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News from the PA Coffee with Upper School Head

On October 18, 2017, a Parents' Association Coffee with Ridie Markenson drew a crowd of nearly 50 Winsor parents. In the last of three administrator coffees this fall, the Upper School head answered a wide array of parents' questions and offered insights into what's ahead and what's currently on the minds of teachers and students.

At the start, she shared some of the emerging thinking within the faculty about the possibility of introducing some version of portfolios to the Upper School. In Lower School, the practice has focused on students getting to know themselves as learners, and has been appreciated by students, teachers and parents alike. Faculty are considering what the next logical step would be for older students, she noted, while acknowledging "we're early in the stages of what that will look like."

One approach may be to look at questions of personal growth and how those unfold over a students' years at Winsor. Who am I in this community and in the community outside of Winsor? Who am I as a citizen of the world? That may also tie into work within advisory on thematic questions. Who am I as a friend? As a leader? As a collaborator?

Intrigued by the possibilities, one parent asked if the process might naturally lend itself to the reflection that students are asked to do in applying to colleges. To that point, Mrs. Markenson noted that some colleges have shifted to posing essay questions that ask applicants to think beyond their passions and reflect on their purpose. Portfolios may encourage a similar kind of philosophical reflection.

On the topic of the college process, she also fielded a few questions about standardized tests, particularly subject tests. She noted that not all colleges require those tests, but suggested some options for students considering taking them. Parents who have been through the process with older students also offered their own advice about test preparation. For guidance, Mrs. Markenson recommended that parents refer to the informational materials on testing that Winsor's College Counseling Office has shared via Winsor This Week.

Echoing a point made by Sarah Pelmas in her earlier parents' coffee, Mrs. Markenson also talked about encouraging students to refrain from "competitive suffering" and trying to outdo each other with time spent studying. She noted that the faculty as a whole has looked at the issue of anxiety among students, a topic getting significant media attention of late. Teachers spent a day at the end of the summer working with Lynn Lyons, a leading expert on anxiety, who will return to Winsor for a Parents' Association evening on February 22, 2018.

For students looking for a quiet space during the school day, Winsor has set aside a room between the nurse's and counselors' offices for that express purpose.

At the start, Mrs. Markenson also spoke about the generally positive student feedback on two new initiatives, summer work in math and a shift in meeting times for arts courses and an added arts block to allow students to pursue two creative outlets at once.

In a final question, a parent wondered why she was hearing more buzz about the school's dress code. Mrs. Markenson noted that it's definitely a subject on Upper School students' minds lately. She said she supports the broader principle of students advocating for change, and she reported that a group of students have taken the initiative to discuss their ideas with Ms. Pelmas. Watch for details.

In applauding parents for wanting to stay informed, she also gave a plug for reading Winsor This Week, reminding them that usually "anything you might need to know is in there."


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