Brief Word

23 (1)

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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – Oct. 13, 2016

Geometric proofs through the lens of print advertising

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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – 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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Brief Word – May 13, 2016

A former colleague of mine at another school used to talk about the 60 days of May in independent schools. It’s a pretty apt description.

In these final weeks of the school year, in addition to the usual frenzied pace of academic life, we celebrate a host of special events: the end of a fervid (and rainy!) spring athletic season; the culminating arts performances—the Middle and Upper School musicals, final choral and instrumental concerts, and Lower School class plays; a series of class trips and experiential learning excursions in Lower and Middle School; as well as numerous social events—the Prom, the Middle School movie night, the Doherty Carnival and Lotspeich May Fete, as well as all manner of closing parties and celebrations.

These kinds of events add so much texture to the life of the school. They leave us breathless and satisfyingly tired as the year draws to a close, but they also give us numerous opportunities to look back on a year of growth and accomplishment. Enjoy these final days. They are very special!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – April 14, 2016

Wednesday night’s Cum Laude induction marked one of several opportunities we have, throughout the year, to recognize various kinds of excellence on our campuses. Seven Hills is one of fewer than 400 high schools in the country, only 23 in the state of Ohio, who have been granted a Cum Laude Society chapter, an academic honor society, modeled on Phi Beta Kappa. Each year we recognize students whose academic performance and habits of mind meet the highest possible standards for scholarship and good character.

Of course, the decisions are excruciating. By charter, we can only induct 20% of the senior class and 10% of the junior class, so it is difficult to select among so many meritorious candidates. That said, the ceremony is always heartwarming. It gives us a chance to recognize students whose presence in our classrooms has enriched the dialogue and inspired classmates to aspire to higher levels of academic and personal achievement.

Particularly moving this year, were the remarks by Seven Hills alumna and new Seven Hills teacher, Brooke Richart ’04, who, quoting a commencement speech Barack Obama delivered to her classmates at Wesleyan University, reminded the inductees of their obligation “to find their true potential” by “hitch[ing] their wagon to something larger [than themselves].” Brooke urged our new inductees to seek for some compelling way to utilize their talents in the service of other people. Her own life journey of serving impoverished and underserved students in rural Honduras and in inner city New York and now, during the summers at Breakthrough Cincinnati, resonated powerfully with the honorees and their families. In the end, the evening was a moving celebration of what, at its core, this school truly stands for.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Feb. 25, 2016

One of the distinctive features of our community is the rich international background that so many of our families bring to the school. Over the last several weeks, we have had several opportunities to celebrate these diverse perspectives and to provide “teachable moments” for our students. The Middle School’s Global Education Day exposed our students to a host of learning opportunities, dozens of seminars with a global focus, an afternoon simulation of The Amazing Race, and a fascinating presentation on global advertising from Walter Geiger, a former P & G executive and parent of two Seven Hills students. That same week, we celebrated our traditional international dinner, aptly renamed A Taste of Seven Hills. Last weekend, both Doherty and Lotspeich hosted special events as part of our long-standing relationship with Cooperative for Education in support of schools in Guatemala. Doherty’s pancake breakfast and art show featured elaborate artwork focused on India, in conjunction with Doherty’s annual Cultural Connections Week. Lotspeich’s Día de Guatemala gave students a chance to experience some of the traditional Latin American craftwork. All of these are opportunities to broaden our students’ horizons and awareness of the larger world while engaging them in service to others. It is an exciting way to kick off the spring!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Feb. 4, 2016

I recently dipped in to watch our students compete in the annual Certamen. For those of you who may not know it, this is an academic team competition testing students’ knowledge of arcane Latin grammar, Roman history, mythology, and Latin literature. Our own Dr. Brian Sebastian hosts the competition annually on our campus with an attention to detail that rivals those who planned the landing at Normandy. This year, some 38 teams, from 14 different schools, competed and our own Middle and Upper school Latin students, in addition to competing, played host, acting as scorekeepers and providing logistical support to Brian and Katie Swinford.

It’s hard to convey how exciting it is to see so many young people eagerly showing off their knowledge of the ancient world, and I felt still deeper pride in the graciousness that our students displayed in welcoming students and teachers from schools all over our region. Excitantis est videre alumnos qui discunt.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Jan. 14, 2016

New Year’s Resolutions

As most of you know, the Seven Hills faculty has made a priority, this year, of providing more timely, more comprehensive feedback on student progress. In the Lower Schools, where the rhythm of home notes and conferences was already quite robust, this has taken the form of providing parents with more context about units of study, so that you have a fuller picture of what your children are learning.  In the Middle and Upper Schools, we have increased the frequency of formal progress reports, writing twice a year on all students, and even more frequently on students who have struggled in one area or another.  In addition, teachers are now using our new Schoology system to post all assignments and grades in real time.

All of this is designed, of course, to forge an even more active partnership with you, our parents, to give you detailed and timely information you need to encourage your children to do their best work.

But, our main purpose, especially as students get older and begin to take more responsibility for their own progress, is to promote a lifetime habit of goal setting. As we begin the second half of the year, in conversations with advisors and with classroom teachers, we are encouraging students to reflect on their work to this point, to look for patterns in their own approach, identifying what has worked and what hasn’t.

In the spirit of partnership, I hope that you, too, will encourage your children to reflect, from time to time, on how they learn best. One of the greatest gifts we can give them is the desire and to use feedback to learn and to grow.

All the best in the new year!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Dec. 3, 2015

 

“The opportunity to grapple with a malleable text, create one’s own character from scratch, and witness peers creating theirs was extraordinary.” (Maria Chertock-Bobbitt ’16 , actor)

“[To bring to life this] never-before produced play, we began by figuring out the basis for each costume, asking ourselves, “what would this character wear out into that storm.” Erin’s bird headdress took several hours of painstaking hand-stitching to place a fake bird’s head and wings onto a hat base. Each flower was sewn on individually.” (Abby Smith ‘18, costume designer)

These quotations capture, at least in part, the extraordinary excitement and pride felt by the 46 Upper School students who were involved in last week’s production of Maelstrom, an original play, written by our technical theater teacher, Trey Tatum, and directed by Upper School theater teacher, Stephanie Park. Trey interviewed dozens of Seven Hill students about their high school experience, collecting their thoughts and concerns as young people, and then created a gripping play inspired by their words. As Stephanie Park explained, “We wanted to create a piece that showcased as many actors as possible … The actors in the play were a constant source of wonder to me, their flexibility willingness to stay in a place of “not knowing” was mind-boggling.

This extraordinary experience, generating and performing original material derived from their own emotional experience, illustrates powerfully the philosophy of our extraordinarily talented fine and performing arts faculty. Time after time, they construct unique creative challenges that immerse students fully in the creative process and compel them to assume an extraordinary amount of responsibility for the success of a creative venture. It is very exciting to watch.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Nov. 19, 2015

In the beginning there was only a spider and his web. The world was always dark. He was all alone, so he couldn’t express his kind heart…

Long ago there was only space, and in space lived Lunner…Eventually, Lunner grew lonely, so he made Gloria, the sun god, the most beautiful thing in the sky…

These lyrical sentences are drawn from two among a host of illustrated creation myths, proudly displayed on the bulletin boards outside Karla Balskus’ fifth grade classroom. In preparation for this unit, students read more than a dozen classical myths drawn from cultures around the world. They study the structural similarities among them, comparing the worldviews embedded in the narratives. Then, after a couple of weeks of study, they try their hands at creating their own creation myths, working to capture both the rhythms of mythical language, and, it is clear, the sense of wonder that lies behind these primitive attempts to explain cosmic phenomena.

This project is a wonderful way for students to develop not only their critical reading and narrative writing skills, but also to develop a deeper understanding of the mystery that lies at the core of human experience. If you are in the Lotspeich hallways one morning, I urge you to read through them. They evoke a very powerful response.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – October 30, 2015

I think I’ve been a little naïve about what’s actually involved in programming a computer. Earlier this week I stopped by Brian Arnold’s introduction to computing class and watched a very excited group working on this project: They were asked to define a “field” with horizontal and vertical dimensions of a pre-specified size. Within that field they were to instruct the computer to trace, in block capitals, the three initials of their name. There were specific instructions also about the height and width of each of the letters.

It was fascinating to see the mental discipline that this relatively elementary exercise required. In writing their code, some students relied on trial and error, changing the parameters for the length and angle of various stylus movements until they found the right combination. Other students did elaborate mathematical calculations in advance and then wrote long strings of code to execute the figures. A third group recognized the possibility of copying elements of their program for one letter to execute parts of others. Regardless of their strategies, the students were incredibly engaged on mastering the elements of this coding language and in finding solutions which were efficient and “elegant.” This is a new frontier for us, and these students are on its leading edge.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – October 15, 2015

Over the last three weeks, I have had the pleasure of meeting – in a dozen small group gatherings – about 60 of our new parents. Those I have met represent a wide variety of backgrounds: some who trace their Cincinnati roots back several generations, others who are new to our city, having lived, in some cases, all over the world. It has been especially affirming to hear these families speak so enthusiastically about their children’s early experiences here. They share, it is clear, a desire to provide a school experience that both challenges and supports their children. Indeed, three common themes emerge from these conversations: their excitement about the range of learning opportunities the school provides, not only in academics but in the arts, athletics, etc.; their gratitude for the school’s desire to meet students where they are and to accommodate, as fully as possible, a range of learning needs; and finally, their recognition of the defining the warmth of this community. More often than anything else, our new families express their sincere gratitude to all who have reached out to them to help them feel so welcome here. We, in turn, are thrilled to have added so many wonderful new families to our community.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Sept. 11, 2015
In cohorts of four, students encircle a vast blank canvas. In front of them are their sketchbooks, replete with two weeks’ worth of drawings, sketches, and brainstorming. The assignment is to paint, in a highly collaborative fashion, a vast imagined cityscape in a pre-determined location. Their “dream landscape” can be located anywhere they envisage: under the sea, in the farthest reaches of our solar system, deep within a subatomic part particle, but it must conform to the governing principles of that world. How would the denizens of that city support themselves? Where would they live? How would they travel? What would be the laws of the physical world that govern their movements? How would their sizes and shapes reflect that environment? What adaptations would they have developed to function in an airless atmosphere or low gravitational environment?

For Mimi Stricker’s Unit III students, this is more than an art project, it is a complex exercise of the creative imagination – to construct one’s own universe, to imagine its organizing principles, and then to bring those laws to vivid, imaginative life. This is a fabulous exercise in teamwork, as well as planning and execution. It calls for students to stretch their imaginations, but also to synthesize all they know about the world of social studies and science. It is collaborative, interdisciplinary learning at its best, and I, for one, can’t wait to see the results!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – June 11, 2015

Nothing in school life is as fulfilling as reflecting on our students’ growth!

In end-of-season athletic tournaments, fine and performing arts performances, and, of course, in final tests and projects, our students have had a host of opportunities to showcase their new skills. And, over the last two weeks, we have all gathered, on several occasions, to celebrate, as a community, all they have 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 collective efforts of our remarkable community. My thanks to all of you, faculty and parents, staff, students, for all you have done to make 2014-15 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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Brief Word – May 28, 2015

One of the most critical skills in mathematics is something called “number sense,” the ability to intuit whether the scale of a derived result is reasonable. Regina Daily’s annual Estimation Carnival is cleverly designed to inculcate this important skill. Over the course of several weeks, Doherty’s Unit III students plan, for their younger peers, a series of activities to develop spatial awareness. At one booth, fifth graders have inserted bookmarks in various locations in a vast  Harry Potter volume; first graders are asked to estimate on what page they would find the bookmark. At another, an eight-foot scroll is unfurled to reveal a lengthy pastiche of nursery rhymes. Participants are asked to estimate the number of words inscribed. Other activities call for deriving the weight of several students or their book bags, the number of blue diacritical marks on a polychromatic canvas reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, or the volume of eyes on a model alien. Over the course of 90 minutes, Doherty’s math students cycle through these activities, excited about numbers and eager to hone their spatial reasoning skills. There’s an old saw about the best way to learn is to teach someone else. The Estimation Carnival illustrates that principle in motion.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – April 16, 2015

Pre-kindergarten students queue up at passport control, then file excitedly past the uniformed captain and flight attendants to board an “airliner” for their transatlantic trip to Italy. The Unit I corridor is festooned with gargoyles and Renaissance artifacts. Half of a gondola protrudes from the wall, abutting an outdoor café along a virtual canal. Medieval triptychs, sonnets, and terza rima chronicle the accomplishments of quattrocento artists and politicians and musicians. A street organ trills Neapolitan tunes as students gather around a press to produce homemade pasta and sip imaginary vintages. Kindergarten students stand awestruck, listening to soaring arias from Aida and Madama Butterfly. It is difficult to convey the excitement of Doherty’s annual weeklong international celebration called Cultural Connections. A year’s worth of research and imaginative activity culminates in a five-day immersion in the customs and culture of a distant land. This is learning by doing, true experiential learning, at its best, part of what makes our Doherty Campus such a lively and enriching place to learn. Many thanks to all the teachers, students, and community volunteers who help provide the authentic texture of this experience.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – March 12, 2015

This afternoon, a huge crowd gathered in the Kalnow Gym to celebrate the remarkable achievement of our boys swim team. During the last weekend of February, our boys traveled to the OHSAA Swimming Championships and earned the first team state title in the history of Seven Hills! All of the boys involved have spent years in the pool, practicing as many as 20 hours a week, in grueling early morning sessions. They have also spent long weekends at meets all over the Midwest.  And because they are students in our high school, they have had to balance a very demanding set of academic responsibilities as well.

We are extremely proud of what these young men have achieved; their experience crystallizes the value of the commitment that so many of our student athletes make, each year, to develop their skills in multiple areas.   We are blessed to be a community that puts so much value not only on achievement, but on the dedication and commitment that achievement requires.  Congratulations to all involved!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Feb. 26, 2015

The first artifact is the Pact of Umar, a ninth century covenant between the ruling Muslims and the Christians living under their sway in what is now Syria. The second document is a detailed description of the wonders of 10th-century Baghdad written by the historian Yakkut. Mr. Polifka’s freshmen approach both documents with the same charge: to use these ancient artifacts to extrapolate conclusions about the relationships between Muslims and Christians in this era. Students work in small groups, finding salient details which reveal the underlying assumptions of both the conquerors and the conquered. What would it feel like to live under these rules of conduct? How much religious freedom was allowed? What practical considerations guided the rulers in drafting the stipulations in this agreement? To what extent are these issues still relevant in our own century?

One of the defining characteristics of Seven Hills’ history program is the extensive use, beginning in the middle school, of challenging primary source materials. Students are encouraged to ask guiding questions, to be skeptical about unsubstantiated claims, and to examine the source material for underlying biases.  It is, especially with our younger students, painstaking work, but the prize is not only a fuller understanding of historical issues involved, but a greater confidence with thinking critically about historical (and other ) phenomena. It is a prize well worth the time and effort.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Jan. 29, 2015

This Friday, 31 Upper School students will compete in the first round of Ohio Mock Trial competition at the Clermont County courthouse. The all-day event represents the culmination of months of preparation for our three student teams, named, aptly, for Supreme Court justices, Marshall, Warren, and Jay.  Under the guidance of Dan Polifka and Jen Faber, with the able and generous assistance of volunteer legal advisors Kent Shoemaker, Ken Patel, and Pat Lane, the participants have been crafting their legal strategy and honing their arguments for two hours each week since late September. On Friday, they will argue, in several rounds, both sides of a case involving an alleged eighth amendment violation, a juvenile prisoner who asserts that he was cruelly and unusually punished in being taken to the ground during a prison food fight.

What a fantastic way to train students in a real world application of their reasoning and verbal skills!  Many, many thanks to those whose efforts make this possible!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Jan. 15, 2015

True “service learning” combines meaningful service to a community with opportunities to explore, in an academic setting, the underlying root causes of the issues one seeks to address. At its best, it engages both the mind and the heart. For the last two years, our Lower Schools have developed an active partnership with The Cooperative for Education, an organization that seeks to provide support for thousands of under-schooled children in Guatemala. Doherty and Lotspeich have taken their own approaches to engaging students in this important effort, both scheduled for January 24. Doherty’s Pancake Breakfast and Art Auction engages students, over several weeks, in producing original artwork for sale. Lotspeich’s Dia de Guatemala provides families with a series of interactive activities to expose them to various aspects of Guatemalan culture. What both have in common, though, is an extended program of learning activities to help students understand the complexity of the challenges facing educators (and families) in that region. Beyond mere service, service learning fosters not only a heightened sense of civic engagement, but also critical thinking and thoughtful reflection. This is a project of which we can all be very proud.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Dec. 19, 2014

The run up to our winter holidays is always packed with activity: the start of the winter athletic season, a veritable feast of music and theater programs, a burst of intensified community service activity in all four divisions, and, of course, in the academic concentration of final tests, semester exams, and a cornucopia of college admissions news.

In the midst of all this activity, I am especially grateful to our faculty and staff who work so hard to provide so many opportunities for our students to learn and grow. All of their efforts, along with the enthusiastic participation of our students, help make Seven Hills an especially exciting place at this time of year! Thanks, too, to all of our families who support these endeavors in so many ways.  To parent coaches and library helpers, Parents Association leaders, trustees, donors, and fund-raising volunteers, your energy and your commitment to this school is a huge part of our success as a school community.

So, best wishes to all during this holiday season and in the coming year. We are truly grateful for all you have done to sustain the Seven Hills community this past year! We look forward to welcoming you and your children back on campus in 2015.

Warmly,

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Nov. 25, 2014

The truest measure of a community is how it pulls together in times of loss.  This week, our school family has suffered a shattering loss, a loss that, now, in these early hours, we are really just beginning to comprehend.

Among the welter of emotions we have all felt this week is a sense of abiding gratitude for the strength and resilience we all derive from this close-knit community. In hallways and in living rooms, in formal assemblies and in quiet, whispered words of reassurance, students, teachers, parents, and friends have found ways to reach out to one another and to offer support and consolation.

Our students – especially – have looked for ways to work through their feelings: their profound sense of loss, their abiding love for their friend and schoolmate, their deep admiration for Ben’s family, who – in the midst of their own inconceivable grief – has expressed such generous concern for all those whom Ben has left behind, and, above all else, their eagerness to live their lives in ways that will honor Ben’s life and memory.

Ben’s father told me this weekend, “we will all get through this, though we will never get over it.”  It will, indeed, take all of us some time to come to terms with all we are feeling, but it is comforting to know that we will be sustained, in the coming days, by our warm memories of Ben, by music and laughter and prayer, and by the healing thoughts we can share with one another.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Nov. 13, 2014

A second grade class pores over the anatomy of the inner ear, tracing with tiny fingers a model of the auditory canal, past the eardrum, through the tympanic cavity, to the inner whorls of the cochlea. Another group experiments with cellophane, stretched tightly over a tin can; the thrumming of their fingers simulates the vibrations that carry sound patterns into the inner ear. What would it be like, they are asked, if these complex mechanisms were somehow damaged? How would it feel to live in a world of silence? In another classroom, students in pairs introduce themselves to one another, using rudimentary sign language, expressing, in a language they’ve just acquired with repressed giggles, their pleasure in knowing one another.

Each year, for a full week, our Lower School students participate in the Everybody Counts program, a set of imaginatively conceived activities designed to help students empathize with the challenges and the capacities of those with a wide range of disabilities. These activities, organized and taught each year by an army of parent volunteers, are part of our schoolwide effort to foster in our students an awareness of and compassion for the needs of other people. Many, many thanks to all who make this possible!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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 Brief Word – Oct. 31, 2014

Last weekend, the cast and crew of “Bye, Bye Birdie” delighted audiences aged eight to 80, with three performances of a charming story of love in suburban Ohio. With lively songs, spirited dance numbers, and strong, confident performances, Ms. Damon’s Middle School actors brought to vibrant life the simplicity of an earlier era. Then, Thursday afternoon, under tha able direction of RTobin Wilson and DRussell White, Lotspeich’s fifth grade re-enacted the early days of Rock ‘n Roll. With musical numbers by Elvis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Little Richard, Founders Hall felt as rock’ as it is every likely to feel!

I’m often struck, in conversations with our students, by the poise and self-confidence they exhibit in public speaking. They meet one’s eye; they express themselves with courage and conviction. They acquire that skill, I believe, from the countless opportunities they have, in the course of their time here, to conquer the anxiety that many of us feel whenever we stand in the spotlight. In productions like these, but also in concerts and assemblies, exhibitions and debates, and pep talks, our students become more and more comfortable living their lives out loud. It is a miracle worth singing about!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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 Brief Word – Sept. 25, 2014

Homecoming (Sept. 26) marked the official opening of our new Lower Fields Complex on the Hillsdale campus. Planned, funded and executed in less than a year, this magnificent new facility will enrich the lives of our students on all four campuses for many years to come. It provides a second full-size competition venue for soccer and lacrosse, a new softball field, and desperately needed all-weather, lighted practice fields that will ameliorate scheduling for late night practices that so complicate family life. It will provide easy drop off and pick up and handicap parking and access for family members who previously struggled to attend events.

It is stunning what this community can do when we pull together! We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Athletic Director Brian Phelps, Director of Operations Robert Horne, and to our Board of Trustees, especially Patrick Rogers, who guided the Board’s Athletic Facilities Task Force through dozens of design decisions and also spearheaded a highly concentrated fund-raising effort on a very tight timeline. Donors to the project have been recognized in our 40th Anniversary Annual Report, which recently arrived in your mailboxes. Members of the Athletic Facilities Task Force are listed below. Many, many thanks to all who helped make this possible!

Board Members

Patrick Rogers, Chair

Mike Collette

Dave Davis

Marc Fisher

Margot DeWitt Good

Dan Schimberg

Sarah Steinman, Board Chair

Booster Club Leaders

Jen Garrett

Abe Gordon

Amy Callow

Members-at-Large

Kerrin Antonsson

Peter Cha

Billy Cyr

Cal Kalnow

John McIlwraith

Susan Robinson

Charlie Schiff

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 Brief Word – Sept. 11, 2014

Bite Your tongue. Go out on a Limb. Drive Someone up a Wall. How do young children come to appreciate the rich feast that is the English language? Part of the answer can be found in a unit of study launched this week in the second grade. Each student is asked to draw from a hat an idiomatic phrase, like those above, and then to illustrate on two sides of a poster board both the literal and the figurative meaning of the phrase. As they plan to execute their diagrams, the conversation is rich: “I’m always driving my parents up a wall.” “‘Put a sock in it.’ I say that to my brother all the time.” Another quotes a riddle he just heard from Mrs. Fox.  “Why is a snake so hard to fool? Because you can’t pull his leg!” Through this animated dialogue, students learn to listen more attentively for the nuances in our language.  Later on, our students will move on to even more complex figurative language: to irony and metaphor and symbol, but it is here they first become alert to the shades of meaning that will make them, in the coming years, such skilled communicators. How very exciting to watch!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Over the past week, we have had a great many opportunities to celebrate the growth of our students in so many different areas. Nothing in school life is so fulfilling as to reflect on how far our students have come. We gathered together to celebrate what they have learned and how much more confident they seem in their emerging skills. We marveled at their surer grasp of who they are and what they want to be and at their eagerness to test themselves in new ways. What a joy to live in a community that unites to celebrate these miracles year after year!

My thanks to all of you, faculty and parents, staff, students, for all you have done to make 2013-14 such a fulfilling and meaningful 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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 Brief Word – May 16,  2014

For the last three weeks, eighth grade science students, under the direction of their teacher, Ken Revell, have been working on an innovative wind turbine project. The exercise involves exploring a variety of designs to maximize the efficiency of simple machines. Each team is given a wooden structure, about three feet high, and an identical living room fan. Working in project teams, students are asked to design blades and vary the radius of their axles to maximize the power of the machine to lift weight. They experiment with a number of designs for the turbine blades, varying breadth, angle, torque, and materials to increase the efficiency of their designs. In later stages, they design a complex pulley system, which will enable the wind engines to lift even more weight. The final element of the project involves transforming mechanical energy into electrical energy through the use of a generator; the winning team illuminates the largest array of light bulbs in a simple circuit.  The project has all of the elements of the most engaging learning: it is student-centered, oriented around inquiry and discovery, and engages students in working collaboratively to solve authentic, “real world” problems. What a fantastic culminating activity that requires students to apply many of the concepts they have learned throughout the year in a meaningful and engaging context!

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word from May 16, 2014

Tuesday afternoon, our Middle School tennis and baseball teams both played in championship competitions (and there are a great many more contests later this week).  Both contests revealed the values of this school community that, from time to time, make me achingly proud. The conditions were difficult: sweltering heat for the baseball players and swirling winds on the tennis courts; nevertheless, our athletes showed the kind of focus and determination for which we are widely respected. Our students gave their all in both contests, and they achieved some stunning results, but they also gave one another the warm and consistent support that is so characteristic of our teams.  It takes any army of people to support our athletic program: skilled coaches, committed and dedicated athletes, supportive team parents and volunteers. When it all comes together, it is very, very special.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

Brief Word – April 24,  2014

Earlier this week our fourth grade students walked the Hillsdale campus to take a “virtual tour” of a scale model of the solar system. The tour, called 7 Hills, 8 Planets – A Walking Tour of the Solar System, featured, at each of several “stations,” an elaborate multimedia presentation created using the iPad app ThingLink. As the fourth graders completed the tour, each completed a “passport,” to catalogue the information they learned as they travelled to each “planet.”

Here’s the kicker: all of the multimedia projects that comprised this “living museum” were created by our own seventh grade science students, under the guidance of their teacher Karen Glum! This ambitious project engaged seventh grade project teams in researching and presenting scientific information about their planet; it also developed such skills as measuring, graphing, calculating different types of averages, creating spreadsheets with formulas, scaling, converting between metric units, and, of course, condensing and presenting information in an engaging, multimedia format.

There’s an old adage that one only really learns something by teaching it to someone else.  What an exciting way to engage students in applying what they have learned in an authentic and meaningful context!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – March 13,  2014

This past weekend, 24 eighth through tenth graders sallied off to Columbus for the Ohio Junior Classical League convention.  At this annual event, hundreds of classics students from schools from across the state participate in a variety of classics-themed contests: from academic tests in grammar and Roman history, to graphic and creative arts, dramatic recitations in both English and Latin.  For the third time in the past five years, Seven Hills’ team finished second in the state on a per capita basis; indeed this group earned the highest average in school history, breaking the record we set just last year.

We are, of course, very proud of these splendid results, but we are even more proud that so many of our students choose to devote so much time and energy to immerse themselves in the language and culture of the ancient world.  These students spent months preparing for the competition and then devoted 48 hours to sharing, with students from across our state, their passion for the classics.  They are very fortunate to have a teacher so eager to nourish that appetiteO fortunati, quorum iam moenia surgunt.

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Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Feb. 20,  2014

In early February, Doherty hosted its annual pancake breakfast and art sale. More than 300 people attended the event to enjoy hot pancakes griddled by Patti Guethlein and Mitzi Moser, and to bid on student works at the rain forest-themed art auction, sponsored by Mimi Stricker.  Overall, the event raised $3,500 to support training for reading teachers in rural Guatemala.

Recently, Chinese students from Liuzhou, Cincinnati’s sister city, presented an assembly for our Upper School. In town for two weeks, the students visited classes in the morning before performing a cultural exchange program in the afternoon: an informational video about their city, traditional dances, and a hilarious elaborate puppet show set to Chinese technopop!  In turn, families from Liuzhou will host Seven Hills students in Liuzhou later this spring as part of our Chinese exchange program.

All in all, two wonderful ways to expose our students to the wider global community!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Jan. 17,  2014

On display this week in the corridors adjacent to the Upper School history classrooms are the results of a semester-long research project by Lisa Bradley’s psychology students. Each student was asked to choose a topic for investigation (most in the realm of social psychology), to read related research and develop a hypothesis about the correlation between some independent factor and an observable aspect of social behavior. Sample topics: the link between gender and dependence on social media or hygiene; the correlation between a taste for rap music and spirituality or between leadership and sociability; the relative weight of monetary rewards vs. parental pride as a motivator of teens; the connection between exercise and happiness. To test their hypotheses, students designed, administered, and analyzed surveys. Looking at the presentations, I was astonished, both by the imagination some of the topics evinced, but also by the rigor of students’ analysis of their experimental data. Students were asked not only to present their findings, but also to critique their own methodology. They probed the limits of what was knowable and speculated on which further experiments might hone their understanding. The essence of “authentic learning” is allowing students, wherever possible, to apply what they have learned to guide their own investigations into a phenomenon they observe. It’s exciting to watch!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Dec. 20,  2013

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a screening of several short films produced by Chris Caldemeyer’s seventh grade Writing Workshop class. Each film dramatized a one-act murder mystery, based loosely on 1940’s radio plays. Over a three-week period, students brainstormed story boards, wrote dialogue, developed a final shooting script, and then filmed and edited the plays on their iPads, adding sound effects and edits.

What a fabulous exercise, not only in narrative writing, but in teamwork! The plays could be no more than five minutes long and had to present the murder, the investigation – complete with clues, red herrings, and the resolution – all in that timeframe. In just six class meetings, each four-person team had to generate the script, assign parts, shoot the film and then make editorial decisions together, to craft the final product.

At the “film festival” – complete with 9:00 a.m. popcorn and a red carpet – each group showed their film and then heard commentary from the “critics,” classmates who were invited to the screening. I was struck both by the inventiveness of the scripts and by the lucidity (and the kindness) of the critical commentary students gave each other. It was clear that they had learned not only about how to structure a short narrative for maximum emotional impact but also how to work effectively together under demanding time constraints.  What a terrific project!

Happy Holidays!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Nov. 7, 2013

This weekend we were treated to a lavish and appropriately campy production of Alan Menken’s The Little Shop of Horrors, the first musical presented by Upper School in more than a decade. The show, which played to three sold out houses, featured more than 30 cast and crew members.  I admired the skill and the courage of the performers, who committed themselves fully to roles that required both vocal pyrotechnics and emotional vulnerability. I admired, too, the technical skill of our crew who surmounted the considerable challenge of staging and lighting elaborate dance numbers within the confines of our black box theater.  Nearly a dozen students and several faculty volunteers were involved working through the complex logistics of building the inventive set, designing lively costumes, blocking the show, and providing lighting and sound support so that the audience could catch the nuances of Howard Ashman’s clever lyrics amidst our howls of laughter.  Only in a school like Seven Hills could students do justice to the Faustian bargain that lies at the heart of this story: a young man so smitten with his co-worker that he agrees to feed his employer to a carnivorous plant, just to earn her regard.  What a great evening!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________A Brief Word – Oct. 24, 2013

A respectful hush fell on the room as solemn mourners, all dressed in black, gathered to pay their last respects.  The first speaker advanced to deliver her eulogy.  “I come to honor a dear old friend, the word Laugh, a long time resident of L Street in the village of Dictionary.  She gave up her life after years of overuse.  She is survived by her descendants:  chortle, guffaw, snicker, titter, cackles, snigger, giggle.”  So began the second grade’s Funeral for Dead Words, presided over by their teachers, Mrs. Necessary and Mrs. Swain.

Students delivered these eulogies for a host of worn out words, built gravestones to mark the passing of phrases too worn and too tired to be meaningful.  They named and celebrated the lively synonyms that would survive them, and pledged to honor these more lively words in their own writing.  All language arts teachers focus on this issue; they try to encourage students to use more precise, evocative diction, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a creative and memorable approach.

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Oct. 10, 2013

The energy company executive touted the economic benefits of cheaper energy: lower energy costs would attract commercial investment, which would bring jobs and tax revenue to the county. The land developer argued just as ardently for the tax benefits that would accrue from the new golf course community: high-end residential homes would bring property tax revenues and attract vacationers. But the EPA official expressed his concern about the runoff from pesticides and fertilizers while the mussel fisherman rued the impact of effluents on the delicate beds from which he derived his livelihood.

At issue was the fate of a 200-acre strip of riparian forest, perched above the Ohio River in New Richmond. In a zone rich in biodiversity, the trees created a powerful natural buffer against soil erosion and sedimentary runoff, and also stabilized the area against flooding.

What would be the environmental impact of these competing commercial projects, and how might they be mitigated? Over a week, Linda Ford’s Environmental Science students researched their position papers in preparation for a simulated Town Council hearing. It’s hard to imagine a better example of “real world learning,” or of students applying what they are learning in an authentic context.  Really, really exciting to watch!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Sept. 25, 2013

This week brings all of the excitement of Homecoming, a school-wide event that, each year, reveals many of this community’s most deeply held values.  It is, of course, a chance to cheer the hard work of all of our student athletes, to recognize the dedication and commitment to excellence exemplified by the hours of commitment they give each season. But it is also a chance to celebrate the unique spirit of this community. In my thirty-six years in independent schools, I have never been part of a community so rich in school spirit in the truest sense.

The hallmark of Seven Hills is our eagerness to support one another, not just in these moments of boisterous celebration, but also in the thousands of daily interactions I witness each day in our classrooms and hallways.  We can be very proud of all that our students achieve in so many different areas, but what truly distinguishes this school is our eagerness to support one other, not only in moments of triumph, but through hardship and adversity as well.

Our students are blessed with great natural talent and with families who nourish those talents in rich supportive soil, but many of our students thrive here even more fully because they are rooted in a much larger community, an extended family, eager to support them in all the moments of their lives.

Go Stingers!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School

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Brief Word – Sept. 12, 2013

Each year I marvel at how skilled teachers forge a classroom culture conducive to learning. Last week I visited a Pre-Kindergarten room where students were working to assemble an oversized jigsaw puzzle. A dozen four-year-olds sat in a circle while their teacher laid out the pieces, about 30 in all. The discussion was fascinating.

With seemingly infinite patience, she guided her students through a strategy session. Responding to her questions, students suggested starting with the corner pieces, then moving on to the edges. How, the teacher asked, do we identify the edges, and how do we know which are top or bottom, left or right? When the frame was assembled, the strategizing continued.

Students were encouraged to interpret visual clues. What colors were associated with sky and fields, houses and tractors; into what section of the puzzles should these elements fit? Students were taught to share with one another their observations. Theories were proposed, examined, and refined, and after hundreds of individual decisions, the picture clarified and filled in.

What I witnessed, it occurred to me later, was nothing short of a miracle: a superbly skilled teacher was modeling, for very young students, a complex approach to problem solving. Sure the students completed the puzzle, but along the way they learned many of the metacognitive tools they will need, throughout their lives, to sort and apply the information available to them to make sense of their world. Very exciting indeed!

ChrisGartensignature

Chris Garten
Head of School
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