Madeleine Cope, Senior Thesis Student and Dancer, compels us to get out from behind our desks and utilize movement in our learning experiences.
What does dance mean to us? Is it an art form, utilized for its expression and creativity? Is it an athletic form that can lead dancers down an elitist path as we see in reality competition shows? Or, is it an enjoyable activity pursued by people all around the country for sheer pleasure and enjoyment? Whether we know it or not, we witness dance more often than we think. From seeing it on TV, on the VPAC mainstage , or even at social events, we can all admit that dance is a platform for expression that has been an element of life for as long as we have known. Although we have seen dance via different mediums for ages, it seems as though we haven’t utilized dance for what all it can do for us. Recent research has shown that dance can have meaningful benefits outside of places like a stage or TV screen; in fact, it can be utilized in our daily lives during a school day for our academic success.
Cognitive psychology teaches us that to create long-term memories, we have to make our material and ideas personally meaningful to us. This is accomplished by associating knowledge with other concepts or activities we have experienced. Jane Bonbright, a researcher for the National Dance Education Organization, notes that retention can also be facilitated and catalyzed by incorporating more areas of the brain in the initial encoding process for establishing long-term memories. Because dance can combine all of these psychological concepts and provide as an active and engaging learning system for children, it has the ability to be a great device for not only teaching children of young ages but for establishing well-suited academic habits in its students. Although it may seem a bit hasty, or even a bit radical, we should start considering dance as a way to facilitate brain development and the creation of higher retention rates among young learners.
In Jamie Steele’s research study for the Journal of Dance Education, she focused on the academic success of a fifth-grade class learning about different means of energy through dance. Steele not only found that the students left the class with greater communication skills from the group assignment but the students were able to, “...explain (1) visually through diagrams, (2) kinesthetically through dances, (3) verbally through explanation, and (4) manually through a [hands on project]." In this sense, Steele discovered what researchers like Bonright have recently uncovered: that dance can combine many of the essential skills needed by modern young students to succeed, while also being able to allow children to learn via an active format that enables the brain to facilitate the creation of long-term memory.
Needless to say, dance has some untapped benefits for young learners that most of us did not even realize. Knowing this, we must question: why haven’t all schools utilized dance education or other active learning methods like it so that students may reap its benefits? While traditional learning methods are often effective, I argue that experimenting with the use of active learning systems, like dance, may allow students to reach an untapped potential that will enable them to have better academic success. As Dr. Adrienne Sansom writes, “[Dance] is a modality [that] helps us gain knowledge through the body and grasp the essence of learning from within, connecting to ourselves in the deepest, most direct ways.” If we take Dr. Sansom’s sentiment and learn to apply it to an upcoming generation of learners, not only will they be able to make deep connections to their content, but they may be able to see inward and discover the value of meaningful learning.
Madeleine Cope has been a student at Episcopal since Pre-K and is currently a high school senior. In addition to her involvement with the Honors Thesis program, Madeleine participates in Episcopal’s Dance Ensemble, acts as Co-Choreographer for Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions, participates in Episcopal theatre productions, and is a Math Tutor for Episcopal’s Math Center. Her thesis revolves around the concept of utilizing new education methods, especially those involving dance education and active learning environments.
Senior Thesis Student and Oboist, Lauren Smith, shares ideas from her thesis, arguing for more inclusive and diverse classical arts, which would allow all children to see themselves represented on the stage.
Music has the ability to touch the souls of individuals and move the masses. It has been at the center of social revolutions, and its captivating nature has withstood the test of time. We are fortunate here at Episcopal to have access to many art forms and opportunities. It was here where I first became a musician, picked up an instrument, and had the opportunity to join a musical ensemble.
A particular genre that has truly revolutionized almost all music that we hear today is classical music. Without it, the world would be quite a dull place. “Classical music” is a broad and insufficient term used to describe a plethora of music types, and sometimes we tend to forget that. Its elements exist in your favorite songs and movies, and surprisingly, it even played a tremendous role in the innovation of hip-hop and pop music.
The “orchestra hit” is one of the most used samples in pop and hip-hop music. Its sound takes the form of a musical bang that draws the audience in and helps drive the song’s beat. The orchestra hit was originally sampled in the early 1980s by Peter Vogel, the same person that created one of the first sampling and sequencing synthesizers in the mid-1970s. This sample was from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird, which was originally scored in 1910. The particular moment in Firebird that the orchestra hit was sampled from was at the beginning of a scene called “Danse Infernale du Roi Kastchei.”
Though classical music may be everywhere, when it is performed in its traditional essence, it is quite exclusive. The full glory and splendor of classical music is not available for everyone to enjoy freely. There are a plethora of reasons supporting why classical music is indefinitely reserved for people of a certain demographic, but the stigmas attached to the music type as well as socioeconomic, historical, and psychological factors all play a role in why this art form is still so rooted in a traditionalistic mindset, despite the progressiveness of other art forms.
People love to have role models, especially when they look like us. Where the problem lies in classical music is that there are not enough role models for black and brown artists. Yes, there are some, but the amount is miniscule. In solely American orchestras as of 2016, less than 1.8% of participants were black and less than 2.5% were Hispanic. That amount is even less for ethnic participants when assessed on a global scale, especially considering that classical music, as most recognize it, is originally from the Eastern Hemisphere of the world, particularly Europe, although it has rhythmic and percussive influences as well as modal influences from Africa and Asia.
When I was much younger, I loved to watch performances of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s leading orchestras. The performances I watched on YouTube most definitely contributed to my ever-growing love for classical music. As much as I looked up to each and every performer, particularly the oboists and the conductors, I always found it difficult to truly see myself playing among them, let alone conducting the musicians, as an adult. I felt so distanced from the classical musicians that passionately played their instruments on my computer screen.
Yes, it was and is a dream of mine, but I never saw anyone else that looked like me to demonstrate that it was a legitimate possibility.
Classical music is expensive. Buying instruments (many of which cost thousands of dollars), the materials needed to play (e.g., reeds, ligatures, tools), and paying for lessons are some examples of the tedious expenses required to be considered as a classical instrumentalist. For musicians coming from underserved communities, which are oftentimes densely populated by people of color, receiving a musical education of the same caliber of their mostly white counterparts is especially difficult due to the prominent socioeconomic disadvantages.
As human beings, we all have preferences, whether implicit or explicit. When it comes to viewing performers on a stage, due to general social psychology that has been influenced and molded by history and racist justifications, if a ballet or symphony is being performed, the performers are expected to be white. So much so that the very principles of ballet performance are centered around identicality and the reference is a white-skinned, fairy-like performer. Even in symphonic performances, visual aesthetic preferences may lead people to expect a stage composed of similar looking people due to the art forms’ emphasis on symmetry and synchronization.
Diversifying the arts, specifically classical music is essential to its growth and ultimately its survival. The traditional aura surrounding classical music as it relates to what type of people are the dominant performers and observers is counterintuitive to the definition of art. Art is a “diverse” range of creative activities, but in classical art that is still performed today, the diversity element is inadequate. Diversifying classical music does not necessarily mean contemporizing the music itself, but rather taking measures to make it more inclusive for all individuals, especially because it is such a powerful medium of expression that can be life-changing for anybody no matter their skin color.
Lauren Smith has been an Episcopal student since Kindergarten, and she is currently a high school senior. She is a member of the Honors Thesis Program, and her thesis addresses the lack of representation in classical art forms, specifically in classical music and ballet, and how in order for the arts to progress, diversity is a necessity. Lauren is an avid participant in the arts. She is in Episcopal’s Wind Ensemble, Concert Band, Jazz Band, the Louisiana Youth Orchestra, and a variety of other ensembles. Lauren is also an Episcopal athlete who has participated in numerous sports over the years, and she plays multiple other instruments aside from the oboe, including the piano, saxophone, and clarinet.
Episcopal student artists are sharing the joy of the season with song, dance and music. Here's a look at recent festivities on campus and throughout the Baton Rouge community.
Photos provided by Episcopal senior Mason LaFerney.
Beyond Woodland Ridge
Congratulations to Episcopal students who are sharing their art with the Greater Baton Rouge community.
A frequent topic for both students and educators is the significance and purpose of one's time in school and the impact education will have later on in life. Teachers often remind us of the benefits of a well-rounded education and how no learning opportunity should be wasted. While the benefits of learning subjects that may or may not be used in one's future career varies from student to student, the impacts of subverting the learning process for the sake of ease have significant consequences. Unfortunately, students might find themselves tempted to cheat as a result of not seeing the value in their education, and the rate at which students cheat on average around the country can be disheartening.
Academic dishonesty can occur when students fail to see inherent value in their educational process and when students have a less sophisticated or developed moral compass. The good news is that schools can foster this moral development and encourage intrinsic motivation every single day, and this happens here at Episcopal.
Scholars Christopher Qualls, Lafe Figgars and Danette Gibbs found that as many as eight in ten college students self-report cheating, according to their paper in The College Student Journal. Liora Schmelkin, a professor at Hofstra University, has conducted research indicating that around seventy percent of high school students cheat. Most shocking of all these statistics comes from a professor of medicine at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. Taradi found through numerous surveys that a whopping ninety-seven percent of those medical students surveyed have cheated during medical school. Students who will go on to hold people's lives in their hands and even those educated at the most selective universities can shortchange their education. Further, the negative impacts of people in important careers who cut corners don't start and stop with those in the medical field.
Similarly, business schools are sometimes plagued by a lack of academic integrity. Assistant professor of business at William Woods University, Stephen Forsha, has not only found that business schools have high rates of academically dishonest students but also a set of students who tolerate academic dishonesty more than others at different institutions. In recent years, insider trading scandals have shaken the business world and have been the catalyst for large amounts of public discourse on corruption from major companies. These scandals have also cost innocent people millions and resulted in huge numbers of lost jobs. Many corrupt corporate executives behind these scandals attended prestigious undergraduate and graduate schools with a focus in business. Many have another thing in common that makes academic dishonesty a very important issue.
The biggest reason students are academically dishonest is that they lack fully-developed moral development. Moral development is a psychological theory founded by late psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, which quantifies the levels of moral reasoning that guide a person’s actions. The lower levels of moral reasoning relate to self-interest and are (supposed to be) mostly exhibited by younger children. The intermediate level has to do with social conformity, and most teens function at this level (ideally). Fully functioning, well-developed adults are supposed to function at the highest level, which has to do with principles and ethics that do not sway in the face of societal pressure. Kohlberg’s theory was made with the assumption that most people function at a level of moral development that is appropriate for their age, but in real life this isn’t always true. This is where the problem with academic dishonesty becomes obvious. It has been found by the previously mentioned Stephen Forsha that business students display levels of moral development commonly displayed by young children and make arguments relating to ethics that are directly related to their own self-interest. Putting people with the same amount of moral development as children in positions of massive power and wealth is bound to lead to all sorts of problems, and of course it has with all of the previously mentioned examples of business scandals.
But, this does not have to be reality. Lynn Aaron and Catherine Roche, two academics published in the Journal of Educational Technology Systems, have found that academic dishonesty rates have risen tremendously from 1988 to 2008. This coincides with schools becoming more focused on performance and less focused on ensuring students are good citizens and human beings. Around 1988, schools stopped making character education mandatory, and academic dishonesty rates rose as a result. If the world wants to make sure students value being a good person and approach their lives with the same ethical attitudes across all of their endeavors, then schools need to return to focus on having conversations about ethics.
When all my research was said and done, I reflected on my time at Episcopal and realized several things. The first was about how lucky I was to be a member of the Episcopal community, and how much our school truly cared about its community. This included the honor code and our school’s mission to make students become good people who go on to lead purposeful lives. It made me feel lucky to be so involved in a true preparatory school: one that is not only concerned with producing good students and workers but good people as well. Episcopal has achieved this goal in every avenue I’ve witnessed. This truly hit me when members of the honor council at Washington and Lee University came to discuss our school’s honor system with us, and our entire discussion group revolved around trying to make our school’s system of integrity better. It became clear that we have succeeded in our mission and that Episcopal helps encourage students who are willing to speak about things they thought were wrong and try to make what they were passionate about better.
Ben Levine is a senior at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, and has attended the school since the 4th grade. He was inspired to join Thesis for the opportunity to hone his writing and speaking skills, and also to share something that excites him with other people. Outside of school, he has been an active member of a year round swim team and was runner up at the state meet his junior year of high school.
“You’re a Facebook famous puppy,” my family friend said in an excited, smiling tone as she reached out to pet my dog. This was the first reaction when Bailey walked in to a meeting I was attending.
My dad’s Facebook profile overflows with pictures of a short, long haired and tan dog with white spots and the fluffiest white tail you can imagine. Bailey, our flood-rescue dog, has the face of a chihuahua and the body of a papillon. If you examined my dad’s profile page even a little, it would be hard to believe Bailey wasn’t the only member of the Solomon family. There is no way to really know our family without knowing Bailey. Along with pictures of her sitting on his office chair or posing with pumpkins for fall, you can find pictures of her visiting with her fans: people who love to be visited by this happy pup and request her presence.
Aside from her modeling “career,” Bailey and my dad, Jim Solomon, are a registered therapy dog team through Tiger HATS LSU. In the midst of the Louisiana floods of 2016, this lost dog followed my dad through the streets near a home he was helping to fix. After searching for her home and not having any success, he soon adopted her, and began to realize how even-tempered she was. Having just moved from Newtown, CT, Jim had experienced therapy dogs himself after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and Bailey reminded him of the positive impact they had on him. He wanted to find a way to share her sweetness with others.
In “The Effect of Therapy Dogs on Children in a Learning Environment,” Kimberly Ann Scheckler defines a therapy dog as “a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas.” These dogs are trained and evaluated through many organizations such as Love on a Leash, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, and The Delta Society Pet Partners. Screening and examining of the owner/handler is also performed through these individual groups.
Therapy dogs are used for animal assisted therapy, which means they comfort anyone through petting or just viewing, and they have been found to have many positive benefits. Just a few of these benefits are outlined by Christine Cochran of Roxy Therapy Dogs. In just “15 minutes of petting a dog: blood pressure drops 10%; serotonin rises (relaxation); cortisol decreases (bad mood); dopamine increases (depression fighting); and anxiety is reduced.” There are many physical benefits to visiting with a therapy dog in a short amount of time. Adolescents, and those who parent or work with them, are no strangers to the challenges that can pop up during this critical time in our development. Stress and pressure is inevitable. But, sometimes, more serious obstacles like depression and anxiety can affect an adolescents’ schooling experience.
Helping with obstacles such as these, dogs can also provide a sense of belonging, as Mary Louise O’Brien states in her article “Pets as Counselors.” She notices that dogs will “love you (unconditionally) just the way you are.” There is no need to impress a dog or to feel judged because they have no way to process it. It also becomes easy to trust them, as they are incapable of repeating your information.
To utilize the positive effects of therapy dogs, Tiger HATS facilitates a program in the Baton Rouge community. The organization holds classes to allow dog owners and their pets to learn more about becoming a team through the organization Pet Partners International. The duo must then pass a series of exams to become certified and gain an insurance coverage policy. After this, the teams will be sent out to locations around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to visit locations and bring joy to difficult situations. One of Bailey’s most visited places is the Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, where she gets to cheer up patients who are recovering or families of loved ones in a state of emergency.
After seeing the impact the two made on others, I decided to become a registered therapy dog team with Bailey. I now get to take her to the Parker House, a “Therapeutic Group Home in Louisiana for children ages 3-13 who… have been diagnosed with a severe behavioral disorder or a mental illness,” according to Volunteers of America. I get to introduce her to kids who seek comfort and share funny stories about her to gift them with a moment of peace in the midst of their chaos. In just the two visits I’ve had at the house, I’ve seen the difference therapy dogs make in these children’s lives. Their eyes light up, and they become ecstatic when they get to walk or hug her. Bailey becomes their own piece of joy in the moment, and they become disappointed when she has to leave, but they hold on to the hope that they’ll see her, along with the other dogs who visit, again the next month.
Audrey Hendler, the founder of a therapy dog program in New York City, A Fair Shake for Youth, visits students alongside dogs to teach them about empathy. She found that the middle schoolers she reached out to gained empathy and confidence as they realized the dogs were relating and listening to them. She also noticed that “Having an adult tell them they’ll be back next week and then showing up is a big deal to these kids… [because] adults aren’t always a consistent part of their life.” Not only does this example show the joy dogs can bring, but it can relate to the sense of trust the kids at the Parker House begin to experience.
I began to realize that if registered therapy dogs are this beneficial, why don’t we see them utilized more often and in different environments? I think they should become a new norm. I’d like to see them more often roaming hallways in schools or even in other environments that may cause stress, such as an airport or a mall. When looking at schools, it’s important that these places of education are open to trying out new things, and Episcopal has proven this is possible. Bailey has made appearances here at Episcopal for educational purposes and has been welcomed happily by the counseling staff and administration. With clear benefits and insurance fighting against potential drawbacks, there is little to no room left to argue against the implementation of therapy dogs. Just a moment of petting these sweet creatures can bring a great amount of relief, and I’d love to share that with others, as I know the feeling myself.
This idea of therapy dogs being used in schools were first introduced to me after the Sandy Hook tragedy when they helped me and my classmates in the search for comfort. To learn more about this experience that lead to my research, click here.
Ashley Solomon has been a student at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge since her sophomore year and is an Honors Diploma candidate. In addition to her involvement in the Thesis program, she participates in cross country, Mock Trial, and is the community service coordinator for the National Honors Society. Her thesis explores the importance of mental health in adolescents and the effects of implementing therapy dogs in a school setting.
Abby is six and dressed head to toe in pink with light-up glitter Sketchers, still fresh with shoe store fragrance, on her feet for her first day of first grade. Finally, she is allowed to walk herself to the bathroom and eat lunch with the big kids in the cafeteria. In class, Abby’s teacher hands each student two primary colored folders: either blue, yellow, or red. The primary colors are completely separate and unique; they cannot be blended with anything to make the others. This idea of separation also carries into the materials inside the two folders. The first folder is for math, learning how to handle the combination of numbers, and the second is for English, the first steps towards understanding words, then sentences, and then whole stories and chapter books.
This separation of disciplines from a very young age is not only common but relatively standard in schools across the country. Clearly this system works: children go in, learn one subject, learn another, go home, read, do a few math problems, and repeat the next day. However, this system leaves little room for the messiness of learning, for the neon pinks and lime greens, for the experiences that cannot be neatly cataloged but shape the course of children’s development.
Luckily, our Lower School program at Episcopal celebrates this “messiness of learning.” You need not look too far to see Pre-K tending to their gardens while learning about butterfly migration to Mexico, all while dancing in rain puddles and creating imaginary worlds and vivid stories with their friends. This sort of holistic approach to learning comes naturally to the smallest of learners and should be embraced as they continue to grow and develop.
At home, this messiness manifests when Abby is baking apple pie with her grandmother, throwing a ball with her little sister, practicing the piano, coloring on the walls of her room, or digging for dinosaur bones in her backyard. Abby is learning and her brain is following suit.
These sorts of experiences, at home or at school, show the world functioning in interdisciplinary ways. When you bake you have to keep sight of a long term goal while following sometimes tedious instructions and understanding the chemistry of mixed ingredients. When you throw a ball you have to think about the angle of your arm so it does not fly straight into the ground, and when you play the piano you have to be able to read the music and hit the right notes simultaneously. Just as they are in life, subjects in school are innately connected and these connections between different academic disciplines in everyday life make the idea of interdisciplinary learning in the classroom seem less daunting or radical.
Here at Episcopal, students like Abby practice this interdisciplinary style of thought everyday. Through project based learning, students are exposed to real world situations and are asked to engage with their environments. On the Coach Dupe trail, in the art room, and while programming robots: Episcopal encourages students to explore new ideas that wind like rabbit holes into lands of imagination.
Specifically, music and math are two subjects that, when purposefully connected, fit this philosophy quite nicely. As shown in an experiment by Johannes Sarnthein, listening to music for ten minutes can greatly increase brain activation in the prefrontal cortex, which is located at the very front of the brain. The cortex houses what are called executive functioning skills, which include spatial temporal reasoning, planning, decision making, motivation, and goal setting. Students who excel in math are typically adept in processes like pattern recognition, which not only relies on executive functioning skills, but is also present in music comprehension.
This innate connection is an example of the reinforcement of skills in education. The way the brain works on a basic level is that when we learn something and have it reinforced in some way, it will be processed to form neural pathways within the brain. All of these pathways add up to create a network of constantly growing and changing knowledge.
As stated in "The Optimum Context for Learning; Drawing on Neuroscience to Inform Best Practice in the Classroom" by Bettina Hohnen and Tara Murphy, “an immature brain is not necessarily one with fewer neurons; rather, it is one with fewer connections between neurons.” Even though our brains stop growing after the age of five, according to Daniel Pink, as we grow the number of connections in our brains dwarfs the number of neurons one million times over. Just as everyone eventually stops getting taller without having experienced everything or knowing everything there is to know, our brains stop getting bigger without ceasing to learn and further develop.
For current parents, a dramatic shift in the education system during your child’s time in school is unlikely, but there are ways to nurture the messiness of learning at home to augment the more traditional practices of the classroom. The next time you’re baking a cake together or rearranging the furniture in the living room, help your child see the many different academic disciplines that are intersecting. Encouraging kids to try new activities and experience new things, particularly ones that might be scary or uncomfortable at first, can help impart in kids a drive and love of learning that is applicable all through school and will help them learn and develop necessary skills throughout their lives.
Hallie Sternberg has attended Episcopal since Kindergarten. She will graduate with Honors in May, 2019. In addition to her involvement with the Thesis program, Hallie is an avid participant in the Episcopal theatre and choir programs, a member of National Honors Society, Co-Editor in Chief of Troubadour (Episcopal’s Literary Magazine), a Writing Fellow, Math Tutor, and President of the French Club. Hallie was invited to present on a panel at the Popular Culture Association Conference this spring. After graduation, Hallie hopes to go on to major in Cognitive Science.
thesis focuses on the troubling trends of social isolation and loneliness, teaches us that though we’re more connected than ever through digital means, many of us will suffer as we lose meaningful personal interactions and dynamics in an ever-evolving 21st century.
So, in Thesis, students lean in towards experiences and activities that bind them to one another so that in their bravery and vulnerability, they feel emboldened to take risks, project their voices and open the door for significant and authentic discovery. And our students believe that their discoveries should be shared so that their learning doesn’t merely exist within the walls of our classroom.
More concretely speaking, the Thesis Program is made up of curious and motivated students, 22 juniors and 20 seniors, who wish to pursue independent projects over the span of two years. The junior year Seminar is dedicated to discussion-based classroom experiences that build toward project-based outcomes. The students unpack significant issues relevant to today’s world and are encouraged to “complicate” these issues further and notice the intersections between perspectives. They practice critical thinking by never settling for the simplest, most black and white explanations. These learning experiences eventually lead to the selection of a research topic, which marries their passions with their curiosities. Many months of investigation, drafting, organizing, and discussing ushers in the senior year Thesis course in which students prepare to share their discoveries with their community.
So, to that end, this week three students will share pieces relating to their Thesis projects as a way to initiate conversation.
Finally, save the date for LAUNCH 2019 where you will hear from all the Thesis seniors and others who are interested in sharing their perspectives and projects. February 22 will be a day to celebrate learning and discovery by projecting student voices across campus. For now, I invite you to read these student writers and honor the intention behind their work, which is to prompt discussion, connection, and engagement with one another.
Our Featured Presenters
Student headshots taken by Mason LeFerney
Katie Sutcliffe joined Episcopal in 2011 and currently directs the Thesis Program and teaches Senior English. She is also the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie holds a Bachelor of Arts in English (Writing) from DePauw University, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Pittsburgh and was a 2005 Teach For America corps member. She has taught English and writing courses for middle and high school students, gifted students and even adults through Osher Lifelong Learning at Pitt. 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.
It is 11:00 pm in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I am surrounded by around fifty girls I have never met in my life who are from all around the state. We sit in the hot, humid Louisiana air listening to our counselors tell us what tasks await us for day two of the program. Surrounded by unfamiliarity and fear of what this next week holds for me, I finally see a familiar face. We meet our “Parish Counselor” who just so happens to be Episcopal Alumni Mary Beth Barksdale (2016 graduate and all around rock star). I think to myself, “Thank goodness! Someone to tell me what the chaos of the week has in store for me.” Alas, the first words I hear out of her mouth are, “Okay everyone, tomorrow you will be running for one of the offices in your booklet. Write a speech tonight, and be prepared to give it in front of your Parish girls tomorrow.”
Not only was this a bit of a shock to hear on my first night at Louisiana Girls State, but the task in and of itself seemed daunting. I have never been the person with the biggest voice in the room; in fact, I’ve never been the one with the biggest stature either. At a mere five feet, I don’t exactly command a room on first glance. I often find myself in a state of observation, sometimes unable to share my thoughts and opinions during debate or discussion due to my fear of being shut down by others. Knowing this, my first night at Girls State was challenging. I found myself sitting in my dorm room with my roommate trying to come up with a speech that would entice my other Parish girls to vote for me. Nevertheless, I suppressed my fears and pushed on writing my speech. The next day, I mustered up the courage to give my speech, and to my surprise, my peers seemed to like it. I ended up getting enough votes to win the office I ran for. As Girls State continued, more tasks and more opportunities presented themselves, including more public speeches. It was tempting to worry about the possibility of failure, but Mary Beth continuously challenged me to see these as chances to take a risk, as our theatre director Paige Gagliano also teaches us during musical rehearsals at Episcopal. At Girls State I didn’t ultimately get elected to the State position as treasurer, but I wasn’t discouraged. I had the support of my sisters, and I felt empowered by all the women that surrounded me during that week. After this experience, I was truly inspired to make change in my school community by reaching out, taking risks, and by seeking mentors to help me along in the process.
Because Louisiana Girls State fostered confidence within me, I have started taking even more healthy risks in my daily life and looking for these same kinds of confident women here at Episcopal to carry on this legacy of inspiration. I now look to people like Christine Chrest, my thesis advisor, dance teacher, and overall confidant here at Episcopal. She, as the powerful and creative genius that she is, challenges me to experiment with new varieties of dance, take on new styles of choreography, and pushes me to make my writing and work the best it possibly can be. She has not only pushed me as an academic and dancer, but as a person in general. I strive to affect others in the way she has inspired me by helping choreograph Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions. Although this job has put me in a position to be a role model for younger students, I am not intimidated by the task as I once would have been. In teaching these students, I hope to have even a fraction of the impact on the cast as my mentors have had on me.
If I have learned anything from these experiences, it is that leadership can take place in the littlest of events. Leadership and empowerment are not always expressed as an enlightening speech on a stage or a call to action made by a public figure on the television. It can come from events that you didn’t even expect would make an impact on you. Therefore, it is because of these experiences and connections with people like Mary Beth Barskdale, Paige Gagliano, Christine Chrest, and various other strong women that I have become a more confident and empowered woman who aspires to make change in my community. I have suppressed my fear of speaking out and being shut down, and have allowed myself to be the strong voice in a room.
Madeleine Cope is a creative Episcopal senior. She is a passionate dancer and a member of the Episcopal Dance Ensemble. She is combining her love of dance with her writing talents as an Honors Thesis student examining the benefits of implementing dance programs at schools. Madeleine is also actively involved in Episcopal theater productions and acts as a co-choreographer for Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions.
Episcopal junior John Honeycutt was selected as a candidate to represent Louisiana at the 2018 Hugh O’Brian Youth World Leadership Congress in Chicago. The Louisiana Senate commended Honeycutt for his selection with Senate Resolution No.18 during the 2018 Third Extraordinary Session. As a sophomore, Honeycutt and fellow Episcopal student Dariah Deskins, were among 140 students selected to participate in the Louisiana Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program. Read below to learn more about what Honeycutt has learned through these experiences.
A Path to Leadership.
My experience at HOBY Louisiana was extraordinary. The people I met, the lessons I learned, and the fun I had made the experience a memorable one. For around 140 students to come together from across the state and all get along and strive for a common goal is breathtaking. All of us wanted everyone to have the best time they could, but most specifically everyone wanted to become a better leader, that is what the experience was meant to do.
The lessons of varied speakers ranged far and wide from how to treat others, how to treat yourself, or simply how to make everyday life easier. For example, in one presentation we learned how to set goals. Not just any goals but achievable, measurable, and smart goals.
In another presentation, we learned how there are three parts to every social reaction.
Along with all of the lessons I learned, I met some amazing people. Many people that I met there I still talk to regularly. In fact, my Faculty Advisor is going to come to watch me run at one of my cross country meets soon. Everyone at HOBY wanted to have a good time; you could feel it in the atmosphere. It was one of the most welcoming things I have ever taken part in. For example, throughout the course of the weekend, we would do these songs where everyone would get up and dance and participate. The first few times may have lacked some participation, but at the end, we all warmed up to the idea and were screaming our hearts out.
Finally, I want to touch on the fun I had. Just meeting all of the other high school students there was amazing. Hanging out with fellow high school sophomores and discussing extremely pressing problems, deep topics, or just general everyday stuff was a blessing. Also, at the end of the last day of HOBY, we had a dance. This was no ordinary dance; most everybody danced and had a fantastic time. No one made it awkward to be yourself. It was a freeing experience.
Lastly, I want to state the main lesson I learned from HOBY. That lesson is to Be Who You Are Where You Are. This quote teaches an important lesson and has lots of meaning in a few words. First, it tells the commonly heard lesson for people to be who they are, but more specifically it states “where you are.” This where tells us two things. First, it tells us to be yourself wherever you are, and secondly, it tells us that it is okay to have a dynamic identity. People act differently around different people. Not everyone has one way that they act. This lesson is one that will stay with me for a long time.
John Honeycutt is an Episcopal junior. John was recognized by the Louisiana State Senate for being selected as a candidate to represent Louisiana at the Hugh O'Brian World Leadership Congress. As a sophomore, John attended the Louisiana Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Program.
Episcopal senior Douglas Robins knows what it is like to make the transition to a new school. Now, after six successful years on campus he has advice for new students to help them become a part of the Episcopal community with ease. Read more from Douglas below.
Dear new friends--
Congratulations on getting your first week under your belt at the E. You’ve met all your teachers, met some new people, and after signing the Honor Code, you are officially a Knight. By this point, you should start to get a better feel for what it is going to be like on campus from here on out. Now I know that just because you have had one week down, you are by no means an expert and I also know that transitioning in can take some time. As someone who had his last first day of high school last week (I know, it still hasn’t set in) after six years at this school, I have some tips to help you navigate that will take you beyond the first week.
#2 Don’t be afraid to try new things
Part of what makes Episcopal so special is all of the diverse extracurricular options that are available. As you walk around campus, you will see this universal enthusiasm that seems to have touched all of the students and everything that they do. In the spirit of transitioning into the community, allow yourself to get swept away by the excitement of trying out some extracurriculars that you may not have had the chance to do elsewhere. Maybe that means joining the Cross Country team, or auditioning for the play, dabbling in slam poetry or crafting with the Pinterest Club. Don’t limit yourself to just one activity, take advantage of being able to try them all and see what sticks. You may not end up loving everything that you try, but don’t sweat it because no one makes you do something you aren’t into. But I promise, that something will stick and it may be the most unlikely thing. Before I came to Episcopal, I never would have dreamed of being on a stage in a play and I didn’t even know what the Student Vestry was, but by trying new things, I felt that passion and made some of my best friends.
Douglas Robins is a senior in his sixth year at Episcopal. He is an engaged member of the Episcopal community as a Writing Fellow, Student Vestry member, President of the National Honors Society and a part of the Honors Thesis program. Douglas also is an active member of the performing arts community and enjoys the flexibility of being able to explore his academic interests and his diverse extracurricular interests all in one school day.