Upper School Director's Blog: November 2019

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.
The school curriculum also provides balance. While Gill has a variety of rigorous theoretical classes to choose from, we complement those offerings with practical coursework. This is the Gill difference. It is one thing to talk about gut biomes in AP Biology, but it is something else to feed antibiotics to a newborn calf in Animal Science. It is one thing to study force vectors in AP Physics, but it is another thing to apply them in Robotics Engineering. This balance applies to any number of paired courses: AP Music Theory and Choir, AP Literature and Creative Writing, AP Government and Social Issues, or AP Computer Science and Game Design, to name just a few.

Napoleon once said, “Ability is nothing without opportunity,” and the Spring Unit program offers more opportunities to project theory into practice. Again, it is one thing to talk about injustice, another to visit Robben Island in South Africa. It is one thing to “cover” Latino culture; it is another to learn tango, flamenco, and salsa and perform them for the school. Merely studying music theory is one thing; recording an original song, quite another. Reading Into the Wild is good; hiking into the wilderness is better. We can preach about compassion, but we can practice what we preach by building cinder block homes with Guatemalan families.

This experiential learning permeates our school—so much so that we might wonder why we have such a long, successful history combining life and learning. The secret lies far back in history, even beyond our founding in 1900. The 12th-Century monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, one of GSB’s eponymous thinkers, offers us the Latin phrase, expertus potest credere, which roughly translated means, “Those with experience can believe [or trust or know].” While some in educational circles think experiential teaching is new, we have known for a very long time that experience is the key to knowledge, the key to trusting relationships, and the key to believing in each other. When we come to understand this truth, then life will have true balance—whatever we choose to do, and wherever we choose to stand.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful, and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.