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Room to grow: Outdoor Learning at Brookwood


I love to see students consistently connect with nature through Brookwood’s many outdoor programs. I have seen first-hand our kindergartners work with monarch butterflies, including planting milkweed seeds to produce a more robust habitat; second graders caring for our chickens and sharing their love for them; fourth graders creating colorful maps of the Brookwood watershed, the heart of our verdant campus; fifth graders discovering crabs and other marine life in the tide pools of Black Cove Beach; seventh graders designing outdoor experiments (complete with dependent and independent variables) they carry out along the beautiful coastline of West Beach. Outdoor learning takes place every day at Brookwood. The very essence of our school is inexorably tied to its magnificent campus – from streams to salt marsh, from the woods to the beehives – kids and teachers alike love Brookwood’s connection to the outdoors! (Read: Outdoor Learning at Brookwood)

outdoor-bees_sfwWhen I first arrived at Brookwood School eleven years ago (as a parent of a kindergartner), I was notably impressed, as many are, with the physical campus – Cutler Pond along the entrance road, woodlands adjoining three sides of the property, and two smaller creeks that ultimately lead, as all land water does, to the ocean. What I could not see at that time were the many hidden gems of nature that exist in close proximity to our campus: vernal ponds that each spring fill with eggs of spotted salamander and wood frog; a beaver pond that provides annual evidence of nature’s mammalian carpenters; a salt marsh, teeming with a broad spectrum of life, from the smallest of bacteria to our school mascot, the great blue heron.

outdoor-wb-2sfwWhat I have come to learn in the years since becoming a teacher at Brookwood is equally impressive – the day-to-day manner in which our science faculty makes great use of Brookwood’s natural resources. While all faculty embrace the environment, it is within the science department and its spiraling curriculum we see Brookwood’s core commitment to outdoor education. First, we work to reacquaint our students with the outdoors – all students are given wonderful opportunities to visit and interact with, on a first-hand basis, nature at its best. Second we aim to educate students about the impact, both positive and negative, that humans have on our planet. Third, we aim to introduce students to scientific methods that allow objective study of the environmental health of our outdoor ecosystems. And finally, we maintain several collaborations with local and global non-profits – e.g. Salem Sound Coast Watch (Salem, MA) and the Island School (Eleuthra, Bahamas) – as a reminder all people share in the wonder of our planet!

– Dr. Henry Oettinger
Science Department Coordinator and
Grade 5 Math and Science Teacher

Mission in practice: Lessons Learned at Camp Caribou

aquazip3sfwNervous energy vibrates through the woods as seventh graders take in their first glimpse of Camp Caribou’s legendary “aquazip.” The lake stretches out at our feet, while above us, tall pines filter the afternoon sunlight. Affixed to one of those trees is a platform from which each member of the class will eventually leap en route to completing this rite of passage. Before the thrilling ride down the zip line and making a spectacular splash landing in the water, though, there’s the matter of getting to that platform. Doing so requires first ascending a long ladder (which has an unsettling tendency to bounce and wiggle) and then the rungs built into the tree itself—barely large enough to accommodate growing feet. Past those steps, there’s the awkward moment of stepping onto the platform (which slopes disconcertingly away from the safety of the tree), and then the unavoidable need to . . . just . . . LEAP.

For some our students, especially those who’ve spent time at summer camp, the aquazip is an easy, breezy afternoon activity. For many, though, it is challenge, and for a few it is knee-knockingly terrifying.

As we all assemble under the trees, nerves present themselves in different ways. Some students suddenly get quiet, their eyes darting back and forth between the platform and the lake. For others, the anxiety bubbles out, like the girl who hasn’t stopped talking since we arrived 20 minutes ago (“I think I talk a lot when I’m nervous,” she says). A small group of boys has retreated to the relative safety of a nearby bench, deflecting any suggestion that they might be hesitating. “We’re just waiting for a harness,” they explain. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

We’re at this glorious Maine camp on day two of our annual orientation trip, and it seems, like the Army used to claim, that we’ve done more before 9:00 am than most people do all day. Our time has been filled with team-building activities, cheers, small-group discussions, basketball, racquetball, and a game I’ve discovered this year called “gaga ball.” We’ve been busy, and this busy-ness has been firmly guided by Brookwood’s Mission in Practice, which reads, in part, “I take responsibility for myself, the care of others, and the environment.” Trip leader Mike Wellington, in his inimitable and captivating style, reminded students of that statement yesterday, and we reinforced it throughout the trip: students have leaped to their feet to help clean up after mealtimes, and they have thought deeply about the film Darius Goes West, which showcases a remarkable group of young men taking responsibility for the care of their wheelchair-bound friend suffering from muscular dystrophy.

Now, on day two, huddled below the aquazip platform, we see kids again take responsibility for each other’s care. Among the more confident students, there is no trace of gloating. Instead, we see support—a hug, a high five, a quiet word of encouragement, a longer discussion about the mechanics of the aquazip and the workings of the belaying system. Bit by bit, nerves are soothed, courage is gathered, and the community tightens. By day’s end, all 50 of our seventh graders will have completed the aquazip, and each will go on to attempt similarly challenging high-ropes elements the next morning.

By the evening’s crackling campfire all students share a moment in which someone in the community took responsibility on this trip, and everyone articulates a concrete goal for taking responsibility when they return to school (these run the gamut from stepping up to clean lunch tables to vowing to speak, even when that speech is unpopular).

The bus ride home finds many of us nodding off, but it also finds us happy and accomplished, flush with the support of friendships and firmly grounded in and cognizant of Brookwood’s values. To our kids, still free of homework and class binders, it may feel as if school has not yet begun; we teachers know, though, that the school year is now well under way.

– Kent Lenci
Grade 7 History Teacher

Another First!

OPENING-DAY-VOICESblogSFWThis week will mark either the 57th or 58th FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (FDOS) for me – a number that includes my days as a student; the fact that I can’t figure out whether it’s 57 or 58 is no doubt a reflection of the longevity suggested by the number.

But here’s the thing: It NEVER gets old. Every First Day of School is a beginning, one with far more import than the difference between December 31 and January 1.  It signifies an opening, a fresh start – rife with possibility and, of course, some potential for pitfalls along the way. I defy you to find a student or teacher who sleeps a wink the night before this momentous occasion!

In the early elementary years, the imminence of the FDOS brings with it jaunts exciting in themselves: Buying new clothes (or trying on hand-me-downs!), picking out new shoes, or the simple pleasure of organizing shiny new supplies – book bags, binders, clean notebooks of white paper, and the favored pens and pencils. The youngest among us are literally vibrating with excitement as they meet their teachers and very quickly make new pals; they are entirely “in the moment,” and it’s a gleeful thing to watch.

If I recall correctly and my young sources are telling the truth, the emotions get a little more mixed as one progresses through the middle and upper grades. Of course, there is a bit chest puffing over the placement in a higher grade, and the shoe and supply shopping are still fun. Kids are always excited to see their friends and kibitz about their summers, but the questions multiply: Who will be in my classes?; Will I like my advisor?; How hard will it be this year? And for the oldest matriculates, there is often a tinge of that adolescent dread of returning to daily early rising …

I think too that there is a bit of Proust at work on the FDOS. In Remembrance of Things Past (now apparently called In Search of Lost Time), the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea brings to the adult narrator a rush of involuntary memory and resurrects the past.  So it is with the sensory impact of the FDOS.  Wouldn’t the smell of fresh mimeograph ink bring a rush of memories back to you? Or shiny, freshly waxed floors? The flapping sound of the world map when it spontaneously rerolls itself? I used to love the clean blackboards (now they are white and the markers smell a little like the old mimeograph ink!) with the September date written in perfect cursive in the top right corner and the slightly musty smell of the cardboard boxes full of books to be distributed. This First Day of School will be no different; our kids will absorb smells and sights and sounds that they will never entirely forget.

For teachers, the FDOS carries many of the same butterflies and questions as it does for the kids, but it is invariably an occasion of great joy. While the noise and unceasing negotiating with small fry may have grown weary-making by June, in September, the sweet new faces and timid smiles, the hugs and high fives from past charges, the face-splitting grins as friends reunite, everyone talking at once … Truly glorious mayhem. It is primarily the love of kids, not courses, that motivates those of us who teach the 4 to 14 crowd, and we relish their return. For us, the First Day also signifies a fresh start, new hopes and dreams – this is OUR January 1.

Fall is definitely a poignant time of year. The leaves fall and the days shorten, and we experience it all as a kind of loss, I think. BUT it also brings the First Day of School, an open invitation to revel in childhood, to dream of possibility, and to . . . begin again.  Bring it on!

 – Barb Liston
Assistant Head of School




Brookwood School Eighth Grade Reflections

2016 class on courtyard

In this commencement season of reminiscing and celebration, we asked our graduating eighth graders to reflect on their years at Brookwood by answering a few questions.  Their responses were thoughtful and heartwarming, and we share a sampling of the anonymous reflections below. Thank you and good luck to the Class of 2016!

What I will miss about Brookwood . . .

. . . the warm, welcoming community. From the first time I walked through the doors in fifth grade, to the day I walk out, there is always a teacher or a student saying hello to me. I can’t go one step in the halls of Brookwood without saying “hi” to somebody.

. . . my friends and teachers. The teachers at Brookwood genuinely care about each and every student, and I think that is what sets Brookwood apart from other schools. Also Brookwood shapes its students to be accepting to people’s’ differences.

. . . the phenomenal group of both faculty and students all of whom get to know you at a personal level. I will always remember that warm, encouraging, and inviting feeling you get when you walk into and out of the school.

. . . the community. At Brookwood we are all taught that we need to take care and look out for one another and I believe that this is an important thing to be able to do. Being kind is the biggest rule here and it is definitely the most important thing to be able to do throughout life.

. . .  the teachers’ attitude toward helping students be prepared for the future. They are funny, energetic and they approach me if things aren’t going all that well.

. . . the community feel at Brookwood. Everybody at Brookwood likes you and wants you to succeed. I feel more prepared to take on the real world now.

. . . no matter what time of day it is you can always hear music coming from the rooms –  whether guitars or steel drums it’s always there.

Class-of-2016SFWSkills I have learned at Brookwood . . .

. . .   teamwork and leadership. A lot of times at Brookwood, I would be put in groups with people I don’t know and how to work together regardless of that. I also learned leadership from the sports at Brookwood.

. . .  take risks. So what if you don’t succeed? That makes you stronger.

. . .  speaking with confidence in front of large crowds. Brookwood has provided me with the skills to stand tall, project my voice, and make eye contact with whoever is standing in front of me. That is a skill I know I’ll carry though my whole life.

. . . ability to feel comfortable talking with my teachers, whether it is about homework or something social. Another skill that I have learned is being able to keep organized and prepared for my future life.

. . . it’s “cool” to be smart. Nobody thinks it’s “cool” to get bad grades or not try. Also, I have learned that communicating with teachers is a huge help. Nobody knows how to help you better than they do.

Values I have gained  at Brookwood. . .

. . .  enthusiasm is important to me. Hundreds of School Meetings and an eighth grade play have molded me into an enthusiastic person.

. . .  be yourself. At Brookwood, I learned that everyone supports you and just wants you to excel. This taught me to want the best for others, also.

. . .  expand your circle of friends. School is so much more fun when everyone is like a big family.

. . .  respect others. Always hold others as highly as you hold yourself and be kind and respectful to everyone. Lastly, work hard. If you work hard and focus on what you want to accomplish, you can do whatever you set your mind to.

. . . be myself and not pretend that I am someone that I am not. I have also learned to not care what people think of me (somewhat). Doing this has gained me great friendships that will last for a lifetime.

Surf and Turf Day, Plus a Launch for the Record Books

Adding a new twist to a favorite spring tradition (Field Day), Middle School celebrated this school year’s end with Surf and Turf Day. The day and its activities were created by Physical Education teacher Mike Wellington and Middle School teachers who developed a plethora of ideas to reflect the division’s year-long maritime-themed work and boat building project.

s-and-t-5sfws and t 9Grades 4 and 5 participated in many of the usual turf events, Tchoukball, four-goal soccer, and relays, but in addition the group faced off in challenges with a “nautical” twist. These included things like Knot Races, Dress Like a Pirate, Shipwreck, and Empty the Bilge.

Especially fun was the Semaphore Signaling in which students used nautical flags to send coded messages to each other from one end of campus, across the two athletic fields, to the other. The challenge: correctly decode the other group’s message. Practice for this began the week before, across the lunchroom, much to many diners’ surprise. The kids also really enjoyed Swab the Decks, a new take on Pillow-Polo, always a favorite.

Day_162_Jun_8The excitement of Surf and Turf Day was followed two days later with the launch of the M.S.S. Brookwood, a MacIntosh Canvas rowboat that the students and teachers have been building for this entire year.

After months of work and collaboration, the seaworthiness of the vessel was put to the test on the Cutler Pond. Prior to launch, Admiral Caron led the first-ever Water Bottle Christening, wishing the vessel good luck and a fair weather journey, and read a dedication poem.

Fifth grader Isabella B. took to the helm, and the entire Middle School gathered on the shore in hopeful expectation. Was it seaworthy? Would it float? Would it take on water … maybe even sink? Would our rowers be swimming back to shore? Watch a time-lapse (by clicking on the image below) and find out!

MS Boat Launch

Learn more about the thought and planning that went into this intensive year-long project.

– Sven Holch,
Grade 5 teacher

A Reflection Upon Retirement from Brookwood

FOX-MarthasfwThis week an email pinged through: “Brookwood did great good for me. My life has been transformed by the school.” That message came from an exchange educator 7000 miles away in Rwanda, but it echoes the words our teachers often hear from former students, some of whom are now parents in the carpool line. How exciting that our reach is broadening as well as remaining deep.

These days, I am keenly aware of all kinds of forward movement that is firmly rooted in the values and aspirations of our mission. After nearly a quarter of a century at Brookwood, on the threshold of retirement, my annual year-end reflection feels particularly poignant and my observation especially focused.

Each day, I notice Brookwood teachers making educational buzzwords meaningful, visible, and tangible. As I move through the school, I see project-based learning, research-based teaching, and intentional social curricula at work. Just look at children huddling in tinker spaces that integrate science, design, and collaboration. See them use math and metacognition to build a boat. Watch them gather at a table to share leveled texts in small groups or curl up alone in a corner to immerse in a magical tale. Go to a game and note how they practice sportsmanship alongside passing skills. If you’re like me, you’ll wipe away a few surprise tears at the courage of a solo at School Meeting, the discovery of a new favorite food at lunch, or the kind inclusion of a classmate in recess four square.

marthaandvictorsfwThe new part of Brookwood is a leading-edge space that is integrated with the old carriage house. The building’s appeal is architectural, but its life comes from cut-paper and pastels, mosaics, and sculpture. Tulips and chickens, forsythia and bunnies. Colorful interactive morning messages and push-pinned poems. Brookwood has a heartbeat: African drum rhythms, bounce of basketballs, and footsteps in the halls.

How fortunate I am that my own two kids had the privilege of a Brookwood education. Before their time and ever since, Brookwood teachers have been “teaching with fire” and igniting the curiosity and interests of their students. How thankful I am to have lived and learned for so long among those teachers and the families who are their partners. And how grateful I am to leave this community with hopeful confidence. I know that Brookwood will continue to grow and change and remain the same at its core – a school that dearly loves its children and empowers them with the skills and the will to do great good in this miraculous and hurting world.

– Martha Fox
AISNE Accreditation Coordinator,
Former Director of Global Initiatives
and Head of the Dodge Writing Center

(Pictured top, Martha Fox; Pictured above, Martha with 2016 Exchange Educator Victor Gakwaya)

Brookwood School says farewell to Exchange Educator Victor Gakwaya


Victor Gakwaya, Head of School at APAPEC-IREBERO in Kigali, Rwanda, has been at Brookwood for the past two weeks as our 2016 Exchange Educator.

APAPEC-IREBERO is an independent primary school (Nursery through Grade 6) with 1,114 students. Victor spent most of his time in our Lower School classrooms but also took part in Middle and Upper School classes.

In his farewell message at School Meeting, Victor spoke movingly about his visit, sharing observations about the students. Below is Victor’s speech as well as overviews from each division head about the time Victor spent with their students.

Victor Gakwaya’s Farewell to Broowkood, School Meeting, May 19

I take this opportunity to thank the Brookwood community. Since my first day here, you have all helped me to feel comfortable. During my visit, Brookwood took the place of my family, making me feel welcomed.

What I saw during my time with you has inspired me. I especially noticed that Brookwood develops academic excellence, and each child is treated as unique through the method you use known as “child centered” education.

Brookwood students have a positive environment; the children love the school, and the school itself is a friend.

Brookwood students have positive values like self-esteem and self-discipline.

When I reach my own school in Kigali, I will not rest. I will share my experiences here and new understandings with my colleagues and my students.

I hope this Educator Exchange will be sustained for a long time.

As a farewell gift, a group of Lower School students presented Victor with a quilt featuring handmade squares by every Lower School student. (Click image to view video.)


Lower School reflections on Victor’s visit

VIctor1sfwThe Lower School began corresponding with Victor Gakwaya when we collaborated with his students in the Global Cardboard Challenge.  From this early work came this exciting faculty exchange.  Victor has spent two weeks with us with the goal of learning more about American education and working with us to see where additional partnerships could emerge.  Victor spent time in each Lower School classroom and followed the children to their specials.  A highlight of each day was when he shared his reflections of the day with the teachers.  His astute observations and obvious understanding of educational practices allowed the reflective sessions to be helpful to all of us.  VIctor3sfwWe were all touched by Victor’s humility and will miss him.  He entered our school and within two weeks became a part of our community.  We look forward to sending a teacher to APAPEC-IREBERO in October.

– Nancy Evans, Head of Lower School





Middle School’s reflections on Victor’s visit

VIctor2sfwVictor was able to lead our classes in a Q & A and also shared some compositions from his students to begin a literacy exchange between Brookwood’s Grade 5 and APAPEC-IREBERO. The students also reported on their current immigration unit in social studies as well as stood to recite the New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. Victor was able to accompany a section of Grade 5 to Black Cove Beach to view Fifth Grade Coastal Stewardship work in action. He commented frequently about Brookwood’s extended campus and how we use it well as a “teaching tool.” A group of students enthusiastically shared with Victor their Rubik’s Cube solving skills, knowing that his school is also working on solving Rubik’s Cubes! Later, Victor had an incredibly meaningful discussion with our fourth and fifth grade teachers about classroom and behavior management strategies. He is working on a book with another teacher to promote change in Rwanda, and other African countries, from current practices towards a model that more closely resembles our Responsive Classroom-inspired style.

–  Middle School Teachers

“It was wonderful to have Victor’s insights and reflections.  We are already talking about what books we will “share read” next year with his fifth grade classes.”

– Middle School Coordinator Lisa Johnson

Upper School’s reflections on Victor’s visit

Victor visited sixth grade English classes where he talked to kids about how in Rwanda they paid close attention to the Millennium Development Goals. He talked about how hard it used to be, for example, for pregnant women to get health care, but now it’s better because they’ve met Millennium Goals. Now that we are paying attention to the Sustainable Development Goals, he is glad we’re all on board.  The Sustainable Development Goals have been part of our work in sixth grade’s Global Collaborations Project.  Victor also visited with social studies classes where he and Rich Lehrer discussed everything from the causes of the genocide and health care issues in Rwanda to what life is like at APAPEC-IREBERO.

Victor was articulate, eager, and very insightful and his talk touched on many of the themes we have been discussing all year in social studies and GCP such as the Ten Attributes of Culture and global goals as articulated by the United Nations.

– Evan Diamond, Head of Upper School

Brookwood School students receive Sonia Schreiber Weitz Upstander Awards

upstander awardsNine Brookwood School students were honored at the 2016 Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) service at Salem State University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Eighth grader Max M., received the Sonia Schreiber Weitz Upstander Award for an original essay while sixth graders Jack H., and eighth graders Sophia C., Portia D., Emily H., Walker M., Ellen N., Kishan P., and Noah R. earned Honorable Mentions.

The service’s program acknowledged their efforts saying, “Thank you to these exemplary students for being upstanders and not bystanders and for honoring Sonia Schreiber Weitz by dedicating themselves to taking action on behalf of others who are persecuted or treated unfairly. The each play a role in making our would a better place.”

The program and the award are, “dedicated to the memory of Sonia Schreiber Weitz, Holocaust survivor, poet, educator, and human rights activist. Through her everyday actions and her written and spoken word, Weitz encouraged and inspired her audiences. She hoped for a world ‘where the are no more victims nor victimizers and, above all, no more bystanders.’”

Weitz was a Holocaust survivor and worked tirelessly to inform and teach people so the horrific event is never forgotten. She was the co-founder and Education Director of The Holocaust Center Boston North Inc. before it became incorporated into Salem State University and was renamed the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Brookwood School is proud to have had a close relationship with Weitz who came to campus each year and spoke to students about her experiences in the Krakow Ghetto and five Nazi camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She shared her poetry with students and inspired them to be upstanders for righteousness in the world so tragedies like the Holocaust never happen again.

Stock up for summer reading at the Brookwood School Spring Book Fair



An air of anticipation seeps through the community during the month of May.  Field Day, Steep Week, and Graduation are some of the beloved events in the offing.

For the students, the Spring Book Fair is a treasured experience. Beginning in April, students ask, “Mrs. Geraty, when’s the Book Fair?” and  “What day is our class coming?”  I admit, I’m excited, too!

The anticipated shift from the structured school schedule to relaxed summer days hints at more time to play and be with friends and family, as well as read stories that transport us to other worlds, times, and places. The Book Fair offerings spark our imaginations and pave the way for riveting summer reading experiences.  What types of books bring us pleasure?  Graphic novels, fiction, biographies, sports books, mysteries, and science fiction are options. As well as some assigned reading, summer is a time when readers have a choice of what to read!

SummerReading2Keep a stack of books handy for rainy days, beach days, or any day.  Read with a friend, read to a sister or brother, listen to an audio book, or curl up in a comfy place and relax into a book. What will happen next? Keep reading and find out!

 – Sheila Geraty
Brookwood Librarian

Editor’s note:  Please feel free to join us at the Book Fair May 11-13. It begins at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, May 11 and continues on Thursday and on Friday, May 13 until noon.

A Day Brookwood School Celebrates Grandparents

EVANS_Nancy-sfwWhat a joy to be a grandparent and to be able to watch and listen to all the things that excite our grandchildren. We grandparents have the enviable position of having more leisure time and the ability to celebrate each stage of our little ones’ development and not be so anxious about the next stage. As a grandparent one is able to interact in a different way … a way that is sublimely satisfying to both grandparent and grandchild.

The times I spend with my grandchildren are always special. Whether it be a walk on the beach, sitting reading a book together, or playing a game, I always marvel at the poignancy of the experiences we share. The simplest moments have deep, deep meaning.

Nancy_students_workingsfwWatching my granddaughter thrive in a rich educational environment and being able to peek into her days is truly a gift … one that I cherish.

It was wonderful seeing all the grandparents and special friends here during our annual Grandparents’ Day celebration, and I hope you enjoyed every minute you spent with your grandchildren here in our community.

– Nancy Evans
Head of Lower School