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.
In these times of COVID-19, I find it hard to be a Director of Admissions. My job is to sell Pinewood...yet selling anything seems quite inappropriate at this time. Although I can't say enough about my amazing school; the fact still remains...I represent something that is not free. Yet...incredibly invaluable.
Which is where my story begins.
Years ago, one of my closest friends came down with breast cancer. Prior to that time, she was one of the most supportive parents of the school where I was working as the Director of Development. She served on the Board of Directors and also helped me establish many successful fundraising events. My husband, Andy Morgan (Pinewood’s Director of Athletics) also coached all three of her kids. We were close - personally and professionally.
She and her husband ran a very successful local business; and they pretty much supported anything that needed to be done. They were the leading force for many initiatives and never questioned a thing. Truth be known, most of that was because of her...she was a fierce visionary. She was, in short, a bada**.
Weeks after she was diagnosed, I simply let her be. I mean, who was I to keep asking her for help or ideas...or for her connections; much less her donations. She was struggling with breast cancer for goodness’ sake. I wanted to, actually better yet, believed I owed it to her to leave her alone. Then she called me. And it was at that moment she stopped me in my tracts. When I picked up the phone, and before I could get "hello" off my tongue she asked... "Who are you to answer for me? Why haven't you called me to help you? I'm not gone, Nicolle! I have not disappeared! You have a job to do. So do it!"
I couldn't breathe.
We talked for about two hours that night. Of course, I apologized to her profusely; but at the same time I wasn't sure what I was apologizing for. I kept saying "I was just trying to give you space. I would never think, with what you are going through, that it would be appropriate for me to still ask you for anything." Again she stated, "Don't answer for me. The moment you answer for me, it's like I'm already dead. Why would you assume that for me? Why would you assume my failure?”
Again, I couldn't breathe.
It was at that moment on the phone with her that I transformed not only professionally and personally, but most of all learned how to respect the human experience. I realized many things... 1) Who in the world do I think I am to think for anyone else; 2) Who in the world am I to put someone in a dark light when they have not done so themselves, and 3) My job is not to think for anyone, my job is to actually do my job.
My job...my job!
I love my job. We moved here seven years ago for Pinewood, literally. We wanted something special for our children, and we found it. And I have the distinct pleasure of now representing this incredible school. It’s everything - academic rigor + citizenship + joy + social accountability.
So, what is this story about? It's about that I will keep representing this amazing school and won't apologize for it. It's about that if anyone is struggling I won't assume or answer for you. And better yet, I will let you know that we have ways to support you; but never answer for you. I will hold you in the highest and brightest light. Because who is anyone to say I can't?
Pinewood's strength is incredible. And it's incredible because we don't assume the worst in you...it's because we KNOW the best in you.
We are in the midst of a situation I have never known before. At the same time, I am witnessing the power of my Pinewood community like never before. The last thing I will do is underestimate the power of our resilience - in you...or in us.
As the Class of 2020 looks ahead to college, Pinewood's K5 students shared words of wisdom for our graduating seniors. From the heartfelt to the hilarious, here's what our Panther cubs had to say to their friends in the senior class:
“You should take a trip somewhere, have lots of love, go to see New York City! Go with your family… And have fun. Learn new things, buy something cool, go to the beach but wear sunscreen. Oh, and love your parents.” - Love, Libba
“Clean your room every day, brush your teeth every day & take a walk outside every day.” - Claire
“My advice is to bald your hair.” - Tribble
“Do a good job!” - Quin
“Make lots of notes to people to put a smile on their face.” - Cole
“Be good parents (when you become parents).” - Ansley
“Work hard in math.” - Lowndes
“Keep away from boys!” - Parker
“Stay close to your friends.” -Callie
“Do good in school.” - Kherington
“Get a job, but always make time to go fishing.” - Asher
“Don't cry.” - Cade
“Be careful with knives.” - Norah
“Be safe.” - Charlie
“Have fun and play a lot.” - Noah
“Always do your best and do your best in school.” - Barrett
“Always be prepared with Nerf Darts!” - Max
“Work hard and play hard.” - Arthur
“Stay the same.” - Stella
“Graduate and I know you will do good.” - Wyatt
“Have fun at college and remember to call your parents.” - Brooks
Thank you to our Panthers in the Class of 2032 for sharing their wisdom with the Class of 2020! Many thanks to K5 teachers Allison Bailey, Jennifer Fishburne and JeNae Katsanis for collecting their students' thoughts.
It took a pandemic to get me to write a blog. Seriously. My tenure at Pinewood has been one year, nine months, and six days. Our kind and genteel Director of Advancement has subtly "encouraged" me to post since I became Headmaster on Day 1. I’ve never been shy, nor devoid of opinion. However, each time I make those initial keystrokes to get underway, some invisible force clamps down on my resolve to continue. Perhaps I fear that words will escape me; that my well of creativity has run dry; or even that my sentiment lacks luster and falls on deaf ears. While I might have arrived late to the blog party, I’m going to lean into the discomfort and dive into the digital foray. Besides, what the heck else do I have to do in the middle of a quarantine?
I have two precious daughters (with a third child on the way!) and they’ve got me wrapped around their fingers. My wife can tell you that any reputation I might have as a staunch disciplinarian goes right out the window the moment I get home--my girls are my world and I typically resort to my role as “good cop.” Unfortunately, as I’m sure many of you can attest, we’re finding the line between work and family time increasingly blurred.
It stings...because it’s true. How in the world did it take a pandemic to get me to truly appreciate the miracles that already exist in my life? The people that I’m most grateful for, and who give me joy, are standing right in front of me--and at the moment, they are wearing mismatched pajamas and pretending to be a princess veterinarian. If there is any silver lining in the midst of this evil virus, it is the fact that we have a chance to find a semblance of peace and comfort in these moments with family. Shame on me for ever taking such opportunities for granted.
I first came to this realization early on in this... in this... crisis (what will the history books call it?). Our circumstances were not yet surreal, but merely odd and disconcerting. I’d spent hours upon hours trying to tame a seemingly insurmountable email inbox bloated full of questions and concerns. I knew that the Governor’s impending press conference would reveal details that would better inform any decisions related to school operations--there was nothing I could do in the short term. As such, I knew that my crystal-ball-like conjectures were worthless and ill-advised; instead, I went for a walk.
This was not just any walk, however. It was magical. Adventure lurked around every turn. As my iPhone sat on the kitchen counter, beeping and dinging away, my daughters and I laughed and played in the beauty of our sunshine-soaked campus. Sure, we had a few hiccups along the way--a knee scrape here, and a dramatic breakdown over a pebble-in-the-shoe there--but overall, it was an afternoon for the ages! Two hours. Two hours spent climbing trees, exploring paths, and disconnected from the inevitable mayhem. If I’m being honest, I’d be hard-pressed to remember the last time I spent that kind of uninterrupted time outside with my children (thank you for reserving judgment on my parenting skills!).
Have you had your own walk yet? I am confident you won’t regret it--I promise the emails will still be there when you get back. This is the time to put loved ones first.
This blog will be cathartic, especially in the midst of such deafening silence. I will do my best to cast a wide net and share various thoughts from both personal and professional perspectives. We’ll talk about Pinewood and our incredible team of faculty and staff. We’ll cover topical subject matter that relates to you and your children’s academic growth. And, if you’ll indulge me, we can even dabble in that messy realm called parenthood. I love being part of the Pinewood community, and I am thankful for all of you in my life. But for now, you’ll have to excuse me--I have a toy emergency, and I know just the princess veterinarian who can help.