The 2011-12 school year is my 13th as the head of NCS. Selden and I met on campus and were married on the Lake Hill in 1984. Both our children—Jon and Lucy—have in the past or are now attending North Country School and Camp Treetops. On this page, I aim to show your children at work and play and to share pertinent resources.
Among the many reasons to welcome spring is the fact that for NCS students and staff it’s a season of active participation in the communities beyond our campus. On the first sunny Saturday in May, for instance, 260 local residents came for our sixth annual Pancake Breakfast. Visitors of all ages—families with young children, seniors from a nearby nursing home—came for delicious pancakes with our own maple syrup but stayed throughout the morning for additional fun activities. Our students greeted guests, worked in the kitchen, waited on tables as waiters, and led sessions of arts and crafts and face painting. They did a tremendous job making our guests feel welcome and showing visitors all that we do here. (Click here for a slide show.)
Springtime also means lambing season and the arrival of baby pigs and chicks, so the barnyard is another busy site for visitors. Our farm staff this spring has hosted school groups from Brattleboro, Vermont, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, and Lake Placid. Students of all ages, from pre-school through high school, enjoyed seeing the animals up close and learning about our food production.
A couple of weekends ago, John Culpepper, director of facilities and sustainability, hosted a professor and students in an environmental studies class from Richard Stockton College in Galloway, NJ, for a tour of our sustainability initiatives. In addition, John has been speaking at numerous conferences locally and as far away as Seattle about our efforts to green our campus, move to renewable sources of energy, and reduce our carbon footprint.
Lastly, if nothing else, spring is an inspiration for arts of all kinds. Fifteen of our fourth, fifth, and sixth graders exhibited an impressive variety of artwork—watercolors, weavings, black and white photography, and a mobile of fused glass—in the student art show sponsored by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Ninth grade students are filming an adaptation of A Mid Summer Night’s Dream that they hope to share with the wider world on the Internet. And much of our student body is busy with rehearsal, set construction, sound, lighting, and costuming for this year’s spring performance of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A free performance for the public will be held Wednesday, May 30 (click here for details), and if the past is any prelude, we’re hoping to pack the house. We talk a lot about community at NCS, and it's wonderful to see our students engaging with the wider worlds around them.
Creativity & Innovation April 23, 2012
It doesn’t take more than a minute or two after stepping into our Main Building to realize that this is a place where creativity thrives. Our arts programs are an obvious strength. The range of studio and performing arts we offer is exceptional, as is their pervasiveness in our daily lives, their connection to nature and our unique place, and their practical application. As just one example, seventh graders are creating books of original poetry. The covers will be made from relief prints of an animal feature that students chose from their barnyard observations. Several of their poems will also be about life on the farm.
In other academic classes, as well, imagination and innovation are put to practical use. This week in an earth science lab, eighth graders demonstrated principles of glacial erosion and mass movement using ice cream and toppings. Fourth and fifth grade science students have simulated their own greenhouse gas effects and are writing and performing skits to portray the interaction of climactic elements.
And two of our recent rites of spring are all about creativity. For Spirit Week, an event organized by Community Council (our student government), students dress each day in a different theme, and the cleverness they bring to this task is impressive. On Crazy Hair Day, two students braided their hair together. On Twin Day, we had a set not only dressed in matching clothing and hairstyles but with an identical splint and bandage on an injured hand. And for this year’s Box Suppers—an auction where we bid on decorated boxes with work hours to accomplish the spring clean-up jobs around campus—the girls created festive, colorful boxes, with some designed as a peace sign, a bird house, a tent in the woods, a sailboat. (Click here for a slide show of the Box Supper auction.)
I recommend a recent Wall Street Journal article, Educating the Next Steve Jobs, about hands-on learning and innovation. And it makes me wonder: Is it really such a stretch to suggest that the next Steve Jobs may well come from a place like this one?
Ninth-Grade Leaders, Part II April 5, 2012
As noted previously (see February 7th entry, below), much of our program for ninth graders is about developing and exercising leadership. Whether mentoring our younger students, table heading, or organizing community traditions like the Halloween Spook House or the winter term's Casino Night, our seniors enjoy myriad opportunities to lead by example. As Graduation on June 2 looms ever closer, they also continue to meet important milestones that serve as concrete measures of their growth.
Yesterday during Town Meeting, for instance, the class gave an outstanding presentation about its Outward Bound Sailing Trip just before spring break. During the slide show, each student rose and stood before the school to speak about a personal challenge overcome or a new learning experience. (Click on the eMagazine below to read all of the reflections.) Within a few days most seniors will be making their final decision about where to attend secondary school next year, the culmination of a long and at times stressful process that began last summer. The results are rewarding, though, as most our seniors were admitted to their first or second choice school, with this year's acceptances ranging from Concord Academy, Exeter, and Loomis to Proctor, Putney, Colorado Rocky Mountain School, and Gould.Next month, the class will complete together the last of their requirements for graduation by climbing Cascade Mountain, the Adirondack High Peak just beyond our campus—and a fitting metaphor for their many achievements.
Click on the eMagazine below for students' reflections about the trip.
Winter Lemonade February 22, 2012
For lovers of winter sports (not to mention many local businesses), the lack of snow has made for a disappointing season here in the North Country. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, we were in the midst of a winter that would eventually pile up a total of 20 feet of snow. Not so this year.
Despite the conditions, yesterday we held the 2012 edition of Ski Meister, our annual on-campus afternoon of friendly skiing competitions. Lack of snow forced us to improvise, so we moved the venue from the ski hill to frozen Round Lake and replaced the traditonal biathlon, slalom, and freestyle events with a variety of fun activities that we’re calling Sk-ICE Meister.
We held the Nordic race as a series of sprints on the lake. On large patches of cleared ice, students participated in curling, figure skating, and hockey skills, while others played in the igloo, went ice fishing, even kite flying. We raced the kick sleds, made last month from recycled pallets to take advantage of the ice that has covered our campus trails for most of the winter. We lit the bonfire on the ice, and the hotdogs, hot chocolate, and marshmallows tasted as good as ever. In short, Sk-ICE Meister 2012 was a tremendous success, enjoyed by all and sure to be remembered for years to come. Faculty organizer John Doan deserves special mention for the creativity and flexibility that made the event so much fun.
Positive reaction to setback says something important about the spirit of a place, and it's certainly a characteristic of our School. After all, resilience is one of our founder Walter Clark's 3 Rs. At NCS, when the world gives us lemons, we make lemonade. Don’t miss the slide show.
Ninth-Grade Leaders February 7, 2012
Our ninth-grade students are preparing for their annual class trip. As has been the case for the past several years, they will head to Florida for a week-long sailing adventure led by Outward Bound. There they will learn to sail and to navigate, and to live, work, and communicate with others in tight quarters with little privacy. They will enjoy spectacular marine wildlife in an unforgettable setting. They also will advance their growing sense of confidence, teamwork, and leadership skills. For many it will be a highlight of their last year at NCS.
Our ninth grade program at NCS offers opportunities for leadership not typically available to most freshmen in a traditional high school setting. The oldest students in the school, our ninth graders take on increasing amounts of responsibility and provide the student leadership necessary in a community like ours. Though community council (our student government) and a mentoring program that links ninth graders with younger students offer formal avenues for developing leadership, many additional opportunities arise naturally from our program.
In the houses, houseparents rely on the oldest students to set the proper tone, model appropriate behavior, and help smooth the way for their younger counterparts. On weekends, faculty trip leaders ask much the same thing, as do the adults on barn chores and other work jobs. In the dining room, seniors serve as tableheads, making sure the conversation and behavior of their peers remains in keeping with our family-style meals. A senior tech crew handles the set-up, operation, and break-down of projection, lighting, and sound equipment for teachers’ classes, town meetings, dances, and the like. At Whiteface this winter, seniors are distributing lift tickets to other students. At lunch, they are presenting the daily Food for Thought, a short quote or passage read aloud to the whole school before we sit down to eat. Our ninth graders are reading together with fourth and fifth graders a Gary Schmidt novel in preparation for the author’s visit a few weeks from now. Every senior will run a lunch-time council as a requirement for graduation.
We ask a lot of our seniors, but it’s how they grow.
Whiteface Days January 18, 2012
Yesterday was our first afternoon at Whiteface, the ski resort and Olympic downhill venue about 20 minutes away in Wilmington. An all-school event that dates back several decades, these Tuesday afternoon outings are a great break from the usual routine and for many students and adults a highlight of the winter term. To ski or snowboard at an Olympic facility is undeniably special: Whiteface offers challenging terrain our own ski hill can’t provide.
Improving skills is the goal for all, from never-evers (beginners) to our most advanced. As John Doan, who heads up our skiing and snowboarding program, said at lunch council: skiing is such a fun sport because one can always get better. Students take group lessons from the Whiteface ski instructors, then in partners or small groups of similar ability, they free ski for the remaining time. Cookies baked fresh for the occasion and transported to Wilmington by a trusted adult are passed out in the lodge before everyone heads back to school.
Whiteface Days are a longstanding tradition for us, in part because all the lessons of experiential learning get ratcheted up just a notch. Students are responsible for getting all their gear to and from the mountain, on time; they are responsible for their own safety and that of their partner(s) in a demanding environment and what can be difficult conditions; lastly, as a conspicuous presence in a public place, they also are responsible for appropriate behavior that reflects well on all of us.
Perhaps best of all, Whiteface Days offer the great sense of belonging that comes with any all-community event. It’s fun to be part of the scene where the whole school piles into cars, vans, and trucks and sets out caravan-style for the mountain. And after an afternoon of physical exertion spent outdoors, everyone eats well and sleeps soundly on Tuesday nights.
Yesterday, our faculty returned for a day of meetings to review last term and fine-tune plans for the coming one. It seemed only fitting that with the start of a new calendar year, we engaged in a professional development opportunity we’ve never experienced before.
Pat Bassett, executive director of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), has a 42-year career in independent schools and is widely regarded as a great speaker and inventive thinker about education. Thanks to advanced videoconferencing software and the agility of our technology director Joel Lowsky, we were able to host here at School an online webinar featuring Pat Bassett for an audience of NCS teachers and visitors from nearby Northwood School, faculty from eight of our sister junior boarding schools, and staff from the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), and The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS). All told, educators from close to 20 venues were able to tune in.
Also fittingly, given the high tech delivery, the topic of the day was the skills students need for the 21st century. For most of his presentation, Pat focused on what he calls the 5 Cs + 1: critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, character, and cosmopolitanism.He reminded us that independent schools have a long history of teaching just these types of skills and content—whether by engaging second graders in existential questions with letters to God or challenging teams of high school students to design and build robots or supporting the middle schoolers who run their own egg production business and donate the proceeds.
One thing I was reminded of in the presentation was the importance of encouraging and supporting faculty to think creatively and to take risks—then giving them permission to fail as they pursue new approaches. I was pleased that at a social gathering later on last evening, several teachers approached me about ideas they’ve been mulling over, eager to try something new. One was interested in robotics, another in flip teaching (a practice that reverses conventional ideas about homework and class time). Now that’s what I call a Happy New Year.
Thanksgiving at NCS December 1, 2011
If there’s another school that hosts all of its students and their families on Thanksgiving Day for a traditional holiday meal made with turkey and produce raised on its own farm, I don’t know of it. But at North Country School that’s what we do. Last Thursday, we seated 258 in our dining room for our 74th Thanksgiving dinner. Our amazing kitchen staff served a spectacular meal of turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, squash, salad greens, rolls, a vegetarian Italian chick pea stew, and apple and pumpkin pies with fresh whipped cream.
The feast is the highlight of a two-day celebration that combines what other schools do at Parents’ Weekend, our end-of term academic showcases, and performances by the jug band and the advanced acting class. Displays of students’ paintings, weavings, ceramics, wood crafts, glass work, and photography brighten every hallway. Tours of the barnyard and its animals are especially popular with students’ younger siblings. Dinner on Wednesday evening takes place in the houses, with parents getting a taste of the strength of our residential program. Before departing for the weekend, everyone gathers to watch a slide show of the Fall Term and to sing together a song chosen especially for the occasion.
Our students spend much time and effort preparing in advance. They work on projects and presentations for their academic classes; clean lockers, rooms, and cubbies; help out in the kitchen peeling apples and potatoes; arrange flowers and decorate bulletin boards; make sure dress-up clothes still fit. Some of the preparations—like lunch in the ramp lockers while the dining room floor is waxed—have become much-loved traditions in themselves.
We understand the sacrifices that our families and staff make to celebrate Thanksgiving on our campus; yet these two days are an incredibly important time in our development as a community. Somehow the joy of families coming together and the pride students take in showing their parents all they have learned and done here make us realize how fortunate we are to live and work together in this unique place—an understanding that is true thanksgiving.
NCS founder Walter Clark once wrote: “This whole school was built on this thought: that children need direct experience if they are to grow and learn most effectively.” All these years later, this focus on direct experience remains at the heart of what we do, from classes to out-times to weekend activities. Children learn by doing, and they grow by exploring new things, all under the guidance of caring, creative adults.
This certainly is true of many of our academic activities. Recently, Level I students traveled to Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum of 17th century colonists and native peoples, where they toured a reproduction of the Mayflower and explored replicas of homes and villages of our nation’s earliest residents. (Check out the slide show of the trip.) Last week the Level V English teacher took her students to an evening of performance poetry at nearby Paul Smith’s College. Next weekend, several seniors will travel to New York City for the first-ever TED Youth Conference to hear speakers at the cutting edge of various fields. Closer to home, the Level III farm class is creating colorful designs for the new children’s garden to be planted next spring.
We often blur the lines between learning and fun, work and play. Last Saturday, a group bushwhacked up Cascade Mountain to observe metamorphic rock formations created with the new slides after tropical storm Irene. Students often choose to spend recess practicing guitar or holed up with a book. For out-times and weekend activities, students volunteer to help out in the kitchen or to decorate a bulletin board or to clear a new trail for cross country skiing.A highly coveted privilege among students is to serve on the tech crew that sets up and runs the sound, light, and projection equipment for Town Meetings and other all-school occasions.
This is not to say that we don’t offer students opportunities for arduous intellectual and physical activity. Last Saturday morning our seniors and several eighth graders took the SSATs, a ritual of secondary school admissions that few would call fun. Mucking stalls in the barn in subzero weather is undoubtedly difficult work. On the other end of the spectrum, last weekend’s Crutch Fest 2011—a series of relays and challenges involving crutches inspired by a teacher’s broken ankle—was pure fun.
Thanks to creative adults, our students learn to find the fun in everyday activities, and they make the most of learning opportunities in our own backyard and farther afield. That’s the beauty of regarding experience as a teacher.
Making Our Own Fun October 28, 2011
The Pew Research Center estimates that half of all teens send at least 50 text messages a day. One in three teens sends more than 100 texts a day.Zero to Eight, a report released this week by Common Sense Media (whose founder and CEO Jim Steyer is a Camp Treetops alum) measured media use by America's youngest children. Among the more disturbing results are the numbers of children with a television in their room: 30 percent of children aged 0-1; 44 percent of children aged 2-4; and 47 percent of children aged 5–8.
At North Country School, we make our own fun.
Last Saturday night, we held a talent show. Our students danced and sang and played guitar and harmonica. The previous weekend, virtually the entire school participated in an all-day, outdoor adventure game called WARP. During out-times in the afternoon, our students play Frisbee golf, ride bikes or horses, and take photographs while walking in the woods. They climb trees and play in the tree house. During Art Club, they draw and paint and make things. In the houses, they play card games and chess, charades and dictionary. A new book group began meeting this week to read before breakfast.
On special occasions, like Halloween, we give our creativity free rein. We make our own costumes from materials already on hand. The eighth grade turns our Quonset into a carnival with games and prizes for the younger children. Our seniors create an elaborate Spook House based on a new theme and held in a different campus location every year.
Properly moderated, technology can be a wonderful tool for learning, innovation, and more. We want our students to benefit from all it has to offer. But we are careful to keep our students' use of electronics in proper perspective. So tonight, like every Friday night, most of our students will gather in the dining room to watch a movie (the one time each week). Tomorrow, they'll be out hiking.
All About Nature October 12, 2011
During the recent run of glorious Indian summer days, I tried to spend as much time as possible outside. My efforts remind me of an excellent column by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times from earlier this fall.
Kristof writes about the healing power of nature—and the sad fact that for too many of our nation’s children, there is no nature, only nature deficit disorder, a phrase first coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. In his latest work, The Nature Principle, Louv maintains that “the more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” I couldn’t agree more.
As both a parent of an 8th grade NCS student as well as the headmaster, I am delighted to see our students out and about every day, in all kinds of weather, for myriad purposes. From the painting of landscapes to the practice of musical scales; from exercising the pooches to trail riding our horses; from the pursuit of mountain cakes miles (our year-long hiking competition) to the pursuit of WARP (an all-day adventure game played in our campus woods); students enjoy the outdoors as part of their academic learning, community work, exercise, relaxation, and play.
And while there may be no correlations to standardized test scores, I do believe this continued exposure to the natural world will have a transformative effect on children. Decades worth of NCS and CTT alumni swear by it, the strong environmental consciousness and leadership of our alumni attest to it, and certainly the research on PERMA that I alluded to earlier in the year (see the Sept. 9 entry, below) speaks to it as well. For more on the subject, see the article I wrote a couple of years ago, Reconnecting Children with Nature, that was published in the 2010 volume of the New York Parent League Review and is reproduced on our website.
Working Together September 29, 2011
One of the benefits of a school our size is the strong community that results from close-knit relationships. And one of the ways we foster a sense of belonging is through shared work. Already in this young school year, our students have performed hundreds of hours of service for projects on campus and beyond. As our farm manager Mike Tholen likes to say, “100 people can accomplish in one hour what it takes one person 100 hours to do.”
The damage from tropical storm Irene has provided several opportunities to help others in neighboring communities. Last Saturday our seniors performed 130 hours of combined work helping local farmers and homeowners; they removed hay bales ruined by the flooding, cleaned up yards, and waited tables at a benefit dinner for a local farm. Students have also helped clean up storm damage to a faculty member’s yard and to a day student’s family place.
On campus, students have helped repair the tree house, a two-story structure made from recycled materials, whose slides and tunnels and roof-top lawn make a magical setting for fantasy and play. They have picked and peeled apples, cleaned out basement storage areas, and stacked wood in the new wood barn. During carrot harvest, one of several farm-related, all-school events, students and faculty unearthed and washed 2,500 pounds of carrots; for potato harvest the total was 3,400 pounds; a Sunday garden harvest brought in 16 pounds of herbs, nearly 1,000 pounds of onions, and 5 gallons of apple cider. And during this morning’s chicken harvest, our students and faculty processed just under 120 birds, including the 20 turkeys we will serve at our Thanksgiving meal.
As Mike explained during yesterday’s Town Meeting, pulling, hauling, and washing carrots or potatoes requires hard physical work. The physical exertion of chicken harvest is even more demanding, with the added dimension of being tough emotional work as well. There is nothing easy about chicken harvest, for adults or students, but its lessons are important ones—about what it takes to produce meat and poultry, about working together at something difficult, about the dignity of all life—that stick with our students long after they leave our community.
We could not be more excited for our students’ arrival tomorrow. Usually, our students return on a Sunday, but this year we adjusted the schedule to avoid having families travel on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Remembrances on the topic have been, quite rightly, much in the media this week, and like so many others, I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I recall sitting in my office, waiting to begin an admin team meeting. Our development director was late, and when she arrived, she brought news that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. What seemed like only moments later, Sheila buzzed my office: the tower had collapsed, she said. Not long after, she buzzed again: the second tower had gone down. We knew then the magnitude of the crisis.
With so many of our students from New York City, we had to be careful not to cause panic. Luckily, by the middle of lunchtime, Sheila had managed to track down and confirm the safety of all of our students’ parents in NYC. We could then share what we knew. We wheeled the television into the dining room and watched some of the coverage. Together, we began to process what would become the “Where were you when...” moment for multiple generations.
In the decade since, so much has changed. Yet many of our students arriving tomorrow had not yet been born on 9/11/01. For all our students, the changes we find so striking are the only world they’ve ever known. How we help them honor the memory of 9/11 is also how we help them grow, discover, and learn. I am prone on important occasions to quote our School founder Walter Clark, an extraordinary man and visionary educator. Among his good advice is this: “We have a rough rule of thumb. If more than one-fourth of a child’s experiences in a day are disappointing, there’s no progress – so we tackle one problem at a time.”
Walter touches on the importance in children’s development of focusing on the positive, a topic that well-known psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman has spent years studying. During this week’s faculty orientation meetings, I shared with our teachers some of Seligman’s findings. Of particular relevance is his concept of PERMA: Positive feelings, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement. These are the core of what shape a person’s outlook, help build resilience, and uncover one’s signature strengths.
PERMA is also a good take on what I see as the strengths of an NCS education. Our students benefit from close relationships with adults that come from deep engagement in a variety of meaningful activities—for instance, communal work on the farm, or the shared experience of summiting a mountain in difficult conditions, or mastering complex mathematical concepts. When we tuck a student into bed at night, we ask him or her what went RIGHT that day, and we build from there.
After several days of rain, the sun has returned today. The sky, so bright and clear, is what New York Times columnist Roger Cohen called “9/11 blue.” And if the forecast holds, it will be tomorrow, when our students return. We can’t wait for the new school year to begin.
Not Your Average Algebra August 5, 2011
While most of our classrooms are quiet during summer months, a second floor room has hummed on recent mornings with the familiar murmurings of students and teacher at work. But this was no ordinary summer algebra class. The students were located in Italy and South Korea, the teacher—former Head of School and math instructor Roger Loud—here at NCS.
Special video conferencing software allowed all the participants to see and hear one another, with the images of students and teacher displayed on each one’s computer screen. NCS Dean of Curriculum Todd Pinsonneault serves as the moderator who coordinates the electronic logistics.
This summer’s Honors Algebra II class—a fully accredited course that meets for 90-minute sessions, five days a week, over six weeks—puts into practice for the first time ideas about online learning we’ve been considering for awhile. What makes our program different from others is that it’s fully synchronous, to use the industry language, meaning that students and teacher can interact with one another in real time. Each class session is also recorded then posted online so students can go back and watch a lesson or parts of it later if they need more time to digest the material. Students complete homework on their own and take tests they receive via email as PDF documents.
With more than 50 years experience in education, Roger was in some ways a natural choice to teach this test run. He taught and was head of school here for 22 years and later served as math department chair at Northwood School, where he still teaches pre-calculus and the advanced placement calculus courses. On the other hand, to say that Roger, who does not use a personal computer or keep an email address, was initially skeptical of the online learning experiment is to understate the matter. However, due to the interactive nature of the software and the small class size, he has been pleasantly surprised to find the experience more like traditional teaching than he expected. “My prediction to myself was not as benign,” he admitted the other day.
We hope the success of this summer’s course will pave the way for a larger online learning effort. The software accommodates up to six video feeds and 100 audio feeds, so there’s room to scale up. I can envision connecting multiple schools in order to offer a variety of classes taught by teachers of Roger Loud’s caliber. This week Todd completed a successful trial of moderating the class remotely from a location in New Hampshire—proving feasible the idea of coordinating from here in Lake Placid a class of students from all over the world taught by a master teacher still somewhere else. For students in remote rural areas or places short on resources or at home with chicken pox or otherwise removed from school, this could be a promising option to gain first-rate instruction in courses not available to them. The possibilities are pretty exciting.
Camp Treetops July 21, 2011
Camp Treetops is just about half-way through another terrific season. The weather has been all one can hope for in these parts, and campers are having a ball—making new friends, learning new skills, and stretching their imaginations—under the careful and caring guidance of top-notch counselors. And as I watch children chasing butterflies or promenading at the square dance or working together to weed the carrots, I am reminded again that what makes Treetops so valuable is its role as both sanctuary and incubator.
Our simple, unhurried lifestyle offers refuge for children stressed from an over-scheduled, hyper-paced, competitive school year. (At Treetops every camper, even the 14 year olds, has a required daily rest hour after lunch.) Without clocks, watches or other electronics, a rhythm of bells calls us to meals, activities, and chores—a respite from invasive media and too much screen time. Fresh produce from our garden and other healthy foods provide a nourishing (and delicious) diet that elsewhere too often takes a back seat to more popular items loaded with sugar or caffeine.
The safety that Treetops provides makes exploration possible. In the craft shops, campers discover creativity they never knew they had. Climbing an Adirondack High Peak in adverse weather teaches a resilience that’s not soon forgotten—and opens new doors. Living in close quarters with children and adults from other countries and different backgrounds nurtures the tolerance needed for life in 21st century America.
Psychologist Michael Thompson recently wrote about the benefits of summer camp, what he called “a fantastic lost world of family traditions.” Specifically, camps provide a multi-generational community, respected ritual, and lots of downtime—all hard to come by in a face-paced world. “It is the job of adults,” he wrote, “to create environments where children have the time, freedom and safety to grow up at their own pace.” That’s precisely what Treetops provides.
I hope you’ll keep Treetops in mind as you think about summer plans for next year. For more details (including lots of photos), please visit Director Karen Culpepper’s online Camp Journal. And for news from the farm, check out the Farm Blog.
Life Itself June 9, 2011
Some people believe that the importance of graduation is the certification of a skill set or knowledge base. However I think that the true importance of North Country School is not that our students graduate with credit for Algebra or a high school lab science or gain acceptance to the secondary school of their choice, important as those may be. Rather, the true benefit of an NCS education is that our graduates in their time here have become more rugged, resourceful, and resilient—the 3 Rs first articulated by our founder Walter Clark. (I recommend an interesting article about building resilience by a University of Pennsylvania psychologist in a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review.)
NCS students know what it means to roll out of bed and report to barn chores in the dark at 30 below zero. They have hiked in wind and rain. They have sung and danced and created beautiful works of art. They have learned to support each other over the rough spots, whether in the classroom, the potato field, or on the ski slopes. They’ve learned that many hands make for light work and that a cheerful attitude makes every task easier.
In the classroom in the closing days of the school year, our students have launched soda bottle rockets they made and designed themselves; made hand-bound poetry books of their original work; dissected a fetal pig and re-assembled chicken skeletons; recorded oral histories from interviews with campus adults; created beautiful batiks of native Adirondack birds. To paraphrase progressive educator John Dewey, an NCS education has not been preparation for life, it has been life itself.