Welcome to the parents' newsletter from the Head of School, Emily Jones. Here you will find notes about life on campus, upcoming events, updates on schedule changes and links to our most recent website news items. Comments, feedback or requests should go to Emily via Katy Wolfe.
It is odd to be going into December without the usual Project Week before winter break. Because of the unusual way this year's calendar falls, we will have the winter Project Week in February instead, just before spring vacation. I suspect that this will turn out to make the winter term feel mercifully short. I'm hearing students wish they could get started on projects they have already designed in their heads, however, and it's clear they would rather not wait. We will celebrate the winter holidays on Saturday December 21 with a concert of music and dance, and we hope to see many of you there. All students will be expected to attend, and should not plan to travel home until Sunday December 22. We realize this is late, but it's another anomaly of the 2013 calendar.
I've read two books recently that I can recommend as gifts, or for yourselves. Both of them pull together topics that we tend to think of separately, and both of them are about how human brains work. One is Scarcity, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Their research shows that our brains react to different kinds of scarcity in the same way - scarcity of money, of time, of food, of almost anything important to us. The cost is in mental bandwidth, and clearly measurable in tests of fluid reasoning. I find this useful in thinking about how we design both school and our own lives. The second is Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan, an account of how an infection can present as severe mental illness. Along with Scarcity, it serves to underscore how closely our psychological and physiological systems are intertwined. I am currently in the middle of a fascinating book by Joshua Greene called Moral Tribes, which combines philosophy, neuroscience and psychology to analyze conflict and propose a way to find a 'common moral currency.’ So far it's very compelling.
Thank you to the many of you who have already responded to our appeal for the school's Annual Fund. If you have not yet made a gift, you may receive a call from a fellow parent the week of December 16. This annual phonathon gives you an opportunity to talk with another parent, compare notes, ask any questions, and make your gift over the phone if you so choose. You can always make a gift via Putney’s website as well. If you have any questions about the Annual Fund, please contact Carlotta Cuerdon, our Annual Fund Manager, at email@example.com.
All the best to all of you,
We are nearing the end of our first term, and as usual some students are scrambling to finish writing big papers, complete projects, or put the finishing touches on an artistic piece. Others, amazingly, are on top of everything and have even finished their college applications and written a sonata or two. On Friday the 22nd we wind up the fall with the March of the Turkeys, our traditional Thanksgiving feast. This event includes music and recitations as well as enormous amounts of good food and a certain amount of pageantry. In the early days of the school, families came to Putney for Thanksgiving rather than having students go home, but the celebration has been reformed now so that many students actually wind up with two Thanksgiving dinners. Students are free to leave for the holiday after their last commitment on Saturday.
For ten days between Thanksgiving and Winter Break, I will be in China. I'll be traveling with Brian Cohen, from our development office, and Iris Wang, a trustee who splits her time between Putney and Beijing. Iris is going to introduce us to the world of progressive education there, which I am very excited about. We will also gather our Putney families and alumni together in Beijing and Shanghai, and visit Cai Xi Silver's hometown of Chongqing to explore opportunities for a semester abroad.
John Barrengos, our new Director of Admission, has been busy this fall visiting K-8 schools around the Northeast as well as hosting prospective students and families here on campus. We know that the vast majority of our students come here through word of mouth - thank you to all who have sent us applicants already this fall. Please help us spread the word, and if you would like to recommend that our admissions office visit particular schools, please let John know.
Some of you will have already received requests in the mail to make a donation to Putney's Annual Fund (and if you haven't received one yet, you will very soon). If you have already responded with a gift, thank you for your prompt response and generosity! For returning parents this appeal will come as no surprise, but for those who are new to Putney (and possibly independent schools in general) a few words of explanation: Although Putney relies on tuition income to meet the bulk of operating costs, there is a gap of about $9,000 per student between tuition and actual costs. The Annual Fund helps us keep tuition at a lower level, making Putney more affordable to more families. Last year 71% of our parents made a gift to the Annual Fund, which was a big leap from 61% participation the year before. We hope to continue that upward trend! Thank you again for your generosity.
All my best,
As I write, Sunday morning October 27, we are in the middle of one of my favorite days at Putney, the Sunday of "college weekend." Teachers gather in the KDU throughout the day, and seniors bring their application essays around to be read and discussed by as many adults as they wish. The essays are enormously various, each the deeply felt attempt by an almost-adult to explain his or herself to an invisible and unknown judge. This weekend their essays can be read by adults who know them and can sometimes help hold up a mirror and show them ways in which they stand out. The seniors gather together around the KDU tables and laugh and throw up their hands in frustration and see this as a group enterprise; a world apart from the secretive and competitive behavior of so many applicants. I am relieved to find that almost all of the seniors have learned how to write well - sometimes startlingly well. I am touched by both their vulnerability and their idealism. The essays are often very funny, and I confess to them that I think this probably is a gift to bored admissions readers. Many show an appreciation of their parents that I hope their parents get to see. And perhaps most important, they all have found things to write about that will set them apart from the pack. Not every student came here as a refugee, or has already written a novel, or has already found their passion in life. But all of them understand themselves as individuals with a voice and stories to tell, and they are not afraid to share their opinions. Colleges are going to be lucky to get these kids.
The other day I asked one of our Chinese students what his Thanksgiving plans were, and his face lit up as he said "I'm going to Rudi's house!" It is a great gift for a student from far away to be invited to share our most traditional holiday, and I hope that you will invite one or two of them to join you - You can imagine your own child studying abroad, and how wonderful it would be for them to be invited into someone's house. We've got students from 15 countries waiting to taste your feast!
A note to Day Parents: You are invited to a meeting November 7th at 7:00, where we will discuss any and all topics of interest to parents of local students. You will get a chance to meet people new to the community and share your thoughts and observations. We will supply coffee and dessert, and hope to see you all.
All the best,
We are looking forward to seeing many of you here next weekend for conferences, class visits, and Harvest Festival. For some of you who are new to Putney this will be the first time you will meet with teachers and not been given your child's grades, so I thought it might be helpful to review our thinking on student feedback, and give a few tips on how you might get the most out of your conference time.
We do not share grades with students or parents until the second half of junior year, when students begin to think about college applications. We find that although students do know that they will have a transcript in the end, they genuinely go through most of their Putney education thinking more about what they are learning than about what they 'got'.
When students think about their learning primarily in terms of a grade, it is very natural for them to fall into a habit of focusing their attention on what the teacher wants them to say or do; in other words they are engaged with doing what will gain approval rather than thinking independently about the topic at hand. We want our classes to have an intellectual focus on the subject matter, rather than an emotional focus on pleasing the teacher. Many students become enormously adept at guessing what the teacher already has in mind and giving it to them. This is a good game, but not likely to create independent and creative thinkers. It is dreadfully easy for teachers to use grades as a tool to say "If you do it this way, you will get an 'A'." Students then become very good at following a recipe, but are generally flummoxed when faced with a new problem or situation.
That said, we do give students clear and usable feedback on their work. It may be useful to check whether your child's self-assessment and the teacher's match up; if not, a conversation about how they are hearing the feedback is in order. Since it is relatively early in the year, some new students are still learning the self-regulation they need to stay on top of their obligations here, and teachers will be able to give you a good idea of how well they are doing this. I also hope that you will share with teachers what you already know are your child's patterns, especially if he or she is new to Putney. This insight into your child’s behavior can often help the teacher to meet that student most successfully.
We are very much looking forward to having you here in just a short time. If you are not able to come, we will ask your child's advisor to check in with you after the Parent's Weekend is over.
All the best,
There is still quite a lot of summer before school starts, but up here on the hill we are starting to gear up for fall, and look forward to having everyone back. We have done a great deal of campus work over the summer; it will all be finished by the time the students return except for the playing fields. After being leveled and drained, the fields will take a season to reseed. (We've got the soccer season figured out, however, so our athletes shouldn't worry.)
As you plan for the start of school, here is a reminder of dates for arrivals:
• August 27, 6:00 pm Day student and family picnic, day parent meeting,
Rockwell House, 210 West Hill Road
• Sept 3, 2:00 - 4:00 pm Student leaders arrive and register
• Sept 4, 1:00 - 6:00 pm New international students arrive and register
• Sept 6, 12:30 - 3:30 pm New domestic students arrive and register
4:15pm Welcome assembly
5:00pm Dinner for new parents, Rockwell House
• Sept 7, 12 - 4:00 pm Returning students arrive and register
As most of you know, we start the year with Long Fall, a Putney tradition from the start of the school in 1935. Long Fall is a 4 day camping trip with teachers and students from different grades, different dorms, and different nationalities going off together in groups of 8-12 to hike, canoe, cook s'mores, and generally enjoy the outdoors. Putney students get a lot of contact with nature in the normal course of things, but Long Fall is a wonderful immersion experience for the start of the year. There is a huge amount of research documenting the benefits of the natural world on emotional and physical health. I think there's likely truth to this, and I am convinced that the best thing of all is learning to allow natural beauty to make us happy. It's free, there is a lot of it, and one doesn't have to buy a ticket or make an appointment.
I want to thank every one of you who gave to the 2012-2013 Annual Fund - 71% of current families contributed! This is well above the 66% participation we needed to meet the $10,000 challenge grant, and far above the 50% average of typical New England boarding schools. Thank you, thank you! As you have observed, we are thrifty and frugal New Englanders, and we think carefully about how we spend your hard earned money.
We are looking forward to seeing you when you come to bring your sons and daughters to Putney in a few weeks. I will hereby issue my annual plea not to let them bring too much 'stuff' - they don't need it and it makes their rooms and their lives cluttered.
All the best,