Category Archives: Faculty

A Reflection on the Senior Class  

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by Ralph Lelii

When the neurologist Oliver Sachs was dying in 2015, he had written initially that he feared his imminent death. He had a sense of dread about the future, and lacked faith in what would follow his demise. As he entered stage four of his cancer, he was treated by a young Japanese-American oncologist. He wrote shortly after in his last essay that he had been changed by the experience. When he saw the care, the competence and the dedication of this young physician, he realized his arrogance. He would die confidently, in his words, that the future was safe in the hands of the young.

Each year I find proctoring the IB/AP examinations a moving experience for several reasons, but today Sach’s words resonated with me. As I watched almost eighty of our seniors engage a sophisticated literary essay for two hours, I was deeply touched by their sense of purpose and duty and the need to construct meaning from what they had read, but more than that, I was conscious of what it is we are doing here at this school, what we must do.

Every one who works on this campus, no matter her role, is participating in the survival of our species. We are communal, collaborative, and highly social creatures, and whatever else we are doing, we are passing on what we know so that we might survive beyond ourselves. The truth of it was palpable for me today as I watched them in their youthful beauty and strength struggle with that examination. Despite our pretensions as adults, their imperfections and anxieties differ from ours only in degree. Freud said that we become truly adult when we realize that our parents suffer just as much as we do. I would add the corollary observation that we fully grasp the nature of the young when we grant them the complexity, the nobility and the mystery we attribute to ourselves.

Earlier this year, I had a minor surgery, although as I learned, there really are no “minor surgeries”. They are all risky and require great precision. As I lay in the OR, I was surrounded by eleven doctors, technicians, nurses and support staff, each playing their part in this elaborate and precisely staged medical ritual. I remember thinking of all the teachers each had encountered in their youth, all the men and women they had observed in so many roles, how they had absorbed both the utility of knowledge and the sense of ethical duty that accompanies it.

Today, watching our seniors, I felt again the simple truth that the far larger share of the future belongs to them, not to us. Despite our human tendency to think that the entire universe revolves and evolves around our own consciousness (it does not), it was satisfying to know that I, like Sachs, like every one of us, am just passing through. This work we do matters so much because it is fundamentally about the survival of our species, about our continued evolution and the adaptation it necessitates; they will do well when their turn comes, perhaps even better than we. In the words of the poet Sharon Olds, it is the oldest story of the human race, the story of our replacement.

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An Ongoing Commitment

by Sam Houser

At a time when transgender rights are again in the news, I am writing to affirm George School’s own commitment to welcoming and including students and employees who are transgender or gender non-binary, or whose families may include members who identify as transgender or gender non-binary. Similarly, we welcome the presence, active engagement, talents, and support of our graduates who identify as transgender or gender non-binary.

In April of 2015, the George School Board approved a policy stating the school’s intention to welcome and include transgender students in our community. This included providing appropriate accommodations and a supportive residential environment for those who are boarders.

In February of 2017, the Friends Council on Education issued a statement affirming that, consistent with the Quaker testimony of equality, Friends schools strive to create communities inclusive of all students, including transgender and gender non-binary students.

Last spring, the Friends School League (FSL) also adopted a similar policy regarding the inclusion of transgender and gender non-binary students into athletics programs among FSL schools.

All of these developments reflect a deep commitment on the part of George School and other Friends schools to foster healthy and diverse educational communities by valuing, respecting, and drawing upon the richness of differences to strengthen our education. This commitment stems from the very underpinnings of Quakerism that include teaching there is that of God in every person, that all people are equal and deserve equal respect and treatment, and that healthy communities are those that accept and nurture differences.

George School is a rare place. Here, people of many identities, from around the world, live, learn, and play together. Being a George School community member entails engaging with new and sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. This can be hard work, but the effort is an important one that will help us diligently mind the Light and prepare us to do good inside our school community and beyond.

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Costa Rica – Final Reflection

By Pacho Gutierrez ‘77

Twenty-three years ago I led the first GS student trip to Costa Rica, a country that inspired me not only for its natural richness, but also for its dedication to conservation, sustainability, peace and social justice, among other things.  This was my 12th time taking students to this magnificent country.  As always, I left it refreshed and inspired.

Almost a quarter of a century will bring great change to any country, but it seems to be magnified in Costa Rica since it used to be so pristine.  Its population has grown by 47 percent between 1994 and 2017.  As Ticos gain in affluence, they buy more vehicles, build more roads, and construct more businesses.  This become greatly apparent as one travels the roads, there is construction everywhere.  The modern world is taking over, even a country where simplicity and unhurried lifestyle has been the way of life.

Costa Rica is doing its best to be a world leader in many fronts.  For example, and as was mentioned in the blogs, it was the first nation to reach 100 percent renewable electricity production in 2015, making it a leader in energy sustainability.  Almost one third of its territory is protected in some form or another from development or exploitation.  Ninety seven percent of its population has access to electricity and potable water. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. It enforces conservation laws better than most other Latin American countries.  It provides health services better than most developing countries.  It has low crime and poverty rates.

Progress continues to spread over the planet.  Modern conveniences and amenities are encroaching the Costa Rican countryside.  For example, it used to be there was little or no cell service in rural areas, now it seems like there is WiFi connectivity in every room in every lodge, no matter how remote (Tortuguero).  Those eco-tourists demand their connectivity!

Ticos continue to soldier on with their respect for nature, for wildlife and for each other.  Animals move about unafraid or unconcerned with humans.  It’s like what happens with the GS squirrels, they are emboldened by the way they are left free to roam.

Ticos are humble people with a strong sense of family and solidarity with their neighbors, something that really struck a chord with our students.  The respect and cohesiveness they show with one another is refreshing and awe inspiring.  Sure, they have problems like everyone else, but they have a tranquility about them that is unique.

Ticos say Pura Vida! (literally: Pure Life) for everything: as a greeting, as a response, as an expression, as an invitation to be positive and jovial.  Its contagious, one can’t help to be happy around Ticos.  Pura Vida all around!

I hope they never lose their joy to live their meaningful lives!

 

 

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Costa Rica

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by Kevin

There is always something to be learned.  Isn’t that what we tell our students?  As adults and teachers we can generally anticipate their true needs as well as their desires.  Your children need to eat!  They desire connection to social media.  They need to set daily wake-up alarms.  Their desire is that we rouse them from their slumber in time to make it to breakfast.  Our students have been afforded the luxury of doing service in a country in which evaluating what is needed, verses what is desired, is a repeated thread in the fabric of the Tico’s way of life.

Today, after checking out of our tourist lodge, we visited an organic pineapple farm.  I was surprised to learn that I was woefully deficient in the actual facts involving the cultivation, organic needs, and eventual selection of the pineapples we purchase in the super market.  Four perfect pineapples were sacrificed to sate our desire for knowledge of the MD2 golden pineapple (Ananas Comosus) but the goal was accomplished.  Your children are now experts in how to pick the perfect pineapple and how to eat it!  This was a delicious learning experience.

I had the pleasure of delivering your children to their overnight homestays in San Isidro.  I hope that you will not think me unkind in the concealed joy that I took at observing them make their personal introductions to their families.  Moments later, as the adults were shaking hands with their overnight parents, you could see the uncertainty in their eyes and feel the desire, from most, to be spared this new experience.  For me, this was great theatre!  They will rarely be more present and truthful than in those moments.

What I relish in these closing hours of service are their final reflections.  As a group, they have done a marvelous job of bonding.  The overnight homestay visits touched each of your children in unique ways.  They understand now that they needed the visit to their rural families.  Families that have built their humble homes, from foundation to roof, with their own hands.  The pictures that we included in our blogs captured only the surface of a few moments that your child tasted, breathed and prayed their way through.  The changes were subtle.  They happened when they realized they were sleeping comfortably under three walls and an aluminum roof.  It happened as they were served freshly ground coffee dripping from a cloth filter with steamed milk.  It happened as they realized that Tico’s have opened their homes and way of life to the many and varied animals and plants that are native to Costa Rica.  Most noticed the way people in the community flow from house to house and the way Ticos focus on their families. Find the time to really listen to what your children have experienced.  When was the last time you were awakened by Howler monkeys, parrots, or a chorus of roosters on a fine weekday morning?  There have been so many new tastes, sounds and sights to compare and contrast.  In these closing hours before they return home to summer reading, chores, beaches, relatives and college visits, we will task them one last time to share and reflect on what they have lived with the hope that you will be the recipient of their trials and triumphs.

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Bonaire Day 5

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by Chris Odom

The Bonaire Service Trip is going amazingly well, and our group is comprised of a bunch of resilient, hardworking, malleable, and happy people.  The scuba-training portion of the trip concluded two days ago, and already we have conducted one reef clean-up dive, one fish identification survey dive, and two night dives (which is practically unheard of from novice divers.)  The fish ID survey benefits scientific researchers who monitor coral reef health, and our night dive tonight was to observe the rarely seen bioluminescent mating ritual of the ostracod crustaceans.  Amazing dives and amazing students!

Shortly before we arrived on Bonaire, an oil refinery in Trinidad ruptured spilling oil into the Caribbean.  The oil slick traveled over 1000 kilometers and is now washing ashore on the east coast of Bonaire.  Tomorrow our group will wake up early to travel to the eastern side of the island to help with the clean-up efforts.  It has to be early before the heat of the day makes the work unbearable and the oil too soft to handle.  After we return, we will head to Jong Bonaire, a children’s after school program for Bonairian youth, similar to the Boys and Girls Club in the US, to begin our service there.

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John Streetz: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend

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Friends,

I am deeply sorry to share the news that John Streetz, former George School teacher, coach, and a most beloved and devoted friend of the community, passed away on Saturday, March 18, 2017 in Oakland, CA.

George School’s first African-American teacher, John was hired in 1950 by Head of School Dick McFeely to teach Chemistry. Over the next sixteen years, John also coached track and cross-country and lived in Orton Dormitory with his family. He had a profound and lasting effect on his students, his colleagues, and the school; he was a legend in his own time.

In addition to his legacy within each of us who knew him, John’s presence will continue to be felt on campus every day. In 2009, several of John’s former students funded the construction of a new faculty home on campus, Streetz House. John and his late wife Jackie were the class sponsors for the Class of 1961 which, on the occasion of their 50th reunion, presented George School with a wonderful gift to the endowment, The John and Jackie Streetz Scholarship Fund. These generous gifts are fitting tributes to John that will support and nurture George School students and faculty for years to come.

I want to share with you an excerpt from the email sent earlier this week by Dick Brown to his 1961 classmates:

We have lost an exceptional person, a man who inspired us, comforted us, and often made us laugh. John was the heart and soul of our class inspiring us with his own accomplishments, challenging us with his intelligence, delighting us with his humor, and always taking pride in our accomplishments. We encourage all classmates to attend the memorial service when it is scheduled. 

With apologies to Eleanor Hoyle:  Quos valde amas numquam vere moriuntur … those who we love deeply never truly die.

As of this writing, there is not yet a date for a memorial service, but we will post new information on this page as it becomes available.

Please join me in holding John’s daughter Pamela ’70 and their family in the Light. I hope that you will share your remembrances and words of comfort here—in this community space dedicated to John Streetz and his remarkable life.

Karen Hallowell

April 20, 2017 editors note:  News of the death of John Streetz in March has left many in the extended George School family mourning the loss of our beloved teacher, coach, colleague, and friend. We will gather to honor John’s memory and celebrate his life at George School on Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. in the meetinghouse. All are welcome.

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Sunday in the park with Debbie

by Debbie DiMicco 

Actually it was not in the park, but back in Alsace on a particularly lovely Sunday.  On Sundays in Alsace, everything is closed (which is not the case in the rest of France, but Alsace is a bit “particular” in that way).  It is a day off for most people, and, as the stepson of my host Céline explained to me, Sunday is a day when you do not look at your watch.

Nancy and I were invited to a noon meal at Virginie’s house (Virginie is one of the trip leaders, along with my host Céline Peronet who will be accompanying the group when they arrive at the end of March).  It was a delightful reunion of former trip leaders, many of whom were hosted by Nancy or me on past trips.  We met up with Alain Collange, a now retired but long-time leader of the trip, former GS French teacher and trip leader, Claudie Fischer, past trip leaders Christine Garaud and Benedicte Zirnheld.  We caught up with Hélène Wicquart, who accompanied the exchange back in the 70’s when the group visited GS in August…

After a week of rain, wind, clouds and cold, it was finally sunny.  We took advantage of the beau temps on Virginie’s patio basking in some much desired sunshine and meeting up with old friends and veterans of this storied exchange.

After this day of “repos” the students will return tomorrow to their “stages” for the remainder of the week.

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March 3

After our wake-up call at 2:15 a.m., smooth flights at 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and a warm reception at the Managua airport where the 11th grade class met us with their teachers, we drove to the school accompanied by the students. A late lunch of chicken, salad, rice, and fries was awaiting us. Everyone ate well! Soon after, we were entertained by dancers and a poetry reading as we took in the whole scene. Such excitement! The students in pairs went into the older students’ classrooms and helped the teachers with their lessons. By 6:00 p.m., one by one, families came by to pick up their GS student. It was lovely to see them meet. We hope you like the photos!

Starting tomorrow, the students will write the blog entries. They are doing fine; their Spanish is really quite impressive as they dive into their first evening of immersion. We’re heading to bed now and hope that they are too. Tomorrow, we will visit Managua.

Tom and Cheri

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Nicaragua Service-Learning Trip Blog

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Feb. 28, 2017

Welcome to our Nicaragua Service-Learning Trip Blog! We have a fantastic group of eight juniors, bursting with energy and excitement for all that awaits them in Managua, Nicaragua. They are Niccolo, Alex F. (alias “Alejandro”), Alex C., Phil, Greg, Maia, Tali, and Alyssa. Please come to this site daily to see what we are doing and how we are feeling. Participants will make daily entries along with as many photos as we can take!

Packing Day

This afternoon, as a welcome break from their fourth final exam, our group came together to sort all the incredible donations that they had collected. School supplies, toys, games, personal products, clothes, shoes, dental supplies, and more were spread all over the very classroom where many of them have spent endless hours practicing their Spanish. It was a lovely sight to see our kids get to work. What a challenge fitting everything into the donation suitcases! Many thanks already to them, to you, to your friends and family for all you have helped make happen. The donated suitcases, monetary contributions, luggage donation fees, and most of all, your SUPPORT…

When we post our next blog, we will be in the hotel at the airport, or maybe, we will already be with our host families getting to know everyone. Stay tuned and feel free to sign in and respond to any posts. The kids love it. Soon after we land in Managua, you will be notified of our safe arrival. Thank you again for all the sacrifices you have made to allow your child (children!) to be with us. We are honored to share this experience with them.

Tom and Cheri

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Religion or Religions Department?

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by Tom Hoopes ’83 Head of Religions Department, Assistant Dean, Coach

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked this famous rhetorical question, and school children for generations have used it as a foil for considering the power and meaning of words and names.

It is a question that we in the Religions Department recently considered in a searching, deliberate process. You may have noticed in the previous sentence that I said “religions,” with an “s” rather than “religion.” If so, good catch. You might be wondering, “what’s the difference?” I am so glad you asked! Allow me to tell a story…

Some years ago I found myself in a hospital bed, having experienced a grave illness which was not diagnosed at first. (They not-so-jokingly called me “the House patient,” referring to Dr. House on TV, who takes the presumably unsolvable cases.) I felt deep, abiding gratitude for the care I was receiving from myriad professionals, including many doctors and nurses as well as the people who took my temperature and blood pressure and changed my IV tubes, the people who brought me food and those who changed my bedding. I was there for two weeks, so people came and went with regularity.

People were consistently friendly to me, and engaged me in light conversation. I decided this was the perfect opportunity for an experiment! Usually the question would come up, “what do you do?” I noticed a pattern emerging. If I said, “I teach religion,” they would politely acknowledge my response, and then gently change the subject or fairly quickly find a way to end the conversation and get on with their work and out the door. By contrast, if I answered with, “I teach world religions,” the response, almost uniformly, sought deeper engagement. People would say, “oh, that sounds interesting, tell me more” or “World Religions was my favorite subject in college” or, “which religions?” The variety of their responses was as diverse as the people.

Given that this was a large, urban hospital, I encountered a full gamut of skin tones and people visibly presenting as members of at least four different religious denominations known to me (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu), and numerous more discovered upon further conversation.

“What is going on here?” I thought to myself. Recognizing my vulnerability to confirmation bias and selection bias, I did my best to control these in the few days I had remaining in the hospital. Upon my discharge, I have continued this experiment in multiple venues for the last several years, with complete strangers at baseball games, weddings, shopping malls, parties, and anywhere else I may go. My results in the hospital have been replicated with extraordinary fidelity.

What I have determined is that the statement, “I teach religion” was consistently getting interpreted as a statement of my efforts to promote one doctrine or dogma at the exclusion of others, and many people find it to be a conversation stopper.

So do I. And so does George School. Our work in the Religions Department is to create a safe, stimulating and open context for students from all backgrounds to try and make sense of the dizzying array of knowledge claims they encounter on a regular basis in their lives. Learning about some of the major religious traditions of the world—including their symbols, practices, rituals and representations of the divine—is a wonderful portal into the discipline of becoming a world citizen. Alongside the rest of a George School education, courses in the Religions Department help our students to learn about their world and themselves, thereby equipping them to let their lives speak in ways that engage other people.

We do not “teach religion”—we do not teach what to believe, nor the right (or wrong) way to think. Rather, we teach the beliefs and practices of many religions, and we invite critical inquiry, so that students learn to appreciate and value the wisdom traditions that have come down to us through the ages, while reconciling them with their own experiences and family traditions. I have yet to have a student in class that did not learn a substantial amount about their own family’s spiritual and religious traditions; and in most cases the experience has deepened their appreciation for those traditions. Indeed, I would claim that most of the students at George School who identify as religiously faithful see me and the other members of the Religions Department as strong allies for their journey. May that continue to be so.

When we gathered to consider possible alternate names for our department, we considered a variety of options which are visible at other high schools that include, Religious Studies; Religious Thought; Contemplative Studies; Religious Life; Quaker Studies; and various combinations of each of these. While each of these has compelling justifications, as a team we were able to reach unity in support of “Religions,” because it had the greatest virtue of accuracy and inclusiveness for almost all of our courses. This includes Theory of Knowledge, which can be taught as a cut-and-dry philosophy course, but at its best it is fundamentally aligned with the Quaker mission of George School, to seek truth and to invite students to let their lives speak. While that may not be “religion,” per se, it is certainly congruent with the overall mission of the Religions Department.

Going forward, the Religions Department looks forward to the Quaker discipline of continuing revelation. In the last several years, we have begun to offer the following courses: Religions of the African Diaspora, Feminist Theology, and Spirituality and Sustainability. I am considering augmenting my current Peace Studies class to create one more explicitly focused on spirit-led non-violent direct action. A fundamental precept of Quakerism is the importance of staying open to new Light, and keeping the dialogue going. If you have ideas for courses that you think might be offered through the Religions Department, or other thoughts about this blog post, I look forward to hearing from you.

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