Past Theme Years
- 2017-18 Power of Women
- 2016-17: Reverence for the Earth
- 2015-16: Who Is My Neighbor?
- 2014-15: Mindfulness
- 2013-2014: The Face of the Other
- 2012-2013: Human Rights
- End of Year Theme Year Discussion
- "Uniform Convergence"
- Diversity Day
- The Respect Institute
- write, share and shift
- Chapel Speaker Kelly Marages '99
- Artist Shaunda Holloway
- Ted Talk
April 5, students, faculty and staff attended a performance called, "Uniform Convergence" - a one-woman play, written and performed by mathematics graduate student Corrine Yap.
The performance juxtaposed two stories, both of women of non-European descent trying to find a place in a white male-dominated academic world. The first was of historical Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya, who was the first woman in many different categories but only succeeded after years of struggle for recognition and respect as such. Her life's journey is told through music and movement, in both Russian and English. The second portrayed a fictional Asian-American woman, known only as "Professor", trying to cope with the prejudice she faced in the present. As she teaches an introductory real analysis class, she used mathematical concepts to draw parallels to the race and gender conflicts she encountered in society today.
"In a world plagued by discord and claims of fake news, hold fast to your truth. I hope you own that truth as a means of reaching your wildest dreams."
That was one of the fundamental messages shared with students, faculty, and staff by Nichole Alcántara Beiner Powell-Newman, the opening speaker for Westover's Diversity Day program on March 19. The day-long event featured a series of guest speakers as well as workshops led by faculty, students, and outside presenters that explored the topic of diversity through a variety of perspectives and experiences. The event, which kicked off Westover's spring term, invited participants to consider both the challenges and the opportunities that diversity offers. Read more here.
January 3, Courtney Macavinta, co-founder of The Respect Institute, led faculty and staff in a workshop and then spent two hours with students for an all-school rally. Students and faculty and staff were broken up into groups and participated in exercises, activities and discussions centered around respect.
The Respect Institute's mission is to "make respect the status quo." They "give youth and their influences the tools to redefine respect and build self-respect so they can break cycles of disrespect and thrive." Macavinta has given inspiring presentations nation-wide at schools and through a multitude of media. You can learn more here: http://therespectinstitute.org
Courtney also spoke with parents on January 2, you can watch it via the Westover Livestream account here: https://livestream.com/accounts/3949198/events/7998630
Click here for a more detailed article on the two-day event and the impact Courtney had on Westover.
On Decemeber 5th, students, faculty and staff broke out into groups and participated in a "Power of Women" theme year activity. The exercise had three parts: write, share, and shift the energy.
Individuals wrote down what makes them feel powerless and were given the chance to share with the group. Then on a lantern cutout, individuals wrote down what makes them feel empowered.
At the end, groups shifted the energy outside where we added our "powerless" slips of paper to the community fire pit and then clipped to a clothesline what makes us empowered.
The focus of the exercise was to reflect inward but also to turn outward and share our own experiences, considering how we can learn from others, and what we can do to help empower one another as well as women outside of Westover.
Thursday, Oct. 19, fall term gallery artist Shaunda Holloway-Sekai was on campus all day working with faculty, staff and students to complete a community mural. The mural is in connection with the theme year, “The Power of Women."
On Tuesday, October 10, students and faculty and staff broke out in groups and watched the Ted Talk by Roxane Gay, “Confessions of a bad feminist.” Groups then discussed questions regarding what is feminism? What is power? What is bravery? And other topics.
2016-17: Reverence for the Earth
During the coming school year with its theme “Reverence for the Earth,” members of Westover community will have a special year-long opportunity to reflect on our relationship with the natural world, to strengthen our feeling of connectedness to it, to stimulate our appreciation of its beauty and bounty, to heighten our sense of responsibility for its well-being, and to deepen our concern for its increasingly endangered health and our commitment to act on that concern.
All-School Planting Day
May 2, 2017, Westover
Oct. 13, 2016, Talcott Mountain
Westover Reaches New Heights on Mountain Day
"Reverence for the Earth" – the theme for Westover's 2016-2017 academic year – was vividly brought to life on Mountain Day, when virtually the entire School community – students, faculty, and most of its staff – traveled from the Middlebury campus to Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury on October 13. View a video of the day here.
There, students and adults set out in more than a dozen groups, following various trails to the 1,000-foot summit. Along the way, the hikers had views of the surrounding Farmington Valley region awash in the colors of autumn. At the top, the community ate lunch while they rested from their hike, and then posed for a series of all-school photographs.
Read entire article here
Oct. 6, 2016, Chapel
2015-2016: Who is my neighbor?An introductory coverage of Human Rights led to a more in-depth investigation of our interfacing with others, when, in 2013-2014, we focused on the theme of The Face of the Other. Similarly, first we must be mindful of who we are and a patient, slowing down of our lives can lead us to the point where it is then necessary to look outward once again to reflect on our interactions with those around us. This shift towards a recognition of our interconnectedness with those around us brings with it a responsibility to one another and to our surroundings. We must not only be aware of this responsibility but also act on it. Justice offers a meaningful framework for how we can responsibly interact with the world around us.
In 2015-2016, this was done by an exploration of responsible action through the lens of the four Rasin Center programs: Community Service, Diversity, Environmental Sustainability, and Global Programs. We deeply investigated the terms “global” and “justice” and delve into what it means to be a neighbor and to whom.
Theme Year Activities 2015-16
- Brass City Charter School First Graders Visit Westover- News Article
- The Good Lie Program Connects Westover Community to Plight of Refugees - News Article
- Margaret Nagel & Ger Duany, "The Good Lie"- Livestream
- Dzieci "A Passion" - Livestream
Patience & Mindfulness: Inside the Classroom
As we did in the War and Peace elective, we begin every class with a moment of silence. It's nice to take a pause in silence during a hectic day, especially before discussing authors like Buber and Camus (who, not gonna lie, are really dense sometimes). This little aspect of peace during the day helps me to focus more clearly. Sometimes, we just need a momentary break in order to get our brains back on track.
- Samy Misasi '15
Inspired by our themed year of mindfulness, the art department this year has engaged in several hour-long looking exercises among the faculty and with our students. For the first time, students on their field trips in the art history and humanities classes were required to look at one work of art for a whole hour. The humanities group this past fall was even required to look at a cubist painting for an hour while listening to Stravinsky. The feedback of course was mixed. One humanities student, while ruminating on Stravinsky wrote, "Oh my, he wasn't playing, I was imagining the music!" Another student in an elective course wrote at fifty minutes into the exercise, "Epiphany!" and proceeded to draw a diagram that would serve as the basis for her research paper. She wrote, "I honestly did not think I could learn anything more from this painting … Yet, by looking at the painting for over an hour, I not only gained a much greater appreciation, but I noticed several details and possible messages that I did not previously!!!" Additionally, the art history elective course this past winter term sat in the Schumacher gallery for twenty-five minutes taking in the exhibition by Lani Asuncion before we discussed her work and films. In a world that is pushing our students to become increasingly external, immediate, and spontaneously reactive, this extended looking experience, inspired by Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts, gives students the opportunity, indeed permission, to slow down and look. Deceleration through looking, Roberts writes, "is a productive process, a form of skilled apprehension that can orient students in critical ways to the contemporary [and historical] world." The patience that results, in other words, from extended looking, enables students to center themselves and become increasingly aware of her place within a greater community.
-Ali Hildebrand, Art History Teacher
We began each class with a moment of silence. Two students began each day with the reminder that we were to observe this moment(s). One of the themes of the course was the silence out of which we come to know ourselves and others. This was also called mindful listening, "meeting" (Martin Buber's term), and "connection." Rilke baptizes a similar term, "solitude," which is necessary for self-reflection and honest existence. Much of the course was concerned with one's finding one's own voice. This voice requires mindfulness and patience.
-Tom Hungerford, Assistant Head of School, Chaplain
Looked at in a certain way, our course is ABOUT mindfulness. Three (and arguably four) of the novellas we read are about a "hero's journey" – in every case a difficult one – toward a way of being that is mindful. We are currently reading a novel (The Fall by Albert Camus) whose protagonist has made evading mindfulness his life's work.
The non-fiction excerpts we've read from the writings of Rainer Maria Rilke and Martin Buber are concerned precisely with "genuine awareness."
The Introduction to Visual Arts class this past Fall integrated patient and mindful looking and observing into it's critique practice. Whether with their own work, the work of their peers, or the work of professional artists, in the Schumacher Gallery on campus and at the Yale University Art Gallery, the students were challenged to spend extended periods of time in front of a work of art, and to speak and write about what they saw.
On Halloween day, we started the class talking about site-specific art and land sculpture. They looked at the work of Andy Goldsworthy, then took a walk, and spent the rest of class outside making sculpture out of materials found in nature. Battling the wind and working with unwieldy and unconventional media, the students had a chance to take a deep breath and spend some time with their hands in the dirt.
-Kate Truini, Visual Arts Teacher
The theme of patience and mindfulness was a natural one for the way we rehearse music at Westover. I frequently thank the girls in Glee Club and Chamber Choir for their patience in working on details of a piece. Great performances are the result of patiently working on tuning, rhythmic accuracy and good tone.
An understanding of why a composer writes in specific way is a good example of mindfulness. For example, the harsh dissonances in "Famine Song" for the words "famine's teeth" needs to be observed and boldly sung to express the meaning of these words. Or the long phrases at the end of Mozart's "Ave Verum" need to be patiently sung without rushing through them to reveal the architecture of this small masterpiece. It would be easier to rush through the notes, but that would not be mindful of the composer's intentions. Recognizing the breathless sense of anticipation inherent in Bernstein's "Something's Coming" can cause us to recognize a similar experience in our own life, and become mindful of our connection with other people. Of course, the advantage of performing music in this way is that students can see the advantage of patience and mindfulness in both their own feeling of accomplishment and the reaction of their audience.
-Bob Havery, Music Director
In Drawing II, we had a project I designed with the theme in mind. "Mundane to Extraordinary" is a ball point pen drawing project inspired by the Arte de Povera movement in the 60's where artists embraced ordinary, common place materials instead of traditional art mediums. Our project used common ball-point pen to create drawings without an image in mind. Students were encouraged to accumulate repetitive, meditative mark-making until the paper felt full. The project reconsiders the 'ordinary' in material and in process (i.e. doodling) in a new context.
-Leeah Joo, Drawing Teacher
Patience & Mindfulness: Outside the Classroom
Inspired by Westover's themed year of Mindfulness, as well as by an article written by Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts and the looking exercises she conducts with her students, the Art Department faculty traveled to the Yale University Art Gallery on September 18th to spend one hour looking at a single work or art. Here are some of the reflections on that experience.
"I 'looked' at Hals portrait. Ever since I was a student, this has been my favorite in the Yale collection. I have stood in front of this painting a dozens of times, but I wonder if all those times would add up to a full hour? During this hour I discovered that Hals, known for his economy and abbreviation of information, used a brush so thin that he painted each hair one follicle at a time. Many times when we observe well-known artwork, we tend to look for the things they are known for which confirms what you already know. Whereas a discovery, truly takes time."
- Leeah Joo, Painting Instructor
"I have spent a fair amount of time in museums. I have even been known to spend five, or even ten minutes in front of a single painting, self-righteously thinking that this was adequate. I was not prepared for how meaningful my experience of one hour with a single painting would be. After the first half hour, having filled a page with notes, I wondered, 'How much more can I see?' The answer to that question came 30 minutes, and another page of notes later. The time spent with 'my painting' raised as many questions as it answered, but I now feel that I have a relationship with this great work of Art, and I am anxious to visit it again to see what new discoveries are waiting to be made."
- Robert Havery, Art Department Chair, Music Instructor
I wanted to choose a little known work by a relatively unknown artist so that I could reflect without any preconceived notions. … I found the experience very relaxing and introspective."
- Lucy Heidkamp, Private Flute & Flute Ensemble Instructor; Private Music Lesson Administrator
"The experience changed everything about the way I want to experience art! I no longer have any interest in just 'going to a museum.' Mindful looking is like a leisurely Sunday dinner after a lifetime of All-You-Can-Eat Buffets. The notion of being receptive to my own experience instead of grasping for meaning and relevance is a tremendous relief. I allowed myself to enter into a relationship with a work of art and gave myself the time to nurture the inquiry and challenge the first impressions. Patience and Mindfulness is like manna from heaven."
- Marla Truini, Director of Drama
"I am frequently reminded of the importance of experiencing long periods of quiet, solitary contemplation, especially when living in a world that is becoming more and more fixated on visual overstimulation and quick reward. You have to exercise the muscles needed to achieve a fruitful, concentrated looking experience in the same way you have to work out your body to stay strong. I have long ago abandoned the idea of looking at a piece of art to 'get it,' but found during our exercise that my biggest challenge was my own mind and its tendency to wander. To combat this tendency, I immersed myself in the piece, reminding myself as often as needed to 'be here' and enjoy this blissful time alone in a gallery space, with nothing more expected of me than thoughtful observation."
-Kate Truini, Visual Arts Instructor
The Practice of Patience: Observing to Understand
This year's theme was born out of the idea that we would be having a special Arts Day in March of 2015. With this special day in mind, we decided to choose a theme year focused on the value of the arts, specifically the notion of using the arts to teach empathy.
The artist has a unique role in the human experience. It is through the arts that we see our lives reflected back to us, and this insight can be a powerful agent for growth. Our understanding of each other develops as we learn to walk in another person's shoes.
But how do we teach empathy? An essential tool to any artist is the patient exploration of a subject. It is increasingly important in our fast-paced digital world that we teach our students to slow down, to take it all in, to digest and then to synthesize; to learn to delay, to move away from the instantaneous, to pause, to reflect. It is essential that students learn how to articulate what they are observing, and to lean into the discomfort of having differing reactions and opinions. When we address these learning opportunities as a community, we are strengthening our mechanisms for communication, an essential 21st Century tool.
When we practice patience, we can move past the "first impression" and seek to deeply understand each other and the world around us. To learn to think before we speak, to consider our subject deeply before we put pen to paper, these are considered by some leading educators to be essential tools for our students. When we take the time to know each other, we are on the road to empathy, and a deeper understanding of each other's feelings.
Themed Year Reflection Article
Relearning to Look: An Art Department's Mindfulness Exercise
As the art history teacher at Westover and someone who'd spend half a lifetime standing in front of paintings, I was surprisingly nervous about the prolonged looking experience my art department colleagues and I had challenged each other to do in honor of Westover's themed year of "mindfulness."
It all started from an article my colleague and Westover dramatics teacher Marla Truini had shared with our department last year. As we were gearing up for this year's Arts Day, Marla had the idea of proposing "Mindfulness" as a theme that would adhere well to our celebratory day, and what the practice of the arts in particular can cultivate. The Harvard Magazine article entitled "The Power of Patience," written by art historian Jennifer Roberts, discussed the way the arts can "engage in deceleration, patience, and immersive attention." Roberts writes that when "every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, towards immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity," that the arts provides an opportunity, indeed permission, to slow down and look. "Deceleraton, then," Roberts writes, "is a productive process, a form of skilled apprehension that can orient students in critical ways to the contemporary [and historical] world." To challenge her students to decelerate, Roberts mandates a three-hour long looking exercise before any research or writing takes place. While her students resist this excessively long looking experience, she notes that this visceral practice shows them that seeing doesn't necessarily relate to understanding. "Access," she writes, "is not synonymous with learning. What turns access into learning is time and strategic patience."
If time, patience, and learning then are wrapped together in what we as teachers must, as Roberts writes, urgently model and expect of our students, the arts can teach what Maxine Green writes (in another article thanks to Marla Truini) is the "Art of Wide-Awakeness," or an awareness of one's place in the world. Green writes, "I think having the arts in education enhances that transformative element [in education]; through the arts your experience is enlarged and enhanced – you see more, feel more, understand more." This "openness" towards others can lead to "honest dialogue," empathy, and community. If meaning, according to Green, is constructed through an "interchange, a transaction between what you experience and the experience of what you learn and what people have taught you," then the arts offer an opportunity to enhance that experience, and develop what Green cites as the 'social imagination,' for students, "to imagine how things should be and how they might be" as a means towards bettering the world around us.
And so it is with this charge of understanding mindfulness by being mindful, and of Roberts's 'strategic patience,' that we as a department sought to relearn the way we looked through our own prolonged looking exercise – an hour's worth of looking, however, as opposed to Roberts's three. So on a rather rainy and chilly September afternoon, Westover's Art Department crowded into a school suburban and headed for the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven.
Though I had been to the Yale Center for British Art on a number of occasions, I had never been to the Yale Art Gallery before, and I was impressed both by the breadth and intimacy of the museum's collection and space. We had given ourselves an hour and fifteen minutes for the exercise – fifteen minutes to select our work, and an hour to look at it. Ironically, this efficient approach seemed like the perfect recipe for visual heartburn – fast-paced consumption followed by prolonged, and what I feared to be pained digestion. I had worked out ahead of time that I would head straight for the European galleries as these housed my favorite periods, and found myself ogling the Manet's and Degas' as I searched for Van Gogh's famed "Night Café," a work I had taught dozens of times but had never visited in person. I had actually planned on selecting this work in advance, and yet stunned as I was to see it, I couldn't help but keep wandering just to see what the rest of the museum held.
The pace of my fast looking with knowing gleeful smiles at works I recognized or that seemed familiar had become a habitual practice without my really realizing it. James Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, remarked on the breathless pace that has become the museum going experience. He writes, "When you go to the library, you don't walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, 'I read 100 books today!'" Yet, as a result, museum-going for Professor Pawelski has become instead a practiced art of spine-reading. "[Museum goers]," he writes "see as much of art as you see on spines of books. You can't really see a painting as you're walking by it." Still, somehow, mere art historical knowledge, knowledge that suggested I had "read the book" per say when it came to the artwork, seemed sufficient to excuse me from the crowd who sees, but who doesn't look. My years working at MoMA had taught me that the average museum goer spends seven seconds looking at the painting, and thirty seconds reading the label. And yet, despite my awareness of this tendency of the museum-going crowd, my typical museum experience had become this "see it all" approach in escorting students on field trips, where I was constantly moving from student group to student group asking them questions about the works of art, trying to engage each student in discussion, or dashing through a special exhibition in the forty-five minutes of free time I gave my students at the end of our day. Rarely did I stop moving in front of a work long enough to look, and rarely was I not with students long enough to focus on that work, and not on the student. In my inability to relax on field trips with a class full of young women in my charge, I had unwittingly transformed my own interactions with artworks into an exercise, and had as a result lost the ability to practice patience.
As I moved away from the works I knew and towards the late twentieth century gallery, which housed more works and artists that I didn't know, or didn't care to know, I began to feel a surge of excitement at the possibility of choosing an artwork I didn't care for. That's when I settled on Sol Lewitt. I had never particularly liked Sol Lewitt. While I appreciated his minimalist and conceptual approach to art, his mural installations never really moved me the way a Manet painting did. It was too formulaic, too mathematical. And I had little patience for such a systematic approach. I had had students choose Sol Lewitt in my classes for their paper projects, and I had worked for two years at the Williams College Museum, the lobby of which hosts a rainbow-colored pattern of a Sol Lewitt installation. He's an artist I take my students to see at Dia:Beacon, and I even had the pleasure once of dining in a Connecticut home in a room painted by Sol Lewitt in a series of garishly colored triangles. I had always recognized his work. Perhaps I had never really taken the time to look.
What stood out most to me as I dashed through the galleries was the presence of the piece. In a building that married old architecture, rustic brickwork, columns, and white arches, with the clean modern lines of glass, this mural intercepted both designs with an entire wall of the building painted in black. The sheer size of the piece enveloped me, and I felt this pull to submit to the work and take pleasure in my previous distaste for Lewitt's work. Against this black ground was a white schematic of nine variations on an arch. The left side of the work broke down the gridded matrix of the mural into a diagram of numbers, spelling out the pattern of what was rendered on the wall. There was mathematical precision to the combinations of arcs depicted, a logical progression, and yet when I looked at the piece in its entirety, I was completely lost. I wrote down in my notes at the conclusion of the hour that "every time my mind wandered the art pulled me back in." Somewhere in the contradiction of the piece, its continuous unity and its atomized schematic, its structure and its whimsy, its perfunctory abruptness and its smooth and lyrical lines, its open and closed forms, its infinity and its finality, its black and white schema, its filled and empty space, I became utterly entranced. The experience was punctuated by periods of restful looking, and moments when my hand couldn't keep up with all of the ideas that seemed to pouring forth from my observations, ideas that consumed six full pages of notes. My observations went from discerning representational shapes through the new patterns the arcs made, to thinking about the idea of what it means to repeat a single form in a variety of positions, the intersection of a rational and logical system and the randomness of it all, to finally in my last fifteen minutes seeing the coded system through equal and opposite rhythms inherent in the piece. When the hour was up, I found myself reluctant to leave this period of restful, invested reflection, this "strategic patience," but felt myself reawakened to the world around me. As one of my students remarked upon her experience of looking at a Cubist painting for an hour, everything seemed to me a matrix of line and intersecting rhythms, and I felt as if my pupils were opened anew to breathe in stimuli from the world around me I had become blind to see. In a world that increasingly competes for our attention, where technology with our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, our emails and our texting, makes us be everywhere without really being anywhere, as Michael Harris, a writer for the Vancouver magazine writes, this reflective looking experience centered me and made me feel present in the moment and in the place I was in.
My art colleagues had similar experiences, finding the looking exercise to be "introspective, reflective, tranquil, serene, and enjoyable," as our flute instructor Lucy Heidkamp wrote. "I allowed myself to enter into a relationship with a work of art," drama director Marla Truini remarked, "and gave myself the time to nurture the inquiry and challenge the first impressions." Westover's music instructor Bob Havery found that he "was not prepared for how meaningful [the] experience of one hour with a single painting would be," and visual arts instructor Kate Truini found bliss in the solitude of the gallery space, "with nothing more expected of me than thoughtful observation." Truly then, as the art department faculty discovered, there's more to looking than just looking.
Renewed and inspired by our collective experience, I challenged my art history and humanities students last fall to, yes indeed, complete an hour looking exercise on our field trip to the museums we visited. The results were expectedly mixed. A few students came away from the experience invigorated by their renewed observations. One student in particular who had an opportunity to look at the painting she was studying all term, noted at ten minute intervals new observations of her painting and the word "Ephiphany!" at the fifty minute mark and a notation to see a "crazy sketch" at the back of her museum packet. She wrote, "I honestly did not think I could learn anything more from this painting by looking at it in person. Yet, by looking at the painting for over an hour, I not only gained a much greater appreciation, but I noticed several details/ possible messages in the painting that I did not previously." Other students talked about the experience "expand[ing] [their] understanding," "discover[ing] a lot more … after looking at [the work]," and an appreciation for "looking for so long" that they were "able to notice much more than [they] would have had [they] just glanced at it while walking around the gallery."
The humanities students were required, due to the course content pairing an investigation of Stravinsky and Picasso, to listen to a Stravinsky piece while looking for an hour at a Cubist painting. Perhaps we were complicating the patience of the experience too much with this multi-sensorial and indeed confrontational experience, but students were both enlightened and a bit put off by the whole exercise. One student remarked, "While listening to Stravinsky's 'Dance of the Earth,' the loud sharp harshness of the notes is similar to the pointed angles in Picasso's piece." Another student wrote, "The sharp abbreviated nature of Stravinksy's notes closely resemble the sharp form of the female nudes [in Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon] which are constructed from many geometric planes." Still, despite other students feeling quite confronted by the whole experience, elements of the prolonged reflection stayed with them. One student, for example, in writing a notation in her notes ruminating on Stravinksy's life, wrote, "Oh my, he wasn't playing. I was imagining the music!" Still another who had a "hard time completing the hour staring at a painting" discovered that "everything in the real world looks like planes afterwards."
Constance Dunn, an extension communication instructor at the University of California, writes on the implications of the "lack of silence and introspection" in today's world, remarking that, "Being constantly connected means we are constantly interrupting this precious percolation process. The result? An increasingly unreflective society, with less art, individuality and innovation." True, art, the very essence of what define identity as a culture, may be threatened by this apparent lack of space for silence, but I also see art as its answer. As my colleague and painting instructor Leeah Joo wrote of her looking experience, "[Often] when we observe well known artworks, we tend to look for the things they are known for which confirms what you already know." "Discovery," she writes, "truly takes time." May we all learn to settle into a space of silence, and allow ourselves the time to rediscover what is means to look.