On Thursday, February 21, Episcopal Upper School hosted its 6th annual LAUNCH event, a day created and run by students for students to celebrate learning. The day featured presentations from Thesis and ESTAAR seniors, AP Artists, KnightVision Robotics, and Dance Master Seminar. LAUNCH is 100% student-run, this year with juniors staffing locations and stages, Brenley Rinaudo and Caitlin Davis working behind the scenes on decorations and promotions, Cruz Crawford and Elliot Dugas serving as hosts, Bake Club organizing a cake decorating competition, and many students and teachers performing during LAUNCH Pad. This year’s presentations featured a little bit of everything: topics ranged from nanoscale insects and cognitive dissonance, to interdisciplinary learning and the historiography of Billy the Kid; the Student Center was transformed into the Claire Hook Art Gallery; KnightVision Robotics led an interactive game with their audience; and we all even sang Happy Birthday to Mr. Forti. It was a day that celebrated learning and strengthened connections among one another. Thesis Director Katie Sutcliffe reflects on this year's experience below. Look for LAUNCH student videos in future editions of Knightly News.
On the day before this year’s LAUNCH, a group of Upper School Thesis students stood around the long table in Perkins 106 during lunch eating cake and celebrating Ethan Wax’s 18th birthday. Just one day away from each of them presenting to the entire Upper School, the students could have been somber and still, quiet with worry and anticipation. But instead, the group stood laughing as they each began reciting pieces of each other’s presentations, teasing each other by declaring the lines that had stood out the most over the weeks of preparation and rehearsal. Everyone was in stitches, affectionately validating each other with humor and love. It was just the moment I needed as their teacher. I needed to laugh with them, too, though all of us knew the stakes were still high--that tomorrow our audience deserved to see our very best work.
Last year during this LAUNCH recap article, I talked about the tireless work that goes into these types of presentations that each student faced with relentless practice and perseverance. It made me uncomfortable to think that their audience only saw just one piece, the final piece, of what was a long journey of preparation. And because Episcopal’s mission promotes process and product, valuing the entirety of the learning journey, it bothered me to know that the audience could never really appreciate the failures and struggles and twists and turns each student made as they prepared.
The final product can mask that whole messy story, and this year I also realized that part of that story is the community built, the relationships strengthened, the character developed. And I think every teacher and coach can appreciate this. While final assessments, products and performances are valued greatly, the learning often runs deeper, so much deeper than we see at the end of the unit or test, and students bring their entire experience, not just the final experience, to their future work. As we stood laughing together, the positivity was contagious. I realized that the students’ success might be measured by their performance on LAUNCH but their learning could also be measured by the growth shown, obstacles overcome and camaraderie nurtured.
While sometimes loud and overt in the classroom, what is often more subtle during LAUNCH is how these learning communities support one another in various ways. Madeleine Cope’s gorgeous performance featured five other dancers, many of whom also presented as part of Dance Master Seminar. In that same performance, Thomas Hugenroth produced an original guitar piece for Madeleine’s soundtrack. Then on LAUNCH Day, he hopped from his own presentation in the Blackbox to perform “Down to the River to Pray" during LAUNCH Pad with Concert Choir and back to another round of presentations. Todd McInnis stood in as Billy the Kid for Austin Broussard’s presentation, and Madeleine Cope, tall hair and all, became Marie Antoinette.
Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The information and content may fade from the audience’s mind in the weeks or months following this most recent LAUNCH, but what we hope lingers are feelings of curiosity and inspiration, bravery and joy. My own students will, eventually, forget their talking points and scripts, but I’m certain they will remember the feeling they had when they connected with their audience, when they realized that taking that risk and being vulnerable is okay here. It is safe to be yourself, to share your ideas, and to encourage others to do the same.
Ashley Solomon’s final line of her LAUNCH presentation said: “...nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace feeling loved and cared for.” Each year when LAUNCH ends, what’s left behind are feelings of support and love--the most powerful ways to encourage thriving and learning ambitiously and fearlessly.
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.