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“You’re going to change starting now.” Claney Duplechin was a sophomore in high school when he received a directive so frank and serious and non-negotiable. It was one of those moments that you catalogue for a lifetime so that you can access it over and over. “You’re going to change starting now.”
Imagine Coach Dupe 50 years ago: sturdy frame, crew cut, same crescent-moon brow. “You look the same!” I say as he hands me a blue scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings from the late 60s and early 70s.
“Why do people always say that?” he asks.
Claney has conjured that moment many times. “I was sitting in Geometry,” he remembers. “Cutting up as usual. I didn’t care about academics. ‘You’re going to change starting now,’ he said to me. And I did.”
When he was a sophomore, Claney was a star in athletics but not in the classroom--he didn’t see any need to be a strong student. His plan was to graduate high school, stay home, farm. But Claney says that vision changed when his Geometry teacher, who was also his football coach, offered an alternative vision. “He knew me better than I knew myself,” he says. So when Coach Aucoin offered this instruction, “You’re going to change starting now,” and when Claney met Phyllis, the future valedictorian of Mamou High School whom he eventually married, everything changed. Claney started to value his coursework and looked ahead to college.
Many of us who choose to work in education have the ongoing opportunity to recall these sorts of pivotal people and moments. The weight of a single interaction or ongoing mentorship from our own past can play on repeat as we try to replicate that connection with our own students. And as the most tenured faculty member at Episcopal, Claney has had 39 years to honor the influence Coach Aucoin had on him.
Coach Dupe’s accolades are no secret in our community or around the state and country for that matter. But even for a gregarious guy, this sort of public recognition makes Claney uncomfortable. The sum of his success adds up like this: 22 consecutive state cross country titles (second best consecutive record in the US), 49 total state titles (30 cross country; 19 track), 18 state coach-of-the-year awards, two national coach-of-the-year awards, one dedicated and named running trail on campus, and countless newspaper clippings that began way back in his athlete-days some 50 years ago.
But, something about this order felt off to Coach Dupe. To him, character and community come before competition. So, he changed it. Good people, acting with discipline and integrity, valuing their teammates, behaving with humility--these must come first. “Good people,” he says, “will do the things that need to be done to condition and become state champs.”
In fact, a year before the motto-change, Coach Dupe’s resolve was challenged. His top runner who would have easily led the team to victory cheated on a test just before the state meet. He was suspended from school temporarily. Claney knew that choosing to bench the student would be hard on the team but says, “I didn’t care if it was the state meet. We had to stand our ground.” The team didn’t win that year. Next season, Claney’s emphasis on character became central to his coaching. “That’s where it started,” he says.
And so from that point forward, the program earned title after title without skipping a beat. “We have no secrets,” he explains. “It’s not about the workouts. I’ll share any workouts with anyone who wants them.” But he notes that when the athletes themselves take ownership of the program, when the senior captains act as assistant coaches--that’s powerful and that’s what sustains a solid program.
Ten years ago, Claney wrote Coach Aucoin a letter thanking him for the impact he had on the trajectory of his life. In the letter, he told him this: “You changed my life. I wouldn’t have gone to college if it weren’t for you. I’m coaching now the way you coached me.” Claney says that even little things Aucoin would do--his mannerisms, the way he presented himself--became material for Claney to study and adopt over the years.
After Claney sent the letter, Aucoin was diagnosed with emphysema and died a year later. Claney made it to the wake and later learned that one of Aucoin’s son’s read part of Claney’s letter during his eulogy.
“You are still coaching through me,” Claney wrote to Aucoin.
For the second most-consistently-winning cross country coach in the country, Claney has every right to swell with pride and rehash every gloriously earned win over the past 22 years. But, he’d really rather not. When we spoke, the swells of pride and gratitude came when Claney described the influence of his coach, when he remembered, fondly, students who’ve inspired him, when he celebrates who those students have become.
“The impact you have on people,” Claney says, “that’s more important than wearing or doing anything fancy, more important than money and wealth. I try to model that.”
Katie Sutcliffe has served in many capacities involving writing and service learning over the last six years at Episcopal. Currently, she directs the Thesis Program, teaching both Seminar juniors and Thesis seniors, and is the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie’s own history involves this blend of service and writing: after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Indiana with an English degree, she moved to the Deep South with Teach For America where she taught middle school English and worked passionately on issues of educational inequity. She later earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh and returned to Baton Rouge where she has continued freelance writing. Katie infuses social justice initiatives into her curricula and seeks to help her students make meaningful connections with those living a different experience within our larger community. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that
The essence of Rebecca Kuhn is this: center stage smoke machine swirl straight out of a Korean pop band; rocker chick in black business casual (sensible yet dramatic); spotlight and finger--same trajectory--gesturing toward something larger, some greater existential meaning, or maybe...Kansas?
Herein lies the American teacher abroad, the “We’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore,” “If It Makes You Happy” Sheryl Crow cover belting, exhibit A: The Extroverted Teacher.
This version of Episcopal’s Social Studies Chair might not seem completely far-fetched. While on a typical day she is not fronting for a Korean-ballad-American-90s pop-cover faculty band, Kuhn plays the role of gregarious, bubbly lead well. But, this sort of confident risk-taking is something that Kuhn had to learn over time and over many miles.
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Kuhn and her husband, Dr. Alan Newton, had spent five years in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, before transferring abroad. Newton was teaching at the Pine Crest School and Kuhn enrolled in a PhD program at Florida Atlantic University. While preparing for her dissertation defense, Kuhn substitute taught at Pine Crest, eventually coming on full time as a History and Journalism teacher. “I volunteered to chaperone a debate competition,” she remembers. And while many adults might find that sort of round-the-clock supervision of and engagement with adolescents to be a challenge, Kuhn found it exhilarating. She realized that she absolutely loved the high school setting. “This is where I’m needed,” she says.
When Kuhn and Newton were approached about a teaching opportunity in Korea, they realized the timing was right to take a risk. “It was chaos when we arrived,” Kuhn notes. The school that hired them was in the process of beginning a school-within-a-school for Korean students interested in pursuing selective colleges in the US after high school graduation. The concept was to emulate a Western boarding school experience, and they started small--just 20 per grade. Kuhn recalls both the optimism and frustration involved in building a school from scratch. In many ways, continuing her work with high schoolers was enormously rewarding. In fact, the infamous Episcopal Tea Club was built upon a similar experience Kuhn had with her students in Korea. What began as a traditional Korean tea ceremony evolved into a slowed-down space for both introspection and spirited dialogue. “Drinking tea is civilized, calming, soothing,” Kuhn says. “Talking about some issues can be tough. Conversations can be fraught.” But bringing tea into the mix created what Kuhn describes as a “meditative experience.” Students worked through complex personal situations: the only son in a family, for instance, felt immense pressure to find the right college, meet his potential, and in his words, “be the family hope.” There, among friends and warm mugs of tea, he wrestled with the complicated intersection of expectations and choice. Students debated ethical issues like corporeal punishment and dissected the post-modern philosophical arguments of Derrida. These are the moments of teaching that Kuhn finds especially inspiring. The concept of “the whole child” (what eventually drew her to Episcopal) is important to Kuhn. Happiness, growth, rest, not “unhappy study robots” as she considers the alternative.
Yet, her time in Korea also revealed a mindset that compromised that mission of caring for the whole person. Her biggest challenges weren’t students who seemed apathetic or shirking their potential. Rather, she worried for the students who sought praise for getting three hours of sleep (better than most nights). She worried for parents who measured success only by acceptance into an Ivy League. Kuhn’s not-in-Kansas-anymore homesickness grew, and her desire to find a school with a personalized student approach became her mission. So, in 2015 after planning and preparing to return to the States, Kuhn made her final purchase, a traditional Korean tea set, and journeyed home.
Dr. Kuhn believes in fun. She believes in adventure and risks and navigating the joyful angst of adolescence with her students. Her interdisciplinary graduate work lends itself well to caring for the intricacies of teenage development. Kuhn merged a passion for social sciences--sociology, government, economics and politics--with religion and film studies and learned the tough work of “writing on the boundaries of the humanities and social sciences.”
And isn’t that what secondary education, in its most idealistic form, can do best? Blur the lines between discrete disciplines to see the interconnectedness between issues? Prepare young people to synthesize concepts from a deep toolbox to problem solve and make the world better?
Dr. Kuhn, qualified to teach at the university level, never felt compelled to pursue a professorship. It is here, in high school, that Kuhn feels most able to promote that interdisciplinary pursuit that inspired her as a student and allowed her to seek understanding of the human condition. It is here that she says fun renews every year with her new 9th grade students, that she realized, as an extrovert, she could “have more insightful conversations with young people, more intellectual stimulation” than she might in another setting.
With a global perspective, Dr. Kuhn says she is intentional with her language. During a lecture while pointing to another continent, Kuhn makes a point to say, “when” not “if” as she helps students consider the places they’ll go, the people they’ll meet. “I build in a narrative that they will act on global mindedness.”
For Dr. Kuhn, home will always be in Kansas. But, for her students she is a study in the sort of self-discovery that happens when you take a risk, grab the mic, and understand that the world is bigger, grander, than you could have ever imagined.
Katie Sutcliffe is beginning her seventh year at Episcopal and has served in many capacities involving writing and service learning. Currently, she directs the Thesis Program, teaching both Seminar juniors and Thesis seniors, and is the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie’s own history involves this blend of service and writing: after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Indiana with an English degree, she moved to the Deep South with Teach For America where she taught middle school English and worked passionately on issues of educational inequity. She later earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh and returned to Baton Rouge where she has continued freelance writing. Katie infuses social justice initiatives into her curricula and seeks to help her students make meaningful connections with those living a different experience within our larger community. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that have practical implications for understanding and addressing real world challenges.
Grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the Courage to change those things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
“Concedeme la Serenidad para aceptar las cosas que no puedo cambiar, el Valor para cambiar las cosas que puedo cambiar y la Sabiduria para conocer la diferencia
Mary Spencer, Dean of Students
The clock on the wall in Mary Spencer’s office spells its numbers in Spanish--uno, dos, tres--a small nod to her background that began with much of her childhood--12 years--in South America. Spencer went on to major in Spanish and began her foray into education as a Spanish teacher. “I even dream in Spanish,” she says.
Spencer’s father eventually became the Episcopal Bishop of Colombia and Ecuador. She explains that this combination of “preacher’s kid” in a missionary family and living abroad has shaped the way she responds to others. “I’ve had people say that my ear, or my heart, or my mind is more in tune to nuance sometimes--that I tend to be a little more empathetic and listen for what people are trying to say, rather than what may be coming out of their mouth.” This empathy was likely also fostered by that early exposure to families living very different socioeconomic and cultural realities.
With an ear for language, Spencer is a listener. She values the connection that can only come from truly hearing someone, but she also quite literally detects subtleties in phonemic language itself. “I can tell if someone was raised in the Andes mountains or on the coast,” she notes. “It’s a part of who I am.”
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Spencer also comes from a strong independent school tradition and background. While she did return soon after college to work as an administrator at her alma mater of Chatham Hall, an Episcopal boarding school in Virginia, she knew it was wise to experience work life outside academics. So, before resuming a career in education, Spencer did temp work which landed her in the home office of a large insurance company in Virginia. Here she installed the “mini-computer” in offices and trained brokers, agents and staff on how to use the computer system. “It gave me a different insight about what parents are juggling outside of a school setting,” she says.
Spencer later met and married her husband, Andy Spencer, Episcopal’s new Director of Advancement, and her career continued at the Virginia Episcopal School. She became the Director of Women’s Life, Spanish teacher and head coach for varsity field hockey and assisted with the basketball team. The school had recently become co-ed, and Spencer worked to make sure all voices were heard equally and that programming was representative of all students. In the midst of all of this, the couple’s children, Sarah Elizabeth (S.E), and George, were born and Spencer says that it was “almost idyllic to raise kids in a boarding school environment.”
The Lovett School eventually recruited Andy, and the family moved to Atlanta, where they remained for nineteen years. It wasn’t long after they settled that Spencer began subbing at Lovett and eventually moved into teaching and administrative roles. Here, she nurtured her approach and philosophy. “There is one ‘d’ in Dean,” she says. “Discipline is only one factor.” Spencer’s prior work with social-emotional learning inspires the majority of the way she approaches her role as Dean of Students. “Students are learning the skills to learn from their mistakes,” she says. She shares that she, herself, is flawed--we all are--and that “making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person.” Spencer sees her role as one that first meets people where they are, one that offers and expects respect, and one that is both consistent and fair. “I’m not good at playing games,” Spencer comments. And while she is known to often use humor in her interactions with students, she finds sarcasm and discipline that puts a child down to be incredibly harmful.
It’s no wonder Spencer leads with empathy. Language research indicates that “Children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others…” (Kinzler). And while Spanish is less and less a part of her daily interactions, Spencer’s ear for language and emphasis on clear communication is at the forefront of how she forges meaningful relationships with students.
“Why was it so easy for me to say yes to Episcopal?” she asks. From the outside looking in, Spencer witnessed a clear sense of community, an honor code that values living with character, and rituals and traditions that reinforce who we’re all striving to be.
Katie Sutcliffe is beginning her seventh year at Episcopal and has served in many capacities involving writing and service learning. Currently, she directs the Thesis Program, teaching both Seminar juniors and Thesis seniors, and is the co-creator of LAUNCH, Episcopal’s annual TEDx-style student-planned and executed showcase of ideas and projects. Katie’s own history involves this blend of service and writing: after graduating from a small liberal arts college in Indiana with an English degree, she moved to the Deep South with Teach For America where she taught middle school English and worked passionately on issues of educational inequity. She later earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh and returned to Baton Rouge where she has continued freelance writing. Katie infuses social justice initiatives into her curricula and seeks to help her students make meaningful connections with those living a different experience within our larger community. She’s passionate about character education and project-based learning, as well as research and writing that