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Colleen Crowley: A Woman of Many Hats

This is the first in a series of articles in which Curious George staff writer Julia Carrigan interviews some of the behind-the-scenes people at George School–dining room staff, grounds crew workers, environmental services, and plant personnel; the people who keep us up and running day-by-day, year-by-year.

by Julia Carrigan ‘20

“Steady. Quiet. Good.”

These are the three words Colleen Crowley uses to describe her life.

Working at George School for over seventeen years, Colleen has served as barn manager, emergency services officer, assistant self-defense teacher, and Culinart team member in the Dining Room. Though often overlooked, down through the years Colleen has made extraordinary contributions to the George School community. And George School is all the richer for her hard work, her friendliness, and her playful sense of humor.

“I grew up in Vermont,” Colleen replied when asked about her early roots. “My parents divorced when I was five. I did see my dad during my childhood, but it was my mom who raised us. I went to college in Pennsylvania and was really surprised to find out that spring break was actually spring break, instead of freezing my butt off. I enjoyed it down here—so my first job out of college was in Pennsylvania as well, in Allentown, and then George School had a position open and they wanted me to give it a shot. So I did.”

Ever open to new experiences, Colleen helped teach a self-defense class last year. “It was learning for me, as well as helping [Doug] out,” she noted. “I would tease him and say that I was his test dummy, but at no time was I harmed, hurt, or anything. It was learning for both the students and myself.”

She felt the importance of knowing self-defense tactics lay in the fact that we are all vulnerable. “Anybody can get attacked, anybody. So it’s important for us to be able to get out, get away, be willing to put them down, and run like crazy.” She added that some of the more physical techniques can be especially useful for people who are not naturally loud or fast. “I don’t have a good scream; that part of my defense doesn’t work,” she said.

Additionally, Colleen added, learning self-defense is fun. “It’s good to know and it’s fun to do. I would have loved to see more kids do it.”

Teaching self-defense, though, was just the latest of a long list of jobs Colleen has performed at George School through the years. “Basically, I’ve had three hats. My first and my longest stint, was down at the barn teaching horseback riding lessons. I was the community lesson person, and my title ‘Barn Manager’ was just a fancy title for getting the crap done that has to get done—the non-glamourous stuff. So I did that for sixteen years here. Then I got tired of dealing with the horses, and it just wasn’t any fun anymore.”

Colleen is always trying to re-invent her “place” at George School. “George School has been good to me,” she noted. “Doug [Walters] was the first person who said to me, ‘Are you interested in working security? Do you want to try it?’ and I said, ‘Sure!’ and I do like it. I do. I pray we never have an incident, but I do enjoy it. I like hanging out. I like wandering around helping out the kids as needed.”

Unfortunately, Colleen noted, the security position is part-time. “I had to find something else, and again through somebody who knew me. I knew him [Joe Ducati, Food Service Director] through his wife Kate, because she worked down in the garden. We were all the earth girls down there. The dirty girls, all covered in dirt and never paying attention to it. And Kate said, ‘Do you want to try this? They need some help,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’”

So, Colleen started working a second job with the Dining Room staff, and she likes that position, too. “I do like talking with the kids and visiting with the kids and stuff like that. I like that interaction. I don’t enjoy the messes. It’s not bad, though—it’s good.”

Colleen Crowley at The Renaissance Faire.

All of Colleen’s memories seem positive—happy memories that may explain why she is such an upbeat and optimistic person. “My family has always been supportive,” Colleen said when asked about her childhood. “When we were younger, I think I was thirteen, my dad took us on a cross country trip. I don’t know how we didn’t kill each other. The whole summer, we drove along the exterior states, you know, exploring things.”

Colleen’s tightest bonds, though, are with her sister and her mom. “I’ve always had good memories with my mom. It’s my sister, my mom and I. We’ve always been pretty close. We harass each other constantly. I have a nephew who looks like me so my sister can’t say I’m adopted anymore.” She laughed. “You know, the sibling thing.”

Teaching for Colleen is all about long-term rewards, and not the material kind. “I love it when I’ve taught a kid, then they go on with life, then they see me again, and it’s like—huge hug! ‘Oh my god. Thank you.’”

“For most people, you affect people, you help people, but in the back of your mind, you don’t see yourself as a huge part of their life. You don’t see yourself as a huge factor. I’ve had parents come back and they say, ‘Thank you for believing in my child.’ That hits me here [gestures towards heart]. I’m not a big, crazy, out-there-in-the-world person, but I like to know that I’ve had some influence, some effect on someone in a positive way.”

Asked if she would change anything about George School, Colleen waxed philosophical, in a down-to-earth way. “The big thing that I would love to change about George School,” she said, “is that it’s a bubble. It’s this community, it’s different from the real world. There’s this mentality that ‘it’s not going to happen to us,’ and that scares me.”

As anybody can tell from just talking to Colleen, respect is a big part of her life, and she would like everyone to show more respect for themselves and others. “We should be respectful of each other,” she says. “Be respectful of property. Respectful in every way you can look at it. Respectful towards the earth, towards people, towards animals, towards everything. I’m a big proponent of animals. Senseless violence makes me angry.”

For George School students in particular, Colleen has pointed words of wisdom. “There is no such thing as being entitled—no one’s entitled to anything. The world is not fair—it doesn’t give you things because you did this the right way. You want to try to make it as fair as possible. Do right, do good, no matter who’s watching, but at the same time I know that not everybody is going to do that. You want to try to change that, but you can’t expect everybody to do that.”

Although she claims that her life “hasn’t been as adventuresome as some other people’s,” and although she may never have climbed Mt. Everest, or starred in a Broadway musical, or worked as an FBI agent, Colleen has led her own uniquely individual life that is exciting in its own ways. She dares to be an earth girl and dress like a pirate at the Renaissance Faire. She dares to tame horses and she dares to learn to defend herself. She even dares, when exam week comes around, to stop a hungry high-schooler from grabbing six chicken fingers instead of the allowed five.

Although Colleen’s life may be summed up as “steady, quiet, and good”—that sounds pretty adventuresome to me.

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Safely in Johannesburg!

We’re safely in Johannesburg!

We’re on board the last flight to Cape Town. More news tomorrow. Photos too. We’re weary from the journey, but excited to be here.

Erin, Amedeo, and Sara

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Off to Nicaragua!

Here we are, packing all of our donations!!

Thank you to all the families and friends who helped gather all the awesome items!! Continue reading

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June 16: Mai Chau

Written by Anneliese ’16

You never appreciate your washer and dryer at home until you’re stuck using a bathtub and a sink in your hotel room. Anyway, life in Vietnam has been amazing and has been an eye opener. Visiting the orphanage has made me grateful for the family that I have and love dearly. Being away from home is also a new experience that I have to deal with. The first day I was excited to “be on my own.” These past few days I have been feeling homesick, especially missing my little brothers. All in all this trip is an amazing opportunity that I’ve been given and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

Tam biet!

From Cheri:

Today we drove to Mai Chau, but first we stopped at the Women’s Union in Hoa Binh, the capital of this province. We spent an hour there listening to all the great work that the Women’s Union does for the many communities in the province. We made our donations (three suitcases worth and money $$$$) and then continued on our way to Mai Chau. Mai Chau is actually a commune, made up of a small town, and Ban Lac and Pom Coong, where we are located. The boys stay in one house on stilts while the girls stay in another. Each of our mattresses on the floor has a mosquito net around it and we have plenty of fans “cooling” us off. The hosts here sure know how to cook! We sat down to a scrumptious meal of chicken legs, green beans and garlic, rice, soup, homemade potato chips, fried spring rolls, meatballs in sauce, and little bananas. Such a yummy dinner—everything, virtually everything, is grown or raised in this small village or in the neighboring one. This family, like most, has its own fish pond, rice paddy, vegetables and banana trees. George School has been coming to this family for over a decade.

We spent the evening relaxing in anticipation of the long, hot work that we will do tomorrow! We are going to work at the community center preparing a patio and sidewalk. To bed by 10:00 to the sound of crickets competing with one another (or perhaps mating!)

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Reflecting on TED, Preparing for TEDxGeorgeSchool

by Ralph Lelii, English department and TEDxGeorgeSchool coordinator

In preparation for, and anticipation of, our TEDxGeorgeSchool conference on June 13, I recently attended a TED Conference in Whistler, Canada, a skiing town about three hours north of Vancouver in British Columbia. Whistler was the site of the 2010 winter olympics, and it is about 8,000 feet above sea level, a lovely, distant locale populated mostly by serious skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. In the midst of this idyllic vacation resort, about 800 people gathered for a TED Conference. Continue reading

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George School Service Trips 2015

This year George School students will be participating in a number of service trips throughout the world. This spring trips will go to Brazil, France, Mississippi, Nicaragua, and Washington DC. This summer groups will travel to Vietnam, Costa Rica, and Arizona. More information about each trip is below. Continue reading

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The Examined Life

by Ralph Lelii, English department

On the Sunday before Christmas, I sat in worship with my two grandchildren in the Abington Friends Meetinghouse. It had been a festive and blessed morning, complete with caroling, a roaring fire and general good cheer. Out of the silence, a Friend stood and spoke. He said that he had been angry earlier that morning and had acted in ways that made him feel ashamed. Before sitting, he said it was important that he remember that if there is to be peace on earth, it needs to begin with him.

In that ancient room, there was a feeling of gathered spiritual commitment. The spoken ministry had seemed earnest and timely, and the assembled Friends, myself included, were united in that vision of the world, one in which spiritual contemplation and its resultant action could result in a better, more ethically coherent world. It is a vision of human existence I hope my grandbabies will share, one where there is the possibility of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Spiritual reflection often brings such hope and such rewards, but as the silence returned, my thoughts wandered away from this tranquility. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Work

by Ralph Lelii, English department

I have benefitted in myriad ways from my long association with George School, but perhaps as significant as any has been my ability to travel on many international service trips. I have been to Asia seven times, to India, and to Israel and the West Bank, and these trips enriched my life in ways that are significant and enduring.  In my experience, the spiritual qualities of the human heart and soul are quite universal, but the material and existential conditions and possibilities afforded by different cultural and political environments vary widely. Perhaps my strongest memory will be the consequences that accrue in societies where many citizens must face a life devoid of meaningful work. Continue reading

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Reflections on Taking Responsibility

by Sara Rhodin ’02, history department

In his 1978 essay, the “Power and the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel, the esteemed Czech dissident and later president of the Czech Republic, tells the story of a manager of a fruit and vegetable stand who places a sign in his window– as instructed by the Communist authorities– exclaiming “Workers of the World Unite!” Why does this aforementioned greengrocer display such an enthusiastic cry for unification of the world’s workers in his window? Does he really care about the unification of workers, or has he even given thought to what such a unification would look like? Likely, Havel argues, the vast majority of greengrocers in Communist Czechoslovakia don’t even think about the signs they place in their windows or care about the message they are conveying by engaging in this act except to say, as Havel puts it, “I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” It’s an action stemming from a deep fear of losing one’s freedom, livelihood, and in the most banal of terms, “a relatively tranquil life.” But by engaging in this action, by placing this seemingly empty slogan in the window of his store, the greengrocer is taking a political stance; he is lending legitimacy to a totalitarian regime in order to protect his own interests. Continue reading

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Lessons from Squirrels

This post was adapted from a speech written by Head of School Nancy Starmer and delivered during the Opening Assembly on September 1, 2014. 

Those of us who live year round on the GS campus know that it’s hard not to pay attention occasionally to our squirrel friends.  I, personally, have an ambivalent relationship with them.  Like many of you, I’ve been startled often by a squirrel flying at me out of a dumpster and they’ve eaten holes in the screens of my house and gotten into the kitchen cupboards. I’ve chased them around the dining hall in the summer when they’ve just waltzed in through an open door, and just this past summer I found myself having to apologize on behalf of all of GS for the behavior of our squirrels when one ate through the zipper in a house guest’s suitcase to get at a granola bar she’d stored in the front compartment for her trip home (she’d left the suitcase out on the driveway for five minutes while she waited for her ride and in that brief period of time the squirrel managed to completely destroy the bag.) Continue reading

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