Welcome from New Upper School Director Catherine Ezzo
by Catherine Ezzo
I am thrilled that the 2019-20 academic year has begun—having officially joined the Charles Wright Academy community over the summer, I was ready for students to be here. I love their energy, their wisdom, and their hard questions about the world in which they live. I’m looking forward to getting to know them in the commons, in the hallways, at games and events, as well as seeing them in action in the classroom. I’m especially excited about being an advisor!
Similarly, I would like to meet and know as many parents and guardians as I can, so please drop by my office, introduce yourself at events, or get in touch if you would like to talk about your child(ren)’s experiences at CWA. Our partnership with parents and guardians is key, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
I’m eager to get into lots of classrooms and observe master teachers at work, learning about our program through the eyes of students and their classroom experiences. When I was a student, I remember how much my teacher’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare impacted me as a senior studying Hamlet. I studied the play in-depth as part of my A-Level class, and I still have my high school copy of that play with all my numerous textual notes. When I taught the play to my own students, I taught using that copy of the text. I can still recall re-enacting particular scenes, reading passages aloud, long discussions about language and imagery. My teacher made the play come alive and also gave me the confidence to navigate a challenging text on my own. I took those skills with me as I tackled other texts later in college. And I still have that beloved dog-eared copy of Hamlet!
Teaching is an evolving craft; more and more research is coming to the fore about how students learn and how we, as teachers, can help them grow into their best selves as scholars, athletes, artists, and human beings. In my previous role as an English teacher, I had a student who struggled with writing as a 10th grade student. When he turned in his writing portfolio early in the year, he had a sad face drawn on the cover. We talked about that, and he expressed his frustration that he wasn’t “doing well” on some of his essays. We spent a lot of one on one time together after school, in his free blocks, in the school Writing Center that year. He learned how to reflect on his own ideas and his own writing, and we talked about everything: his ideas, the different structures for an essay, paragraph organization, sentence patterns, word choice. And, through that process, he became a confident and accomplished writer. Later, he became a writing center peer tutor, and he now writes professionally for a living! He needed someone to walk beside him, to encourage him, and to show him how to reach high expectations with persistence, reflection, and practice.
I love talking with colleagues about best practices in teaching, about our own learning and passions, and about how we can bring all those into the classroom for our students—how we can model what lifelong learning and curiosity really look like. How can we continue to create and sustain classroom communities of purpose, joy, and challenge?
As an example of this ongoing work, over the summer several CWA teachers participated in professional development around course design, and one of the outcomes of that was a new approach to the historical writing class in ninth grade. Students will now get a great hands-on, place-based learning experience and a deep-dive into local and state history through this class. They will visit the Washington State History Museum and spend time with curators, and then transform our Upper School atrium into its own Washington State History Museum complete with displays and digital audio recordings. They will also interview families about historical Washington state events they remember, and listen to guest speakers from local tribes, Chinese Reconciliation Park, Densho/Bainbridge Island Japanese Internment Memorial, and state national parks. I can’t wait to see what they learn and take away about our own community as a result of this experience.
My hope is that students and families are excited about the upcoming year and look forward to taking advantage of all the opportunities that CWA has to offer—whether that’s auditioning for this year’s production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, trying out for a new athletic teams led by one of our Nisqually league coaches of the year, or embracing the challenge this year’s new electives ranging from energy science to public art. Students are here to learn and to grow, and we have so many different forums available for them to do that.
All of these opportunities come within the context of strong teacher-student relationships, which are the hallmark of a CWA education. Healthy relationships both nurture and challenge us. I’ve already witnessed the delight and connection between Mr. Wadleigh and his students as they performed on the first day of school and the enthusiasm of our student leaders as they are guided by Ms. Senner and grade-level deans. I believe the relationships students form with their teachers at CWA can provide the foundation for transformational learning and growth. It is such a privilege for us to work with students every day as they discern more about who they are and who they want to be in the world.
Finally, in more immediate and practical news, Experiential Ed week will be here before we know it. Please pay close attention to the weekly emails and grade-specific information about this week. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the relevant grade dean if you have questions.