College Counselor Jody Kennard is an explorer. How else would you describe a woman from New Jersey who has lived in the jungles of Borneo, worked for Pennsylvania Quakers and learned fundraising tips from a formidable nun who once worked for the CIA?
Jody says she was born knowing that she would leave her New Jersey hometown to attend college away. She is number three of four biological siblings with four additional step-siblings. Early on, Jody had an independent streak and unlike many young siblings who aspire to be like their older siblings, she wanted to do the opposite. Jody’s siblings studied Spanish, so Jody took French. Her siblings went south for college, so Jody went north to the University of Vermont. For good measure, Jody also decided to pursue a double major in French and English, while becoming certified to teach in both subjects, something she says was not common at the time.
Jody attended a private all-girls high school as a teen. By chance, she met Fred Sheldon, who attended the corresponding private all-boys high school, at a joint choir concert. After dating for some time, attending separate universities and being separated while Fred conducted research overseas, the two ultimately married and are still partners in life’s adventures today.
Once her education was complete, Jody began her career fulfilling her dream of becoming a teacher. She taught in public middle schools for several years and loved every minute of it. Thoughts of those first teaching jobs still cause Jody’s face to light up with happiness as she discusses them. However, when Fred began graduate school at Yale University, Jody didn’t immediately find a teaching job in Connecticut. Instead, she took a job as a researcher at Yale Law School. At Yale, as the Secretary of State called daily for the experts in her office, Jody learned just how large the world, once represented on Mrs. Scott’s map, actually is and how knowledge and power are interconnected.
Never one to say no to a new adventure, Jody was happy to join husband Fred in Borneo when he took a leave of absence to conduct research on the birds of Sabah. The two lived in a small, wooden house in the middle of a rice patty for several years. Jody says water buffalo frequented the area near her home and the surroundings were quite primitive. Jody and Fred learned the local language and befriended their native guides. It was an adventure she truly loved.
Back in America, Jody took her first job in fundraising at Yale. She continued fundraising for small colleges across the country as she and Fred moved about for new opportunities. For Jody, each experience was a chance to explore and learn. From Sister Francis de Sales Taggart, the CIA nun, she learned that first impressions aren’t always accurate. After all, Jody says she never would have guessed that this nun had been in North Africa with the Foreign Service during WWII. From interacting with the passionate volunteers and donors at each school, she learned the importance of “working with people that just really care.” Of all the highlights she could share, Jody lights up as she talks about the passion and dedication exhibited by her mission-driven colleagues. She remembers the waves of volunteers who stuffed envelopes or made phone calls because of their belief in the school and their determination to see it succeed. There is admiration and awe in her voice as she describes Sister de Sales’ ability to command attention and inspire donors. There is joy in her expression as she describes her daily phone calls with a passionate older volunteer who couldn’t fathom that others weren’t equally as passionate.
When LSU offered Fred a career opportunity, this Jersey girl’s next adventure began. At this point, Jody and Fred were parents to sons Kenny Sheldon ’07 and Ricky Sheldon ’09. “The only reason we considered coming to Louisiana was because of Episcopal,” says Jody. Episcopal provided the family a welcoming community and Jody joined in, becoming a room mom, grade level rep, lunch room server and annual fund volunteer. In 2005, she joined the Episcopal staff as a fundraiser. Once Kenny began exploring colleges, Jody realized a new passion – helping students find the best college to meet their goals. In 2010, Jody became a full-time college counselor. “That’s been the joy of my life,” she says.
College counseling combines the experiences of Jody’s life into one role. “Even though I’m not teaching I still see these kids every day,” she says. She also gets to help students develop their voice and tell their story through the college essay writing experience. “It’s just so much fun,” she says of the experience that allows her to help students discover who they truly are and what they want to be. Jody enjoys the metamorphosis that occurs when a young freshman appears at her door only to emerge four years later as a confident senior with their dream college chosen. “What really catches me is the uncertainty of it,” she says. “I don’t know where they’re going to apply or get in.”
One certainty is that Jody has had a tremendous impact on her Episcopal colleagues. “Not to be overly dramatic, but the thought of Jody’s absence in the Upper School office is nearly unimaginable,” says Shandi Fazely, who works closely with Jody as a member of the College Counseling team. “Jody’s talent for connecting with students and faculty - all people, really - has inspired my own interactions at times. Jody is fierce and devilishly funny. Her quick wit brings both levity and an endless supply of ideas; and she’ll go to bat, always, for students, friends, ideas, policies, procedures, anything, in which she believes.” Justin Fenske, the director of the College Counseling team, will also greatly miss Jody. “Jody is a trusted ear,” says Justin. “Students put their faith in her and spend hours in her office, but that trust is extended to her colleagues as well. I have spent countless hours talking with Jody as we plan the future of college counseling and discuss individual students. I can’t imagine what it will be like next year without her input.”
It is not just the college counselors who will miss Jody’s presence on campus. “Jody has served as a mentor to me personally and professionally in the years I have known her at Episcopal,” says Michelle Chenevert, Director of Technology. “She is always full of energy and gives attention to detail in everything she does.” Art teacher Kate Trepagnier applauds Jody for her passion and commitment to college counseling and the students she serves. “Jody is able to transform nuanced and complicated problems into a concise strategy that the students grasp and implement,” says Kate. “With her curiosity, humor, and focused energy, Jody is respected by students and faculty.”
Jody enjoys the unknown that comes with the college counseling process and exploring faraway places. She says in life “you make choices and you take risks and if it doesn’t work out, you have to be nimble.” That willingness to try new things and explore new worlds seems a fitting trait for a person charged with helping students chart a new path. While Jody’s path now takes her away from Episcopal, she leaves very much still passionate about her work and the school. Even as this adventure comes to a close, many more await her. Jody and Fred will take off for a stint in Indonesia soon. She will also substitute teach here at Episcopal when she can. No doubt, this explorer will keep charting new territory.
Congratulations, Jody. We wish you well on your next adventure!
Has Jody had an impact on you? Leave her a message in the comments section below.
“Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.”
There was also a favorite high school math teacher who helped Lucy develop a love of numbers and the college English professor who took an interest in her talents. Experiencing the positive influence an educator can have on a young child’s life inspired Lucy to consider a profession involving young people. “I wanted to have that kind of impact,” she says. Speak to members of the Episcopal community and there is no question that she has.
“Lucy has been a great leader and is very well respected, not only in the Middle School division, but also by everyone here on campus,” says Administrative Assistant Dana Heuvel. “Working with Lucy these past 24 years has been great! Lucy is a very caring, understanding, compassionate, dedicated, patient and humble person. These are a few of the many qualities that make people feel so comfortable talking with her and asking her advice. She is wise beyond her years.”
As Lucy looks back on her time at Episcopal, she says she never planned on being an administrator and she credits a series of opportunities with shaping her career trajectory. She looks at these opportunities, and even the challenges along the way, as part of God’s work in her life.
Lucy’s own family and the Episcopal community are forever connected. Both of her sons, Field ’00 and Carter ’05, are Episcopal graduates. Like most parents, Lucy and Bob spent their fair share of time on campus supporting their sons at choir performances, honors programs and school plays. Both Smith boys were active in school life and successful academically. Field played tennis and wowed audiences on the stage as a student thespian; Carter loved football, and his vocals stood out as a member of the select choir. Looking back at photos of the family together, you immediately feel the joy and pride felt by Lucy and Bob. Lucy counts having her sons attend Episcopal while she worked on campus as one of those gifts from God. She says she was fortunate to continue that joy when Carter joined her on campus as the Episcopal Choir Director. “It was a blessing to work with my son,” says Lucy of the experience. Lucy is proud of the men that Field and Carter have become. Field, a gastroenterologist, has three children, Hayden, Linus and Maeve. In another Episcopal twist, Field’s wife, Erin (Hayden), is also an Episcopal graduate. Carter, who served as Episcopal’s Choir Director for five years, moved on to Michigan State this past fall in pursuit of a doctorate in musical arts.
Lucy’s family extends to students, faculty and staff. While students may not remember every detail of every Middle School lesson, they will certainly remember how Lucy made them feel.
“Mrs. Smith is an amazing role model to all of us here at Episcopal,” says seventh grade Class Vice President, John Luke Boagni. “She is kind, sweet, and a very great leader. She works very hard on all of our activities and to make sure the Episcopal Middle School is the best it can be.”
“Mrs. Smith is very impartial and respectful of all students,” says eighth grade Class President Carter McLean. “She is a very kind person and serves as a great leader for Middle School. I also like how Mrs. Smith recognizes and supports extracurriculars.”
As an administrator, Lucy leads by example. Middle School Counselor Alicia Kelly says Lucy never asks anyone to do anything she would not do herself. “Lucy has been the rock for our Middle School,” says Alicia. “She’s always dependable, reliable, compassionate and supportive. I respect her dedication and commitment.” Just one example of Lucy’s servant leadership is duty assignments. When there was an extra time slot to fill, Lucy simply assigned herself twice. In addition to her role as administrator, Lucy also has an advisory group and has always taught sixth grade religion as a way to get to know each student who enters Middle School.
“Empathy and good listening skills are extremely valuable for administrators, especially this age,” says Lucy. To encourage students to become more empathetic, Lucy and her team implemented a Middle School focus on social/emotional learning. Peer Leaders are empowered to recognize the kindness of their classmates, teachers are trained to support students who are struggling and even grade-level trips are opportunities for personal growth. All of this reflects Lucy’s own strength and skill in extending compassion and comfort to others.
In addition to her interpersonal strengths, Lucy also has a remarkable ability to be consistent and flexible. Over the course of her 26 years as Middle School Division Head, the world has certainly transformed. Students are now bringing iPads to class. There are social pressures 24 hours a day. Even with these new challenges and the demands of managing an entire division, Lucy remains steadfast in her focus on student development. Lucy’s ability to connect with others and bring out the best in them, will serve her well as she looks to the transformation ahead in her own life.
Connection. Community. Family. Faith. These are all important components of Lucy’s life. Lucy steps away from her role at Episcopal with hope for more time to volunteer, spend time with family and pursue passions including writing and traveling. There is also a sense of hesitation as she makes such a tremendous adjustment. For so long, she has dedicated her life to serving students and the Episcopal community. Along the way, she has influenced the lives of generations. That influence will continue to resonate and inspire for years to come.
Has Lucy had a positive impact on your life? Leave her a message below in the comment section.
Enter Upper School art teacher Kate Trepagnier’s studio classroom and there is much to take in. Paint supplies with varying degrees of splatter cover much of the space as a testament to the creative work that goes on inside. As you might expect there are images from the likes of Degas, Modigliani and Dürer adorning the walls. But unexpectedly there are little skeletons, plastic flowers and even a rusted bicycle hanging from the ceiling. Books with titles such as How Artists See Play, How Artists See Animals and How Artists See the Elements are stacked on work tables beneath student assignments. The space is comfortable, cozy and in a state of organized disarray. Kate is no stranger to disarray, having faced the flood of 2016 that ravaged her home, but not her spirit. While the experience was a challenge, she values the new perspectives she gained as a result of overcoming such adversity.
Trepagnier appreciates and celebrates the unique perspectives from which we all see the world. Ms. Kate, as her students affectionately call her, is a small, red-haired, bespectacled woman who imagines herself as a guide for young artists. The items on display in her classroom are not there by accident or convenience. Each piece is there to inspire students and to help them see the everyday objects from a different angle or viewpoint. Kate feels her purpose as an educator is helping students view the world differently by accessing their imagination and discovering who they truly are. Thanks to her innate ability to read people she connects with students in a way that makes this possible with a genuine ease.
Most teachers will tell you that the profession requires psychology as much as classroom management and field expertise. Kate’s intuition has long been her guide. Sometimes she can discern a students’ feelings by reading their brush strokes and other times it’s the look in their eyes or simply the words that they share. However she takes in the information, there is acceptance and encouragement. She knows what students need, whether it’s a quiet corner to think, a gentle nudge to revamp a draft or a witty retort regarding a late assignment.
The art of living your life has a lot to do with getting over loss. The less the past haunts you, the better.
She would lie in her yard watching the beauty of the landscape while her sister described her as “pale as death”. Eventually Kate healed physically and years later, someone gifted her with a set of paints. The explosion and joy of color and painting returned to Kate quickly as she once again wielded a brush. “No one will ever take this away from me again,” she says. And they haven’t. Kate commuted across New Orleans as a young girl in order to attend the art school that would best cultivate her gift. At university, she encountered professors who attempted to “crack” their students with tough assignments and even tougher mannerisms. While others buckled under the pressure, Kate was steadfast, earning top marks for the art in which she was confident.
Kate is not bitter. In fact, she says bitterness is not an option and would stand in the way of her creativity. She says most of her time is spent imagining her next creation. “There’s a painting yet to be made that has never been made before,” she says. This passion for art and the wisdom that comes from overcoming adversity are what Kate has passed on to Episcopal students for years and they are grateful for it.
“Ms. Kate showed me that art is about expressing yourself, not comparing yourself to other people,” says senior Alex Harrison. “She’s a great teacher who cares about all of her students.”
“I took a break from art for a while, but my freshman year I took a class with Ms. Kate and she helped me love it again,” says sophomore Katie Knight. “She guides people so they can express themselves in their art and pushes us to explore our abilities so we can find something we love to do. She was absolutely amazing to have as my teacher, and her guidance will stick with me for a long time.”
Kate imparts her artistic insight to Upper School students as they draw with colored pencils or paint with twigs and ink. In a world where image and perception seem so important with social media and constant connection, Kate knows exactly who she is and remains true to that identity. Through art instruction she attempts to help students access their creative side in hopes that they will also learn more about themselves. She empowers students. “I preach to kids to make mistakes,” she says. “There is no right answer.”
Kate Trepagnier is equal parts fierce and gentle. As she instructs students on how to make monotype prints of their original drawings, she is reverent with their works. She guides them on how to tear a page from a book at just the right angle to avoid destroying their composition or how to tape a piece to a mat with just the right amount of adhesive to avoid disaster when the mat is removed. Her descriptions are vivid, reflecting a creative, playful mind. “Pinch it like a crawfish,” she advises one student as he lifts a wet print paper. “Now hold it up and let it cry,” she says as the painting releases the excess water into a catch basin. Even her description of the donuts she’s brought to share – “sugar on cold fat” – elicits imagery and emotion.
Kate sees the world in color. Hues found in the hardwood forests near her home inspire her to create vibrant, captivating, unconventional landscapes. “My art is a way that I get to play with color,” she says. When Kate is painting, she is swept up in the energy and imagery of the colors. She says painting is a way to share energies, to access ancient ancestors and to celebrate the humanity of life on planet earth. As she guides students through a journey of discovery, she hopes to help them find themselves. “If they can access their humanity, they are kind and that’s what we need to give to others,” she says.
Over the course of her career, Kate has given much to the world through her use of color and energy. The labors of her love have been showcased in museums and galleries, including Albemarle headquarters in Houston, Chevron headquarters in Covington and Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center. Through determination, talent and passion she has made a life doing what she loves while guiding others to do the same.
Similar to how she faced the flood without fear, Kate now accepts and embraces the unknown of retirement. This passionate painter will continue to pursue that painting that has never been made before as she shows us how she sees the world. The rest is yet to be determined. “I’ve always had a clear goal and I don’t now. It’s unfolding,” she says.
Congratulations to the 2018-2019 Newton Distinguished Faculty Award recipients!
Each year, Episcopal awards the Newton Distinguished Faculty Awards to three faculty members in recognition of their positive impact on students. This year’s recipients were recognized at a reception in which the award founders, Patty and Carl Newton and their daughter Nicole ’13, were present. Head of School Hugh McIntosh, members of the school’s Administrative Council and past award recipients were also in attendance.
Patty and Carl Newton established the Newton Distinguished Faculty Awards six years ago because of their belief that excellent teachers make a difference in the lives of students. Each year, three Newton Distinguished Faculty recipients are selected and awarded a stipend for professional development opportunities of their choice.
Read more about this year’s recipients below.
Past Recipients Include:
said, “Well, I guess we better get you home to a piano.” Taranto, who will retire at the end of this year--his thirtieth at Episcopal--was on the faculty when he began writing Evangeline, his first of five musicals. A touring company had visited the Lower School and acted out the Acadian diaspora when Taranto was taken with the story, by the history. “Imagine these people being kicked out and families being separated,” he says. With theater, Taranto explains, it is about the narrative, of course, and the Acadian expulsion, written about by many, including Longfellow, is a compelling story. Musical theater takes storytelling a step further, though, weaving in song strategically where dialogue alone might fall flat. Taranto started to craft the story in his mind and write the music that would move the narrative along, eventually collaborating with Jamie Wax and workshopping the pieces right here at Episcopal.
Evangeline’s run at Episcopal is a very public and celebratory way to mark the end of a full teaching career. But, as any teacher knows, there are days--most days--that lack any sort of fanfare or applause. “What do you think, trumpets? B-flat? Still some wrong notes in there,” Taranto says from his podium at the front of the band. His own trumpet is perched on a stand beside him at the ready just in case he needs to demonstrate a sequence. He moves on to the woodwinds, then percussion. Section by section he gives individualized feedback before assembling the entire 50+ person band. Taranto may physically be at the front of the ensemble and standing atop a platform, but this is no hierarchy. This is collaborative learning in the purest sense. This is a community.
It is easy to see how intrinsically “student-driven” arts education is. While an instructor can critique and provide direct instruction, the student simply has to struggle and fail with persistence on their own in order to grow. Taranto offers compassionate critique to his students and empowers each of them toward owning their progress.
And he acknowledges the guts it takes to perform, especially as a beginner. “There is no hiding. There is no third string, no benching,” he says. “Third trombone is as important as first.” A beginner who is struggling may want to shrink away, but Taranto assures his students that the struggle is part of the process--that every musician has been there.
The band room is a revolving door of students who want to practice or collaborate on their own time during the school day. “It is gratifying for me when kids come in and work out tunes and play together just for fun,” he says. “I can hear my own influence on them, and they don’t need me. They work it out on their own.”
Taranto, like all Episcopal Arts faculty, is a true teaching-artist. He’s an accomplished trumpet player and composer and enjoys playing in his own 70s funk horn band around town called Hai Karate. He has been a music minister at his church for over 40 years and he directs the faculty band.
Research supports arts integration as part of a full academic experience. There are formal studies, to be sure, that can attest to the super cool neurological stuff at work when a child listens to or plays music. But it’s hard to ignore what simple observation reveals, too, and the palpable energy-change from the beginning of class to the end. “They come to life and are pepped up,” Taranto explains. I feel it too. The Upper School band rehearsal I sat in on is still weeks away from the final performance. There are mistakes, false starts, wonky intonations. But the collective struggle and the collective effervescence is inspiring. Taranto says now that when he looks at the pieces he’d chosen for the Upper School band this semester, he realizes that he’s challenging his students more than he ever has, that he hasn’t selected so many tough pieces in one run. Though he adds, “They are rising to it.”
Evangeline, born and workshopped right here at Episcopal, will mark Taranto’s retirement. He says he has been enjoying this year more than ever, that each day is simply a lot of fun. “I can’t imagine a better way to finish a career.”
Don’t miss the chance to see Taranto and the Wind Ensemble and Middle School and Upper School Concert bands perform their final concert of the school year on Wednesday, April 25th at 7 pm on the main stage. Admission is free.
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 have practical implications for understanding and addressing real world challenges.
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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