A Study of Historical French Women Inspires Cross-Collaboration

Written by Josiane Mariette, Upper School French and Arabic teacher and Language Department Chair.

When I was awarded the Reed Fellowship for excellence in teaching, I began searching for an opportunity that focuses on the empowerment of women. I discovered a program at The Sorbonne University, a one-week seminar on the role of French women in French history and their influence on politics, diplomacy, the arts and literature. I took advantage of this great opportunity to enhance my teaching practices and enrich the French curriculum.

The seminar highlighted numerous themes such as: the role of French women in the history of France; their contributions to diplomacy; the evolution of the perception of the female body; the perception of the Parisian woman between myth and reality and the specificities of female writing.

These women were influential during important moments in the history of France, such as the French Revolution of 1789, World War II and those who played a prominent role in the French Resistance during the German occupation and the transformation of French society after the events of May 1968 to the present day. This included Madame de Pompadour, one of the most influential women of 18th century France and a member of the court of King Louis XV, having been close to the king and his advisor. There was Marie-Louise d’Autriche, whose marriage to Napoléon I helped to establish a period of peace between Austria and the French Empire. We discussed Marie Curie, the famous Nobel Prize winning physicist and Chemist, having won the Nobel prize twice.

We talked about Olympe de Gouges, a women’s rights advocate who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen in 1791. She promoted the equality of men and women and was later executed by guillotine. Simone de Beauvoir was a feminist philosopher and the famous writer of Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), discussing the realities of women throughout history. Anne Hidalgo is the current Mayor of Paris and first woman to hold this position. We also discussed Simone Veil, a French stateswoman and a survivor of the Holocaust who became a lawyer, politician and Minister of Health. She was the first woman elected president of the European Parliament who became a member of the Constitutional Council of France, and of the prestigious French Academy.

My Advanced Topics French 5 students read Simone Veils’ autobiography, Une vie, and learned about her unimaginable personal experience of the Holocaust. The book details her pre-war happy childhood in Nice, France, her deportation to the concentration camps, her horrific experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, and the loss of her parents and brother while in captivity. She was able to overcome adversity through her strength and remarkable contributions to French society in helping others, especially French women, whom she assisted to pursue their rights. The girls were inspired by her resilience, perseverance and courage.

We saw an opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration – my students joined with students in the senior history elective titled The Holocaust to broaden their studies. Our French class gave a presentation on Une vie. Students in the history class presented brief historical overviews on antisemitism in France before the Second World War, the German invasion and occupation of France, the roundup and deportation of Jews to Auschwitz and the French resistance.

I genuinely thank my colleague, Fred Kountz, for his collaboration in this cross-departmental effort. Without his contributions and knowledge, this project would have not been possible.

While exploring Paris I was also able to connect with the Pasteur Institute to plan a visit to the Pasteur Museum for our students who are participating in the French Exchange Program this spring. As they love science, it is another wonderful way to inspire collaboration across disciplines.

Digital Literacy: Discovering the Truth About Online Sources

Determining whether a source is authoritative or not is essential for anyone who wants to learn fact from fiction. It’s especially important for anyone who uses the internet as one of their main sources of information.

Our students are learning this skill early. Lower School Library Media Specialist Emily Woodward created a Digital Literacy Unit, designed to teach her Grade 5 students how to look at data they find on websites and discern whether or not it’s trustworthy.

“I wanted to show the students that just because something looks nice online, doesn’t mean it’s telling them the truth. It’s so important when they’re out there using Google to get answers that they understand information literacy and can be discerning searchers,” said Woodward.

The Digital Literacy Unit lasts about 6 weeks. Students collect data about how they answer questions and find out information. They review a ‘website report card,’ which helps them identify key points (if it has an author, date published, a lot of advertising, etc.) to watch for when determining validity. They also look at a fake website and learn about web-addresses and urls and what domain names mean (.com, .org, .gov).

For their final project, students used their newfound skills to actually put a website on trial.

Students chose partners and were given a website and a side, with two students acting as prosecution and two as defense. They were pretending to be paid lawyers, so even if they didn’t agree with the side they were given, the students needed to find aspects of the website that fit their argument and build upon that. They were given one of the website report cards and two weeks for prep time.

Before trial the students went over the rules of the courtroom: each side had three minutes to build a case. First the prosecution presented before a judge, a student chosen randomly by Woodward, about why their assigned website was untrustworthy. The defense then presented their argument about why it is authoritative. The prosecution had a chance for rebuttal. The judge then made her official ruling.

The goal is to prepare students for projects and research papers they’ll tackle in Middle School, Upper School, college and beyond. Current Grade 6 student Daria discussed her experience with last year’s project: “We learned a lot last year but I think that a good activity was when we were able to be supporting a website and criticizing one. We got to act like lawyers and write speeches. The skill of recognizing a good or bad website is a great one not only to use in school but outside of school too!” said Daria.

LS and MS Students Go Into Orbit with First Lego League

At The Baldwin School, we encourage our girls to reach for their dreams, taking whatever path they are most passionate about. We have scientists, scholars and poets. We have athletes and artists. And we have computer programmers, designers and robotic engineers.

Our DREAM LabⓇ program has been instrumental in creating opportunities to explore paths in the STEM fields. One particular initiative has been to introduce our girls to the First Lego League. This competition involves over 320,000 students from 95 countries across the globe.

This year involved several historic “firsts.”  There was enough interest to form four teams – three teams of students from grades 4-5 and for the first time, a team representing grades 6-8. In total we had 30 girls involved – more than double from past years.

Two teams also won awards – and one will proceed to the regional championships at the University of Pennsylvania in February. They will be the first team to represent Baldwin at the championship since the inception of our program.

All four teams took part in regional competitions – two teams participated at Springside Chestnut Hill School and two at the Franklin Institute.

The program consists of three components, called “strands.” Within the Robotics strand, students must build a robot and program it to solve specific missions. They also need to present their progress to a panel of judges. The Core Values strand focuses on how students demonstrate their understanding of the FIRST® philosophies of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® through core values like discovery, innovation, inclusion and teamwork. Along with being observed throughout the competition, they must prepare a poster board and design t-shirts.

Within the Project strand, students must define a problem within the season’s theme, propose a solution, create a prototype, speak with an expert, share their work outside the community and present to a panel of judges. This year’s theme was ‘Into Orbit’ and participants were tasked with finding and solving a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration. Students needed to identify a tangible problem they could prove exists.

Our four teams took this challenge and, as quintessential Baldwin girls, came up with very creative ideas. The Solar DREAMers, made up of Tisya Desai ‘27, Cianni Hill ‘27, Melina Intzes ‘26, Anais Piquion ’26, Ayesha Sayeed ‘26, Piper Skoglund ‘26, Maya Soldatovich ‘26 and Natalya Spychalski ’27 learned that nearly 80% of astronauts can get Space Motion Sickness (SMS). They created a prototype of an auto injectable wristband that injects medicine into the astronaut when the band detects high temperature/fast or slow heart rate.  

The Thinking Girls, made up of Bella Alimansky ‘27, Olivia Choo ‘26, Cydnei Crisden ‘27, Evelyn Jean ‘26, Leah Roman ‘27, Camila Tobon ‘26 and Daphne Yorks ‘26 discovered that bones and muscles weaken in space because there is no gravity and while there are already solutions to mitigate this, like exercise machines, they take up a lot of space. They designed a prototype comprised of six resistance bands to do different stretches, all connected to a belt. Judges noticed their tenacity and “never say die” attitude on event day –  they managed to figure out two additional missions that moved their score into the top 40% of scores for the robot strand, thus securing their spot at the championship.

The Robo Heroes, made up of Thea Dunckel ‘26, Maya Fey ‘27, Laila Gopalani ‘26, Anya Henry ‘26, Nina Heverin-Alvarado ‘26, Harper Lawson ‘27 and Amelia McCullough ‘26 realized people who experience extended space travel don’t see their families for a long period of time and this can cause anxiety or depression. They created a Virtual Reality version of an astronaut’s house. This would be loaded to a Flash Drive and sent with astronauts for use in space. The house would include the ability to interact with family members back on Earth. They won a Project Award in the area of Research for their innovative virtual reality solution.

The Dream Team, made up of Eve Alimansky ‘25, Tori Benjamin ‘25, Israel Carter ‘25, Rachel Gopalani ‘23, Grace Harvey ‘25, Eliana Jean ‘24, Nikoletta Kuvaeva ‘25 and Emily Sidlow ‘’25 had another approach to the problem of depression during deep space travel. Working the concept of a Tesla suit, created primarily for gamers, they designed a hug vest that simulates the pressure, smell and height of a loved one’s hug using haptic technology.

Teams must divide and conquer and stay extremely organized. The work, including all research and development, was led by the students. Although DREAM LabⓇ Coordinators Stephanie Greer and Addison Lilholt and Grade 3 Teacher Peter Greenhalgh act as facilitators, they were as hands off as possible, encouraging the girls to solve their own problems. The teams met after school twice a week and practiced in the evenings and weekends, beginning in August. While they each had their own projects, they had to learn to share materials, space and coaches and accommodate each other throughout the journey.

The program takes hard work, drive and perseverance. It also involves a lot of fun – our students discover the power of their own imaginations as they learn to apply STEM concepts to solve a real world problem. Along their journey, they’re developing critical-thinking and team-building skills, presentation skills and good sportsmanship.

“What is important about this program is that it’s unlike any other academic experience for students this age. They’re given an enormous set of tasks, a timeline, a space to learn and adults to facilitate. But it’s up to them to make this work. They’re learning project management and leadership skills. They’re discovering real world consequences. You take your work into a public arena where it’s viewed by the public and you learn how to get feedback,” said Ms. Greer.

This year is truly special for Ms. Greer. “I have been on the Regional Steering Committee for FLL at the University of Pennsylvania for 8 years,” she explained. “I am the regional head Core Values judge and regularly provide training and professional development on different facets of the FLL program for coaches and judges in the region. I have attended every championship in the capacity of judge for the last 9 years. This is the first time I will get to take one of my teams to the championships at Penn – it is also the last year Penn will run the region, and so it is my last year on the committee and the last year Championships will be hosted by Penn. I’m grateful to get to take a team before a new committee takes over.”

Beyond the wonderful academic benefits, this is an extraordinary experience for our girls. The program provides them with a supportive community to learn more about themselves and discover a love for science. “It’s where some kids find their tribe. This is where they find a place with a ton of other kids who are in love with STEM too,” said Ms. Greer.

Click to see our media gallery of our students’ First Lego League journey.

Exploring Our Universe with ‘InSight’

Written by Jeff Goldader, Upper School science teacher with a PhD in astronomy.

 

Today, NASA attempted another landing on Mars, and some of our Baldwin science students took the time to learn about the mission. A little lander called “InSight,” about the size of a dining room table, successfully touched down on a plain on Mars. Spaceflight isn’t easy. In seven minutes, the lander went from being an interplanetary spacecraft to being at rest on the surface of Mars.

Insight is a geology station.  Its main instrument is a seismometer, to look for “Marsquakes,” which will help us learn if Mars is geologically active at the present time. Mars boasts the largest volcanoes in the solar system, but they look to have been inactive for millions of years. A secondary goal is to drill a hole several meters deep and use what amounts to a thermometer to measure how much heat is released by the center of Mars. This is related to Mars being geologically active, because on Earth, it is heat released by the core of our planet that is the root cause of earthquakes and volcanoes.

Spaceflight is one of the areas in which science and technology blend together. A lander like Insight required the talents of probably over 1,000 scientists and engineers of every type, from astronomers to geologists, from electrical to mechanical to chemical engineers and programmers, and … it’s a long list. As I told my students this morning, Baldwin students have majored in the kinds of fields that are necessary for missions like Insight. There’s no reason they can’t one day be part of a team exploring the universe.

We study Mars to try to understand the past of our own Earth. In the past, Mars was warmer, and there are many reasons to suspect it had liquid water, maybe oceans of it. But today, Mars is in a perpetual deep freeze, with most of the water locked in polar ice caps and frozen in the soil. In the ice and rocks of Mars are clues to what it was like back when it was warm, and could have been a home for life. The upcoming “Mars 2020” rover will be landing in a place that may have had the right conditions for life in the distant past, and it will cache rock samples for return to Earth on a later mission. By studying Mars, we might find clues as to how life started on Earth long ago.

Orienteering: Lessons Learned From Nature

In a world of cell phones, GPS units and technological tools for just about everything, knowing how to read a physical map is becoming a lost skill. Third grade teacher Kathy Gates has incorporated the art of topography into her curriculum, and in doing so discovered the many benefits of bringing nature into the classroom.

In the spring of 2001, Kathy attended a conference held by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and took a workshop dedicated to outdoor education options in math. Along with other methods, they learned about orienteering, a type of sport that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain whilst moving at speed. Participants are given a topographical map, usually a specially prepared orienteering map, which they use to find control points. The goal is to locate the controls in the fastest amount of time.

Thanks to a generous donation from a Baldwin family, Kathy purchased compasses and controls, which are 3-dimensional flags you place along the course. After contacting the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association, Kathy first introduced her students to this exciting program in the fall of 2001. After several years, she learned to set up the course herself.

As the girls venture into the woods at Ridley Creek State Park, their main focus is that they won’t be able to rely on familiar technology to find their way. But the beauty is that it’s a multi-faceted learning experience. Along with learning to use a compass and read a map, they’re using mental math – using the scale on the map to estimate how far you need to travel. They’re honing their sense of direction. They’re enjoying the outdoor exercise that comes with hiking. They’re also applying what they learn in other classes – science covers landforms and waterforms and the topography of PA, and they bring that knowledge onto the course.

They work in groups of four, shadowed by a teacher, and work to find the control before their other classmates. When they go off course, they aren’t automatically corrected. Instead, they’re asked questions that prompt critical thinking and collaboration to get back in the right direction. At the end of their journey, they’re asked to reflect on what they’ve learned in a journal.

The world is constantly evolving and progressing, and so should the classroom. Lower School science teacher Becky Lewis is interested in the benefits of using a map versus a GPS unit and decided to join the program this year to give students the experience of both. The first half of the course was spent using the compasses, the second half the units. The girls loved using both tools and discovered that map readers still had to use problem-solving strategies to help interpret instrument readings.

“What we found is that if the girls learn how to read a printed map and they become spatially and directionally savvy, then they can make intelligent decisions using the compass or the GPS, because they’re just tools. You still have to make intelligent decisions,” said Kathy.

Of course, one of the most important parts of the program is that it takes the classroom outside, giving the girls the chance to enjoy our local natural landscape. “Nature is one of our best teachers. It reminds you to pause and take a breath and enjoy our world, which gives us another wonderful way to introduce mindfulness into our girls lives,” said Kathy.

A Study of Roman Daily Life

Written by Latin Teacher Stephanie Vogel
I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to spend three weeks in St. Peter, Minnesota at Gustavus Adolphus College working with fifteen other Latin teachers to study Roman daily life. In the morning, we read from the Satytica by Petronius, which is one of the most robust primary sources in Latin that exists on Roman dining practices and daily life. We focused on the cena Trimalchionis (Trimalchio’s dinner party), which describes a dinner party held by a wealthy freedman, Trimalchio, that is a spectacle in every sense of the word. Its descriptions of food, leisure, and relationships between masters and slaves, men and women, and other groups are among the most detailed and insightful in Roman literature.

In the afternoon, we examined graffiti that was uncovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum and used that as a lense to consider the lives of the 99% of Romans, which was exciting given that the wealth of sources that we have today is written by and about the Roman elite. The goal of most classics programs, including Baldwin’s, is to build one’s grammatical, historical and vocabulary knowledge to read the canonical Latin texts that actually represent a very limited percentage of the Roman population in antiquity.  Thus, learning how to locate graffiti on the internet and how to translate different types of inscriptions was extremely useful and interesting to me. We worked with Dr. Rebecca Benefiel, one of the world’s foremost experts on ancient graffiti, and helped add to her online catalog of inscriptions which is already an exciting resource for Latin teachers. Right now, inscriptions are only accessible via a large, expensive, and unwieldy book called the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinorum (CIL for short) and only a handful exist in the entire world. For this reason, Rebecca’s work on uploading all of the inscriptions from the CIL to her website and organizing it in an easily searchable way will make it significantly easier for Latin teachers to access them.  This has far-reaching implications for sharing these inscriptions with our students.

At the end of the program, we were each charged with conducting independent research on a topic related to daily life that was of interest to us, and of creating a unit plan or other materials that we could eventually use in our classes. I researched the electoral process, electoral advertisements and exactly what made one ‘electable’ in Italy. It was fascinating and informative and I am planning to leverage my work on this topic into an election simulation around the mid-terms in November.  I will have my students create their own electoral advertisements in Roman style around the same time. I’m really looking forward to it!

Advocating for the Education and Development of Girls

October 11 is the International Day of the Girl, a global celebration of youth advocates who advance the rights of and opportunities for girls everywhere.

Baldwin’s mission is to develop our girls into confident young women who have the vision, global understanding and the competency to make significant and enduring contributions to the world. We celebrate the power of being a girl every day and consider it our responsibility to advocate for girls in our community, regionally and globally.

In Lower School, students enthusiastically participate in the Educate a Girl campaign, an annual fundraiser that benefits girls’ education around the world. Unlike other fundraisers, faculty encourage students to find creative ways to raise money, instead of simply asking their parents for help, leading to a variety of unique entrepreneurial endeavors, including bake sales, selling handmade artistic creations and giving out hugs at Baldwin events. This program also opens the door to critical conversations at home, giving our girls the opportunity to talk to their parents about those who don’t have access to quality education.

Emelie Wilkes, one of our second grade teachers, has been leading this project for over 10 years. “In its first year my class raised more than $1,000 on its own for an orphanage in Kenya,” she says. “For the past two years, the Lower School has raised over $10,000! To me, there is nothing more valuable than teaching our amazing, bright and gifted girls the importance of giving back. So many girls around this world are held back by circumstances out of their control. If we can help one child, that’s a start.”

All of the funds raised this year will be donated to Women’s Campaign International to directly benefit girls’ education. Specializing in transitional states and post-conflict regions around the world, Women’s Campaign International equips women and girls with the skills and support needed to transform their lives and communities.

Compassion, respect and responsibility are three of Baldwin’s core values, and all are demonstrated by these efforts, as well as in our curriculum. Our priority is not only to advocate for girls around the world but to continue to find new ways to advocate for our own students. In the Middle School, there’s a targeted focus on social and emotional development through lessons on identity, building empathy, healthy relationships, mindfulness and digital citizenship.  

“While one of our goals is for our students to do well academically, it’s just as important to make sure they are prepared to navigate the ever-shifting social landscape in life by giving them the tools, the language and a safe space to learn and grow,” says Middle School Librarian Lauren Friedman-Way.

Middle School faculty focus on the five core competencies of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning): self-management (managing emotions); self-awareness (recognizing emotions, values, strengths and challenges); social awareness (developing empathy and understanding); relationship skills (developing healthy, positive relationships and team-building); and responsible decision-making. The goal is to give Baldwin students the support and skills they need to become women who make a positive impact in all parts of their lives – from the classroom and the playing fields to their homes and local communities.

The Baldwin School Library Services Team: Experts in the Education of Girls

The library services team of The Baldwin School regularly goes above and beyond when it comes to facilitating the education and development of the entire community.  Their mission is to “foster a lifelong habit and love of reading and learning,” and they accomplish this through an intentional drive to encourage the thoughtful and responsible exchange of ideas.  This is particularly important for the School’s position as a leader in the education of girls. As literary experts and constant advocates for our students, they are not only always finding new ways to work with each classroom and creating avenues to encourage our students to use their resources, but they make it a priority to research new trends in the development of girls and women.  At the library, students discover new talents, push their limits and find their voice in a supportive setting.

As experts, and understanding how essential the exchange of ideas is among educators, the team regularly attends and presents at conferences.  Lisa Lopez-Carickhoff, Director of Libraries and Information Services, Lauren Friedman-Way, Middle School Librarian, and Emily Woodward, Lower School Library Media Specialist, enjoyed three action-packed days over the summer at the National Coalition of Girls Schools – Global Forum on Girls Education, in Washington, DC. In addition to the many session presentations, they found the list of keynote speakers to be very impressive — Billie Jean King, Rachel Simmons (author of Odd Girl Out, Enough as She Is), Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) and many others.

While at the conference, the team co-presented the session Identity Making: A Novel Approach, which examined the ways our libraries encourage identity exploration by enabling student agency in literacy practices.  They discussed how exploring and constructing identity is an integral part of school life, and supporting agency throughout this identity-building process is a unique value that distinguishes independent schools for girls. Reading is an essential component, providing a space for girls to try on, try out and build identity.  Learn more about their presentation here.

“NCGS was truly a remarkable experience and such a valuable opportunity for the Baldwin Libraries team. The most important piece, for us, was looking at our work with girls and reading within the context of the national and global girls education endeavor. I think we felt simultaneously validated about the work of the Baldwin Libraries and challenged by the depth and breadth of the work going on in our sister schools. Not to mention – it was supremely cool to present at the same conference as Billie Jean King. Wow,” said Lisa Lopez-Carickhoff.

As a whole, the Baldwin libraries are a hub for all members of the Baldwin community.  Made up of three unique libraries to fully embrace the needs of every student from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12, as well as all faculty and staff, the libraries include more than 25,800 titles and over 40 databases and digital learning tools. In the 2017-2018 school year alone, the library team facilitated over 600 classes in their spaces and archives.  We encourage you to stop by the next time you’re on campus!

A Final Opportunity to Say Goodbye

Director of Upper School Eric Benke addressed the Upper School in his newsletter one more time before the beginning of summer and the end of his tenure at The Baldwin School.

This is my last opportunity to say goodbye to you. Seniors, we’re in a similar situation – getting ready to leave a place that has been home to us for many years. Like you, I have mixed feelings – excitement about what the future holds yet a little nervousness as well. In any case, it’s the right time in our lives to move on to the next thing.

I have so many people to thank for the experience I’ve had here that I would be all day listing them. My colleagues have been a great part of my career here, and our mutual trust and respect have been vital to making these years so good.

I believe the coming century will be the time when women take their place in the world. We desperately need your leadership and creativity. There will be resistance to this new order, but this battle will be won in your lifetime. We need you to take on the great problems of the world, and my generation is putting its hopes in you to apply the solutions we already have to solve the great issues that face us: disease, hunger, poverty.

The biggest problem we face is hatred, which cannot be solved by technology. Instead, we must be strong in our love for others and demonstrate the power of love. Every day, you have the power by your words and actions to make a difference, whether it’s saying hello to a teacher at school or how you treat the guy behind the counter at the coffee shop. A few simple words can make someone’s day – don’t forget that power.

Usually I assign you homework over the summer, but I’m not going to this year. You’re getting a break. Instead, try to live with an awareness that your love and respect for others makes a difference. You can be an example of what the world needs even in your day-to-day lives.

So, it’s time to say goodbye; to quote Robert Frost: “I have promises to keep/ and miles to go before I sleep/ and miles to go before I sleep.”

For the last time, Seniors are dismissed.

Upper School Environmental Science Capstone Project: Our Students Become Teachers

Written by Maggie Epstein, Science Teacher

In honor of Earth Day, and as a capstone project for their senior elective, the Environmental Science class took on the challenge of becoming experts on an environmental issue and then educating and acting on that issue as well. Throughout the year, the class has focused on the depletion and sustainability of common resources. And while we span the breadth of the subject, there is rarely time to go as deep into specific issues as we may like. So, during the month of April each student chose a topic that they were personally motivated to address. In class and outside of school, they researched and found small solutions to the problem. Most excitedly, this was by far everyone’s favorite part of the project, they were tasked with teaching about their topic to a lower school class.

This was the first year I attempted this project (at this scale at least) and it was daunting. The seniors would have to budget their time and be on their own as “teachers” when it was their turn. However, as soon as the first lesson happened in mid-April, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience. Mary Rose Shields ‘18 and Haley Smith ’18 hadn’t just prepared lectures about deforestation and pollinators, they arrived in gardening clothes with soil and seeds, beaming with enthusiasm. Their lesson highlighted the importance of bees and trees within the ecosystem. They got their hands dirty with the Kindergartners, planting, teaching and being just amazing role models for the younger girls.

Similarly, Emma Bradley ‘18 and Gabbi Pettineo ’18 got the other Kindergarten class to rally behind polar bears. A visit from Winnie got the girls excited, but what really thrilled them was getting to experience how blubber insulates the bears and is vital for their survival. Learning about the importance of blubber was key to understanding how the bears are threatened when they have to travel further and further for food. Less food and more walking means less blubber and a very cold bear. The girls coated their hands in simulated “blubber” to test this theory. Their “blubber” covered hands stayed perfectly warm even in a bowl of ice water – some very fun hands-on science for sure!

Earth Day is a global day of awareness and Rhea Li ’18 was able to share her knowledge of Mandarin with the 1st grade – teaching them Earth themed vocabulary! The girls in her class were all joyful and eager participants leaning to say Earth, ocean, the highest mountain and more. Even the Pre-K was on board for an Earth day lesson. Kate Park ’18 and Dagny DeFratis-Benway ’18 taught them about the size and importance of the oceans. The girls had fun sorting aquatic animals and making their own watery “Earth” to take home. I know their lesson was a success as my own Pre-K daughter came home and told me how “litter is dangerous for all the ocean animals.”

Not all the lessons were quite as sunny though. Melia Hagino ’18 tackled water inequity with the 5th grade; Emily Thompson ’18 got 1st graders to consider their carbon footprints; Natalia Schafer ’18 and Julia Love ’18 warned about the dangers facing the coral reefs. Though these topics were complex, students were still engaged and excited for the experience. The seniors commented on the impressive level of intellectual curiosity from Lower School students and also on the incredible empathy they encountered on their visits.  Maya Hairston ’18 and Miyanni Stewart ’18 were concerned at first that Ms. Fitzpatrick’s 4th grade would be too young to understand the concept of environmental racism. They were confident though that the topic was one they wanted to address and they did so with incredible maturity and thoughtfulness. They had the girls participate in a roll play game that modeled the disparity among the environments of  some communities inhabited by people of color. They spoke to them about the causes and consequences of this injustice and allowed them to share their own thoughts as well. The experience was powerful for all involved. Maya reflected, “I was worried at first that this topic would be too much for fourth graders, but they handled it so well. I feel so honored to have presented in front of a class of such smart young thinking girls. I look forward to seeing them in the halls from now on!”

Beyond just learning and teaching, our class took action. In one month, the Environmental Science class, collectively,  raised money for the Natural Resource Defense council and the United Way, created an Instagram to promote reducing carbon emissions (you can follow it @iamparisca), signed numerous petitions, planted two trees, created a pollinator garden, reduced the flow on their toilets and more!

Watching students combine what they’ve learned with their myriad talents and skills was inspiring. I hope to not just continue this project but expand it to include even more of the Lower School and possibly the larger community in the future. As Haley noted in her reflection, “At the end when we were outside planting, a bee flew by and none of the girls flinched. They watched as it flew around and one girl said, ‘Don’t worry bee! My flower for you will be ready soon!’ This was an adorable moment that made me realize I had done my job.” I have to agree with her. As I saw all the photos of the girls from Pre-K on up to my class of 2018 smiling, learning and working together, I absolutely felt the same joy.

See more of our favorite photos on The Baldwin School’s Smugmug.