Posts Tagged ‘Seacrest Country Day School’


Every year, the Science Department at Seacrest organizes a collaboration with the University of Miami  Shark Research team to go on a shark tagging sortie. This year I joined them!

The day starts at 6:00 am driving a van full of students to Key Biscayne. If I had to define Miami with just one word it would be: Traffic. But we made it with time to stop at Starbucks for some breakfast.

The research vessel is a scuba boat (Diver’s Paradise of Key Biscayne) run by the great French/Cuban Captain Eric who moonlights as an Organizational Behavior Professor at FIU. The nuts and bolts of the tagging are simple. Ten “drum lines” are dropped with big chunks of tuna on the hooks, then you go back to check if the sharks have bitten. Sharks need to swim to breathe, so the hooks have an ingenious system to allow them to swim in circles before being tagged. The hook also has a timer so the scientists can know how long it’s been on the hook. Once on board the students have to take various measurements, check the nictitating membrane for stress and reflexes, clip a tiny skin sample from the fin to check the shark’s health and tag it! The grad students also take a blood sample. It is all very professional and humane, I was impressed. Students also study water samples for quality.

Our first specimen was a small blacknose shark, caught near Stiltsville – a series of houses on the water built during prohibition – you guessed it – on stilts, where folks would drink and party. You have to love American hypocrisy! Some are still strong enough to host raves.

The day goes on checking lines, dropping lines, hanging out on the boat, chatting with the U Miami grad students, Eric the Captain, students, and other teachers. It is fantastic to spend a school day where the classroom is the boat!

Then we caught a nurse shark. These are fascinating! Out of the water they breathe on the water they have in their system making a “suckling” noise that gives them their name, their skin feels like sandpaper, and their color is also unique.

After a long day on the boat we hit Miami traffic again to cross Alligator Alley back to Naples. Yuck.

As an educator, this is the kind of experience we always want for our students, where they are participating, helping graduate students work on their research. This is not a sterile classroom experiment, this is field research to study shark stress levels, ecosystem impact, shark immunology, etc. this is real life!

Notes and fun facts: The majority of sharks are under 5 feet long,  you can purchase shark research swag here: https://sharkresearch.rsmas.miami.edu/shop

 

 

School athletics are, or should be, an extension of the classroom. Any other approach: the hyper competitive, the path to college or pro sports, or the “keep them busy”, is misguided and possibly more harmful than beneficial to an adolescent. Having said that, it is of course healthy and necessary to be competitive, to have a keen eye for exceptional talent and, of course, to have sports be fun and entertaining.

In my case, I was lucky to start coaching and teaching at the same time allowing me to learn the important and symbiotic relationship between the classroom and the sports field. What is more, I often find the classroom a sterile place where students turn on the “auto-pilot” when they walk in and just focus on the day’s lesson. Sports require a different mind-set. First, you cannot sit there and wait to have the lesson delivered, if you do, then sitting –on the bench– is what you will get, come game day. Second, research has proven how activity wakes up your brain cells, making you more receptive to learning, and finally, of course, sports are fun, more so than say, the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish.

My first coaching gig was Assistant Boys Varsity Soccer at Milton Academy, followed by Head Boys JV Tennis. Since then I have coached girls varsity soccer, boys tennis, even co-ed fencing at Buckingham Brown and Nichols! (I had a brief introduction to foil in my college days). I was even the Ski Club advisor at Walnut Hill. Each season has been a great learning journey and a lot of fun. What I enjoy the most are the life lessons that can be taught on the field and on the endless bus and van rides to and from games. Seacrest does not have vans, let alone a bus, so students have to provide their own transport to local games, something that other than dangerous, takes away a big part of being in a team, which is the camaraderie. Few things are as bonding as that ride.

In Florida, football (the one where they carry something that is not a ball with their hands) is a religion, so schools do not book many sports that might interfere with football. Fall sports other than football are limited to swimming and cross-country. So  soccer is played in the winter, which is fine when you consider that Florida does not have a winter per se.

At Seacrest I coached the Girls Varsity Soccer team. Our season had a massive learning curve with 11 losses and 2 wins, but we had a great time! By the end of the season we had figured out how the back four are supposed to work. Next season we shall figure out how the front end should work. The girls put in a great effort and it was very rewarding to see them improve and learn how to move on the field.

In the Spring I coached the Girls Varsity Tennis. Although an individual sport, tennis in the US is played as a team sport in High School and University. Each game consists of five singles games and two doubles games, with a point won per game. Our team has some very high level players that train with a coach every day and some less so, including a total beginner, which made for a very diverse and “human” team. We even had 8th grade girls move up for games when we had injuries or absences. This was a great experience for the little ones that offered them a chance to play with the “big girls” and gain valuable experience for next year. On Wednesdays, when some players where practicing with their coaches and we did not have access to the courts because the boys or the middle school where playing a game, we would hit the gym, or practice yoga on one of the lawns. Yes, our record was much better than at soccer, our Third Singles player was nominated Prep of the week by the local paper and she even won the District title for her category!

The main problem with coaching is how time-consuming it is. There is practice every day after school from 4:30 to 6, and then there are games, some are an hour away in Fort Myers which means getting back to school as late as 11 which is bad enough for the coach, but the poor players! The local paper must be informed of game scores so they can publish the results, practice drills must be prepared, etc. Basically I had no life from mid-October to mid-April.

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After two days of faculty meetings and an apparently endless number of  year-end parties I can finally say my academic year is over, and what a year it has been. Granted, the first year at any job is always going to be hard. Add to that coaching two varsity level sports, editing my dissertation for publishing, a new town, a new state, and more importantly a new climate zone – Sub Tropical, and it was quite an experience.

Naples is the southernmost town on the West Coast, the Gulf Coast of Florida. The city did not really develop until the second half of the XX C with the advent of air conditioning. To this day it is still very much a resort town which booms in size from December to May with rich northerners, mostly from the Mid-West spending the “season” here. They have beautiful homes and cars, go to overrated and overpriced restaurants, and play golf, lots of golf. There are 80 golf courses in Naples, apparently the highest concentration of golf courses per capita in the US. The beach, did I mention there is a beach? The beach is miles of silky while sand, and since it is protected by the Gulf, it has quiet waters with small waves. It is a beautiful town with palm lined streets and gorgeous homes. The municipal tennis courts around the corner from my apartment have decadent clay surfaces. There are cute coffee shops, bars, cigar bars, and even some interesting restaurants. Half an hour driving and you are in the Everglades, the world’s largest Sub-Tropical jungle, infested with alligators, Florida panthers, etc.

In my June 2016 post The Job Search Part II, looking for jobs in secondary schools, I write how what attracted me to Naples was Seacrest’s educational philosophy. With time I will reflect on my teaching experience, on coaching girl’s varsity soccer and tennis, on living in Naples and so many other thoughts that I need to marinate.

The way the weather breaks down is that June to September is hot, humid, rainy and stormy. But the rest of the year it is “Endless Summer” always the perfect weather to enjoy the outdoors. I enjoyed riding my bicycle, running, walking on the beach, as well as riding Rocinante to work every day.

One of the highlights of my first year here has been discovering Artis Naples. Artis Naples is the home of the Baker Museum, a cute, little museum with some interesting pieces, and of the Naples Philharmonic and their fantastic concert hall. One of my fears coming to this remote corner of the world was that I was not going to find the cultural stimulation I had in Boston, Madrid or Chapel Hill. I was mostly wrong. Someone had told me that if I wanted to enjoy any culture I had to drive two hours across Alligator Alley to Miami, when in fact, groups like Miami City Ballet, or the Vienna Philharmonic come to Naples!

The season started with some nice amuse-bouche chamber music concerts in the museum. But the real season started with Elgar’s moving  Cello Concerto. After that it was Grimaud playing Brahms, Joshua Bell playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Opera Naples performing Turandot in the Fall and The Magic Flute in the Spring, Handel’s Messiah, Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, Abbado conducting Beethoven and Wagner, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the ballet Giselle –which is one of my favorites. Some concerts, like Anne-Sophie Mutter I had to miss due to coaching. Fortunately the folks at Artis are very nice and you can call in and change your tickets if you need.

On top of that the museum has a free late night on the last Wednesday of the month, so you can just go walk around, something I did most months!

A lesser known cultural gem in Naples is Opera Naples. They operate out of a refurbished warehouse in a bit sketchy industrial area of town. The artistic director is Ramon Tebar one of those wunderkinds who was conducting orchestras at 12 years old. He is a hot-shot from Valencia, another reason to love him! On top of the two operas performed at Artis, they did a few events at their home. Master classes and recitals with mezzo-soprano Renata Scotto, recitals by Gregory Kunde…

Sadly, there does not appear to be much more to choose from beyond this. The locals seem more interested in the size of their homes and their cars to be really culturally restless. Also, since the town lacks a university there are not many young people. There seems to be mostly families with young children or older folks, but little age diversity.

With my busy schedule, I had little time to explore the area, so that is one of the many things I am looking forward to.

You guessed it, things have gotten pretty busy again, enough to postpone my Summer Summary into November. Not that anything earth shattering happened over summer, but still, I enjoy writing and reminiscing about it.

Summer started with a bit of a rush. I only had one week between the doctoral hooding ceremony and the movers coming in to take my few possessions to Florida. They arrived on Tuesday and I drove through torrential rain into Naples in one long day. Wednesday we emptied the truck. Thursday I opened some boxes and did some paperwork at my new school, Seacrest Country Day. Friday I drove to Miami for a flight to Madrid. Saturday morning I arrived in Madrid in time to go to my nephew’s First Communion.

The month of June was spent in Madrid, visiting friends, walking around the city, going to my favorite gym, exploring great art exhibits, taking my niece and nephew to Bernabeu stadium – for their first time – to see the old glories of Real Madrid beat the old glories of Ajax Amsterdam. As much as I love all cities, Madrid is home, it is the city I know best, and she knows me.

It felt odd to go to Mallorca without my father, but we still managed to enjoy it. The beach, the pool with the children, siesta on the balcony, evening walks, the food, beautiful village church on Sundays, running in the pine forest with the Mediterranean in the background, great people at the hotel, watching the Euro cup with my nephew Jimmy, relaxing gin and tonics at night in the bar. The whole experience is very special.

July was in the country – more and more like suburbia each day – at La Navata, great friends, wood fired paellas, cigars and drinks with my sister at night, great little village church on Sundays, a lot of work on the garden, rural outdoor gym, long bicycle rides on my vintage mountain bike, classic bar for coffee in the morning, and as always, a couple of visits to El Escorial with my dear friend Patxi.

August 1 I was back in Florida and ready to start a new school year.

The moment we learn a skill or acquire any knowledge or wisdom it is our responsibility to share it with those younger than us. Not doing so would be a selfish waste of that skill, knowledge or wisdom. I came about mentoring by the same circuitous and unknown to me way as most things happen in my life.

My college years were incredibly constructive: I wrote a column for the school newspaper, I had the classical music program at the radio station, I was president of the International Club, I was International Student representative to the Student Government, and my senior year I was appointed Student Government representative to the Board of Trustees. I sat next to a sweet old man, who by means of his mystical powers, realized I badly needed some guidance in my life. Thus, unbeknown to me I had my first mentor. Jere Dykema was a quiet, sweet and brilliant lawyer and investment manager in Boston. The fact that he was a trustee at Bentley means he was also well connected and probably rich. After graduation I did an internship at the Societe de Banques Suisses in Geneva, and in September of 1987 I moved to New York hoping to get a job in Wall Street at the same time as the financial markets took one of their biggest hits in history, Black Monday. Somehow Jere Dykema stayed in touch with me throughout – this was before personal computers and the interweb. After eight fruitless, should I say, jobless months in NY, Jere put me in touch with an acquaintance from his squash club in Boston. That acquaintance was Eyk Van Otterloo, and the rest, as they say, is history: he made the mistake of offering me a job, and I moved back to my beloved Boston, where I would regularly meet Jere Dykema for lunch. That is when I realized the importance of mentoring.

After a few years I moved back to Madrid to work for a stockbroker. We soon received a young college graduate from Atlanta on a one year internship. Sure we became good friends to this day, but more importantly I could help him get his professional “sea legs”. From that point on there was always someone I could help out. When I started my company in 1994, one of my biggest responsibilities, but also pleasures was training, coaching and mentoring my team, I loved it. Becoming a teacher in the US also meant automatically becoming a mentor. Advising students is a great way of putting my 20 plus years of business experience and my 50 (soon plus) years of life experience to good use.

In the photofinishing industry I was again lucky to find wonderful advisors. Although Renaud lived in Paris, he still helped and advised me, and made sure I was ok. I loved working with him and knowing that he always had my best interest in mind.

Back in the States, strangely enough, an old university professor became my mentor. Twenty years after teaching me, and having stayed in contact all these years, Prof. Nurick and his wife Diane became friends, advisors, mentors. I still remember conversations and advice they gave me. Being a Tar Heel himself, Aaron Nurick wrote a letter of recommendation for me to UNC, I don’t know what sort of lies he wrote, but it worked, they accepted me!

At UNC, other than with my students, I had a couple of great mentoring opportunities. We had the chance of guiding the graduate students that came into the department after us. My first year I had the best possible mentor. Grant Gearhart took me out on nice long bicycle rides where he patiently explained the ropes of graduate school to me. As expected we became close friends. Starting my second year it was my turn to help an incoming student. The Newman Church also had a mentoring program, so I also got involved with that. I was paired with Mauricio and Simdi, they were both great. We would meet for a meal, mostly sushi at Akai Hana, my favorite place in Chapel Hill (actually Carrboro). Mauri graduated and Simdi and I continued our tradition of meeting for great meals and chats.

Part of the beauty of mentoring is that there are as many different styles of mentoring, as there are mentors. Some mentors are so subtle you do not realize you have been mentored until after the fact. This was the case with Dean Minetti who was such a presence during my college years, but I did not understand how he had helped me out until much later. Other cases might be more obvious, which was the case with my father.

As I am about to post this, I am happy to report that my new school, Seacrest Country Day School has a faculty mentoring program, and I am thrilled to have the awesome Patrick Duffy as my mentor.

I hope my help and guidance advice have been of some use to those I have shared them with over the years. I can’t wait to continue helping those younger than I.

Since I had taught high school for seven years before embarking on my PhD., I knew I loved working with that age group and in my heart of hearts I understood I was to go back to teaching them.

Back in 2011, in case I didn’t get accepted into a doctoral program, I contacted Southern Teachers Agency to help me look for teaching jobs in the South. I loved working with them, although I did get into UNC. So this time around I contacted them again, and I could not be happier with how they worked with me to find the perfect job. In fact, Southern Teachers was the only venue I used to seriously look for a job teaching secondary school Spanish.

Things took off right from the time I signed up with them. I did a very promising Skype interview in November with a boy’s boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina. During Christmas break, an all girls school in Chattanooga Tennessee booked me to go interview with them as soon as I got back stateside, which I did. They put me up in a beautiful hotel in downtown Chattanooga, and the morning of the interview I was picked up by the head of facilities,  which I found a very telling gesture. Unfortunately, things did not pan out that well later, as I was pretty much abandoned halfway through lunch to walk myself out of the school, disappointing. In January, Southern Teachers held a job fair in Washington DC, which coincided with me having to do some paperwork at the Spanish Consulate (that story is for a different blog entry). During this fair I met and spoke with many schools all over the South, but my most rewarding conversation was with a school in Florida. Our pedagogical ideologies clicked right in place, I was very impressed that there was a school that was not obsessed with AP exams, “we tolerate them” was their precise wording, preferred not working with textbooks, and so on. My cup of tea precisely.

As winter progressed I had many phone and Skype interviews, I also had to take days off to go interview at schools. This, besides requiring a lot of time, was unneeded in many cases, like when I had to teach a sample class at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina only to not be hired because “I did not use technology”. Of course this was what they call a “tablet school” where every student has a tablet and thus they are slaves, victims, to the technology. It did not help that they had given me a really bad unit to teach, with very little “meat” and a bunch of vocab – which I am against, vocab is hard to memorize and easy to forget. I was a bit disappointed at first that they rejected me, but when I realized that the best teachers in history: Socrates, Plato, and Jesus only had a stick in the sand as technology, I realized it was not me who was in the wrong. The plus side of these school visits was that I got to visit many places I did not know: Chattanooga Tennessee, Charlotte (twice), Asheville NC, and eventually Naples Florida, for that school I had been so impressed with at the job fair.

During my dissertation defense, after many interviews, and with a few offers on the table, Seacrest Country Day School in Naples Florida left me a message with an offer. Against all prognostications, that was where, surprisingly, my heart had been since that original chat in January.