As a child, I was diagnosed with an illness, the particulars of which I don't remember, but the treatment for which remains clear: I had to stay in my bed, and I wasn't allowed to touch any of my siblings. (There were eleven of us in our big, ramshackle Victorian house, and I was the youngest of all.) I must have been a sad sight when three of my brothers came in and announced that we were going to play Star Trek. On the far side of the room, their bunk beds became the bridge and the transporter room. I, in my bottom bunk, ran the engine room. They pretended to speak through improbably futuristic screens and communicate through handheld devices, and I said things like, "The engines are running." I could see them and hear them, but I couldn't be with them. At the time, it felt like punishment on their part. Only later did I realize what it really was—their gesture of kindness.
Recently a GSB alumnus, friend, and supporter of the school gave me two books that I have been reading through the month of February. The first is The Color of Law, which begins at the turn of the last century and traces the history of red-lining and other housing discrimination practices in America—up through both world wars and on through the seventies. It outlines both the historical problem of segregation, as well as potential solutions. It is a fascinating, frustrating look at how the concept of space was used to create social, financial, legal, and psychological barriers in our country.
In December, we find ourselves turning towards warm fireplaces and festive lights as a defense against grey skies and wet, cold days—especially as we get closer to the winter solstice and the longest night of the year. It is no coincidence that the solstice is a time for festivities, such as Toji, the Japanese holiday filled with pumpkin dishes and hot citrus baths, or Yalda, when Persian families share pomegranates and poetry, or the celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa—each with their bright candles and heartwarming traditions. This is a time when human beings push back against darkness in its multiple forms, filling their communities with light and filling their lives with meaning.
At Gill St. Bernard’s School, we often speak about balance. Our school mission, in part, calls us to “provide a balanced community” for our families, and we heed that call by ensuring our students have plenty of opportunities in different fields. The list of just one weekend’s activities—our theater company’s production of Charley’s Aunt on Friday, the robotics team’s competition at Brunswick Eruption on Saturday, or our soccer team’s state championship victory at Kean University on Sunday—demonstrates the multiple ways our students can find balance between rigorous intellectual pursuits during the school day and intense practical challenges at day’s end. Of course, not all students choose the same counterweight; in addition to arts, clubs, or sports in their season, they might also choose service learning, community engagement, or any number of possibilities. What is important is that each provides the means to equilibrium.
For scientists, it is easy to see why autumn colors are so bright. As trees shut down their production of chlorophyll, other pigments—anthocyanin, xanthophyll, and carotene—shine through. For a poet like Robert Browning, however, the greater task is to explain why those colors make the fall season our favorite: “Autumn wins you best with this: its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” In other words, we love this time of year because we know that those vivid oranges, reds, and golds, for all their brilliance, hold inside them their own withering, and we sympathize with those leaves that must, by their very nature, fall into the sere. That sympathy arises, I think, from our memory of the vigorous growth we witnessed in June flowers, July corn, and August oaks. Our awe, mixed with envy for those leaves that once touched the sky, eventually turns to pity as they return to the ground.
Upper School Director
Dr. Joel Coleman has more than two decades of experience teaching, coaching, and independent school leadership, serving most recently as Upper School Head at St. Paul’s School in Maryland. In that role, he led several curriculum initiatives, including spearheading changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, creating and implementing a K-12 departmental review cycle, and overseeing updates to the upper school’s science, math, arts, and philosophy curricula. As part of this work, he partnered with faculty to create a portrait of a graduate and better define standards of teaching excellence at each grade level. In addition, Dr. Coleman piloted K-12 instructional coaching and mentoring for the faculty and worked to further align curriculum and faculty development with the school’s mission.