Letter from Steve Piltch - March 2018

March 29, 2018

Dear Shipley Families,

Each year as we move from February into March, I am taken by the paradox of the time – simultaneous peaks of frustration (with the weather, among other things) and glimpses of our students showing higher levels of confidence. With winter turning to spring and the stormy, unpredictable weather coming to a halt, the process of student growth is reaching its most intense stretch.

When we were out of school with storms, I had the opportunity to think carefully about these tensions in the context of what we strive to do as a school. Believing that celebrating our students as individuals and helping them strive for excellence in different areas of life is fundamental to our objectives, I found myself particularly impressed when reflecting on our students sharing moments of great achievement and pride at our March All-School Assembly. The assembly focused on our Think Care Act (TCA) Fair in the fifth grade, in which students select and execute service projects, and the Science Olympiad for Middle and Upper Schools, an inter-school national science competition.

Our representatives from the Lower School, Brody Ladda and Grace Carvalho, did a wonderful job presenting the TCA Fair. In addition to describing their own projects—Brody recycled used tennis balls and Grace became involved in the HERB it Forward Foundation—they noted a number of different projects that the students did for the TCA Fair, including helping people in homeless shelters, aiding communities to have clean water, supplying books and handmade pillowcases to children at CHOP, and providing financial support for needy students, among many others. In each of these projects, students showed their commitment to others.

Personally, I was taken by the knowledge and understanding that they had of their projects, the confidence they had to share their work, and their desire to make a difference. This is the seventh year we have done these projects at Shipley, and as I found myself talking about TCA with some of our older students after the assembly, I was pleased that so many remembered them with such fondness. One of them said: “Through TCA we develop a better understanding of our strengths. It pushes us to learn, love, and make a difference.” For me, the neat part of seeing students identify and develop these attributes through the TCA projects is that this process of learning and growth is transferable to future endeavors. Such success at an early age increases students’ willingness to take risks and builds their resilience, perseverance, and spirit – attributes they carry forward in all the years ahead.

The importance of good process and the development of resilience and perspective were borne out in the presentation on the Science Olympiad, in which our Upper School students competed for the third time and our Middle School students competed for the first time. This is captured in one of the anecdotes told by one of our eleventh-grade students, Seamus Magee, about the helicopter competition:

“As I waited, helicopter in hand, to sign in and start competing, a kid walked by and bumped the helicopter, causing an essential piece of balsa wood to break off. Thanks to some advice from Mr. Fornaro, I had the foresight to bring glue to the event. I rushed over to the corner where I kept the glue, glued the joints back together, then yelled at my partner, Jack Keith, to spray the glue to instantly dry it. As I wound the helicopter up, part of one of the rotors snapped. I ran over to where we had the glue once again, glued a different piece of balsa wood, and yelled at Jack Keith again (louder this time) and when I released it, it flew for about twenty seconds. This was my last event of the day, and I had resigned myself to the 'There’s always next year' mentality. However, we placed 7th in helicopters and 8th overall, far exceeding my expectation and granting us another try at the helicopter event at states.”

As our students have had the resilience to move forward through disappointment, they’ve grown in virtually every area of the competition. For the first time in the School’s history, the Upper School team’s performance in the regional event found them qualified for the state event later this month. When the participants heard that they had qualified, they were elated. The hard work, humility, and perspective that they’ve demonstrated will help them and our Science Olympiad team get stronger and will almost certainly carry over to other things that they do.

In addition to TCA and the Science Olympiad, we’ve had other wonderful successes worth noting where the process has been fundamentally important to the outcome. Our Upper School Arts Heads, Kyle Blumenthal and Henry Corkran, provided a preview of Shipley student art being exhibited in the Inter-AC Student Art Exhibition, which ran through March 19 at Baldwin; when I went to the opening, I was deeply impressed by our students’ work. Coincidentally, on the same day as the fine arts opening, we hosted the 20th Annual Independent School Jazz Festival with groups from Germantown Friends School, Episcopal Academy, Penn Charter, Germantown Academy, and Shipley. While it was a truly special experience to have so many talented musicians on campus for dinner and the festival, the performances of our Upper School Jazz Band and our Honors Combo brought huge smiles to the faces of every Shipley parent, colleague, and student. My thanks to our students who wrote, arranged, and/or played the pieces. A special thanks to the soloists—Stef Morrison ’19, Alex Parrotto ’18 (who flew back the same day from a music festival in Austin to perform, only to return to Austin the next day!), Henry Corkran ’18, Colin Lawler ’18 (on a piece he arranged for Honors Combo), Eric Rosenbaum ’20, and Aidan Peterson ’24, as well as Sophie Biesecker ’19, who sang with the Honors Combo and did a spectacular job with Billie Holiday.

Additionally, the Upper School production of Hairspray saw more than sixty of our students put on five different performances, all of which were incredibly impressive. The dancing, singing, and acting (as well as the backstage pieces) reflected both individual excellence and terrific teamwork. In spite of many missed rehearsals due to inclement weather, the students came together in an extraordinarily special way to produce an extraordinary show. While there were some wonderful actors for whom theater is their primary involvement, one of my favorite parts of the show was seeing people who have never performed before participate, love, and learn from the musical. Isn’t that what good education is all about?

We also experienced two impressive notes of athletics’ excellence this winter as our girls’ volleyball team earned its sixth League title in a row, and our girls’ basketball team were state champions for the second year in a row and the fifth time in seven years. Each team overcame adversity, came to believe in themselves, understand their objectives, and ultimately persevered to earn their wins.

My hat is off to each and every student mentioned above and to all of our students who are seeking and finding excellence on an individual or collective basis. If we challenge and support our students/children, appreciate their successes, and use their disappointments in positive ways to help reinforce who they are, they will find deeper and greater success as they go. I hope you will join us to witness those successes throughout the rest of the year.

I hope everyone is enjoying spring break. I have been traveling in China and will look forward to writing about the trip next month.

Warmest regards,

Steve Piltch
Head of School
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.