Ross School Students Celebrate with End-of-Year Ceremonies

Ross School celebrated the close of the 2017–2018 school year with multiple moving-up ceremonies this week, which were held to commemorate students’ passage from one grade to another. All of the ceremonies presented opportunities for students, faculty, staff, families, and friends to reflect upon the year’s achievements.

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Modernity Projects Explore the Evolution of Modern Consciousness

DSC_3277 Earlier this month, Ross eleventh graders culminated their Modernity studies with projects that expressed the advances in science, art, and culture that occurred during the Modern time period, as well as the people that helped shape this important era.


From disruptive technologies to the rising skylines of major cities to the growing momentum of the feminist movement, the Modern era brought important changes that influenced both social behaviors and the economics of the times. The period also saw the introduction of new inventions that had significant cultural impacts on societal interactions and international warfare.


The Modernity projects include original artworks, couture, models of iconic buildings, and case studies of advances in science and medicine. Ross junior Selena focused on Japanese cuisine before and during the Modern period. One noticeable change was the introduction of Korean rice (previously, when the country was under British rule, rice was procured from India). Her classmate, Frank, created a beautiful painting and sculpture featuring a bull skull, influenced by Pablo Picasso and Cubism. Other classmates detailed advancements in the study of anatomy and the evolution of women’s hairstyles through the Regency, Victorian, Edwardian and Interwar (1920–1930) eras. “Hairstyles reflected the social moods and innovations of the day, becoming increasingly natural and progressive over time. This included the bob, which debuted in the Modern period,” eleventh grader Jordyn said.


Check out the photos of the amazing projects by Ross School juniors!



Q&A with Julie Browning: A Look Inside Ross Kindergarten

DSC_4571 Ross School kindergarten teacher Julie Browning has been helping children learn, develop, and discover their strengths for more than 20 years. She brings her wealth of experience and nurturing nature to the Lower School kindergarten classroom each day. In this post, School News talks with Julie about how she is helping the younger students develop a foundation for the future.

Describe your role as kindergarten teacher. It is my job to make every student feel safe, valued, and special. I want them to walk into the classroom and be excited about what each new day will bring. I also believe it is my job to help foster a love of learning and to help each student succeed and become a lifelong learner. I try to create exciting and interesting areas in the classroom with the students to promote discovery. It is important to me that the classroom takes into consideration each student’s needs and allows them to explore and be curious and creative. A large part of my job is helping children learn to navigate the classroom and understand their environment. It is important that students can gather the materials they need and learn to use the resources in the room independently.

What is your approach to teaching? Work hard and have fun. I believe in inquiry and project-based learning and its importance in creating critical thinkers. I also believe that children learn in different ways and that it is my job to adapt what is taught to meet their needs. Through patience and creativity, and with the use of technology, manipulatives, and a wide range of texts and materials, I try my best to make learning fun and enjoyable.

I look forward to coming to work every day, and I hope that my students do too. Five- and six-year-olds are hilarious; every day I laugh with the children or at myself. Who gets to read, dance, sing, play games, and watch children every day as they make new discoveries and gain confidence in themselves and their capabilities? I do—lucky me!

Kindergarten is a transition year. How do you work with the children to help them make the leap from the Early Childhood program? Every child comes to kindergarten with a different skill set and different social and emotional needs. Some students have been at Ross or another school since the age of two, while others may have only had a year of preschool. At the beginning of the year, we spend time helping students transition to a full-day program at school. The activities we plan are for shorter periods of time, and we try to go outside as much as we can to explore the campus and take advantage of the farm and peace garden. We play, sketch, read and count, and make every activity fun. After lunch we have story and rest. In September, several students will fall sound asleep on their blankets and pillows, but by November, they are wide awake and waiting for the next page of the story.

We begin each day with center time. We set up about four different centers on a daily basis, and students choose which activity they would like to do when they first enter the class in the morning. I think it is important that children be given some choice in the activities they do during the day. Our centers include blocks, Legos, puzzles, writing, the play corner, art activities, reading, math, and sight word games. As the year progresses, our centers become more structured. We will set the students’ challenges in the block corner, set up explorations in the math center, and ask the students to work on writing or sight word games. After center time, we have Morning Meeting. This is a time for us to come together as a class and greet each other and discuss the day’s schedule and activities. We then have reading, writing, math, cultural history, and other special classes for the rest of the day.

At Ross, we are lucky enough to be able to offer classes in science, wellness, Spanish, Mandarin, visual arts, performing arts, library, and music twice each week. The students travel to their different classes to make the most of each special’s teaching space. Another exciting part of the kindergarten day is lunch at the Ross Café. It amazes me how quickly the students learn to take responsibility in the Café. They learn to make healthy food choices and about portion control, food waste, and the importance of cleaning up after themselves and others. In the beginning of the year, it is one of the most exciting parts of their day.

What are the children learning? We are currently studying seasonal change and the effects of weather on humans and animals. Students are embarking upon their first independent study about animals that hibernate or migrate in the winter. Each student is researching a different animal. Some students have already created posterboards and books about the animals they are studying. It is really exciting.

We integrate reading, writing, and math into our cultural history studies. In writing, we will begin to write nonfiction books about our animal studies. In math, we are charting temperature and learning to measure time. We are lucky to have a fabulous library on our campus with a great array of books about our animal and winter studies, and in the classroom we have sets of books that children can read with support.

The play center in our classroom changes depending on what we are studying. At the moment, it is a weather station. It is a hive of activity most mornings as children dress up and pretend to be either out in a storm or on a sunny beach reporting the weather back to the KWS (kindergarten weather station) newsroom. Our Spanish teacher has been working with us, so we now have some bilingual weather reporters. Our five-day weather forecasts have been pretty accurate lately, especially recent predictions of snowfall.

Let’s switch to learning a bit about your background. What brought you to Ross School? I had previously worked for the Morris Center, and I stayed on after the transition. I like the cultural history–based curriculum and the flexibility I have in how to teach the material. The creative and interesting people I work with and beautiful campus also make Ross a special place.

I have been teaching for 20 years. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I feel incredibly lucky to have a job doing what I love.

Tell us something people may not know about you. I don’t have an accent, so most people don’t know that I am from Scotland; most of my family members still live there. I moved to America 20 years ago after meeting my husband at the University of Edinburgh.



Mindfulness at Ross School

C6 At Ross School, mindfulness is more than just a Core Value; it’s part of a daily life skills program that helps children and young adults in Early Childhood through grade 12 experience their day with a clear, focused perspective. Specific exercises and activities are developed to create an environment where students can be relaxed and at their best at any given moment.

The school’s approach integrates Eastern and Western forms of sports, exercise, and contemplative practices to support students in the development and strengthening of mind, body, and spirit. Junellen Tiska, director of curriculum and professional development at Ross Lower School, says students ultimately learn how to “self-regulate” behavior and attitude to take control of how they experience life.


Mindfulness is especially important at the start of the school day as both teachers and children bring various issues and concerns with them to school. Many classes begin the day with yoga and breathing exercises, while others make a symbolic transition, such as changing into their slippers when they enter the learning environment at the Upper School, or as in second grade, picking up a painted rock inscribed with a word of personal meaning as they enter the classroom.


The exercises become a welcome routine for the students and help them transition throughout the day. With guidance from their teachers and Wellness instructors, students create a familiar and personal mental space to go to when they are feeling anxious or upset.

“We integrate Wellness throughout the Ross curriculum to foster skills, attitudes, and strategies that empower students to make intelligent life choices as they mature,” Junellen explained.


The physical environment at both the Upper and Lower Schools also plays a role in mindfulness at Ross. Classes often gather outdoors to connect to nature and awaken their senses. In most cases, students lead exercises, and extended members of the community are welcome to join in.

“As I approached the parking lot of the Lower School early one morning, I came across the beautiful sight of students practicing tai chi on the soccer field together. It was a wonderful start to the day,” recalled second grade teacher Shannon. In her classroom, she has designated a specific “peace place” that the children immediately connect to mindfulness, using the area to reorient themselves to their current environment after lunch or assemblies.


To introduce mindfulness to the students at an early age, instructors will often make connections to the students’ current studies. For example, Early Childhood classes learning about sea life may visualize a soft ocean current and map their breathing and physical movement to the relaxed pace. “Not every sneaker fits every child, and mindfulness and contemplative practices help them discover their identity in ways that work just right for them,” said Junellen. “Getting to know yourself and your unique connection to the world is a beautiful part of the experience.”

In the new school year, Ross teachers plan to expand opportunities to participate in mindfulness activities at both the Upper and Lower Schools so that students, family, and staff can extend their practice off campus.


Applause! Applause!

Ally_4531 Ross faculty, staff, students, and alumni achieve many accomplishments throughout the year, both on and off campus. This month, we’re recognizing the successes of seniors Wen-To Chan, Inga Cordts-Gorcoff, Daisy Gallaher, Will Greenberg, and Miguel Monori; juniors Cole Colby, Kendall Scala, Yinggi Zhao, and Jin Zhang; freshman Emily Austopchuk; seventh grader Ally Friedman; Ross second graders; alumna Chelsea Tierney ‘02; teachers Heather D’Agostino, Alicia Schordine, and Shannon Timoney; and staff members Hleb Maslau, Jennifer Morgan, and Simona Weymar.


At the 2015 Ross School graduation ceremony, the Courtney Sale Ross Awards in recognition of faculty members most exemplary of the Ross School vision of leadership, academic excellence, and personal integrity, were awarded to Upper School Dean of Mathematics Heather D’Agostino and Lower School fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine. Will Greenberg received the Ross School Board Award for demonstration of outstanding leadership qualities; the Anders G. Holst Award for a senior who demonstrates courage in creativity went to Daisy Gallaher; Wen-To Chan received the Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award in recognition of his pursuit of excellence, magnanimity of intention, and personal integrity; and the first Richard M. Dunn Award went to Inga Cordts-Gorcoff for her achievements in the study of literature and journalism.


At a dinner ceremony on June 18, the editor of The East Hampton Star presented 2015 All-Star awards to Cole Colby, Kendall Scala, Yinggi Zhao, and Jin Zhang in acknowledgement of their academic excellence, leadership, and community involvement.


2015 Teeny Awards for Outstanding Female and Male in One-Act Plays went to Emily Austopchuk, for her performance in Tassie Suffers, and to Miguel Monori, for his role in Misfortune.

One of Ross School Tennis Academy’s youngest competitors, Ally Friedman captured her first title at the USTA L1B Lynbrook June Challenger (Girls 14s).

Ross alum Chelsea Tierney was sworn in as the East Hampton Police Department’s first female sergeant at a ceremony on May 21. Sergeant Tierney holds a degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminal/forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.


In late May, the second grade and their teacher Shannon Timoney took a class trip up the Peconic River and saw firsthand thousands of bunker fish that died as a result of nitrogen pollution in local waters. They were inspired to make a positive difference, and organized a school assembly featuring guest speaker Kevin McAllister from Defend H2O as well as a popsicle sale to raise money for the cause. They also produced a powerful documentary about their experience and plan to continue their important efforts in the new school year.


Earlier this month, Ross Tennis coaches Hleb Maslau and Simona Weymar teamed up to win the mixed doubles title at the US Open National Playoffs New England sectional qualifier, held at the Yale University Tennis Center. Hleb completed an “unprecedented hat trick,” winning the men’s singles and doubles events as well.

Jennifer Morgan, editorial project manager, was recently selected to compete on the TV game show Jeopardy! The show will air in the U.S. on July 29.

Congratulations to all!

2015 Moving Up Ceremonies

moving up67 As the 2014–2015 school year drew to a close last week, Ross School celebrated with multiple ceremonies marking the occasion of classes “moving up” to the next grade—a transition that, for some classes, also heralds moving to a new campus or a new section of campus in the coming year.

The festivities began in the morning of June 18 with the Early Childhood ceremony in the Field House at Ross Lower School. After opening remarks from Head of Lower School Jeanette Tyndall, Tennis Program Director and EC parent Vinicius Carmo proudly recalled the many accomplishments of the young students, and extended his best wishes for their bright and happy future. After a cheerful choral performance of songs including “What a Wonderful World” and “Adios Amigos,” pre-nursery, nursery, and pre-kindergarten students walked through a ceremonial archway of flowers.

Later that afternoon at Ross Upper School, eighth graders “walked the path” to the area of campus traditionally used by high school students to festive drumbeats, halting at the green near the Nike fountain to listen to speeches given by their classmates and teacher Mark Tompkins. Student Sarah Levine delivered a lively reflection on her class and the academic year; Lily Attias and Zoe Mintz presented “sweet and wickedly funny” paper plate awards to every member of their class; and Mark looked back on the eighth graders’ year with humorous words of wisdom that framed the milestones reached on their way to young adulthood.

In the evening of the same day, a beautiful ceremony at the Lower School campus celebrated an end to the sixth graders’ years at the Lower School, and inspired a look forward to an important new beginning at the Upper School. The event included remarks from Jeanette Tyndall; Caly Stewart, LS student government president; guest speakers Sharon Burns, Lower School counselor, and Chris Engel, director or Community Programs; and class speaker Emma Tiedemann, who spoke about how much she enjoyed her first year at Ross as well as her schoolmates and teachers. Caly then returned with classmates Marilyn Bruehl, Cameron McAuliffe, and Parker Firestone to present the class gift to the Lower School—a beautiful new archway for the students to pass under along their journey at Ross School.

Next, after heartfelt words of recognition for their amazing achievements, sixth grade teacher Deborah Minutello-Bartlett presented students with symbolic “Giving Keys” as a reminder that, just like a key, every person has a purpose. To conclude the event, the class of 2021 showed a music video they prepared chronicling their adventures at the Lower School.

The moving up ceremony for grades K–5 brought the school year to a close on June 19. After a warm welcome from Jeanette Tyndall once again, keynote speaker Will Greenberg ’15 offered a glimpse into the exciting challenges and adventures waiting for the younger students at the Upper School; then the students sang songs to accompany each class as they walked through the archway. Kindergarten began with their “Happy Water Medley”; first and second grades brought smiles with “Thank You”; and third, fourth and fifth grades joined voices in “Wake Me Up.”

At all ceremonies, heartfelt thanks were extended to the Parents Association, parents and families, teachers, and staff, whose tireless efforts help make Ross School an extraordinary learning environment for the students and community.

Congratulations to all for another terrific year at Ross School!

Q&A with Alicia Schordine

DSC_7444 (1) As a fourth grade teacher and Cultural History coordinator for Ross Lower School, Alicia Schordine helps bring the studies of early human societies to life for the students and community. School News recently talked with Alicia about the eventful school year and the most recent collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation on a traditional Native American garden.

Tell us about your role at Ross School.

I teach fourth grade and also work closely with the Lower School teachers to enrich the Ross Cultural History curriculum.

The fourth grade curriculum includes the study of early settlements and social systems, and the information about these periods is often the result of experimental research, because there was no recognizable written record for thousands of years. So we approach our studies as archaeologists, and we get “hands on” to bring history to life. For example, we had subject experts in survival skills and Native American flute making work with the students in the classroom to help them fashion their own primitive tools and instruments.

Another fourth grade tradition is the “clan baby” exercise, during which students care for an egg in teams to learn about how a society works together to feed, protect, celebrate, and mourn the precious young that represent the future of their community.

Most recently, we celebrated the Green Corn Festival, which was the beautiful culmination of our studies of the Native American tribes and culture and a collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation on the new Native American garden at Lower School.

These are impactful experiences, and I’m always impressed with the students’ passion for the work.

You recently received the Courtney Sale Ross Award for your achievements. Tell us about your research.

I’m humbled to receive the award, and I’m grateful to Ross School for providing me with wonderful opportunities to advance my knowledge and skills as an educator. This past year, as a result of the Ross Parents Association Faculty Innovation Grant, I participated in National Geographic’s Genographic Project and an online course through Oxford University in England titled “Ritual and Religion in Prehistory.”

Both were opportunities to dive deeper into the Ross School subject matter. The Oxford course was particularly interesting because my classmates approached the materials from the perspective of their own professions, including archaeology, philosophy, and religious ministry. For my part, I discussed methods to take the complex and mature content and boil it down to have meaning for nine- and ten-year-olds. I also gained access to international resources that continue to enhance our classroom experience, such as documents on burial rituals or the history of Stonehenge.

I shared a lot of this new knowledge, including my own database, to enhance the Ross Learning System and teacher resources for both Upper and Lower School.

This past spring, I also travelled to Cahokia, Illinois, and climbed Monk’s Mound, the largest human-made earthen mound in North America. I was able to incorporate this experience as well as the documentary from the site’s museum into classroom discussions of ancient burial mounds.

How have the students responded to the classroom studies?

It’s been a wonderful year, and I am always so thrilled to be part of sharing our important history with the students. My class really took to the spiritual aspect of their studies and surprised me every day with the depth of their understanding and the connections they make to the modern world around them. For example, on the bus ride to the Suffolk County Archaeological Association’s Museum of Archaeology and History for a recent trip, they saw a mound, and it inspired comments about Cahokia.

The concept of community, too, was big. We spent an entire year talking about how difficult it was to just survive, and it gave us appreciation for the amazing legacy left for all of us.

The lessons were also personal. The boys drew connections to the males’ critical position in the clans as providers and defenders. For the girls, the discussion of matristic societies was especially significant. In the end, I think the knowledge will help them grow into confident, self-aware young adults.

Tell us about the collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation.

Ross School has shared a close relationship with the Shinnecock Nation for many years. As a result, we are so fortunate to have members from the Shinnecock Museum, as well as our students and alumni who live on the reservation, contribute to our studies.

Earlier in the year, the students studied the ancient Mississippian tribes, and then progressed to the Iroquois and Algonquin, and finally the related history and culture of the Shinnecock Nation.

To wrap up the year, Shinnecock historians first visited the classroom to talk about the their ancestors, including their reverence for nature, customs, food, shelter, and medicinal herbs. Then elders blessed our garden, and we closed with the Green Corn Festival on June 17. It was a perfect ending to our year of Native American studies. The day was beautiful, and the students and Shinnecock drummers and dancers helped tell the story of their people.

 What’s next for your summer?

Through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I’ll be studying the Hopewell Indian heritage onsite in Ohio at the Newark Earthworks, Fort Ancient, and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. I’m really looking forward to bringing the history and adventure home to my class and the Ross community in September.


Grade 3 Wax Museum

DSC_6671 On June 11, visitors to Ross School third grade’s “wax museum” traveled back in time to learn about early humans and pivotal historical discoveries. The exhibits traced the evolution of life on Earth, with students portraying their ancestors in native environments.


At the start of the tour, spectators met Australopithecus, the first human to walk on two feet; paleontologist Mary Leakey, who is credited with finding Australopithecus footprints at Laetoli in Tanzania; and Homo habilis, the first hominid to build shelter. Next, they encountered Homo erectus, first upright humans to control fire for cooking and use advanced stone tools; Cro-Magnons, the oldest known modern humans in Europe; Homo sapiens, creators of some of the first discovered cave paintings honoring animal spirits; and the Neanderthal, who lived in Western Europe and Asia during the Ice Age.


The tour was fascinating and fun, and the exhibits had an authentic feel, similar to those of a professional history museum. The students’ scripts, sets, costumes, and props helped tell the story, and there was constant action—from Ms. Leakey excitedly examining her mold of the footprints, to hominids returning from the hunt or sharing news around the fire.


“The time periods often blend together when we think of early man, but there are very important and distinct steps in the evolutionary process that happened over millions of years,” said third grade teacher Meghan Hillen. “The class did a superb job of defining our history.”


Ross School Class of 2015 Graduation

DSC_0007 On June 13, the class of 2015 marked the end of their years at Ross School and stepped forward toward a bright future. The day began with sunshine, warm greetings, and the festive sounds of the Ross drumming ensemble as guests arrived at the Center for Well-Being for the ceremony. When the seniors entered the Great Hall to the School’s alma mater, performed by the high school chorus, the crowd rose and smiled proudly.


Head of Upper School Patty Lein welcomed everyone to the joyous occasion, congratulating the seniors on their tremendous accomplishments. She spoke about the incredible educational journey students and faculty were privileged to experience together, including Senior Project and studies of cultural diversity and global sustainability.


Award-winning photojournalist Michael Robinson Chávez then took the podium to deliver the commencement address. In March, Mr. Chávez mentored a Field Academy class on a trip from Alaska to Mexico, during which students learned about issues of climate change and species sustainability. He noted the students’ strength of character and commitment to their team, often in less-than-ideal situations. Reflecting on his own experiences in the field covering pivotal international events, he encouraged the class of 2015 to continue to excel and be part of positive change in our global and local communities.


Speeches by alumna Sylvia Channing ’10, class co-presidents Will Greenberg and Yu-Chiao (Amber) Kuo, and elected class speaker Harrison Rowen described the students’ many adventures at Ross and myriad opportunities that prepared them to make their mark in the future.


Next, Patty announced special awards for faculty and students. The Courtney Sale Ross Awards, in recognition of faculty members most exemplary of the Ross School vision of leadership, academic excellence, and personal integrity, were awarded to Upper School Dean of Mathematics Heather D’Agostino and Lower School fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine. Will Greenberg received the Ross School Board Award for demonstration of outstanding leadership qualities; the Anders G. Holst Award for a senior who demonstrates courage in creativity went to Daisy Gallaher; Wen-To Chan received the Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award in recognition of his pursuit of excellence, magnanimity of intention, and personal integrity; and the first Richard M. Dunn Award went to Inga Cordts-Gorcoff for her achievements in the study of literature and journalism.


Finally—almost too soon for some—it was time to applaud the seniors as Patty declared the class of 2015 “graduated”!

Congratulations, and good luck!


Native American Garden Blessed By Members of Shinnecock Nation

DSC_6253 There’s a beautiful new tradition in the making at Ross Lower School. Earlier this week, fourth graders “broke ground” to create a Native American garden in the field outside the Green Building. Members of the Shinnecock Nation, including Ross students Chelsea and Kendall Coard, as well as alumni Andrina Smith and Cholena Smith, and Cholena's father Gerrod, performed a traditional Native American ceremony to bless the Earth and give thanks for the coming harvest.


After a blessing from Gerrod, the Shinnecock each held a handful of ceremonial tobacco up to the sky, giving thanks as they turned to face the four corners of the Earth before sprinkling the tobacco in the new garden. Cholena then led the students in a traditional dance and song of thanks as they made their way in a circle around the garden.


Andrina also took the opportunity to express thanks for the special relationship between the School and the Shinnecock Nation. To celebrate this collaboration, a Green Corn Festival will be held at the Lower School on June 17. The event, open to all in the community, will feature Native American dancers and drummers, traditional games, beading, food, and storytelling.


As the students mingled around the garden, they explained that they first planted the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), and plan to add indigenous healing herbs and culinary plants. “This garden represents the symbiotic relationship Native American peoples have with the Earth, and will eventually lead to a garden exchange program between the School and the Shinnecock Museum,” fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine said.


The garden holds important meaning to the fourth graders. This past year, they studied pre-Columbian Native American history, discussing local indigenous tribes, specifically Shinnecock, and the Iroquois confederacy. They learned about communities, rituals, shelters, and customs, as well as sustainability in Native American culture.

Leading up to the planting and blessing, Gerrod and Cholena visited with the students to share their own stories of the Shinnecock Indians, including rites of passage, ceremonial dances, and the evolution of crops for food and medicine. Gerrod discussed the spiritual connection the tribes maintain with nature and the circle of life, noting the respect the tribes showed to the animals they hunted as sources of food and shelter.


Clearly a gifted historian and storyteller, Gerrod asked the students to think about their ancestors sitting around a campsite. With no stores, schools, or electricity, everything had to be made from natural resources gathered in the wild. They gave offerings, such as tobacco, for plants and animals as a sign of their reverence so the harvest and wildlife would continue to return to them.

“Eventually we saved seeds, and the three sisters were the first types of crops to be cultivated,” he said. From them, different habits and plants emerged. “That’s where you all are at with your new garden. You’re helping to tell the story of life and rebirth.”


He also discussed medicinal plants such as wintergreen, which is used to ease toothaches, and certain tree bark that is boiled to make a tea to soothe a sore throat.

Cholena talked about life on the reservation and particular dances that she herself performs for ceremonies and festivals. For example, this month, the Shinnecock will celebrate the strawberry harvest with a day of dancing and sharing of foods such as strawberry pie and pastries. “There are so many things that happen because of this little piece of red fruit,” she said with a smile.

“We’ve all enjoyed the recent events that have strengthened our ties to the Shinnecock Nation,” Alicia said, “and we’re looking forward to celebrating at Ross School’s first annual Green Corn Festival next week!”

Seventh Grade Curates Art Exhibition

55_2015Ross_KSM7891Having the seventh grade students curate an annual art exhibition has been a tradition at Ross School for more than 15 years. The current show, The Illusion of Definition, opened in the Ross Gallery on June 5, and features professional East End artists Roisin Bateman, Don Christensen, and Anne Raymond.24_2015Ross_KSM7844 The seventh graders spent months preparing for the exhibition, learning about the intricate details that go on behind the scenes at renowned museums. They interviewed local artists, took photos, wrote biographies, selected works, installed the show, and hosted the opening celebration. Along the way, they were supported by Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern, Dean of Visual Arts Jennifer Cross, and seventh grade teacher Carol Crane.

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The three artists presented in the show create abstract artwork using a variety of media. Roisin Bateman expresses the metamorphic effects of weather on nature in her paintings, pastels, and monotypes. Don Christensen’s paintings use geometric shapes and bright vibrant colors inspired by nature and music. In addition to canvas, Christensen paints on distressed wood and found furniture. Anne Raymond’s paintings and prints are known for evoking an airy feel, with light brushstrokes juxtaposed with darker, bolder ones. She mixes warm, cool, and neutral colors to suggest the wild forces of nature.

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In the months before the opening, the students had an opportunity to work with each artist in their local studios to learn about their motivations and techniques. Students created their own art inspired by their visits, and their colorful stools and prints are also on display as part of the show.


Summing up the experience with the pros, the students said, “Working with the artists and witnessing their studios was truly inspirational. They gave us incredible tips on what we should do when making prints and monotypes. We also were able to talk about their interests, and understand the true meaning of their art.”


When it was time to install the show, the seventh graders, artists, and teachers discussed the best arrangement to showcase the beauty and detail of the abstract art. They moved gallery walls and experimented with placement, resulting in a 3D-like effect. For example, the students’ stools were arranged on varying sizes of display podiums in the middle of the gallery.


The students say the project was a lot of work, but teamwork made the difference: “If one gear in the system was stuck, we worked together to fix it.” They also have a new appreciation for everything that goes into running a successful gallery, and now feel that they will experience art in a different way in the future.

Science Fair Features Student Research

Science Fair 4 At the grades 7 and 8 Science Fair on June 2, students showcased the results of experiments in a variety of subjects such as sensory perception, memory, dreams, and mindfulness practices in sports. The exhibition is the culmination of work that started in September, which includes an initial project proposal and research question; hypothesis and experiment; recording of data and results; and the final conclusion. 

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First, second, and third place projects in each grade were chosen from a group of finalists. Projects were distinguished based on the student’s commitment to the research throughout the process and interviews with Science Fair judges, who scored the projects based on the quality of work, depth of students’ knowledge, and oral and visual presentation of the results. Judges included Ross Upper School Science faculty, three senior Ross students who were selected based on their Science, and Dr. Gidela Jia, a psychology professor from Lehman College.

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Eighth grader Sophie Griffin placed first in her grade. She explored how different typefaces affect memory, and concluded that words in the sans serif font were best remembered. Second place went to classmate Jenna Kestan, who took an interesting approach to determine if the name of a product would impact its desirability: “I took the ice cream flavor peppermint, and for three days turned it into ‘Pink Panther Peppermint.’” She proved her hypothesis that people would purchase the latter product more because of the clever label.

Third place went to eighth grader Sarah Levine, who tested the blood pressures of children and adults to determine if the younger people had lower readings.

Ella Griffiths

First place in grade 7 went to Ella Griffiths. “I wanted to determine if waxing skis would affect speed,” she said. “My research considered multiple variables, including temperature of the snow and type of wax.” She hit the slopes to personally conduct the experiments and test her theories.

India Galesi-Grant took second place for her experiment comparing the performance levels of males and females in overstimulated environments. Quentin Bazar rounded out the winners’ circle, placing third for using a 3D printer to create miniature wind turbine blades of various dimensions, and then testing their electrical output.

Eighth grade finalists also included Jade Diskin, Dualta Gallaher, Dede Rattray, Chelsea Han, Alex Saunders, and Zoe Mintz. Grade 7 finalists included Ally Friedman, Chandler Littleford, Laina Lomont, Diego Vanegas, Ava Seccuro, and Josie Smith.

“The hard work by all students was really impressive, and the competition among the finalists was very strong,” said Anna Strong, Science teacher and Science Fair leader. “They should all be proud of themselves.”


Outstanding College Acceptances by Ross School Class of 2015

Colleges_2015 As they embark on the next phase of their educational journey, Ross School seniors are celebrating their hard work and achievements thus far. Students have been accepted to highly selective colleges and universities, including New York University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Georgetown University, many with merit scholarships.

In a very competitive year, the 76 members of the Ross School Class of 2015 received 268 acceptances to 130 different colleges and universities. They have been offered merit scholarships in excess of $3.8 million.

Ross seniors will be attending schools including Boston University, Brown University, Ithaca College, The Pennsylvania State University, Pratt Institute, Purdue University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, School of Visual Arts, Skidmore College, Syracuse University, University of Southern California, Villanova University, and Wellesley College.

“Our seniors have demonstrated not only academic excellence, but their commitments to the Ross Core Values and helping our global community through volunteerism and charitable endeavors. We wish them continued success and happiness in the exciting years ahead,” said Head of Upper School Patty Lein.

Congratulations to our extraordinary Ross School Seniors!

Senior Project: Autonomous Water Chemistry Drone

DSC_5837 (1) Senior Liam Cummings has a keen interest in marine science and chemistry, so it’s no surprise that he chose to build a device that can collect important information about the waters surrounding the East of End of Long Island. For his Senior Project, the capstone experience at Ross School, Liam programmed and “hacked together” a small autonomous watercraft that navigates via GPS and logs data about conditions that impact life underwater.


An initial motivation for Liam’s project was curiosity about the water quality of a creek near his home on Shelter Island. “I’m told there used to be life in the creek,” he said, “and I was hoping to find out if there was a cause for the decline.”

To get started, he purchased a small remote-controlled boat, stripped out its transmitter and receiver, and installed an Arduino microcontroller board, which ultimately functioned as the “brain” of the device. As an Innovation Lab @Ross student, Liam had some experience with programming controllers, but the project helped him to become more proficient at coding, with guidance and advice from Urban Reininger, director of Instructional Technology, and Marine Sciences teacher Dr. Jack Szczepanski.


Next, Liam installed and programmed a digital compass and GPS, specific sensors to measure water temperature and pH levels, and an SD card to store the data. One obstacle he encountered was deciphering the GPS data string. “The computer interprets the string as one long word,” he explained, “and it cannot do math with words. I thought I had to find a way to turn the words into numbers, but that was not the case.”

Eventually, he found a solution. He could recall specific data by typing in “GPS.time” or “” “It was pretty much smooth sailing after that,” Liam said.

As a test run, he launched the boat in a body of water just outside the inlet to the creek he was concerned about. The boat collected data as it navigated to preprogrammed waypoints. DSC_5828

Initial findings indicated that the water was slightly alkaline, so Liam plans to conduct additional research to compare these against ideal pH conditions for local sea life. “I have a big interest in ocean acidification,” Liam said. “It may seem minor, but pH level has a huge impact on reefs.”

Liam is looking into ways to improve the boat’s mobility, battery life, and overall productivity. In the near term, he plans to program the waypoints so that the boat collects data in a grid. Adding additional sensors to test for other factors, such as dissolved oxygen and turbidity, is also an option. “Turbidity is particularly important to the health of coral reefs, because they are heavily reliant on photosynthetic organisms,” he said. What he learns could be applied to reefs like the one he explored as part of a Ross School Field Academy trip to Mo’orea last year.


On final reflection, Liam says he believes his Senior Project could potentially be an important research tool for marine scientists. In the meantime, he hopes future Innovation Lab @Ross students will have an opportunity to experiment with the product.

Liam will continue his chemistry studies at Drexel University in the fall, and we wish him success.

Ross Students Explore Marine Science Using Eco Labs

EcoLab4 The start of the spring season has been busy for the Innovation Lab @Ross Marine Science class and their teacher, Dr. Jack Szczepanski. In the eco labs, specialized labs for studying biology and ecology located in Building 1 on Ross’s Upper School campus, exciting undertakings abound—from raising cuttlefish and turtles to embarking on the first phase of resurrecting the large saltwater aquarium.


Most of the current contents of the eco labs are projects that students developed with Jack’s help. Ninth grader Tali Friedman is spearheading the rehab of the large display tank. She is currently making an algae scrubber, a device that uses light to grow algae, and will eventually add some dogfish and other species of marine life to the tank.


Small red-eared slider turtles are being nurtured by sophomore Ray Schefferine, who aspires to be a digital designer for a video game company. He’s studying the turtles and using design software to reconstruct a digital version of the head of a large snapping turtle.


Junior Shanshan He has constructed an Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS) and used it to analyze local communities of small marine species in Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. She is working on producing a field guide to South Pacific reef communities, a venture stemming from a Field Academy trip to the Solomon Islands. Evi Saunders, a sophomore, will use the facilities to study the cognitive abilities of cuttlefish once they have hatched.


Senior Liam Cummings built an autonomous data-collecting vessel for his Senior Project, and is now using it to test the concentration of iodine in our local waters and seaweed.

Jack says the year has been an adventure: “Most of our work is hands-on learning, and when you are dealing with live creatures, the results are unpredictable and rewarding.” After mentoring a Field Academy trip to study the coastal ecology of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, he was eager to return to Ross to see how his own ecosystems were getting along. He discovered that many of the specimens in and around the lab had “been getting a bit frisky,” a sure sign that spring was in the air (especially for the corn snakes and snails in the reef aquarium). Jack hopes to post an update on the cuttlefish project on his blog next week, as well as share other news as the trimester plays out.


The class is wrapping up the school year with some field trips, including a recent visit the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. Jack says they also plan to “get into the water” with experts from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (based on Shinnecock Bay in Southampton) to learn about field collection methods and our local Long Island waters.

Flute-Making Workshop Celebrates Native American Studies

DSC_4815 Sometimes a musical instrument is more than just entertainment. As part of their studies of the ancient Mississippian and Iroquois tribes in Cultural History class, Ross fourth graders are discovering that the tribes not only used flutes in their rituals and celebrations, but also used them for herding animals. To learn more about one of the first instruments to be invented, the class recently completed a flute-making workshop with local musician and flute maker Jay Loomis and then demonstrated their creations for their schoolmates in a Lower School assembly.


Jay has been making flutes for about 10 years, and he said he enjoys visiting with Ross students to share his knowledge of the Native American instrument and its history. To get started, the students first decided what shape and size their flute would be. The design affects the sound; for example, a long flute will make low noises. They also decorated the instruments with shapes and icons, such as an eagle, with beads pressed into beeswax.

The flutes themselves were made from Japanese knotweed, a pervasive plant disliked by gardeners, but perfect for Jay’s needs because it’s already hollow. Students used sandpaper to smooth out holes that Jay had started for them. He next encouraged the class to experiment to get used to the unique sound of their instruments, and then work together to define a tune.

As part of the performance, the class introduced the audience to the different sounds of their flutes, each playing a few notes in turn. Then it was time for the real fun, with several students playing solos of well-known favorites or original songs as a group.


After the concert, the fourth graders answered questions about the flute-making process. Jay also brought along a diverse collection of flutes from Japan, China, Peru, and Ireland, and played each to demonstrate their beautiful, exotic sounds. The fourth grade specifically requested a rousing Irish melody, and the crowd stomped their feet in time with the beat.


“It adds so much to the students’ experiences when they get ‘hands on’ with their studies. They really got a feel for the historical significance of the flute in the lives of Native Americans,” fourth grade teacher Alicia Schordine said.

Lower School Students “Magnificent” in Beginnings

Beginnings5 Last week, Ross Lower School students in grades K–6 presented to the extended Ross community an original play titled Beginnings, a dramatic narrative of the School’s Cultural History curriculum for the lower grades. Performance Arts teacher Margaret Kestler, who wrote the play with input from the teachers and students about their specific grade’s studies, describes Beginnings as “a manifestation of intellect and imagination—a living work of art, integrating theater, dance, music, visual arts, and cultural history.”


Through interpretive performance, each class unfolds and moves their part of the story forward, offering a curricular gift to the next grade. The students did a masterful job of sharing with their audience the evolution of human consciousness and the advent of spiritual thought and wonderment.


The production’s colorful costumes and sets added to the magical experience. After a performance last week at Grandparents and Special Friends Day, family and friends said they were “in awe” of the students’ talents and ability to tell the story of humanity’s wonderful and complex history.

A special thanks goes to the dedicated members of the Ross community who helped with the production, including Deanna Locascio, who worked closely with Margaret Kestler to develop the music that accompanied the storyline; Margaret Bodkin for her musical talents; Nancy Baxter, who helped prepare the kindergartners; Adam Judd for developing the sound; Sy Abramowitz for lighting; Ross parents Bill Stewart and Dan Meeks for creating the amazing canopy sculpture that stretched above the stage like the Sun and the heavens, and served as the screen for projections; Ben Sigua and staff who “went above and beyond” to transform the Field House into a theater; and Christopher Engel for his ongoing support!

Ross Senior Projects Inspire Lower School Students

senior projects4 On April 24, three Ross seniors visited the Lower School to present their Senior Projects. First up was Daisy Gallaher with “Being Dyslexic.” She showed a video installation, which she designed to provide the viewer with a look into the mind of a dyslexic learner. Next, Teague Costello discussed “Manipulating and Printing the Grain of Wood,” a process he used to create a beautiful series of prints of tree stump surfaces. And finally, Will Greenberg demonstrated his “Melomuse,” a musical instrument that skips the “learning curve” so that anyone can play it and make great music.

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All three described how they picked the focus of their Senior Project. Daisy was inspired by her own struggle with dyslexia. She explained that an important part of developing a Senior Project is considering your passions and talents. Will agreed, encouraging the younger students to be unafraid of combining multiple interests when it comes time for them to take their own journey through the Senior Project. As Community Programs Director Chris Engel asked the group to think about how they would “make their mark,” the younger students eagerly called out various interests they would like to explore as seniors. One first grader said she would likely combine two of her favorite subjects—science and candy.

During a question-and-answer period, Daisy was asked about her personal experience with dyslexia. She explained that while it can be harder to learn, people with the disorder are often more creative because they look at things from a different perspective—and she likes this about herself.

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Students were riveted as Teague described the intricate process he developed in order to make his prints. Because it can be difficult to get a print from a stump, he first had to sand and scrub the surface, then begin a slow process of burning the wood, and eventually paint the wood. As he shared the creative results of his labor, colorful prints of cedar, cherry and pine stumps, he echoed his classmates’ words about pursuing what you love. He knew he wanted to do artwork for his Senior Project, but his experience also led to research about artists in the field of printmaking and techniques for dealing with a tricky medium. Because there was no formal how-to guide for what he was attempting, developing his Senior Project was also an exercise in self-discovery and developing into somewhat of a trailblazer in his area of artwork.

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As Will followed Teague on stage to demo his Melomuse, he engaged the younger kids by asking if anyone played a musical instrument, sharing that his personal favorite was the piano. Will is self-taught, and he chose to create something that could make a beautiful sound but required no lessons.

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His invention is based on a digital step sequencer and programmed in advance to play a series of notes related to the button pressed. Students were fascinated and eager to play the one-of-a-kind instrument.

Teachers said the seniors’ visit was a true inspiration for their students, and many are already sharing wonderful ideas for a Senior Project that will leverage their talents and skills and uncover their passions.

Third Grade’s Laetoli Footprints Track Human Evolution

DSC_4620 (1) As part of their studies of evolution of life on Earth, Ross third graders recently recreated one of the most important archeological finds in helping us understand the origins of humans—an 88-foot-long trail of footprints that was fossilized 3.6 million years ago at a volcanic site in Laetoli, Tanzania. 

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To prepare, students first learned that in 1978 renowned paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey uncovered two sets of prints created by Australopithecus afarensis. This species of hominid was bipedal (walked on two feet) and moved with a heel-toe stride like we do today.


Working in the sandbox at the Lower School, classmates walked in the sand to create a footprint trail like that at Laetoli. The third grade archaeologists then made casts of the footprints using plaster. The class integrated mathematics skills to measure the distance between the footprints, recreating the methods used to prove that the hominids were bipedal and to study the physiology of their legs. Later in the day, students excavated the casts and cleaned them in the classroom lab.

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“This was a significant undertaking for the students that involved a knowledge of archaeology, precise field and lab work, and documentation of their findings,” said Meghan Hillen, third grade teacher. “Ultimately, we learned that careful preservation of fossils and artifacts helps inform our research as cultural historians.”


Grade 8 Draws Artistic Inspiration from Medieval Cathedrals

DSC_1283 One of the highlights of Ross School’s 8th grade curriculum is the Medieval Guild Projects, a few days when students step away from their regular school routine and immerse themselves in the role of guild apprentice to a master craftsperson. Just as some young people in medieval times would apprentice themselves to learn the tools and techniques of various trades, Ross students choose an area to specialize in, and end up producing beautiful results in a variety of artistic media. 


This year, students focused on mosaics, sculptured gargoyles, gilded paintings, and stained glass. All of these arts were integral elements of medieval cathedrals, which in turn were the physical and cultural manifestations of the growth in universal religions and their importance to the cultures being studied.


Mentors who served as master craftspersons last month included Sag Harbor artist David Slater, who worked with students on mosaics; longtime Ross associate Mary Jaffe, who guided the creation of clay gargoyles both adorable and grotesque; painter Roisin Bateman, who instructed students in the art of applying gold leaf to their artwork; and Sue Lichtenstein Lowell, who taught students how to work with stained glass.


At the beginning of the several-day period set aside for the projects, students viewed examples of their chosen artistic expression from the time period they have been studying, such as gargoyles from Notre Dame or illuminated manuscripts. The painting guild even examined the definitive 15th-century “how-to” book on using gold leaf and egg tempera to enhance works of art, authored by Cennino Cennini. The guilds then begin work on their own creations. It is a labor-intensive process, but the work comes with intangible rewards. Jen Cross, dean of Visual Arts, explained that the project gives students a sense of the communal learning and structure that was so essential to the medieval way of life. In addition, she said, students “have to demonstrate patience to achieve their goals.” There is a “reverence for the activity” that is a departure from the day-to-day schedule of modern life.


Eighth grader Lilly enthusiastically agrees. “I really loved the process!” she said. “It was such a fun experience and pretty easy to learn. I also think it was cool to learn what people had to do to make stained glass back in the Middle Ages.”

For more pictures of student projects, visit the Medieval Guild Projects Flickr gallery.