As director of Ross School Community Programs and director of Student Life at Ross Lower School, Chris Engel (known as “Mr. Chris” to the students he interacts with daily) is dedicated to providing children and the community with unique opportunities designed to support the curriculum, discover and develop talents, and encourage learning. Ross School recently caught up with Chris to find out what makes the Ross programs special and to learn what’s in store for Summer Camp @Ross.
In addition to managing community programs, you also head up Student Life at the Lower School. Describe your role at Ross. I joined Ross in 2002 as a visual arts teacher and transitioned to director of Community Programs seven years ago. I took on the additional role of director of Student Life, a new position at the Lower School, in September 2013.
For the first, I work with a talented team to develop engaging opportunities for students and all ages in our community. The major programs are Summer Camp @Ross, Summer Term, Early Childhood, After School, and Lifelong Learning. I’m also “everything summer,” which means if it happens June through August, I’m involved. The big one for me is Summer Camp, which kicks off on June 23, and we have great things in store for the kids.
As director of Student Life at LS, I’m expanding the scope of what we offer to the younger students. I’m responsible for assemblies, student government, and special guests and visitors. I also work closely with the teachers to help the children understand, and eventually live, the Ross core values. Ultimately, the classes and programs encourage them to discover themselves and their role in the world.
Tell us about Summer Camp @Ross. Camp should definitely be fun, but also a place of discovery and learning, and that’s at the top of my mind when I’m creating the programs and agenda. Many Ross faculty and staff work at the camp, and we apply the same approach, dedication, and energy to teaching as we do during the regular school year. This year, we’re offering great activities including Game Quest and Jr. Crime Investigators majors, horseback riding, ceramics, stop-motion animation, sailing and surfing, and theater performance.
In addition to the wide variety of programs, what distinguishes Summer Camp @Ross is the people. Members of the team are teaching what they love. I ask the staff in the beginning what they are passionate about and the areas they would like to focus on. That energy comes shining through when they interact with the kids. It’s exciting to watch, and makes camp a great place to be for everyone.
Similarly, a major component of camp is compassion. If you are motivated by compassion, you can help people to try anything. At our camp, there is no such thing as failing—for the campers and the people who work for me. If you attempt something and it doesn’t work out, you’ve likely learned something about a new skill and about yourself. I believe it relates back to Ross School’s motto: “Know thyself in order to serve.”
You’re a big presence at Ross and seem to be everywhere. What keeps you motivated? I’m motivated by helping people—whether it’s being there to support an international student as they become familiar with a new language and culture, helping a child with their jump shot at camp, organizing a fourth grade “flash mob” in the Café, or engaging in a discussion of the cultural significance of 17th-century art with a person involved in the lifelong learning program. As a teacher, it’s thrilling to be part of helping a child or adult develop as a person, discover their passions and path in life, and have lots of laughs along the way.
How has your own path in life brought you to Ross? I come from a long line of performing and visual artists in my family, from grandparents to parents to siblings, and I was raised in the theater. I actually met my wife, Laura, who is a pre-nursery teacher and Upper School Librarian at Ross, “on stage” when we were teenagers, so the arts have always played an important role in my life and destiny. I also got involved in painting early on, eventually earned degrees in art therapy, and worked for many years with children in hospitals as an Arts and Recreational Therapist. I learned my skills and ability to engage the students during my years helping children express themselves through art and to work through some very difficult situations.
I’m also a big believer in the Ross philosophy of lifelong learning, and I’m always looking for ways to apply new knowledge in my roles at Ross. I’m a professional artist, which is what originally brought me to Ross School, and allows me to be in touch with other artists in our community, not only as a teacher and administrator, but also as a fellow artist.
It’s been wonderful to share my skill set and dedication at Ross School over the years. I've had the privilege of being a teacher, a mentor and an administrator, as well as the father of two Ross Students—Noah, class of 2011, and Emma, class of 2016; and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to build our student life and community programs.