing students for the future and instilling four real world skills for today and tomorrow.
1. Problem solving.
Episcopal students are required to take an Intro to Coding class as part of enrichment in fifth grade. Minton says this is an ideal time to go more in depth because by fifth grade students have been exposed to the math concepts needed to truly understand and appreciate coding. She says coding actually provides the students with a practical application of these math skills and the Design Studio offers them hands-on experience.
Students are solving coding problems using the latest and greatest coding software. Minton says the class is generalized to provide students with exposure to a range of programs and coding challenges that require a breadth of knowledge to solve the problem.
2. Learning through failure.
Robotics and coding are learned through a long process of trial and error. Minton says that students feel a satisfying sense of accomplishment after working through several iterations and getting it right. This type of learning helps them develop the critical thinking strategies to prevail in the face of challenges. Such skills will serve them well as future physicians, engineers or even artists and designers.
3. Time management.
No matter the career, time management is a must. As students are gearing up for robotics competitions these skills are put to the test. Students must learn to plan ahead to ensure their devices are ready for action on the big day. They must also be ready during an event to make quick decisions in the event of a mechanical failure or problem.
Middle School students recently participated in the Regional Autonomous Robotics Circuit event and they are now gearing up for a workshop at the upcoming Red Stick Festival in April. Both events required students to plan ahead and ensure tasks are completed in a timely manner.
Most professionals function as part of a team. Being a part of a robotics team helps students learn team dynamics such as being accountable to each other and dividing tasks among team members. Robotics team members also enjoy a sense of camaraderie and friendship created as a result of finding a group with common interests and goals. In addition, thanks to the PreK-3 through Upper School model of Episcopal, Middle School students also benefit from the mentorship of the upperclassmen.
On May 4th, Middle School students will compete in the first-ever Middle School Battle Bots tournament. Students are working hard to prepare their devices and best their opponent. Along the way, they’re developing the skills they’ll someday use as adults. While there’s no way to know what job they’ll have in 2026, we hope the skills gained from their time at Episcopal will serve them well.
Condensation. Precipitation. Evaporation.
Over the past three weeks, Episcopal sixth graders have learned all about water, the water cycle and the science behind this precious natural resource. Science teacher Stacy Hill covered water in the atmosphere, in the ocean and on the surface of planet earth. But this lesson went well beyond science, even including a message of empathy.
challenges created from the lack of water. The stories of these children introduce readers to the fact that not everyone has fresh water at the ready. Each chapter closes with a cliffhanger, whether it’s a character becoming sick as a result of drinking dirty water or a character grappling with dangerous wildlife or armed soldiers. Hill says her students are captivated by the book. Each class period they want her to read more and they want to know what happens to Nya and Salva. They also want to help, and ask questions such as:
The book also helps students connect and relate to today’s events. Hill says after students heard about the recent water shortage in South Africa she received several questions about rationing. Closer to home, students discussed the state of Baton Rouge’s water and the Southern Hills Aquifer it depends upon. In addition, Hill makes use of technology as students use Google Maps to measure the distance from the aquifer to their own home or even Woodland Ridge, and then map the distance to the nearest bottled water supplier. Students were then asked to think about the distance a bottle of water travels and the price tag associated with it, versus simply turning on their Baton Rouge tap. The classes also discussed the importance of water conservation and the saltwater intrusion that is occurring within the Baton Rouge aquifer as the result of the 150 million gallons of water used each day. All of this in a simple lesson on water.
At the end of the lesson, students had the opportunity to take action. Classes constructed water filters using a water bottle and materials such as sand, gravel and coffee filters. They formed a hypothesis as to which material would be best at filtering the water. They wrote lab reports. They measured and learned about turbidity.
Ultimately, students gained new scientific understanding. However, that won’t be all they take away from the experience. Likely, they will remember the importance of having clean water and what it’s like for those who do not. They may also remember that even their own water could one day be at risk.
Taking a lesson a step further and showing real life applications of a topic characterize an Episcopal education. A lesson such as this truly is so much more than H-2-O.
An epic battle took place this week. No, the Olympics didn’t get an early start and LSU was not playing! It was the annual Episcopal Middle School Battle of the Books.
The battle began in the Greer Center with seven teams competing to answer questions about ten books they had recently read. After two rounds of multiple choice questions and time for a short answer round, the teams then moved to Aldrich Library where they were tasked with solving puzzles based on those same books. Everything culminated in the chapel with the final three teams answering more questions in front of the entire Middle School division.
The competition was fierce.
Students were jumping up and down. There was laughing, chanting and cheering. There was also frantic whispering as teams grappled for answers, and even a few tense, quiet moments while answers were being tallied. After five rounds of competition, Team Weaver was crowned this year’s winner.
But how did all of this get started anyway? Where else, but the library.
As you might expect Library Director Tiffany Whitehead loves books, and as a school librarian she wants to share that love with students. Thus, she took an idea from a friend in Indiana and made it her own, creating the Battle of the Books. This is the second year Whitehead has orchestrated such an event here at Episcopal, coming on the heels of planning a similar event at a previous school. While it may look easy, managing the Battle of the Books logistics is no simple feat. It takes months of planning.
Beginning this summer, Whitehead started researching potential battle books using the Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice list as a guide. By September, she had invited students to form teams of at least ten members and divvy up the reading. Whitehead also identified team sponsors and ensured that everyone had copies of the assigned reading. In addition, she read as many of the books as she could. Then there was the actual heart of the event – the questions. Whitehead and her team put a lot of time and effort into researching and creating each question and each puzzle. With three rounds of twenty multiple choice questions, a host of short answer options and puzzles, this is a considerable undertaking. Once questions are established they are then entered into the software program Kahoot so that they can be answered via iPad on competition day.
Why expend so much energy and effort on a one-day competition? Whitehead says the goal is to get students excited about reading and to provide them with a team aspect that reading doesn’t typically offer. “Most of the kids who participate are already readers,” she says. “This gets them out of their reading comfort zone.” Whitehead intentionally chooses a diverse list of books for each competition. The list includes both fiction and non-fiction to push the students’ reading experience beyond their go-to genres.
The long hours of planning paid off.
In the end, Team Guarisco won the chapel round, but after all rounds of competition Team Weaver was victorious. Team Weaver summed up the competition and their feelings well with just two words – amazing and awesome. The champs already plan to team up again next year to defend their title.
Whitehead says the Battle of the Books has great momentum with nearly double the teams this year compared to last. As long as students are reading and enjoying the event, it is sure to be an Episcopal staple for years to come.
Congratulations to Tiffany and the entire Middle School division on another great Battle of the Books!
Congratulations to the winners:
First place: Team Weaver
Second place: Team Guarisco
Third place: Team Day
A google search of the word “empathy” reveals over a billion results. The term, which means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, has become somewhat of a buzzword. Research by one of Episcopal’s own has shown that the concept is much more than just noise.
Martha Guarisco, a sixth grade English teacher with a love for young adult fiction, didn’t set out to study empathy and how a book can help foster it. It was a passion for a transformative book and being at the right place at the right time that led to a two year study with the results eventually being published in three journals and cited by many others.
In 2014 Martha attended a Youth Adult Literacy Conference where she participated in a break out session on how the Harry Potter series has boosted empathy among young adult readers (Harry Potter is another of Martha’s loves). Afterwards, she approached the guest speaker – Dr. Louise Freeman – to discuss how Martha could replicate empathy research involving a study of the novel “Wonder” by Raquel J. Palacio. That conversation sparked a study that has yielded insightful results.
Dr. Freeman advised Martha on how to measure the students’ empathy in the areas of perspective taking, emotional transport and theory of mind. Martha was amazed to discover that many of the psychological concepts correlated with common educational terms. For example, perspective taking translates to point of view in literature. Psychologists refer to a person’s tendency to transport into a fictional world as the Fantasy Scale. In English class this would be considered the reader’s engagement with the story. The psychological term “sleeper effect”, meaning it takes time for something to happen, might be called deep learning in education. Making these connections helped Martha realize that empathy is taught in the classroom without teachers even realizing it.
For the study, students took part in scenario tests and self-reporting on how a situation made them feel. They also took the eye test in which they were asked to look at someone’s eyes and guess how that person felt at the time. After the initial testing was complete, the students read the book “Wonder”. Martha taught the book as she would any other, including art projects for visualizing aspects of the book and even bringing in school counselor Alicia Kelly to discuss empathy in more detail. Afterwards students repeated the tests to compare the impact.
Martha says the results were exciting. After studying the novel students were shown to have positive changes in regards to perspective taking. This means students were better able to understand someone else’s perspective simply by reading a novel. With such success after the first year Martha conducted the same research a second year with a few changes. She allowed students to choose between Palacio’s “Wonder” and “Crossover” by Kwame Alexander. She also allowed some students to read the novels on an electronic reader while others read traditional books.
The second year results were equally as enlightening. Again the students showed marked increases in perspective taking and thus, empathy. But what Martha found even more interesting was that while both boys and girls were excited to read the books electronically, the results showed their overall comprehension decreased and there was less empathetic growth.
As an English teacher and parent all of this resonates with Martha on several levels. She says the experience confirms the significant responsibility adults have not only in suggesting books for young readers, but also in recommending reading formats. She says the research has certainly made her more cognizant in choosing books for her classroom library. She is sensitive to the fact that every child needs to see a positive reflection of themselves in a book, but that they also need to see a wide range of people different from themselves. Thoughtfully selecting these books allows students to have more intentional conversations about issues such as race, class and gender.
How do we keep this focus on empathy so that it’s not just a passing fad or buzzword? Martha says the English teacher inside her says keep reading! She says exposure to great stories and experiences will create an awareness of the world’s diversity and the variety of perspectives that exist.
Episcopal educators are doing amazing things inside and outside of the classroom. Martha’s research is just one example of the expertise these professionals provide. Check out Martha’s research here.
Looking for additional reads to encourage empathy? Here are a few of Martha’s suggestions:
Numbers were the name of the game recently as Episcopal played host to the Mu Alpha Theta Math Tournament. This year’s tournament was double the size of last year’s with 346 students from 24 schools represented. To grow in size so quickly is a true compliment to the Episcopal Mathletes who organized and planned the entire event.
A math tournament has a game day feel. There is suspense, excitement and enthusiasm as students take individual and team tests in algebra one and two, geometry, precalculus and calculus. Students huddle together in team challenges to work toward the answers with a sense of focus and concentration. Individuals pour over test questions with determination. At the end of the day, trophies are awarded to the top students in each category and everyone celebrates a common love of math.
It is this love of math that equates to unlikely friendships and connections, creating a community for these students. Upper School math teacher Hester Sofranko says one of the best components of being a Mathlete is the camaraderie among teammates and competitors. She says students who wouldn’t normally interact, become close while solving problems together. As is often the case, common ground is found through a shared passion.
“This is a chance to come into their own,” said Sofranko. “Students are able to recognize their own potential.” The Episcopal Mathletes truly lived up to their potential with the recent tournament. The group organized the entire event doing everything from writing the tests to choosing the trophies. Sofranko says the only thing they didn’t do was calculate the competition results. For the second year in a row the event was such a success that the Mathletes were able to donate $500 from the proceeds to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
While the Upper School students were busy making sure such a huge tournament functioned smoothly, the Middle School students were representing Episcopal competitively, with tremendous results.
The results are in!
Membership in Mu Alpha Theta creates a sense of pride for the Mathletes as it is a Mathematics Honor Society requiring students to maintain a 3.0 GPA. In addition, Episcopal Mathletes compete nationally in the American Math Competition with the hopes of qualifying for international level tournaments in the future. All of this can translate into college scholarships and admissions.
It’s a great feeling when you can find your community and celebrate your talents at the same time. For the Mathletes, this happens because of their command of calculations. They truly are a community uKnighted.
Remember back to your first semester exams in college. You may still have been reeling from transitioning to adult life, much less acing that Physics 101 class. You likely spent long hours in the library, the coffee shop or your dorm room pouring over notes and textbooks. In addition to pouring over notes, you likely poured many cups of coffee to accompany the highlighters, calculators and laptops that were strewn about. Today’s college freshmen are discovering that the hustle and bustle of wrapping up those first few months away can certainly be overwhelming and stressful. But soon they’ll peer into their mailbox and find a familiar Knights emblem on a box personally addressed to them.
Similar to an old friend or a well-loved, tattered and worn stuffed animal, a care package from home has the power to calm and comfort. The Episcopal care package tradition stretches back at least twelve years with sixth graders handcrafting items for the previous year’s graduating class.
This year, the Class of 2017 is receiving boxes stuffed with mint wreaths, sock snowmen, homemade cookies, notes from Lower School, snowflake paintings and even a prayer for exam times. There was excitement and joy as the Class of 2024 created these tokens of love this week. Students laughed as they stuffed rice into socks for the snowmen and they squealed as they squeezed the slime into a stress ball for pre-exam tensions. They were also confident that their gifts would be well received and even hopeful that items such as the peppermints inside would help the alumni to study and focus.
These care packages take considerable time and effort to plan, prepare, create and mail, and that time is certainly worth it to remind the recent graduates that they are still a part of the Knights family. Hopefully, each box generates a smile as the college freshmen feel the love and support of the Episcopal school community surrounding them. Whether the packages are received in chilly Cedar Rapids, Iowa; sunny San Luis Obispo, California or even in a purple and gold dorm room closer to home, the message is the same. We wish you well. You make us proud.
We are truly a community uKnighted!