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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! What a wonderful end to a great school year!

Late May brought the usual frenzy of activity: hard-fought athletic contests; spirited class plays; inspiring performances from our fine and performing arts groups; creative exhibitions of student work in programming, science and engineering classes, and the Innovation Lab; a myriad of class trips and experiential learning excursions; final tests, projects, and exams; and of course, emotional graduation programs in all four divisions.

What a thrill it is, each year, to reflect on our students’ progress: their newfound confidence and skill, their surer grasp of who they are and what they want to be, their eagerness to challenge themselves in new ways!

My thanks to all of you, students and parents, faculty and staff, for all you have done to make 2016-17 such a fulfilling year for our students! None of this would be possible without your impassioned efforts on our students’ behalf!

I wish you a restful and relaxing summer, with ample time for family and fun. We all look forward to welcoming you back in August.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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May 26, 2017

Among the many highlights of May have been the Middle School musical, a stirring performance of 13, and the Middle School choral concert. Watching both performances, I experienced, once again, the same welter of emotions that always strikes me on these occasions: a sense of wonder at the courage and self-possession of our students, their willingness to take risks and to reveal themselves on stage, their joy in supporting one another in that risk taking, their pride and sense of accomplishment when weeks of rehearsals culminate in a performance where everything clicks. I marvel, too, at the joy we in the audience feel as we witness, unfolding in front of us, the quantum growth in our students’ skill and self-confidence.

What struck me more forcefully this time, particularly during the performance of 13, was how much more moving these performances are when students are emotionally invested in the material. The subject matter in 13 was, arguably, a little edgy for a Middle School audience, but how moving it is to watch students enact conflicts that resonate so powerfully with their own emotional experience. The culminating choral medleys from the disco era and from Grease had something of that same feel for me: our young performers are, in effect, trying on different identities, different selves, as a way not only of empathizing with other people, but ultimately, as a way of understanding themselves.

That’s why I always leave singing!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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April 28, 2017

One of the great features of our two campuses are the extensive areas for outdoor learning.

Doherty’s new EcoGarden, the beautiful raised beds and surface gardens in Dellie’s Garden adjacent to the Taft ECC, the Middle School’s birding area, and the butterfly gardens across from the tennis courts all provide venues for agronomic study and experimentation. For the last couple of years, our Lower School students have been using these garden spaces to develop and test hypotheses about plant growth and even, in the first grade’s Project Math unit, utilizing math skills to design and build their own gardens and indoor “grow labs.”

This past summer a grant awarded to Upper School science teacher Linda Ford provided the impetus for a school-wide effort to expand these learning assets. Mrs. Ford, who was honored by Northwestern University as one of the premier high school teachers in the country, chose to devote her prize to provide seed funding (if you’ll excuse the pun) to build even more extensive learning gardens so that students could run “field trials” with plants or directly experience nutrient cycles from an agronomic perspective.

The project has become a catalyst for cooperation across all four school divisions. Doug Ford’s Upper School engineering class designed the layout of the new space and the plan for the boxes. The engineering, environmental science, theater tech, and seventh-grade science classes built boxes, and teachers and students, from all four divisions, volunteered to move and fill the boxes with soil and lay plastic and mulch between them.

An indoor “grow lab” was installed for the first grade so that plants could be started from seed indoors for planting in the garden space and/or experiments. The Middle School Science Club designed and built the learning tower to support this effort. The seventh grade already has one experiment running on the nitrogen cycle using plants started by the eighth grade science teacher, and the environmental science class has done some planting to discuss seed spacing and germination.

As spring blooms around us, the eighth grade students are now planning a culminating project, a “salad day” when each advisory group will prepare a specific recipe using plants harvested from the garden. This is intended to introduce students to healthy fresh foods, agriculture, and the link between food and community.

Many thanks to our science faculty and to so many others whose energy and collaboration brought this project to life!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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April 13, 2017

I had occasion this week to dip into some Lower and Middle School classes in music, art, drama, Spanish, and physical education. It’s hard to convey the consistently high level of excitement I witnessed among our students in all the classes I visited.

What I saw was a powerful reminder of one of the central principles on which this school is organized. At many schools, if these classes are offered at all, they are generally seen as “specials” or occasional extras, something squeezed into the school day to round out the students’ core academic experience. Indeed, even in other strong independent schools, much less time is allocated to “specials.” If arts classes are offered at all, they are generally taught in quarterly or trimester rotations. At any given time period, students will generally take only one arts class at a time.

What is truly distinctive at Seven Hills is that these classes, not only in the arts, but in developmental guidance, health and physical education, and library and research skills are taught all year-long. Our students in Lower and Middle School take the equivalent of 80 minutes a day of arts classes, and health and physical education are accorded roughly the same amount of instructional time as core academic classes.

At a very early age, kids tend to define themselves according to their early perceptions about their own talents: “I’m not good at art;” “I like math, but I’m not good at writing.”

In my experience, no child ever really knows for sure what he or she can excel at or enjoy unless they have ample time and exposure. It is part of our mission to encourage students not to give up on their latent talents, but to explore, while they are here, and, indeed, in the years beyond, every facet of who they are and who they can be. It’s very exciting to watch.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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March 17, 2017

One of the highlights of the Middle School calendar is our Global Education Day, held each year in March. This full-day event engages our students in a series of activities designed to heighten their awareness of the diversity and the interdependence of the world’s population.

This year, the day kicked off with a compelling presentation from Corrin LaCombe, a primatologist who has spent her career working with African animal populations threatened by human activity. Her captivating talk, called “Dream Big and Believe in Yourself,” helped our students understand how some of their own travel, enrichment, and early work experiences might lead to a fulfilling career.

After that great start, students chose from a host of exploratory activities, led by faculty, parents, and community volunteers. Some were cultural: Crêpes of French tradition, Yoga, Cream Tea with Friends; some environmental: Understanding your Carbon Footprint, Cleaning the Air: Understanding the Environmental Impacts of the High-Tech World, Children’s Safe Drinking Water; and some technological: Engineers without Borders: Our Work in Uganda, Rebuilding your School Using your Imagination, FBI Forensics: Keeping us Safe, 3-D Printing of Aircraft Engine Parts.

In the afternoon, in a lighter spirit, students in mixed age cohorts participated in a series of games modeled on the television show, The Amazing Race. The events range from physical tasks: The Kangaroo Hop, Strike a Pose (Yoga), the Sherpa Climb, the Congolese Water Jug, Running with the Bulls, and the Irish Jig; to tests of global knowledge: Name that Country, Country Unscramble, and Currency Exchange; to the gastronomic: You Want Us to Eat THAT, where students earn points for eating delicacies from around the world!

The goal of all of the activities was to raise students’ awareness of how NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), social entrepreneurs, and global corporations are working together to identify and respond to global challenges. It is, I believe, the perfect balance of learning and fun, designed to stimulate the curiosity and imagination of our Middle School students.

Many thanks to all our volunteers, to the Middle School faculty, and to Bill Waskowitz and Jen Licata for orchestrating, again this year, these rich learning experiences for students.

I hope you all have a restful and refreshing Spring Break! 

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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March 3, 2017

Even after eight years at this school, I continue to be astonished by the creative ways our teachers find to engage students in authentic learning experiences.

On Tuesday afternoon, I visited the culminating demonstration of the fifth grade invention unit, designed by Karla Balskus and Zoe Paraskevopoulos. As an extension of their social studies unit on exploration, students learned how early technologies were employed to help navigators solve the challenges they faced in the new world. That effort blossomed into students’ own attempts to identify problems that would lend themselves to technological solutions.

In a process adapted from the design thinking methods employed by students in our Middle School Innovation Lab, the fifth graders began by brainstorming and researching problems to which they might find innovative solutions.

Having narrowed their focus, they conceptualized the design for machines that would address those problems or challenges, first in rudimentary drawings, and later on breadboards, a kind of cardboard mock-up. Finally, they created full-size prototypes of their inventions.

At the same time, they created, in a variety of media, extensive marketing campaigns to inform potential users of their products. Many of these campaigns were quite elaborate, involving graphic design, PowerPoint presentations with music or audio accompaniment, and even, in several cases, video advertisements.

On Tuesday, students demonstrated their products for their classmates as well as visiting parents and teachers. As usual, I was struck not only by the creativity and inventiveness of our students, but by their poise presenting their creations to the assembled audience. It was a remarkable way to make real the historical concept that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Feb. 16, 2017

Those of us who have spent our lives in schools know one thing for sure: February is the bleakest month of the year. The excitement of the new school year has long waned; students have settled into the new courses, finished the rigorous preparation for exams, and moved on to research papers. For juniors, and especially for seniors, the pressures of the college admissions season weigh heavy. Winter break is long behind us, and spring vacation, and spring itself, very far away.

This year, the Upper School’s designated Directors of Fun, Spanish teacher Phil Thornberry and history teacher Dan Polifka, have devised a welcome remedy, designating this month “Funuary.” To lift the spirits of faculty and students, they planned a series of special days. Inspired by Disney movies, they have divided the Upper School building into eight “neighborhoods,” such as Finding Nemo, Frozen, Monsters, Inc., etc. Teams of advisory groups have been pulled together and charged with festooning their assigned “neighborhood” with elaborate, even ostentatious decorations. Already, and continuing over the next few weeks, these neighborhoods will be the loci for a series of playful competitions: Penny Wars, a trivia contest, testing not only general knowledge but arcane, Disney minutiae, and finally a costume contest and Fashion Parade, inspired by the characters in Disney classics like Alice in Wonderland, Wall-E, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. Students seem excited, the faculty is all in, and with any luck, the spirit will carry us through ‘til spring arrives!

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Feb. 2, 2017

Several exciting school events launch this weekend!

Tonight and tomorrow, we play host to Thrity Umrigar, our 31st Books for Lunch speaker. For those of you new to Seven Hills, this is an annual opportunity for our students and the extended Seven Hills community to interact with a published author. It is a celebration of this school’s ongoing love affair with the world of ideas. Ms. Umrigar is a renowned novelist, journalist, and essayist, whose works tell the complex story of the loss and dislocation suffered by families in the Indian sub-continent or of immigrants, making new lives in the United States. Special thanks to Ingrid Handl-Geiger and Maria Kalomenidou, and to their able committee members, for all the work they have dedicated to orchestrating this beloved annual community event.

At the same time, this weekend our Upper School drama students will be performing You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, first for their families and high school peers, and then, on Monday morning, for the really exacting audience, our second and third graders. Congratulations to the cast and crew on what, I‘m sure, will be a memorable production.

We are, of course, still immersed in the winter sports season. Basketball, gymnastics, swimming, bowling, and cheerleading are all in full swing, so there are plenty of Seven Hills events to help fill up the interstices in your Super Bowl weekend! Enjoy!

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Jan. 17, 2017

This past Tuesday morning, 12 juniors and seniors competed in the “Shark Tank” exercise, which served as the “final exam” for their semester-long entrepreneurship class. Each three-person team presented a detailed business plan to a panel of five visiting “sharks,” who would provide feedback and, eventually, decide which of the projects was most worthy of seed funding.

Each presentation contained a description of the potential market, the funding needed, a timetable for product development and testing, and then a long-term plan for scaling the business to make it profitable for investors.

All of us who witnessed the exercise were stunned by two things: the creativity of the students’ business ideas and the poise and high level of preparation from the young entrepreneurs.

What an incredible opportunity for our students to understand, firsthand, how business ideas are born, nurtured, and ultimately funded!

Special thanks to former parent and trustee Mike Collette, Founder and CEO of Patient Point and Executive-in-Residence at Cincy Tech, who team-taught the class with Director of Experiential Learning Nick Francis, as well as to entrepreneurs and Seven Hills parents: Angie Apple, Ami Kulkarni, Mike Venerable; Seven Hills grandparent Steve Boymel; and Seven Hills alumnus Jay Ashmore ’98, for sharing their expertise as volunteer “sharks.”

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Dec. 16,  2016

There are many occasions throughout the year when I brim with pride about the achievements of our students. One such occasion was last Sunday’s instrumental music concerts.

As always I was struck by the steepness of the learning curve and how quickly our students’ musical skills improve from year to year to year. But I was especially moved, this year, by recognizing the degree of maturity and independence that our players develop over the years.

It was not merely that so many students had the courage to test themselves in improvisational solos, it was also that the Upper School program featured an original composition written and conducted by one of our own students. Micah Bachrach, a graduating senior, composed an original piece of music and, from the piano, led our Contemporary Ensemble in performing its world premier for a massive and highly receptive audience.

For me it was but one example of the mission of the school: to help our students find something they love and then give them a series of experiences to foster and to celebrate their talent.

At the close of the concert, a group of juniors and seniors played the crowd out with a spirited and stunningly skillful jam session, celebrating with obvious joy, their delight in making music together.

As we move in to the holiday season, I want to thank you all for helping to provide so many enriching experiences for our students.

All the best to you and your families over the holidays and in the coming year!

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Nov. 22,  2016

The highlight of the past weekend was four magnificent performances of Ken Ludwig’s stage adaptation of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The show brought to fruition 10 weeks of impassioned work by 27 student actors and 12 technical artists associated with Stage Seven, our Upper School theater troupe.

It’s difficult to convey what an undertaking this show involved. The script featured almost 40 speaking roles, and the production called for elaborate costumes and make-up and a wonderfully inventive set, which rendered both the pirate ship and the eponymous island of buried treasure as stations in a child’s playground.

The breakneck pace of the play’s unfolding plot required rapid-fire dialogue in maritime patois, complex blocking and fight choreography, and sophisticated lighting and sound design.

As always, the greatest source of pride for many of us was the deep level of student engagement in every phase of the production. The Upper School directing class played a major role in parsing the text and ideating staging and design choices, and junior Seth Freidman served as assistant director, with creative control of the play’s frenetic opening scene. Several student actors, even some in relatively small parts, committed themselves fully to really courageous creative choices. Still other students assumed much of the responsibility for designing lights, sound, costumes, hair, makeup, and props while the construction of the play’s elaborate set was orchestrated by a group of student leaders, supported by an army of parent volunteers, during the “The Eight Days of Tech Week.”

Our Upper School theater teachers, Stephanie Park and technical director Trey Tatum, can take great pride, not only in the emotional power and professionalism of the production, but in the level of trust they gave and received from these student artists. It was Seven Hills performing arts at its very best!

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Nov. 11,  2016

Over the last few weeks, as part of our effort to help them understand their civic responsibilities, students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade have been participating in extensive, hands-on studies of Election Day and the democratic process.

In October, the Upper School held a mock election, organized by history teacher Jen Faber, as part of the VOTES 2016 project, a nationwide program started by a Massachusetts high school teacher. Students and teachers registered to vote, then voted at their assigned precincts around the Upper School. Students cast ballots for not only the president, but also national issues, like college tuition, as well as senator and county commissioner.

On Election Day, Nov. 8, English teacher Caleb Paull organized a video chat with students in Denmark. The students had an engaging conversation, filled with questions about each country’s election process. Election Day was busy for younger students, as well. The Middle School and the Doherty Campus held their own elections. Middle schoolers and their teachers voted for president and senate in an election arranged by social studies teacher Doug Huff, while Doherty students of all ages cast ballots for the presidential election. Middle Schoolers filled the faculty lounge to vote throughout the day, keeping the “poll workers” busy!

At Lotspeich, fifth graders in Karla Balskus and Zoe Paraskevopoulos’ classes discussed the importance of the voting process. Aimee Burton’s first graders voted for their favorite recess activity. Lotspeich’s pre-kindergarteners in the ECC held a mock election, too, voting for their favorite snack, and indoor or outdoor recess. Kindergarten voted on similar issues.

Amid the divisiveness of the election season, it was heartening to see our students so actively involved in understanding the impact they can have as citizens in a free society.

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Oct. 31,  2016

Over this past weekend, Seven Hills achieved a significant athletic milestone. For the first time in more than a decade, all five of our fifth and sixth grade boys and girls soccer teams qualified for the SAY East Allen Cook Tournament.

On Saturday morning, our two girls teams, Team Drew and Team Kecman, faced off in a “war between the states” that culminated in a hard-fought, double overtime contest, eventually won by Team Kecman. All three boys teams, Team Gabriel, Team Cohen, and Team Chaudhary also qualified for early round games at Armleder. Eventually, Team Cohen and Team Chaudhary, both of which had earned byes in the first round, won their second round and semifinal matches and collided in the finals held in our Lower Field soccer stadium. Team Chaudhary prevailed in a tough match, but both teams will go on to the SAY State tournament.

As proud as we are of the accomplishments of our student athletes, we are most proud of the tone our coaches and staff set for these contests. All the weekend games were hard-fought and competitive, but our athletes on both sides were encouraged to congratulate one another and to celebrate, collectively, our achievements as a school community. I am proud of the high level of competition by all our athletes, but prouder still of the warm and affirming tone set by all involved. I want to congratulate all who participated and thank everyone involved, athletes, coaches, and school liaisons, for providing these important growth opportunities for our students. Go Stingers!

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Oct. 13,  2016

A staple in high school geometry classes is constructing logical proofs. At the start, students learn to reason by framing conditional statements: “if p then q,” and the inverse: “if not p, then not q,” the converse: “if q, then p,” and the contrapositive: “if not q, then not p.” This nomenclature is the first building block for teaching the deductive reasoning process that is at the core of geometry, but it is also embedded in such fields as computer programming and legal argumentation.

Last week, Mrs. Ramsay’s geometry class took an interesting approach to understanding these important logical terms. Students were asked to find print advertisements with taglines that implied conditional statements: in effect, “if you use product x, then you can expect benefit y.” Then they were asked to construct PowerPoint presentations, showing a series of additional prints ads, to illustrate graphically, the conditional, the inverse, the converse, and the contrapositive extensions of the implied conditional statement in the original ad.

First, they rewrote the tag lines, in which the promise was only implied, to a formal conditional statement in which the promise was explicit. Then they constructed (and graphically illustrated) the inverse, converse, and contrapositive versions of that same logical proposition. So, “Things go better with Coke” became the conditional: “If you drink Coke, things (your life) will go better,” which became the inverse: “If you do not drink Coke, things will not go better,” then the converse: “If things are going better, you must be drinking Coke,” and finally the contrapositive: “If things are not going better, you are not drinking Coke.”

The final extension was for students to consider whether the advertiser wanted the consumers to believe each of the statements to be true.

Training students to think logically and, even more importantly, to find creative applications of what they learn in the world around them—this is at the heart of what our teachers do here. It was very exciting to watch.

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Sept. 22,  2016

To begin each school year, our students in grades six through nine participate in grade-level retreats, the most ambitious of which is the eighth grade’s four-day excursion to Adventure Treks in North Carolina: sleeping in tents, day hiking, creek stomping, rock climbing, and white water rafting. Mounting these trips requires a considerable investment of faculty time and energy—not to mention resources—but I hope that the benefits are obvious. Whatever the destination and duration, these adventures give our students the chance to challenge themselves, both physically and emotionally, to push beyond their comfort zones, and, perhaps, most important, to get to know one another in a different context and to bond as advisory groups and as a class. They return to us both very tired and very energized, and it sets the tone for their work together for the rest of the school year and beyond.

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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Sept. 8,  2016

After nearly 40 years in teaching, it still surprises to me how quickly students seem to adjust to the rhythms of the new school year. Now just three weeks in, students have begun already to rise to the academic challenges of their new grade. Most have begun to internalize new routines. They are eager and engaged; class discussions are energetic, even impassioned. At the same time, the new athletic season is well underway, the fall performing arts productions are gearing up, and our student athletes and performers are learning, once again, how to fulfill their responsibilities and balance the competing demands on their time.

In an attempt to capture some of the welter of activity on our campuses, I have started a Twitter account—a new adventure for me. I will use those posts, along with this column, to convey my impressions and pass along, from time to time, some thought-provoking articles I encounter in my reading. If you’d like to “follow” me, I’m @ChrisPGarten.

Have a great year!

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Chris Garten

Head of School

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June 6, 2016

What a whirlwind of activity to bring to a close a wonderful school year!

The final weeks of May brought several hard-fought athletic tournament games; moving and inspirational performances in the fine and performing arts; final exhibitions of student work in programming, science and engineering classes, and the Innovation Lab; and a host of class trips and experiential learning excursions; not to mention, of course, final tests, projects, and exams.

Over the course of the school year, our students have had a great many opportunities to showcase their new skills, and, over the closing weeks, we have all gathered at closing ceremonies and at graduation to celebrate, as a community, all that our students have accomplished and learned.

Each year it is exciting to witness this miracle: our students’ new confidence and skill, their surer grasp of who they are, their eagerness to challenge and assert themselves in new ways.

None of this would be possible without the impassioned efforts of our remarkable community. My thanks to all of you, students and parents, faculty and staff, for all you have done to make 2015-16 such a fulfilling year for our students.

I wish you a restful, restorative summer. We look forward to welcoming you back in August.

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Chris Garten

Head of School

 
 

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