Hi! I’m Abby Parks – the new director of development at Pinewood Preparatory School. Here’s an about me in a nutshell…I went to UGA for my undergrad and CSU for my master’s. July marks 10 years living in Summerville. I love pineapples and monograms. My husband, Chris, and I have two children, Conley and Wilson.
I am beyond excited to be here! This move was very serendipitous, and all signs were pointing to choosing Pinewood. My husband and I brought our daughter to tour the school, and we all absolutely fell in love with it. We knew instantly Pinewood was the right choice for our daughter and it was obvious she was excited about it too. However, we were struggling with how to make it work logistically for our family. I told my husband, “I wish there was a development job, so I could work there too.” Fast forward and the next thing I know, I am the new director of development at Pinewood!
Pinewood has long been known for its institutional excellence by providing an amazing education and a plethora of opportunities. I am looking forward to growing and enhancing the school for our current and future students.
One of the facts about Pinewood that excited me the most is that almost 40% of our students are on some sort of financial aid. Why do I love that? It’s simple...It helps make this educational environment affordable to approximately 250 students who would otherwise be unable to attend. It allows our students to have a more diverse learning environment. It allows our class sizes to still be reasonably sized, but not too small that it becomes mundane. It also demonstrates how many other people love Pinewood and see the value in the education provided here and want to share it with others. The fact that we can support that many students on financial aid and still provide a stellar education and experience is just amazing.
In my short three weeks here, I’ve been so impressed by my colleagues and their commitment to our students. A simple thing that has left a lasting impression is everyone I’ve spoken to has known just about every student’s name. When we pass someone in the hall, they greet the students by name. I didn’t have that when I was in school. My teachers knew my name but that was it. If someone in administration knew your name you were either always in trouble or your parent was a teacher. Not here. It’s just so evident how much everyone wants to be here and the passion they feel for the students. I have a LOT of names to learn!
I am confident this will be an excellent choice for our daughter too. She has a September birthday, and I was worried about her being bored in public school by having to delay a year. While the birthdate cut-off at Pinewood is July, I would be shocked to hear she’s bored here! The curriculum is challenging but engaging and the smaller class sizes will allow her more interaction and one-on-one time. She is so excited to start in the fall and I can’t wait for her to join me.
We have a lot of exciting projects on the horizon that will make the school better than ever before. Stay tuned for more details.
Next time, you’re on campus, please don’t be a stranger and stop by to introduce yourself!
A few years ago, I heard Adam Grant speak at a NAIS conference. He is a psychologist, a professor at Wharton, and had recently published a book titled “Option B – Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy” co-authored with Sheryl Sandberg. The book explored recovery from traumatic events, such as the one Sandberg experienced when her husband died suddenly at the age of 47. It would take a much longer post to write a full review of the book but essentially its message was when Option A isn’t available, you make the most of Option B. Grant’s book explains how to accomplish that and then find joy.
Although the subject matter was not the same, I have thought a lot about this book in the last few difficult months. So many plans have changed and so many "Option A” things that we used to be able to do are not available to us right now. I miss going to concerts and Broadway shows. I miss going out to dinner or to a movie and watching sports on TV. I missed the summer vacation. As school started two weeks ago, I missed the beginning-of-the-year excitement and seeing the kids’ smiles that are now hidden under masks. This morning, however, I was reminded again about the lessons in “Option B.”
We have four houses in our Middle School. The Middle School houses build connections and community across grade levels and give students opportunities for leadership, a higher level of engagement, and to have fun. The houses offer students and teachers the opportunity to work with one another outside of the academic arena, promote a healthy sense of school spirit, and enable students to establish connections that transcend classrooms and grade levels.
At the beginning of each school year, we host a sorting day for all of the students that are new to Middle School. In a typical year, the whole Middle School will go to the gym for part of the day for sorting and then house activities. It is a fun, loud, spirit-filled day to kick off the new year and it also gives our new students a sense of belonging in those early nervous days at a new school. We could not use the gym this year due to social distancing guidelines so Option A wasn’t available. We planned Option B, which was to use the outdoor stadium that has plenty of space for socially distanced activities. We were trying to make the best of Option B….and then it rained at 4 a.m. on sorting day. Option C, created between 4 and 6 a.m. that morning, had the kids split into small groups in classrooms to virtually watch the sorting in the cafeteria and participate in virtual team activities throughout the morning. I was sad we couldn’t do Option A and was worried when Option B fell through, but, as they always do, my teachers found a way to make Option C fun and joyful. We made quite a ruckus most of the morning but oh, how good it was to hear that excitement, spirit, and happiness! I watched as the anxiety melted away from some of the kids and there was a happy buzz for the rest of the day. We found some joy in Option C.
While I wait for a time when we aren’t worried about the social distance between students, staggered class dismissals, scheduled times for locker visits, wiping desks and hand sanitizer, I am going to continue to look for ways find the joy in the Option Bs (or Cs, or Ds!) when they come my way.
Pinewood Preparatory School’s faculty and staff members recently selected four of their colleagues as the Teachers and Staff Member of the Year for the 2019-2020 school year.
Lower School Teacher of the Year Tammy Bowers spent a number of years in the classroom as a teaching assistant prior to becoming a Pre-K3 lead teacher this year. “When I was in high school I claimed the quote, “Carpe Diem,” as my own. I have tried to seize the day every single day of my life. I absolutely love teaching, and I have always tried to make the most of each day, especially with my students. I have taught at Pinewood Preparatory School for 10 years, and it is definitely family to me! The best part about teaching three-year-olds is that they keep me young, and every day is a new adventure!” said Bowers of her teaching journey.
English instructor Olivia Guillet was voted Middle School Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020. “It is such an honor to receive this award when I work with such wonderful and talented teachers at Pinewood Preparatory School. I first joined Pinewood as a parent three years ago, and then as a middle school English teacher two years ago. I have taught middle school, high school and college-level English for over fourteen years. I endeavor to instill a love of literature and of learning in my classroom and create an environment in which children can become more confident in their abilities and in themselves,” said Guillet.
She continued, “I believe that a love of reading is one of the first steps in becoming a lifelong learner, and have created a middle school book club at Pinewood, which is wonderfully supported by students and colleagues. I am so grateful for the relationships I am able to cultivate with my students and their families, and the ways in which I am able to be a small part of their lives. I am lucky to work with the best colleagues - in the middle school, in the English department, and across the school as a whole - and have been overwhelmed by the gracious, kind, and supportive welcome I have experienced at Pinewood, from faculty, staff, students, and parents alike. It truly is a family - and one that I am proud to be part of. Thank you.”
The newly selected High School Teacher of the Year, Deirdre Hawes, will retire this year after nearly three decades of teaching science (and a host of other roles) at Pinewood. Looking back at Pinewood at the beginning of her career, Hawes said, “Time flies! Seems like yesterday that I applied for a job at Pinewood. By the way, the front circle was a gravel road, the cafeteria was in the un-air-conditioned "old gym” and the only buildings were the Breezeway and the Main Building up front. There was also a triple-wide trailer (the ‘Chuck Wagon’ - so named because our ‘Chucks’ - Mr. Kuhnell and Mr. Stjern - held court there along with a German teacher, Ms. Brenner) where Freedom Wing now resides. Gosh, Pinewood has certainly come a long way!”
As for her next steps, Hawes said, “I often reflect on the last 28 years at Pinewood and realize how blessed I've been to have worked alongside exemplary colleagues, invested parents, and students who have gone on to become amazing people in their communities and respective fields. I will dearly miss my Pinewood family, but I am looking forward to the next chapter in life. My husband Jeff, and our three dogs will be moving to Asheville, N.C., the place that has always been home to me. Who knows what lies ahead... but we are looking forward to the adventure. Go Panthers!”
Staff Member of the Year Janice Martin has lent her talents to a number of departments during her 16 years at Pinewood. Members of the Pinewood family may recall her working in the Front Office and as the attendance secretary prior to assuming the role of Facilities and Events Manager. Martin quickly embraced the opportunity to implement new processes for managing the School's events calendar and explore new solutions to enhance its facilities.
“I love getting to know all the families and making lifelong friendships. I enjoy helping others and being able to improve the look of the campus,” Martin said of her Pinewood experience.
The Jazzy Junior/Super Senior program has been an integral part of student life at Pinewood Preparatory School for nearly two decades.
Beyond the catchy name lies an opportunity for mentoring and growth in Pinewood’s youngest and oldest students. Each junior and senior student is paired with a “little Panther” in the School’s Early Childhood program (Pre-K3 through Grade 1). These students spend time together at quarterly events, and the High Schoolers are encouraged to schedule visits with their younger friends at specified times during the school day. Over the years, many students have established bonds that extend beyond the students’ time at Pinewood.
“We were excited to be entering an Early Childhood program that not only had a reputation for nurturing a child’s mind but also focused on their hearts,” said Lower School parent Chelcie Eastman. During their scheduled meet-ups, the younger and older students read, create cards for local children’s hospital patients, and play together.
Eastman continued, “Libba was paired with a High School student named Summer that helped her transition from a baby to a little girl. Summer, her now Super Senior, has loved my child, given her special attention, held her hand when she was nervous and cheered the loudest when she accomplished something new! They had fun together and grew to love one another! We love her too, and frequently she comes to our home and babysits both of our girls.”
In addition to mentorship between students, the Jazzy Junior/Super Senior relationships often extend to the students’ families. “Another positive for the parents is a connection between Lower and High School families - something that is rarely done outside of Pinewood. It is such good motivation for younger students to see a volleyball game or cheer on the homecoming court! It’s a great way to meet new people and to see examples of how Pinewood helps children grow from the smallest three-year-old to the graduating 18-year-old!” said Eastman.
The responsibility of becoming a role model is met with much anticipation by Pinewood’s High School students, according to Head of High School Babette Hamilton. “I cannot begin to express the excitement of our rising juniors when at the end of their sophomore year they realize that they will soon become Jazzy Juniors. The energy and laughter in each of the classrooms during all of our events is absolutely heartwarming. It is an amazing opportunity for our High School students to be able to show kindness, caring, and patience, during the scheduled events and the times that they coordinate with teachers to visit. I love when the seniors and juniors walk by the playground and their little Panthers start yelling their names and running over to talk to them. It is magical!”
Head of Lower School Rhett Frampton agreed, “Yes, it is magical! The little Panthers love being called by name and receiving high fives when their Jazzy Juniors and Super Seniors see them outside of the classrooms; and the Jazzy Juniors/Super Seniors love, too, being cheered on by their little Panthers at our many events. The relationships this program creates between the youngest and oldest Pinewood students uniquely bonds our Lower and Upper School.”
When Pinewood shifted to virtual learning in Spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the juniors and seniors collaborated on a video farewell to their little Panthers. Click here to view the Jazzy Junior video and the Super Senior video.