3rd Grade Sound Project: Sharing Original Poetry

As a part of the 3rd Grade Sound Project, a cross-disciplinary exploration incorporating the study of sound, music, art, and creative writing, students built a unique found object instrument, composed and performed original music with their instrument, and brought to life a story surrounding a theme of their choosing. They also wrote original poetry to perform before their performance pieces that helped set the scene of their stories.

Here are their spoken poetry works:

“Crazy Cooks”

Sound Project Group: Yara, Delia, Josh, and Emma

Poem by Yara and Emma

Pans and pots
Leading drops
Sweeping mops
Sweeping up some tater tots

Plates and bowls
Lots of holes
Water leaking from the bowls
Who knew there were so much holes So we had to paste the bowl

Spoons and forks Chopping pork Making more
For our customers

Sound Project Group: Ryker, David, Lily and Soraya

Poem by David

Knifes near the spoons
Ice in the freezer
Time on the wall
Cloth on the table
House kitchen
Eggs in the carton
Nuts in the box

Poem by Soraya

Knife cutting objects
Ice blending in an ice machine
Cutting board smacking down on a counter
Hot toast burning in a toaster
Electric mixer blending fruit
Napkins getting slipped off a table
Dishwasher making a difference on a dish

“Ocean/Coral Reef ”
Sound Project Group: Addie, Greta, Ethan and Oliver

Poem by Greta

Gentle waves hit the shore
Beach balls splash the water
Mermaid fins whip the wind
As they dive down under
Coral reefs and colorful fish
Blur by in a flash

The speckled rays of the sun
Penetrate the waves
The mermaids swim in the deep blue
Talking with their friends
The ocean is a magical place
Take from me for you will know
When you see the sparkling blue waters

Poem by Oliver

I am a ocean
I am part of all the waves
There are a bunch of surfers
I am in everything in the ocean

Poem by Ethan

I am a shark biting off a surfer’s head
I feel bad for the surfer
Sometimes I have to eat food
The water is glowing from the reflection of the sun
Soon it will be another day

I go down to the coral reef
The stars in the sky are shinning
I see a shooting star
I make a wish
And if I tell you it won’t be a secret

Sound Project Group: Tyler, Emery, Martin and Alicia

Poem by Alicia and Emery

Cold air all around us
Animals roaming around
Marshmallows on the fire
Playing in the river
Inside a cave there is a bear
Night time in the camp
Go light the fire
I want a marshmallow

“Haunted Mansion”
Sound Project Group: Imani, Lyla, Maya, Evan and Quinn

Poem by Maya

Witches and ghost moving through corridors
Humans getting spooked and scared
Guards banging against the doors

Poem by Imani

Care for your loved ones, while they’re alive
Rest in peace
Peace after you’re dead
Yeah, you’re dead

Poem by Quinn

Boiling a creepy brew
Loving to celebrate alone
Ahhhh, I’m gonna get outta here
Cook mealworms, mosquitos in your brew
Kill the trespassers if you see them passing by

“Runaway Cats” 
Sound Project Group: Sonia, Anatta, Brady and Cindy

Poem by Brady

Cats in cages
Reading pages
Runaway cats
Followed by bats
Very young in age
The smell of sage
Helped by wolves
Without bowls
Back to their owner at last
Very fast

“Rock Band” 
Sound Project Group: Tess, Will & Xander

Poem by Tess

Rock band is our theme
And a rock band is our dream
Our rock band is the best
Better than the rest

Sound Project Group: Emerson, Estelle, Jane, and Jack

Poem by Emerson

High in the sky
Ever so loud propellor
I love to fly
Copters go high
Oh wow!
Propellers spin
Top of the clouds
Everyone shouts
Remember our fly in the sky

Uniquely Ours: the Hillbrook Experience

“The Hillbrook Way at Home”
Contributed by Anne-Marie Strohman, Hillbrook Parent, Classes of 2019 and 2021; Hillbrook Parent Ambassador

When I give campus tours in my role as a volunteer Parent Ambassador, many prospective parents are impressed by the students’ curiosity, ownership of their learning, and autonomy. We’ve come to describe this learning process as “The Hillbrook Way”: with students’ choice and engagement at the center of their learning experiences, they ask questions, start testing ideas, collaborate to work toward an answer, and show what they’ve discovered.

While I’m grateful to see this process in action during Wednesday tours, the most powerful experiences for me are when my kids bring this process home.

On tours, I love showing prospective parents the “Mistakes” poster in Susie Heeter’s JK-2 Art room. It has five or six different suggestions for what to do when you make a mistake on an art project, including the final option: recycle and try again. She reads the kids Barney Saltzberg’s Beautiful Oops, a delightful picture book about creating beauty out of mistakes. And when kids make a mistake, the class all sings, “Ce-le-brate mis-takes!” It’s a small picture of what happens in classrooms all across campus. Students can take a risk and start because if it doesn’t work out, they can always start again. And they will have learned something in the process of trying.

For my daughter Natalie, who is in 4th grade, baking and crafting provide her ample opportunities to engage in taking risks without fear. She is a self-proclaimed “experimental baker” and rarely wants to use a recipe. Instead, she starts before she has a complete plan, consults with me during the process to ask for suggestions, and shares her “technically edible” creations. She’s had a few successes, but her failures are what I’m most encouraged by. When one of her creations doesn’t taste that great, she shrugs and talks about what she might try next time.

With prospective parents, I often highlight that students share what they’ve learned in many different ways, from 1st and 2nd grade Author’s Walkabouts to the Winter and Spring Concerts, from sharing with partners in Reader’s Workshop to working out tough math problems on the whiteboard in Mr. Sears’s math classes. But I didn’t really understand how infused into students’ learning the “Show” piece of the Hillbrook Way is until my son asked to post videos on YouTube.

After my initial, “No way!” I asked what he wanted to do and why. Evan, then in 5th grade, now in 6th, explained that he wanted to make Minecraft videos with tips and tricks for kids just starting to play the game. He had recently created a video using Scratch programming to share with his science class and assumed that sharing what he had learned was the natural next step. Ultimately, our family worked out a family YouTube policy that balances the values of sharing widely and preserving privacy, and both kids have created some videos they’re really proud of. Once I realized that Evan wanted to share what he had learned–a natural extension of his experience at Hillbrook–I wanted to encourage him.

I share with prospective parents that the Hillbrook Way is not just a process taught to students. It’s a process teachers and administrators go through as well. From subject area audits to teachers speaking at conferences and publishing articles, faculty and administrators are engaged in learning about how to best serve our students. Student learning is still at the center, and what the adults at Hillbrook ask, start, and collaborate on is shared with the larger educational community.

I’m proud to be a part of an educational community that models and teaches a process that affects not only our students, but the learning of students around the world. And I’m most touched when I see it in action at home.

“Hillbrook Works for Us”
Contributed by Imma Calvo, Hillbrook Parent, Class of 2025, and Hillbrook Parent Ambassador

With both myself and Victor having gone through primary and secondary education in Europe, when it came to choosing a school for Max, we had to, as it were, start from scratch. We, of course, started by drafting an A-type matrix of pros and cons covering all the schools in the area, ready to embark on a journey of checking boxes and making informed decisions. The reality is however, that although we weren’t sure what to expect, we knew “us”, our family. We knew when and where we were the happiest, and what we valued the most. And with that, our first visit to Hillbrook’s Open House resonated with just that — a lot of “us”. Max and his brother Kai felt immediately at ease, I loved the energy of the teachers, the kindness of the administrators, and frankly, I saw a vibrant community of parents who seemed like a lot of fun to hang out with and people from whom I could learn.

After the open house, I was “sold” on the Hillbrook experience for our family. Victor brought me back to our matrix of pros and cons, but I trusted my instinct that  Hillbrook would work for us, too. I wanted a place that would embrace Max’s energy, curiosity, and extroverted personality. I wished for a space where teachers that would welcome all of who he is and channel all of it to help him meet his fullest potential. I hoped for, a place where we all could forge and foster deep friendships hi that would bring us new experiences, introduce us to new cultures, and add a ton of fun and great memories into  our already active lives. I also wanted a place that would recognize the pace-of-life of dual working parents with demanding work and travel schedules, and would allow me to engage when and where I could, with no pressure. After our first 6 months as a Hillbrook family and I can honestly say, whatever the future brings, our instinct was right–Hillbrook works for us.

Choosing Hillbrook

Contributed by Nikki Butts, Director of Admission

What I enjoy most about being a member of Hillbrook’s Admission team is that I get to be a part of every new family’s journey to Hillbrook. It’s a privilege and responsibility that fill my days here with excitement, awe, and tremendous personal fulfillment as we continue to build a diverse and thriving community that I am also honored to call my own.

It isn’t at all surprising to me that I often draw upon my own experiences as a parent here when talking with prospective families. After all, choosing Hillbrook is a decision we can all relate to. Having just completed Hillbrook’s re-enrollment process for my own children, I realize that Hillbrook is an ongoing choice we all make, not a one-time decision that is made when first admitted to our school. As each one of us continues to choose Hillbrook, it shows that Hillbrook is a decision we feel good about making. Looking beyond just our own parent community, our faculty, staff, and even our alumni also continue to choose Hillbrook, as they, too, decide to come back and to give back on an ongoing basis.

As I continue to choose Hillbrook for my children and for my own community and workplace, I want to share with you what choosing Hillbrook means to me. 

Choosing Hillbrook means…

  • my family is greeted by name every morning when we arrive on campus and everywhere we go on campus throughout the day. We are known and supported as members of a broader Hillbrook family that feels incredibly personal and powerful. This is an extended family we choose to be a part of and we are glad that we do.
  • our journey here is full of self-discovery. We take risks, tell jokes together at Flag, engage in service learning experiences, and explore every inch of this beautiful 14-acre campus to make new discoveries right in our own backyard. We challenge ourselves and each other to be our best – and we become better people because of it.
  • my children love learning. As a parent, I partner with incredible teachers who are not just experts at what they do, but who feel like experts on my own children. They know and understand my children’s friendships, personalities, learning styles, strengths, and challenges. I continue to feel deeply grateful for them.
  • we get to experience the very forefront of education, including innovation, advancements, and improvements still to come. We are now enjoying a new playground and outdoor amphitheater. Moving forward we will imagine a new MakerSpace. Choosing Hillbrook means gaining a leading-edge education for my children that is continuously forward-thinking and full of “new.”
  • we build meaningful friendships bound by the experiences we have here each and every day.
  • our voices are heard and our ideas are welcome. Hillbrook is an inclusive community and one that draws strength from its own diversity.
  • when it comes time for my children to look towards high school, college, and life beyond, they will be well prepared academically, emotionally, and socially. They will be supported and empowered to choose a path that feels right for them and I will feel confident they will continue to thrive.
  • my children will look back on their time here one day and remember it as one of the most treasured experiences of their lives. They will grow up here. They will embrace the core values of the school as their own personal values and they will believe that they can – and they should – reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.

In a very short time, choosing Hillbrook has become a natural next step for my family that continues to feel “right” everyday.

I am so grateful to be a part of this community and feel excited for all that lies ahead in my family’s journey at Hillbrook. Thank you for choosing Hillbrook for your family, for the many ways you strengthen our school and community, and for sharing your Hillbrook journey with new and prospective families who want to join us in choosing Hillbrook!

What does choosing Hillbrook mean for your and your family?

When You are Walking, Walk

Contributed by Mark Silver, Head of School

This past weekend, I found myself standing alone in a theater lobby during intermission of the stage production of “Finding Neverland” up in San Francisco. I started to reach into my pocket to pull out my phone, when I stopped myself. Instead, I looked around the lobby and started people watching. Nearly half of the people in the lobby had their phones out, intently looking at their screens. I watched people standing there, often in small groups, immersed in their virtual worlds, ignoring the people standing around them. A few people challenged the norm, talking animatedly with friends and family, phones nowhere in sight.

The next day, I was listening to NPR, and a short story came on about a South Korean Buddhist monk, Haemin Sunim, who has taken to Twitter and other social media, including Facebook and YouTube, to share Buddhist philosophy. Sunim’s 140-character tweets have taken South Korea by storm, and a new book that is a compilation of those tweets was just published in the United States. Titled The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, the book provides daily inspiration to challenge us to be be present, to connect more fully with our emotional life, and to find ways to hear within an increasingly noisy world. The irony was not lost on the NPR correspondent or Sunim that he was using Twitter to share this message. As he explained, however, “You can fight against the technology, but I realize that it’s difficult to fight against technology. So rather than fighting it, why don’t I provide better content?”

Apparently, the stars were aligned and the universe was imploring me to pay attention, for the next morning I and other members of our community had the good fortune to hear our own Hillbrook parent and psychologist, Sarah Levoy, talk about mindful parenting at the HSPC meeting. Sarah provided a brief introduction to the topic and then shared several activities that challenged us to reflect on our interactions with our children. She asked us to rate which obstacles most commonly interfere with our ability to fully be present with our child or children, with choices ranging from being distracted by your other children, work on your mind, social media, environmental distractions, or running late. I cringed a bit as I thought about the whirlwind departures that sometimes happen in our household and how I am most definitely not my best in those moments. She also challenged us to think about a moment in which we had felt like we were a parenting superstar, and another in which we had been less than our best. Needless to say, both scenarios gave me pause.

Coming together in such rapid succession, these three touch points challenged me to think about how I am making sense of the always on, often hectic world we inhabit. The biggest takeaway? The way we experience our life is something we can control. It is the lesson we teach children from the youngest ages. We all likely remember telling our children, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” or some variation of that sentiment. While we can’t control every outcome and while we can’t ensure that things always work out the way we want them to, we can always manage how we react to those things. The key, it seems, is recognizing two seemingly contradictory truths at the same time – we have both more control and less control than we think.

Returning to Haemin Sunim, I particularly appreciated this tweet from last week. “Do only one thing at a time. When you walk, just enjoy walking. When you listen, really listen. You will become happier and more centered.” I’m adding one more for myself – “When on Twitter, tweet. When on Facebook, like. At all other times, keep the phone in your pocket and live in the moment.”


Everyone Can Code

By Bill Selak, Director of Technology

Hillbrook students are using a new language to express themselves, coding. All across the campus, students are learning to program and code in innovative and age-appropriate ways. Carefully crafted experiences have opened up opportunities for our students to take coding and programming – and make it a deeply personal and imaginative reflection of their passions, personalities, imagination, and creativity. Through coding, Hillbrook students are seeing themselves as creators, instead of just users of technology.

This past Monday, Hillbrook kicked off a two-week long dive into coding for students of all ages called “Everyone Can Code.” This hands-on, cross-curricular exploration was inspired by December’s “Hour of Code,” a nationwide initiative where students around the world spend one hour learning to code as part of an effort to celebrate computer science in K-12 schools. Hillbrook students have participated in the “Hour of Code” for the past four years with an enthusiasm that inspired the school to offer more. Hence, the two-week “Everyone Can Code”, an endeavor that exemplifies the Hillbrook experience as students are encouraged to dive deeper into individual fascinations and passions related to coding and computational thinking.

Teachers and staff mapped out two weeks of hands-on coding opportunities for our curious learners in JK-8th grade, with an emphasis on individualizing the experiences so each child is engaged and empowered. The result has been a uniquely Hillbrook experience that makes learning coding meaningful and fun.

Some highlights from across grade-levels include:

  • A wide variety of hands-on programming experiences, including building a computer with Piper, a kit that uses Minecraft on a Raspberry Pi, or creating unique gadget using LittleBits, magnetic building blocks that create a circuit and include lights, motors, and switches.
  • Junior kindergarten and kindergarten students took advantage of early coding experiences and enjoyed age-appropriate and friendly hands-on programming opportunities with BeeBots and the Code-a-pillar.
  • 1st-4th grade students were immersed in a number of different coding and programming activities that spoke to their individual interests and fascinations. Among them, they were challenged to create mazes and code Spheros to navigate through them. Some students stretched their creativity and wrote a script and programmed a robot to act it out.
  • Meanwhile, 3rd and 4th graders teamed up with 1st and 2nd graders as they collaborated together to code, fly, and land drones on faraway targets. We also had students at work coding Sphero robots to drive through paint, creating original artwork!
  • Middle school students visited Google to see how code makes a difference in the world. The inspiring field trip saw students meeting with engineers, programmers, designers, and marketing professionals and experiencing firsthand how Googlers collaborate on projects.
  • In week two of “Everyone Can Code” middle school students will expand upon and delve deeper into computer science, choosing from 12 different coding stations to create individual experiences.

Coding is a natural fit at Hillbrook where students are accustomed to asking questions and having the freedom to explore areas of passion or curiosity. Though “Everyone Can Code” provides two-weeks of focused activities, meaningful programming pursuits happen year-round at Hillbrook.

Responding to the overwhelming enthusiasm of students, 1st grade has introduced more coding activities into the classroom. The children utilize Osmo, which allows them to move physical objects, characters, and blocks in order to code and sequence – and an app responds. The objects show up on-screen and mirrors the activity that the students have “coded” in real life.

With the guidance of robotics teacher Shea Ellerson and middle school art teacher Ken Hay, 8th grade geometry students used Python code to create original digital artwork, each one as unique and distinctive as their creators. The students then laser-etched onto acrylic and shared their work – a collaboration of mathematics, coding, and art, displaying them in the Front Office.

In 2nd-4th grade, students have ICE and ACE hours where they can discover what sparks them and dive into it. Recently, a 4th grader took a risk and embarked on the process of making his own video game. His hands-on coding challenge during “Week of Code” inspired him to ask questions about what it would take to program an entire game and motivated him to start this passion project. His teachers embraced the idea and gave him the resources to continue pursuing this fascination.

Meanwhile, 2nd grade took their experiences with coding and used them to transform their class community project. Students took the project, which once took the form of a Roxaboxen cardboard village, and transferred the entire experience into Minecraft, designing and coding an entire community of people, animals, products, and places. The new endeavor has all of the collaboration and group problem solving, as well as the crafting, real-life dynamics, and needs a self-created community faces, but with a distinct advantage: the students observed that the Minecraft community lived beyond the lifespan of weather-worn cardboard. The students now have a “living” artifact that they can continue iterate, connect over, and share with their peers and others.

As a school, we aim to continually deepen and enhance learning experiences and growth opportunities for our community of learners. “Everyone Can Code”, in its evolution from an hour-long instruction to a two-week exploration, is helping students to develop a personal fascination with the wide world of programming and develop a deeper relationship with the kind of innovative thinking that will continue to feed their growth, imagination, and inspiration so they can make a difference in this world.

As our middle school students embark on a second week of hands-on experiences during “Everyone Can Code”, we are thrilled to see the discoveries and projects that come forth from this time to create, make, and collaborate. With their imaginations as the only bounds, we know anything is possible!

If you’d like to learn more about or participate in Computer Science Education Week at home, visit hourofcode.com.

Narrating Your Own Story

By Mark Silver, Head of School, reposted from ReMarks & Reflections

Make the job you want to have.

That’s the advice a Google program manager shared with our 8th graders yesterday during their visit to the Google Campus. It was the punchline to his own story. A graduate student in 2008 at the depth of the economic crash, he and a fellow graduate student took matters into their own hands – they made the job they wanted to have. They founded a toy company that designed apps and, nearly 10 years later, he and his co-founder are program managers at Google. “I get to make toys at age 35,” he said with a smile.

The visit was tied into “Everybody Can Code,” our weeklong effort to create opportunities for students of all ages to participate in a range of coding activities. The goal is to demystify coding and to help students see how coding is at the heart of the transformative changes happening today. In addition, given our yearlong focus on reaching beyond ourselves to make a difference in the world, we want students to understand how coding can make the world a better place.

The focus of the 8th grade field trip was a session with the two founders of Toontastic and one other member of their team. Founded back in 2008, the company was bought out by Google several years ago and the two co-founders became Googlers. The app helps students tell stories by creating cartoons. It is, in essence, a techy puppet show, with the students providing the voices for the computer generated animation. Geared toward 8-12 year olds, the app was a tad young for 8th graders, although it definitely captured their interest and engagement. In just 25-30 minutes, the students quickly explored the app and created some simple stories, mostly silly and not necessarily fully formed, but remarkable in their polish and structure given the short timeframe. The room was full of laughter and enthusiasm, and I’m sure the app would be a hit, particularly with younger students.

Talking with the app’s two co-founders, it became clear that there was a great deal of intentionality and design behind the program. Geared toward educators and students, the app scaffolds the storytelling experience for children, teaching them about the arc of a story and integrating the work of renowned educators like Lucy Caulkin’s, the creator of Writers Workshop at Teachers College Columbia University. The program managers, one of who had taught for several years and another who had initially considered a career in education, were committed to designing a free app that would help children from all different backgrounds learn how to tell stories. Their goal is twofold – the creation of a teaching tool that also becomes a favorite online toy for children.

At the end of the session, the three Googlers took a few minutes to talk with the 8th graders about how the app was making a difference in the world and to offer advice for what a 14-year-old should be thinking about today. We are always telling stories, they noted; indeed, stories are at the heart of the human experience. And, yet, until recently there have been few tools that provide young children the ability to tell a story and speak up. Toontastic gives children a way to share their ideas, to tell their story.

As for advice? One noted that the students need to “rage against the machine of not being creative.” The people he worked with at Google were not just good at ones and zeros, he shared, but knew how to approach problems and how to solve them creatively. Keep drawing, singing, or doing whatever creative things inspire you, he encouraged. Don’t let school stifle your creative soul.

Another manager, as noted early, shared my new favorite line – make the job you want to have. It epitomizes the Hillbrook way, to my mind. Ask what problem you want to solve, start down the path of seeking a solution, collaborate with others along the way, and show your work and learn from it as you make your way back through the cycle. They are the skills we prioritize at Hillbrook – storytelling, creativity, problem solving, risk taking – encapsulated in the idea that we are narrators of our story.

As we often note, we are preparing children for a world that we can only imagine at this point. Yesterday’s visit provided some real-life affirmation that the skills we prioritize at Hillbrook are the skills that will enable our children to change the world.

Thank you to Hillbrook parent and Googler Sherice Torres for setting up this visit for our students.

A Celebration of Gratitude

Students and their special guests create Thanksgiving artwork together during Grandparents & Special Friends Day.
Students and their special guests create Thanksgiving artwork together during Grandparents & Special Friends Day.

In honor of Giving Tuesday, a global day of giving, some of our students reflect upon the things for which they are most thankful:

“Mommy and Daddy.” Allison, 2nd grade

“I appreciate my family and what they give me.”  Alisa, 8th grade

“The park and the whole school!” Toni, kindergarten

“All my relatives and my parents,” Maliha, 2nd grade

“My family.” Avery, 7th grade

“Mr. Robinson and the playground!” Sage, kindergarten

“Family. To have a house and food.” Luanna, 2nd grade

As we head into a busy season of celebrations, family, and holiday planning, we encourage you to take a moment to pause and reflect. What are you most thankful for? How does your family give thanks or consider the things for which they are most thankful? We’d love to hear from you, so please comment below.

Happy Giving Tuesday, everyone!

Experiences in Verse


Contributed by 6th & 7th Grade English teacher Andrea Holck and 5th & 6th Grade English teacher Matt Callahan

“What? Wow! Why are all my classes blowing my mind today?” a student asked recently, at the close of a particularly arduous class discussion. You might be wondering: what compelling, relevant, topic might we be exploring?

Would it blow your mind to discover that we were studying a well-worn subject of nearly every English class beyond sixth grade? The topic: Shakespeare. Shakespearean sonnets, to be precise.

This particular exclamation arose after we spent a good portion of class paraphrasing one of the more famous of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets: Sonnet 19. In this poem, the poet discusses time and its effects on beauty, specifically the beauty of his beloved. Students struggled to “translate,” but in the short space of an hour came to the consensus that Shakespeare was getting “sassy” with time (their word). “Do thy worst, Old Time,” Shakespeare dares. “Despite thy wrong / My love shall in my verse ever live young.”  

Shortly after this revelation that Shakespeare could cop an attitude with Time: “Why are all of my classes blowing my mind?!” I’m not sure what happened in other classes that day, but as for English, I had to agree; my mind was blown, too. But perhaps in a different way.

Reading Shakespeare, even as an adult educated in literary theory, is hard. Teaching Shakespeare to sixth graders? Well, it is a challenge, to say the least. Let’s look at why.

To fully understand the depth of a single Shakespearean line, one must consider the poet’s use of words that seem familiar to us, but which were used in dramatically different ways at the time the poem was written. We also see words that we have never seen before— thou, thee and their kin—and words we know all too well, but which have been twisted to fit the meter (dimm’d, ow’st, grow’st). So, words are tough.

Then there’s syntax—the words twisted into patterns unfamiliar to a 21st century reader,—blunt thou the lion’s paws was a tough one—and the  complicated matter of iambic pentameter—the rhythmic unstressed/stressed syllabic pattern for which Shakespeare is famous.

And we can’t forget rhyme scheme of course! Shakespeare’s chosen pattern of rhymes was invented in rebellion of Petrarch’s tried and true abbabba pattern. Rhyme scheme can be rebellion? Yes!

If that– all of that–is not enough, we can add a healthy dose of that old Shakespearean anxiety which strikes in the hearts of any student faced with the task understanding the basic meaning of a line of Shakespeare. And once understood, we must  “go beyond the obvious,” and probe its depths for “deeper meaning.” And then: write about it.


But guess what?

We did it. They did it.

I’m not entirely sure if every student left this unit an ardent fan of The Bard; but that was never the goal. In the spectrum of human beings, not all are destined to find themselves in love with poetry, in this case, a particularly opaque brand of poetry. But within these weeks, every student in sixth grade was a part of the unlocking of something that started out fairly concealed. When we presented the first sonnet, one brave voice spoke up: “I honestly don’t have the slightest idea what he’s talking about.” The comment was met with agreement by many.

But slowly, line by line, word by word, we untangled the syntax, unlocked each word, and in the process freed up some beautiful images, grappled with the many possible meanings of a word, debated the nature of relationships, the ethics of lying, and the magical ability that a poet has to “immortalize his love in a poem,” to quote one of our sixth grade scholars.

In the end, if I’m being honest, one very basic goal for this unit was to give students a first experience with Shakespeare that was not defeating. We hoped that each one would walk away having an appreciation, if not a love of, the work we hold in the highest esteem amongst English literature. And I think that happened.

Some days were harder than others, there was frustration, a desire to give up, a serious question about whether all this work was really worth it to get to the kernels of truth we found inside each poem. But education is struggle; without it, we do not grow. To struggle with Shakespeare at such an early stage in one’s education will inevitably be difficult. But if a student stares down what seemed unknowable to start, goes slowly, with patience, persists, grapples, fails, tries again, and ultimately comes out understanding a little more than they did to start? That struggle itself is the very key that can unlock so much of what is mysterious and intimidating about literature (and many other matters of life, for that matter).

In the end, when the clouds part and “the eye of heaven shines” on some new insight, it is rapturous–or, in the words of our students–your mind is blown. Perhaps not simply because of what is seen in the poem; perhaps the real mind-blowing realization is in seeing what your mind is actually capable of with a bit of persistence, discussion, and hard work.

And that is a lesson that never gets old.

Lessons from the Field

Contributed by Mark Silver, Head of School


“To the middle, run to the middle,” I yelled from the sidelines to one of the players on the U9 girls soccer team I’m helping to coach. As her teammate dribbled down the sideline and prepared to send a cross to the middle of the field in the front of the goal, the player turned around and ran back toward the center circle – the middle of the field. I started to yell and then, simply, stopped. After the ball went out of bounds, I called the girl over to the sideline and tried, as best I could, to explain what I had meant. She had a big smile on her face and nodded enthusiastically, and yet I could tell she wasn’t following me. “Just play hard, try to get the ball, and have fun,” I said as I sent her back out on the field.

Coaching 7 and 8 year old girls this Fall has been humbling. I find myself trying to balance the need to teach the difficult and technical skills of soccer – controlling the ball with your feet and other parts of your body, passing to a teammate, receiving a pass from a teammate, shooting – with the need to teach basic game sense and understanding of strategy. My co-coaches and I have tried to structure practices so the children are touching the ball all the time, not standing around in lines, and thus they are focusing on moving and developing a feel for the ball. We have also tried to provide some basic understanding of the game so that when we get on the field, they are not just chasing the ball. While the former has been successful – the girls are touching the ball a lot in practice – the latter has been harder. We have been the masters of the swarm much of the season, although there have been moments of passing and spacing these past few weeks that provide hope.

For context, soccer was my favorite sport growing up, and I remain a passionate fan of professional soccer. I also coached older players – high school junior varsity and varsity soccer teams – for a number of years earlier in my career. To be clear, no one is going to invite me to coach a top soccer team anytime soon, and yet I probably know more than your average AYSO soccer coach.  

Coaching this team has reminded me of a few important lessons that apply to parenting and school.

First, controlling children is not the same as teaching children. Soccer is complex and fluid, and it is not possible to create a script and simply direct children around the field. I can yell to the girls to get to the middle, and yet so many things can make that difficult, from the challenge of controlling the ball to the abstract nature of the flow of the game. The fundamental beauty of soccer to me is that it is a player’s game, not a coach’s game. Just like in parenting our children, we ultimately need to sit back and let them control their own game.

Which leads to the second lesson – I need to understand the children I have in front of me and meet them where they are. A quick review of the Yardsticks developmental continuum that we often share with parents reminds me that 7 and 8 year olds can “Listen well but may not always remember what they’ve heard,” and that they “may give up when things are hard.” It also notes, that they are “full of energy, play hard, work quickly, and tire easily.”  Wondering about the different shapes and sizes of children out there? Well, not surprisingly, they “may have a growth spurt.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they have a “limited attention span, and short exercise breaks help concentration.” I’m no longer coaching high school varsity players, nor do I necessarily want to be – but that’s a column for a different day.

Which leads to the final lesson – I should not be measuring success by whether we win or lose the game. I will admit that I am competitive (probably more competitive than I sometimes want to admit) and there have been moments where I’ve been enthusiastically directing the girls on the field and getting pulled into the competitive nature of the moment. “Go, go, go,” I’m yelling from the sideline. And then I look over and see the three girls who are sitting on the sideline with me doing cartwheels. Perspective is important.

Next week, two excellent speakers will be visiting the area as part of the Common Ground speaker series – Richard Weissbroud and Frank Bruni. Both have written interesting books, Weissbroud’s book The Parents We Mean To Be focused on parenting and children’s moral and emotional development, while Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be challenges students and parents to rethink how they view the college experience. The two will be delivering separate talks – Weissbroud at Nueva on Tuesday, November 15 and Bruni at Bellarmine on Wednesday, November 16. In addition, the two will be part of a joint discussion, moderated by Denise Clark Pope, on Tuesday, November 15 at Menlo School. For those who don’t know, Denise Clark Pope is impressive in her own right, as the author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students and the founder of Challenge Success, a nonprofit that challenges parents and schools to redefine the meaning of success.

While Weissbroud and Bruni are not talking about soccer, the lessons that I have been reminded of in coaching 7 and 8 year-old girls are not too dissimilar from the lessons they are exploring, albeit in the context of older children. For those who are new to the Hillbrook community, we were one of the founding schools of Common Ground more than 10 years ago and the group continues to bring extraordinary speakers to help all of us – parents, teachers, and coaches – work with our students and children.

A final note about the team. A few weeks back, I found myself at 8:15 am on a Saturday morning with ten eager girls dressed and ready to play an 8:30 am soccer game. The only problem? The other team wasn’t there. The rainy weather had created confusion about whether or not we could use the field and thus the other team did not show. Our team’s other coach and I talked and then we talked with a few other parents. What should we do? “The parents should play the kids,” one child said enthusiastically. We looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “Why not?” One hour later, a number of us collapsed on the sideline, big smiles on our faces, as we completed perhaps the best sixty minutes of the season. A parent smiled at me and said, “You know what? This is what they are going to remember.”

Empathy Fuels Connection

Contributed by Jules Greene, Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinator, and Colleen Schilly, Head of Lower School

8th graders use this feeling wheel to delve into the conversation surrounding cultural appropriation.

At Hillbrook, in order for us to be kind, be curious, take risks, and be our best, we need to build and sustain a connected community. Truly connected communities can differ greatly from one another in what they value and how they address conflict and mistakes, but we do know that what communities that thrive have in common is a healthy culture of empathy. At Hillbrook we have been using this brief three minute video by Brené Brown with faculty and the Inclusivity Task Force to clarify and discuss what empathy is and why it matters for our community. As Brown describes it, “Empathy fuels connection…it is a choice and it is a vulnerable choice…it is feeling with people.” In her talk, she points to four qualities that define empathy: perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotions in others, and communicating your recognition. These are things we value developing and nurturing in our students and in ourselves as adults at our school because we know that connected communities are inclusive and best prepared to make a difference in the world.

One of our key initiatives in Vision 2020 is to create an increasingly diverse and inclusive community, with a focus on providing an educational program that prepares students to be leaders in an ever more diverse and connected world. Strengthening the “empathy muscle” of our faculty, students, and parents will be one of the keys to the short and long term success of this initiative. So, what does that empathy-building experience look like for students and faculty?

Empathy work and our faculty

Work with our faculty this year has largely taken place outside of the classroom, allowing teachers and staff to connect as colleagues. This year we have brought a SEED group to Hillbrook School. SEED stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, and has been in existence nationally for the past thirty years. Hillbrook’s SEED group is a gathering of faculty and staff who have chosen to spend dedicated time monthly talking about issues of diversity and social justice. Through the sharing of personal stories, a deep analysis of the system of oppression, and the provision of a space for faculty and staff to truly listen to each other, empathy for one another’s experience continues to grow. In a recent faculty meeting, we spent time looking at the emotional impact of this election in our professional and personal lives. During this election cycle, the absence of empathy has resulted in disconnection and division, which has an impact no matter your beliefs or perspectives. In the meeting, faculty were asked to assess their own emotions surrounding the election both at home and work and speak to a faculty member who felt similarly, as well as observe and listen to those who felt differently. As Brené Brown points out in her talk, awareness of the emotional lives and responses of others is a key doorway to empathy and connection. When we see that that other’s experiences can be both different and similar from our own, we can build awareness and strengthen our community’s ability to move through challenges.

Empathy work and our students

Empathy work with students has been centered around giving them an opportunity to take a closer look at familiar traditions and activities and then looking outside of themselves to consider how it may impact others. In 8th grade history, the 8th graders did a project on cultural appropriation and Halloween costumes. Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own without understanding the historical and cultural significance of what they are adopting. Students were asked to visit a Halloween costume store and find five examples of cultural appropriation within the costumes and explain what culture was being appropriated and why this would be seen as offensive or hurtful to the members of that cultural group. After turning the assignment in, the class discussion was incredibly reflective about the process of deeply looking at the costumes available and their own costume selection throughout their early childhood.  

Comments included:

“I had no idea wearing a Native American costume could be hurtful until I learned all about Native American cultures and how different they were. To make all of the tribes just look like one is unfair to their history and customs,”


“Halloween was always just seen as fun and I never thought about how others might feel when they saw my costume, but I know how I feel when something offends me so I don’t want my costume to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Becoming aware of an experience different than their own truly allowed the 8th graders to develop their “empathy muscle” and start to look more critically and compassionately at the world around them.  

We invite you to learn more about this work by joining us Monday, November 7 just after Flag for a school-wide Learning in Conversation event to explore the question How do diversity and inclusivity impact my child’s learning?

We look forward to sharing research with you about the value of diversity, as well as resources for addressing children’s questions and teaching empathy at home. Together we can choose empathy instead of judgment, we can choose connection instead of division, and in so doing model for our students the difficult but rewarding work of living our core values.