A Parent Review of Ross School Senior Projects

24459628201_da4de7e8db_z Editor's note: Violet Wade, mother to Ross School senior Fei Wade, reached out to Ross School with the letter below (edited by Fei), and asked that we share it with our extended community. We are greatly appreciative of her warm words, and thrilled to pass them on to our readers.

I am a parent of a senior who is graduating this year, and I have had the pleasure of being at Ross School during the Senior Project Exhibition Week. I attended all four days last week of film, readings, exhibition, and performance nights. During Exhibition Night, as I walked around and witnessed the students proudly unveiling their works, the Senior Building and Ross Gallery came alive with imagination and innovation.

After picking at many of the young minds, I can tell you parents that I am very confident in our students’ future and the path they choose to lead the world. I also attended several individual students’ presentations of their projects. Wow! Through their eyes, I see they have gathered a wealth of information and skill sets required to guide and steer them as they continue pursuing passions and bettering themselves and the world.

I am confident in their future and our future, because a common theme shared among all their projects was the desire to contribute and achieve an improved quality of living. I am not afraid of the future because they are not. I am confident in the future, because they are.

Congratulations, Ross School, for creating an environment that allows our children to achieve academic excellence, discover their genuine passions, and develop their intellectual vitality. The Senior Project has allowed students to apply the knowledge they have gained from their education and unique life experiences, combine it with their genuine passions, and demonstrate to all what they can do improve and innovate.

—Violet Wade

Jodie Paffrath Lights Up the World

DSC_0420 Senior Jodie Paffrath was raised around the family art business, so it was only natural that her background would come into play when deciding upon a Senior Project. However, she was less interested in the business side of things and more curious about creative process. She spent the summer researching Greek sculpture and visiting museums with her father as she laid the foundation for a sculpture project, but in the back of her mind lingered a particular piece of furniture she had seen three years prior: a wooden table with glow-in-the-dark elements. Raised in the German countryside, Jodie finds fascination in gazing at the sky for hours, losing herself in the vast complexity of the universe. So, for her Senior Project, Jodie decided to design and construct a wooden coffee table of her own with a personal, illuminated twist.

Jodie saw her Senior Project as an opportunity to create naturalistic art infused with her own personality. Her mentor, Ned Smyth, helped Jodie design a table that would personify the interplay between the natural world and its contemporary components. After finalizing the design, the next step was to choose a piece of wood. Jodie and her mother traveled all the way to a backwoods warehouse in New Jersey, hauling a marvelous piece of redwood back to East Hampton. Redwood was chosen for what Jodie calls its “transformative power.” Jodie recalls, “I immediately fell in love with the structure of the wood and the little waves that give depth to the structure itself.” Having little experience in woodwork, Jodie then turned to Jon Mulhern for help with the construction of her table. However, Jodie says the greatest challenge came not in the design or carving but in the table’s less obvious details—the miniscule carvings, the drilling of her design, and finally the tedious labor of filling in the holes with layers of paint.

At Senior Project Exhibition Night, Jodie’s table was a showstopper! With the lights off, the details of the table’s intricate design shone. Teachers and parents began coveting the piece right away. Art history teacher Therese Lichtenstein suggested that the table should go to a museum. But Jodie always knew just where her special table would live–in her family home, right in front of the couch, a place where everyone can gather to enjoy the table’s beauty.

Jodie plans to take a gap year to explore the world after her graduation from Ross. She will spend time away from cities and immersed in the countryside, where she can lose herself in the feeling of watching the night sky for hours. Following some time abroad, Jodie intends to pursue a combination of art history and fine arts at a European university. Once shipped to its permanent home in Germany, Jodie’s Earth table will serve as her reminder of how unique and complex the world in which we live is and how important it is to live in a sustainable manner.


Lower School Students Visit Upper School to Learn About Senior Projects

24582575991_eaaa032de7_z This past week, students from the Lower School have been visiting the Upper School to learn about Senior Projects. With Chris Engel, director of Community Programs, they’ve explored the exhibits on display in both the Senior Building and Ross Gallery. They also met up with a few seniors along the way who explained their projects and provided their perspectives on the process of developing their impressive work. One senior, Shanshan He, described developing her project about four interconnected areas of sustainability—ecology, culture, economics, and politics—in Zavora, Mozambique.


Mr. Chris, as he is known at Ross, provided the younger students with some background about the importance of the Senior Project, explaining that it is the culmination of the learning experience at Ross.


The visits led the Lower School students to speculate on what areas they may focus on in the future. Possible topics ranged from music and dance to animal care and video gaming.


Lower School Counselor Sharon Burns said the children were very excited to be at the Upper School campus: “They were attentive and respectful when the seniors were presenting. It was a positive experience for everyone.” She also said the children could relate to many of the projects. For example, fourth grade is working on charitable causes, so they identified with several Senior Projects that focused on areas such as volunteerism and raising money to support families impacted by cancer. “This made a great connection for them,” Sharon said.




Sixth Graders Prepare for Rise to Seventh Grade

G6-US-lc On January 26, Ross School sixth graders got a glimpse into the routine of Upper School students, experiencing “a day in the life" of a seventh grader. This tradition is a favorite with both grades as it sparks excitement for the transition to a new campus and offers the older students a chance to share what they have learned. With sixth graders expressing a mix of enthusiasm and apprehension, seventh grader Parker Firestone assured them, “Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help, because they’ll always be happy to help you.”

The sixth graders’ visit began with a campus tour led by Chris Engel, director of Community Programs, who is a familiar face to Ross Lower School students. “It’s all about learning,” explained Chris as they wove their way along the path on the Upper School campus and visited classroom spaces. Highlights included a stop in the Duomo classroom and a look at founder Steven J. Ross’s impressive lunch box collection in the High School Library. The visitors even stopped in the Ross Gallery to see the Senior Projects on display there. This sparked the wheels of imagination for many as they begin to envision their own Senior Projects.

The next stop was a visit to the classroom of Carol Crane, seventh grade team leader, where they were met with lots of hugs from friends that moved up from the Lower School last year. This was also a chance for seventh graders to host a Q&A about life at the Upper School campus, addressing such topics as workload expectations and extracurricular activities. Seventh graders also shared some of their favorite experiences from the year so far, like the Maya Day presentations and activities, and discussed some of the things they wished someone had informed them about before the transition to the Upper School, including what to expect in terms of the greater responsibilities that come with growing freedoms. Carol finished by emphasizing the importance of understanding expectations in order to be confident and successful.

Seventh grade math teacher Jennifer Biscardi then joined in on the fun by leading a game of “Biscardi Bingo.” Students partnered up to solve mathematical operations using order of operations techniques, and ultimately it was sixth grader Austin who took first prize! This excitement certainly got everybody fired up for their next event: shadowing the seventh graders in their Wellness class. The boys joined Coach Howard Brown for some basketball drills while the girls lined up for volleyball practice. The sixth grade girls really showed off their potential for earning even more wins next year when they join the 7/8 girls volleyball team.


The campus visit was capped off by a scrumptious lunch in the Ross Café. Students sat side by side with faculty and friends for the last part of their taste of what their life will be like next year. Sixth graders all relished in the fact that they get a full period for lunch—enough time to eat, play sports, and even work on homework. Before the group departed to return to the Lower School, Chris assured the group, “You’re independent up here—that’s the big difference. But you have lots of people you can go to for help.”

We eagerly await the arrival of the Ross School Class of 2022 to the Ross Upper School!

Ross Seniors Display Passions, Talents

DSC_0135 From exploring Mongolia to analyzing dreams, from researching the history of shoes to building prosthetic prototypes for the future, from the depths of the ocean to the streets of Buenos Aires—Ross School seniors have spent the school year immersing themselves in their passions, and the products of their efforts are, as usual, enriching, enlightening, and extremely impressive.

Beginning at the end of their junior year at Ross, students embark on their Senior Projects. The capstone educational experience comprises a Process Folio, in which students document their research and the steps they’ve taken to carry out their vision; the Final Product, which goes on display during Senior Project Exhibition week; and the Presentation, in which the students give an oral presentation about their topic to an audience of their peers and teachers.


This year, Senior Exhibition took place over four nights, January 19–22. The first event, Film Night, proved that several students have developed some serious directorial chops. Isabel Timerman produced War of Walls, a documentary on graffiti in Argentina and its political connections and ramifications. Alex LaPierre examined the inconsistencies of family lore in a biographical film called The Things We Tell Ourselves. Misuzu Shibano turned her artistic talents to creating Guts, a stop-motion animation using Claymation, drawings, and video to depict the emotions she’s experienced as an international boarding student at Ross. The Weight of Being a Woman, by Sailor Brinkley Cook, shared interviews with several young women about body image and the media. And Abby Okin lightened up the mood with her satirical talk show Seriously? featuring political commentary and opinion, and interview with Greg Drossel, and a spoof portrayal of a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump (portrayed expertly and hilariously by teacher Sam Yarabek).


The evening ended with two short fiction films. Big Kitty Xue presented Homme Fatale, a Patricia Highsmith–like film noir focusing on a tutor, his wife, and his student. And Mark Cheng wowed the audience with Cab and Grab, a black-and-white production involving a heist gone bad, shot with grippingly intense camerawork.

After the final film, the seven student directors assembled on stage for a Q&A. They spoke about where they got their inspiration and discussed their future plans. While not all of the students intend to pursue filmmaking as a career, the general consensus was that they had learned a lot about the field—and themselves—as they progressed through their projects.


The next night, Readings and Music Night, featured students who focused on literary and musical compositions. Presentations began with Ingrid Zhao, who shared a Chinese folk story and a Chinese legend with the audience, and then played two violin concertos that she had composed to tell the stories musically. Her work exhibited the influence of traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and liuqin.


Students who produced literary works were introduced by their mentors, and each read a selection from their final product. Camila Wanderley read a short story from her collection titled Ocean, based on caricatures of personality types. Kendall Scala told her story of how her parents’ addictions shaped her early life, one of several examples from her book titled Our Fixes. Bernardo Sá shared his reviews of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Total Recall as part of his project “20 Sci-Fis That You Should Watch Before I Die.” And Frances Sacks read from her Neuropsychological Novella, which explores the role of different parts of the brain in planning and executing an assassination in a fictional setting.


The final performance of the night was given by Claire Yan, who performed classical piano solos interspersed with subtitled videos with background music composed by Claire. The combination, following such intense literary explorations, evoked powerful emotions.

The traditional centerpiece of the week is Exhibition Night, during which all 76 Senior Projects were showcased throughout the Ross Gallery and Senior Building. Many students explored textiles, including fashion modeled after Piet Mondrian’s artistic style (Diane Rao); scarves designed with patterns inspired by a Brazilian pre-Columbian tribe called Marajoara (Eugênia Affonso); costuming drawn from the styles of the Beijing Opera (Eric Wu); dresses/sculptures made from wire mesh, shells, sequins and other materials (Ashley Hao); T-shirts with inspirational screenprints (Emma-Scott Egbert); and three pieces of clothing representing one student’s thinking process when she approaches fashion design (Tong Gu).


Futuristic technology also had its place among the students’ installations. Elsa Diaw built a 3D-printed prosthetic arm that can be controlled by electrical signals from a person’s brain. Hawke Huang also designed and produced an assistive device called “The Third Arm” for people with limited or no use of their arms. Sara Stewart used the Innovation Lab’s 3D printers to create a realistic, life-sized model of a human heart that can be used for teaching purposes, and accompanied the model with educational materials in both English and Spanish. Jeff Cui developed an air purifier in an effort to lower the cost of a cleaner environment. Katie Morgan used infographics and technology such as an Arduino-run light board that depicted the frequency of sexual assault in our country and a Twitter app that tracked the use of gendered insults to communicate the continued necessity of promoting feminist issues. And Filipp Gorodetskiy designed an architectural system of six prefabricated units that can be used in multiple combinations for a variety of types of construction.

Artistic pursuits were also plentiful throughout the exhibition. Old-fashioned woodcraft was on display in the form of handmade chairs representing concepts related to the LGBT community (Malik Basnight), a reproduction 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar made from scratch (Yanni Giannakopoulous), two custom-designed and -built pairs of skis (Cole Colby), and a beautiful coffee table featuring an inset depiction of planet Earth that glows in the dark (Jodie Paffrath). Other artists shared insights into their heritage, with Jin Zhang displaying images of Mongolian costumes and culture, and Savanah Koyannie presenting illustrations and examples of Native American powwow costumes, along with video of various dances. Olivia Gan, whose parents own a shoe factory, used watercolors to create an illustrated history of women’s shoes in Chinese history.


The final night of the exhibition featured three performances. Yanni played several pieces on the dream guitar he had created (the 1959 Gibson Les Paul replica), followed by a three-part dance titled Waves That Hold Me, choreographed by Emma Engel to represent her view of the world as expressed through her relationship with the ocean, danced by Emma and fellow Ross students. Finally Savanah and two associates from the Shinnecock reservation (including a young boy who stole the show) performed tribal dances in colorful regalia.

More details and photos about Senior Project Exhibition Week, including the catalog with descriptions of each project, can be found at www.ross.org/seniorproject.





Ross Introduces Online Access to Ross Spiral Interactive Tool

RossSpiral_ScreenCaptureRoss recently unveiled the new Ross Spiral Interactive tool, an online visualization that enables students and educators worldwide to explore the Ross Spiral Curriculum. The model offers an interconnected look at the content studied in grades kindergarten through 12. The Spiral Interactive was developed over a period of two years with celebrated information architect Santiago Ortiz and user interface (UI) designer Daniel Aguilar, who helped Ross to conceptualize a technical framework broad enough to cover the richness of the Ross Spiral Curriculum.

“Ross continues to innovate and to advance the Ross Learning System, and the Spiral Interactive provides access to the unique learning experience at Ross School. We are delighted to share this tool,” said Jennifer Chidsey, president of Ross Institute and chief academic officer of Ross Institute and Ross School.

The Ross Spiral Curriculum is composed of over 500 interdisciplinary and discipline-specific units—defined themes of study within a course whose duration varies from several weeks to a trimester. These units are in turn made up of learning experiences and integrated projects that function as nodes in a vast network. The connections that students make between these experiences are as important as the knowledge gained in them.

The model offers a holistic view of the K–12 curriculum, allowing for exploration along multiple pathways and displaying its interdisciplinary nature. The Ross Spiral Interactive is presented with supplementary navigational and informational components, including a linear interface and a timeline, that respond in sync with the Spiral.

Other accessible online innovations connected to the Ross Learning System include the RLS Sustainability Thread, which targets key lessons across the Ross Spiral Curriculum that help prepare students to understand and address prevalent social and environmental issues and realities, and RLS Project Circles, an interactive tool that enables students to assess the sustainability of a specific location or environment.

Ross Students Celebrate Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ross_LL_0069 On January 18, students at Ross School honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., discussing his life and legacy in class and participating in activities to celebrate the man who changed the course of civil rights in the United States.


At the Lower School campus, the day began with classroom discussions about Dr. King, with grades 4–6 participating in social action workshops led by Assistant Head of Lower School Bryan Rosenberg. Students in pre-nursery, nursery, and pre-kindergarten created a “Rainbow Flower of Diversity,” in which the petals of the flower, in the form of different-colored handprints from each student, encircled a poem focusing on diversity. Students in kindergarten through grade 3 made white doves of peace and a large dream catcher to commemorate Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Students and teachers then gathered in the Multi-Purpose Room for a beautiful performance by the Genesis Gospel Choir, who sang “Oh, Happy Day,“ “Encourage My Soul,” and “I’m So Glad.” The students also listened to Dr. King’s famed speech and participated in a discussion with Deacon Kenneth Brown about the civil rights movement and “paying it forward.”


“There is nothing more important than to teach children about compassion and empathy,” said Jeanette Tyndall, head of Lower School. “Dr. King said, ‘We fail to get along because we fear each other, and we fear each other because we don’t know each other.’ We are helping our children develop an understanding about the world beyond themselves and what it means to be a global citizen and to walk in the shoes of others, and to fully appreciate their individual and collective responsibilities to help others and make a difference in the world.”


After a silent lunch, during which teachers and staff read books about Dr. King, the students participated in a Peaceful Protest March across the campus, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Back in the MPR, events concluded with a moving candlelight ceremony in which students affirmed their declarations for social action and joined voices in an uplifting rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”


At the Upper School, teachers and students engaged in classroom discussions about Dr. King’s legacy, civil rights, and race relations. At a community meeting in the afternoon, Lawrence Alexander, co-director of College Counseling, addressed the students, challenging them to follow Dr. King’s example and have the “dangerous thought” that we should all be responsible for and mindful of each other, especially since they have the unique opportunity to learn in a global classroom. He concluded, “You are responsible for the person next to you. If I’m responsible for you, and you’re responsible for me, then we’re all in a better place.”


Eighth grade Cultural History teacher Mark Tompkins followed with a talk urging students to honor Dr. King through service, saying, “When we serve that which we truly love, the action part of service is the presence of the divine on Earth.” Mark then turned the stage over to Cultural History teacher Chrissie Schlesinger and Dean of Performing Arts Adam Judd, who wrapped up the meeting with a wide variety of musical selections with their roots in African American culture. The songs ranged from blues to jazz to R&B to rap to hiphop, at times even inspiring the listening students to clap along with the groove.

Thank you to all of the speakers and leaders and visitors who helped Ross School students pay tribute to the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King.



Senior Project: Katie Morgan Explores Feminism and Gender Inequality

IMG_1517 Feminism as a movement, at this time in history, has reached a point where many question its necessity, and there is a common belief that the goal of gender equality has already been achieved. Katie Morgan believes this is a dangerous assumption, so for her Senior Project she created several visualizations representing issues of inequality between men and women to communicate to the general public the work that still needs to be done.

Katie says that she chose her subject because feminism is a “crucial” part of her identity. “It’s hard to justify the position that gender inequality is simply an opinion, so I wanted to represent the data in a way that stirs reaction and sparks understanding,” she said.


She began her research over the summer and compiled a huge amount of data. There are four major components to her exhibit. The first is a display rendering the salary gap between men and women as a physical comparison of coins in tubes. The second is a large map of the United States that communicates the frequency of incidences of sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence in each state through bright, rapidly blinking lights. She designed the display to be hard to ignore and hopes that viewing it will help people identify with victims and appreciate the frequency with which such atrocities occur in our own country.

Wage Gap Map

A third focus of Katie’s efforts is a series of infographics that address political, economic, and social aspects of the feminist movement over time, highlighting inequalities that still exist across all areas. The specific topics featured include everything from the history of women’s suffrage and women in politics to women in business and the film industry and the “pink tax.”

Master-before prints

The final component of her project defines a series of seven terms, including “consent” and “objectification,” at both simple and complex levels and relates the terms to feminism and inequality. She is also using the Twitterfall application to display a live feed tracking and tallying every time certain gendered insults appear on Twitter. “The numbers will ultimately communicate that this a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed,” Katie said.


The project was a big one to tackle, and Katie learned new skills such as Arduino programming and infographic design to carry out her vision. She built the technical and physical components with the help of Innovation Lab @Ross instructors Dr. Dave Morgan and Urban Reininger and Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern. Mentor Kerrie Tinsley-Stribling advised her on areas of potential focus and helped her with research topics.


The process was also very personal to Katie. “A concern of mine was the strength and extremity of the words I use being off-putting, despite the fact that such strength is warranted,” she said. In the end, some of the text may be blunt, but no more so than the dire need for communicating and sharing the continued need for feminist dialogue across the globe to help women achieve the goal of equal personhood for all.

Katie’s project debuted in the Ross Gallery on Senior Project Exhibition Night January 21 and will remain on display for some time.

Egyptian Museum Explores Ancient Civilization

DSC_8567 Fifth grade students concluded their eight-week study of Ancient Egypt last week by creating an Egyptian Museum at Ross Lower School. During their unit they touched on the geography, mythology, architecture, and various other aspects of Egyptian life and culture. Each student chose a subject that they were passionate about for a research project, and then spent several weeks creating a museum installation to present to parents, faculty, and schoolmates. The projects included both an essay and an exhibit, and the students dressed in costume for the exhibition, representing a chosen god or goddess.


Visitors to the museum learned about pyramids, clothing, tools, weapons, makeup, mummies, sports, tomb robbers, medicine, and metalworking. Students also spoke confidently about the gods and goddesses, including Imhotep, architect of the first known stone building, and Sobek, whose sweat is said to have created the Nile River. Other creative parts of the exhibits were papyrus drawings and canopic jars, replicas of the jars Egyptians used during the mummification process to store and preserve a person’s organs. Each jar lid depicted one of the four sons of Horus; the jackal was the most popular among the students.


Other museum highlights were the scale of justice that, according to myth, was used to weigh a person’s heart against a feather to determine if he or she would be permitted to enter the afterlife, and a variety of treats served up by several students. Refreshments included a macaroni dish called béchamel, pita and hummus, a hot vanilla drink, hibiscus tea, and a raspberry mint “Cairo cooler.”


Fifth grade teacher Sarah Ryan came dressed for the occasion as Cleopatra. “This is one of our most significant projects of the year, and I’m so proud of the students for their hard work and the variety and sophistication of the projects,” she said.


Parents Learn About Mandarin Curriculum at Lower School

Mandarin3 Ross Lower School parents are getting a peek into the Mandarin studies that their children engage in on a regular basis. Interactive information sessions involving their students and Mandarin teacher Kera Shen are helping parents become more comfortable with a language that most have had little exposure to. The sessions kicked off on January 13 with kindergarten students and families.

Head of Lower School Jeanette Tyndall said the experiences were planned because, while many parents may be familiar with other languages such as Spanish or French, Mandarin can be somewhat of a mystery. In the sessions, Kera and the students will involve the parents in games and exercises to demonstrate their knowledge of the language and share the learning experience.


Kindergarten parents were impressed with the teaching practices and the students’ language competence and joyful participation in the activities. The class is learning the basics such as numbers and colors, and Kera uses fun, motivating methods such as games to spot colors and build vocabulary words, songs, flashcards and videos on the Smart Board. Using full immersion language teaching techniques, Kera speaks only in Mandarin for the duration of the class, and it was great for everyone to see the students responding to her conversation.

Parents were also interested to hear how Ross helps children transferring in from other schools catch up to their classmates in Mandarin. Kera explained that she groups the students according to their level of proficiency, and students may work on different projects.

Mandarin 2

"I am delighted that we have these opportunities to involve parents in our class,” Kera said. “The students are excited as well to show their parents and special guests what they have been learning!"

Additional Mandarin informational gatherings for parents will be held every Wednesday from 8:15–8:45am in the grade-level classrooms; see schedule below.

January 20: 1st/2nd grade combined (in the 1st grade classroom) January 27: 3rd grade February 10: 4th grade February 17: 5th grade February 24: 6th grade (6A) March 2: 6th grade (6B)

Savanah Phillips Shares Powwow Dancing Tradition

10402762_4997357667008_4775788764574244226_n (1) Ross senior Savanah Phillips spends her summers traveling around the country competing in dance competitions at Native American powwows. Growing up on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton “in a powwow-oriented family,” she learned the dances at a very young age. For her Senior Project, Savanah’s goal is to educate people about the dances and what they mean to her and other Native Americans.

Her project will be a creative mix of video footage of her performing at powwows, interviews with dancers from many different Native American tribes, information about the origin and significance of different dances, original artwork that expresses her view of Native American traditions, and finally, a live performance of several dances.

One of Savanah’s creations will be a watercolor painting of the regalia, or colorful outfits worn by Native American dancers. Regalia is an important part of powwow dancing, and the pieces, including dresses and beadwork, can cost thousands of dollars. Savanah explained that at many of the competitions, you can win prize money and regalia.

Powwow dancing can be an intense experience, Savanah said, because there are many rules and regulations and protocols. For example, if you don’t have the right regalia, you are not taken seriously. But she also said that dancing is important for everything from passing on customs and traditions to emotional healing: “It can be a form of therapy and a self-confidence builder, especially for young women.”

Next up for Savanah will be a few powwows in the spring where she will perform dances including the Jingle Dress Dance, a beautiful expression that is supposedly based on a Native American elder’s vision of a healing dance for a young girl. Savanah will perform this dance and a few others on Senior Project Music and Dance Night at 7pm on January 22, which is open to the public.

Rice Babies Teach Students Life Lessons, Core Values

IMG_0494 Ross School kindergarteners recently celebrated the “birth” of their Rice Babies and learned valuable lessons about life through caring for their new bundles. The Rice Baby project relates to the class’s studies of the origin and evolution of life and the world around them and incorporates integrated learning experiences.


The students first created their babies by filling sacks with rice. When the babies were properly clothed and “decorated,” the children named their charges and then learned about caring for them. Their tasks reached across all of their classes: they weighed and measured their babies in Mathematics, developed their birth stories and practiced storytelling in Cultural History, and learned lullabies in Spanish and Mandarin.


The interaction between the classmates and their babies also connected them to their community because they were able to see that each person is unique in some way but shares common traits and needs as well.


“This was a wonderful culmination of our studies and helped to reinforce their lessons about the origin and evolution of life, caring for their community, and the Ross Core Values,” said kindergarten teacher Emily Olson.

As a final activity, the class threw a Rice Baby Shower before the holiday break to meet the babies and hear their birth stories.


Jennifer Chidsey Named Ross President and Chief Academic Officer

Ross_Jennifer_Chidsey_1516 Earlier this week, Ross Institute announced that Jennifer L. Chidsey has been named President of Ross Institute and Chief Academic Officer of Ross School and Institute. Jennifer has been a key leader at Ross since 2000. In her expanded role, she will oversee the organization and its continued development of the Ross Learning System (RLS), professional development for educators, innovative educational programming, and development of a deeper focus on sustainability throughout the Ross curriculum and institution.

“Jennifer has been instrumental in establishing Ross as a leader in education curriculum and practices that incorporate unique programs, multiple disciplines, and global experiences,” said Courtney Sale Ross, founder of Ross School and Ross Institute. “Her leadership will help enable Ross to continue to innovate and offer the best global education possible to prepare our children for the future.”

Ross Learning System is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary curriculum for grades pre-kindergarten to 12. Recent innovations to RLS include a new RLS Sustainability Thread to help prepare students to address the social and environmental realities they face; the Ross Spiral Interactive, an intricate infographic that visualizes the Ross curriculum; and RLS Project Circles, an interactive tool that enables students to assess the sustainability of a specific location or environment. All three are available online for free to students and teachers worldwide.

“I work with an extraordinary team of experts and educators, and it is my privilege to be part of delivering a global curriculum and experience to enable students and their teachers to thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world,” Jennifer said.

Senior Project: Yanni Giannakopoulos Builds Gibson Les Paul Guitar

DSC_7880 Senior Yanni Giannakopoulos is passionate about the guitar—specifically, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar. Considered one of rock ’n’ roll’s most iconic models ever built, it is also rare and very expensive. Yanni said the chances of purchasing one was likely not in the cards, so he’s building one for his Senior Project.

Yanni grew up around music in the Bahamas, where the drums and calypso beat were common, but he gravitated to the guitar and rock music. He received his first guitar from music legend and mentor Lenny Kravitz in 2009 and taught himself how to play by ear. As his skill increased, he became fascinated by the Gibson Les Paul.


His Senior Project is a labor of love that began four years ago. One of the reasons the Gibson Les Paul is so sought after is that timber used to make it is very hard to find. Sourcing the wood, including mahogany and rosewood, was Yanni’s first big challenge. He imported the wood from the Bahamas, Brazil, California, and Canada, and then spent his time researching the design and electronics.

Along the way, he’s met up with famous guitar players like Craig Ross and has made it a point to travel to locations where guitarists have invited him to play their personal Gibson Les Pauls. “It’s a very small community, so musicians from all over are very supportive when they learn about my project,” Yanni said.


Yanni is learning the art of woodworking and building the guitar in Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern’s classroom. “I’ve never tackled anything like this before, so the necessary skills are all new to me,” he said. He’s also learning by watching documentaries and doing good, old-fashioned research. He said he’s invested time and love into the craftsmanship and finds the results rewarding.

He began to build the guitar back in September and spent the first weeks refining the shape of the instrument’s body and working through the bumps and grooves in the wood to make it smooth and flush to the book-matched maple top. He printed out a life-size template as a guide to help during the carving and shaping process.


Yanni has definitely overcome some significant challenges during the work. Over the Thanksgiving break, the filtration system at the school was shut off, and the wood became warped and needed repair. He also makes his own rabbit skin glue from pellets, a tedious task.

Adding the electronics and getting the sound just right is also an intricate process, but Yanni said the guitar will be perfected in time to perform songs associated with the iconic sound of the guitar at Senior Project Performance Night on January 22. His mentor, Performing Arts teacher Rob Davies, is helping with this second aspect of the project.


Yanni says he’s looking forward to continuing to improve his playing and furthering his studies in jazz guitar in college next year.

A Big “Thank You” at EC Gratitude Assembly

DSC_9174Taking a page from the Lower School’s book of the month, The Thankful Book by Todd Parr, pre-nursery, nursery, and pre-kindergarten students took to the stage for the Early Childhood Gratitude assembly on December 11. The youngest members of the school shared what they are thankful for in their lives with their older classmates.

Their declarations included one from a little girl who was thankful for her hair, because it makes her unique. Others were thankful for their feet, because they help them play; their parents and siblings; pets; flowers and trees; and even Hello Kitty. They also dressed up in colorful outfits and costumes, and brought props to the stage to express their thanks (the elephant was thankful for his trunk and ears, and the swimmer for the beach and bays).

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After their presentations, the students and teachers welcomed Matauqus Tarrant, a member of the Shinnecock Nation. He sang a beautiful song in the Mohegan/Pequot language thanking the creator and everything around us in nature.


The students then led a sing-along with the audience, who clapped and tapped along to classics including “If You’re Thankful and You Know It,” as well as a creative rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” that thanked the sun, moon, stars, and everyone special to them.


With Matauqus accompanying them on the drum, the Early Childhood students closed with a beautiful song about appreciation for Mother Earth titled “The Earth Is Our Mother.”

The celebration was a great time to reflect on the big and little things in life that matter to every one of us.

Happy Holidays!

A Magical Trip to Wonderland

DSC_6757 Drawing on talents of not only Ross students but also the local community, Ross Lower School’s Field House was transformed last weekend for the Ross Children’s Community Theater presentation of Wonderland. The performance, based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, was written by Lower School Performing Arts teacher Margaret Kestler, with musical assistance from Loreen Enright.

The play begins with a young Alice awakening from a nightmare. To soothe her, her nursemaid sings lullabies that evoke happy places and “nonsense.” As the audience traveled through Wonderland, the acting, musical performances, and set design helped establish the magic of the performance. The songs were a creative mix of whimsical and modern tunes, including Sting’s “Desert Rose” and “Muchness,” an original song composed by Margaret and Loreen.


As the play progresses, a coming-of-age Alice feels stifled by the restrictions of proper Victorian English attitudes, a controlling aunt, a caring but nervous sister, and a good-for-nothing brother-in-law. Alice escapes to Wonderland to relive the adventures of her childhood, meeting characters such as the infamous Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, and, of course, the Mad Hatter. Along the way, she is challenged to both examine the past and to grasp the inevitability and wonder of change.


The cast performed beautifully in this magical exploration. Many Ross students, parents, and members of the community also contributed to the production, including Ann and Bill Stewart, who designed and built the elaborate sets; Laura Eisman as costume mistress; Adam Judd on sound; Chris Engel, director of Community Programs; Tor Burwell on lights; Karl Kasik as videographer; and Tucker Costello as backstage manager.


Students Discuss Presenting at Vatican, Sustainability

DSC_9134 At recent assemblies at Ross Upper and Lower Schools, six Ross students who traveled to Rome in November to present at a conference titled “Children and Sustainable Development: A Challenge for Education” shared their experiences with their schoolmates. The conference was the result of efforts led in part by the school’s founder, Courtney Sale Ross, to include the voices of youth in international conversations about sustainability and climate change, and students from around the world contributed to the gathering.

The assemblies allowed the Ross delegation to take turns sharing what they thought were the most impactful parts of their trip to Rome. All agreed it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Postgraduate student Kwazi Nkomo, from South Africa, noted the number of languages she heard spoken at the conference, and marked it as a testament to the international commitment to sustainability. Other students, including Kely A. ’23, talked fondly of the opportunity to work with peers from France, Italy, and the Middle East to develop a list of principles and guidelines that was submitted to the conference committee to review for inclusion in a list of global recommendations that will be released in the coming weeks.

Ross students Malik Basnight ’16, Shanshan He ’16, and Isabelle Rowe ’17 said it was great to be involved in such an important discussion, and they are proud that their work may ultimately help shape a global sustainability curriculum. They talked about the necessity of educating young people about sustainability from an early age and introduced the concept of “eco-literacy,” the idea that everyone should know where their food and water come from if they hope to protect these valuable resources. Diego Vanegas ’20 agreed, saying that preparing students to embrace their social and environmental responsibilities should be as important as learning science or math.

While in Rome, the group also toured famous historical sites, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum. For most, it was their first time in Rome, and they were blown away to see in person some of the objects and sites they’ve studied at Ross. Malik said the Sistine Chapel was magnificent, and it was incredible to imagine that such a creation was possible.

During the Q&A periods at the assemblies, Lower School students mentioned their latest sustainability project in support of the Conscience Point Shellfish Hatchery and expressed an interest in one day participating in a trip similar to the one to the Vatican. At the Upper School, students learned that Ross is establishing a sustainability club to gather people interested in sustainability, social entrepreneurship, activism, and scientific and technological innovations.

The students who attended the conference were gratified to have the chance to discuss their experiences and keep their schoolmates informed about how Ross is providing important opportunities for their voices to be heard, inspiring a schoolwide commitment to sustainability.


Exploring the 18th-Century Atlantic Slave Trade

image1 Tenth graders are learning that the Glorious Revolution in England was not so glorious for all involved, as the time period also saw the rise of the brutal Atlantic slave trade. To illustrate this concept, students were assigned to work in teams to research various aspects of slavery, and they presented their findings to their classmates last week.

Cultural History teacher Christina Schlesinger said the projects highlighted the huge injustices of the period: “When people were fighting for liberty and John Locke was writing his famous Treatises on the rights of individuals, millions of people were being kidnapped and sold into slavery.”


The presentations were insightful and visual, painting a vivid picture of the economic, ethical, and societal facets of the Atlantic Triangular Trade. Students shared details of the route from West Africa, where goods were traded for slaves, to America and the West Indies, where slaves were sold to procure sugar and cotton.

Some teams focused on the Middle Passage, the brutal part of the triangle where millions of slaves were shipped to the New World. Christina made a point of asking the students to consider the cruelty, despair, and sadness experienced on the journey, including the fact that the merchants calculated for the death of a large number of people.


The presenters detailed the horrid conditions on the boats, from lack of sanitation and disease to starvation and suicides, as well as describing the sad and inhumane slave auctions that awaited those who survived the trip.

As they chronicled the evolution of the Triangular Trade, they also informed their audience about slave rebellions and the rise of the anti-slavery movement. One student noted that John Newton was a key figure on both sides. Newton, who is credited with cowriting the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was a master slaver who later came to deeply regret his involvement in the trade and eventually decried the practice in his role as a Christian preacher.


The students said their slavery projects had a deep impact on them. “The experience really brought home the sadness and cruelty of such a pivotal point in history,” said Sabrina Liddle ’18. “It brought a very real understanding of what people went through to create the successful economy we enjoy today.”

A Connection to Nepal—From Bridgehampton to Thame

IMG_5452 For more than 15 years, Leeli Bonney, grandmother to three Ross School students, has made an annual trip to Nepal, trekking in the mountainous terrain and working to help improve the lives of people living in the Himalayas. In 2007, Leeli founded Tara Foundation USA as a formal means of expanding her giving, which had started simply when she offered local residents the contents of her backpack. Over the years, she has become known throughout New England for collecting fleece jackets through school drives and other informal efforts to distribute to children as she treks. This year, plans were made for Alexandra McAuliffe (parent to those Ross students) to join her mother in Nepal in November.


When news broke of devastating earthquakes in Nepal in spring 2015, Alexandra’s first call was to Leeli to check in with her contacts there and to find out whether they would still be able to make their highly anticipated trip. It quickly became clear that the need in the Khumbu region, where they planned to visit, had never been greater. Over the next several weeks they learned that many villages had been completely devastated. In a show of support, last year’s Ross Lower School Student Government organized a Dress-Down Day that raised $1,226 for the Tara Foundation.


Despite cautions about traveling through the region in the wake of the earthquakes and the damage to the country’s infrastructure they caused, Alexandra and Leeli continued to plan their trip because they knew the people in the area were in need of their aid. This fall, Ross Lower School students and their families further contributed to the cause by donating more than 50 fleece jackets for Alexandra and Leeli to distribute during their travels.


Alexandra described their travels as incredibly moving: “Our group traveled by plane from Kathmandu to Lukla (widely regarded as one of the most dangerous airports in the world) and trekked for four days to reach the village of Thame, at approximately 12,300 feet, one of the villages hardest hit by the earthquake. Most houses, made from local stone and mortar, had sustained considerable damage or completely collapsed. Traditional slate roofs, with wooden support, had to be replaced with tin in time for the monsoon season over the summer months. As we arrived in the village, we were surrounded by wreckage, but we were most impressed with the amount of rebuilding. Everywhere, we saw masons at work and heard the chink of hammers on stone.


"Wood, a valuable resource, was largely repurposed, but on the trail we saw people carrying metal sheeting, rebar, and other materials, in addition to water, potatoes, rice, lentils, and other staples. Because tourism is decreased, our reception was an especially warm one. I was struck by the genuine happiness of the Sherpa people, even those whose lives have been plagued by hardship.


“At the Thame School, enrollment is down. Students were waiting for our arrival in a circle outside the classroom building where relief workers were busy with construction projects. The elementary-age children performed a traditional dance in celebration of our visit. We piled up the fleece jackets on a bench by size. Very patiently, the students approached us. Without speaking a word of common language, we measured them and presented them with jackets that were received with clasped hands and a ‘Namaste.’ Afterward, the students tried on their new clothes and burst into smiles and laughter as they admired one another. We were thanked with traditional khata scarves draped around our necks.


“We then continued to the Thame Health Clinic, the only medical treatment facility in the area, operated by Dr. Kami at no charge to Sherpa people. His practice is a busy one; patients walk for miles to visit him in Thame or at the Kunde Hospital, where the clinic treats all types of cases. It was our pleasure to present to Dr. Kami the funds raised by Ross School in conjunction with monies collected through Tara Foundation USA. After the earthquake, it was necessary for Dr. Kami to construct an entirely new clinic while continuing to give medical attention to the community. The support we provided has helped to make this ongoing service possible. We spoke at length about the resiliency of the people and the health challenges they face.”


Alexandra says she “felt a sense of peace” on her return trek, as well “a new perspective and much gratitude, just in time for our own Thanksgiving. . . . Seeing my daughter’s well-worn orange fleece on a Nepali boy her age was heartwarming. I knew the color was an auspicious one and it seemed a hopeful gesture to pass it along to him.” On her return, Alexandra presented Ross Lower School with a string of prayer flags on behalf of the people of Nepal, and to further express her appreciation for the efforts made by Ross sixth graders, presented each student with a khata that she had carried back down the trail with her.


Senior Project: Sarah Jannetti Connects Volunteers with Charities

All c. Richard Lewin (12) (1) Ross School senior Sarah Jannetti, a Sag Harbor native, is passionate about giving back to the community. For her Senior Project, she started the nonprofit CharityLegs, an online resource connecting high school student volunteers with charitable organizations. 

Ross School and many other high schools on the East End and across the country require students to complete a certain number of community service hours before graduation (Ross students must volunteer 15 hours per year, for a total of 60 hours, as a graduation requirement).

Sarah has set it up so that charitable organizations post information on CharityLegs.org about their events or initiatives, along with the number of volunteers needed. Students can visit the website and click on “browse opportunities” to sign up for a service that works for them. Sarah says the website has been working well: “Many students want to volunteer their help, but it can be difficult to find meaningful opportunities that will work with a busy school schedule. Charities who proactively recruit volunteers often prepare to be shorthanded, because people will drop out at the last minute. This way works for everyone from the start.”

Sarah’s commitment to charitable work is not a new undertaking. She knew she would one day start a service-oriented company, so she applied for 501(c)3 status two years ago and officially established her nonprofit last year. “The experience was a great introduction to the business world, because I worked face to face with lawyers and other professionals through the process,” Sarah explained.

So far, CharityLegs has already had up to 50 users; Sarah’s goal is to increase that number to 200. Depending upon the season or need, the site will likely see a continued spike in interest as people learn about her company and students look for opportunities to serve in the community around the holiday break. The next upcoming event for which CharityLegs is helping to secure volunteers is the Human Resources of the Hamptons Polar Bear Plunge at Coopers Beach in Southampton on December 12. Students will also help out at LongHouse Reserve and local food pantries. “The tasks vary, but the work is always rewarding,” Sarah said.

Her Senior Project Mentor, Dean of Cultural History Carrie Clark, said Sarah has been amazing to work with: “She has an incredibly graceful comportment and approaches her work with careful consideration and extremely high standards. Her work ethic, compassion, commitment, and professionalism make her a real role model for her classmates and a huge credit to her generation. She gives me hope for our future, and it's been an honor and pleasure to work with her.”

This past August, along with volunteers from Pierson High School, Sarah volunteered at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) Paddle for Pink benefit. “Some of the best experiences I’ve had so far were working with nonprofits like BCRF,” she said. “They are so professional and passionate about what they do. Playing an active role as part of a team that raised over $2 million in one event was wonderful.” The next priority for CharityLegs is increasing the number of organizations and volunteers using the network.

The process and hard work on her Senior Project is certainly helping to prepare Sarah for college, where she plans to pursue a business degree, hopefully at New York University Stern School of Business or another esteemed institution.