Bringing Back Shop Class: Growing the Industrial Arts Program at Charleston Collegiate School

Bringing Back Shop Class: Growing the Industrial Arts Program at Charleston Collegiate School

Shop class has been largely eliminated from curriculums across America. But why? Teaching students valuable, practical skills in an educational setting should be a highly valued resource. Charleston Collegiate School is currently in its second year of developing an Industrial Arts program in which students build, weld, engineer, create, and lots more.

Industrial Arts instructor Alvin Lawrence has been instrumental in creating and growing this program at CCS, and recently described how it came to be: “A few years ago a buddy of mine handed me a copy of Shop Class as Soulcraft, and it really made me think that eliminating shop class essentially eliminated the ability for younger generations to learn to use their hands. When I moved to Charleston in 2015, I took a technician position at Mercedes Benz.

I had a friend approach me in the spring of 2016 to tell me about a project-based school located here in Charleston that was looking to add some kind of Craftsmanship class to the curriculum. I was fortunate to earn the position, and had 5 seniors in my first class who had zero mechanical knowledge, and who had never even used a screwdriver! We brainstormed about possible projects they could create, with almost no tools at all, using reclaimed materials. We found some steel and wood scraps around campus, and worked outside with my personal welder off the back of my pickup truck to make some cool art projects. We had a classroom, but were lacking a proper work space. Those 5 students took it upon themselves to reach out to shipping container companies and to write proposals that were passed around to our school family. That spring, we had two 40-foot shipping containers donated to the Industrial Arts program!  Thanks to more reaching out, networking, and help from lots of friends, we then received donated tools and equipment as well. You would be surprised what big hearts people have when it comes to helping these kids discover the trades again.” The Industrial Arts program continued to gain momentum in the first year, with increased exposure in the larger CCS community thanks to unique metal flower centerpieces and light displays the students created for the Annual Auction gala that spring.

As the second year of the Industrial Arts program began, Alvin Lawrence stated, “I thought to myself: let’s contact Certiflat Weld Tables. I’ve been so happy with the tables I have at home, so why not see if they’d ever give us a deal on one for the school? A few days later, I got an email telling me that they wanted to donate a 3×4-foot welding table with legs and casters. I was in shock! I told my students and they were equally as excited – even though they couldn’t even imagine all of the possibilities yet. I’m excited to have the students build up and customize the table this fall by using the Lean System. I have required reading in my class like Shop Class as Soulcraft and Paul Akers’ 2 Second Lean, where he speaks about making 2-second improvements every day. We’re always trying to make tools and equipment easily accessible, and having “a place for everything and everything in its place” is a very important concept with our school schedule and space restrictions. When this table is complete, it will have a lower shelf and storage for all of our clamps, magnets, measuring tools, and so much more. We’ll equip it to travel our campus to give demos and make repairs wherever needed. We’re a small school with about 300 students from PK-12, but we’re more like a family –  and with our budget it’s always a blessing to get a gift like this. We want to assure everyone that donated items won’t be sitting in a corner collecting dust, but that they will be utilized daily to educate students in these highly practical and empowering skills.”

The Industrial Arts classes have also built some of their own shop needs like lamps, shelves, and tables – while some students have tackled larger projects, such as rebuilding an entire motorcycle! It is not uncommon to see students at the Industrial Arts compound handling power tools with precision as they create works of art as well as functional items.

Recently, Charleston Collegiate received a $25,000 gift from Building Charities. You can read more about this gift here.  A large portion of this donation went straight to Industrial Arts – from supplies to experiential field trips, this gift has been monumental in supporting the growth of the program.

CCS is incredibly grateful for the ongoing community of support surrounding the Industrial Arts program, and we will continue to share the students’ accomplishments in these courses!

Head of School for a Day: 11th Grader’s Experience as School Leader

Today, 11th grader Lee R. got to be Head of School for the day! Her parents won the Head for a Day item at last year’s auction, and gifted Lee with this awesome leadership experience!
Lee prepared for her day as Head of School by assigning a dress-down day in Upper School and instructing faculty that they needed to dress like students. The outfits were a hoot!
Lee kicked off her morning as Head by ringing the bell and greeting students outside. Later, Lee hosted a lunch with three friends! Lee said, “I wanted everyone to be incorporated, so I put all of the high schoolers’ names in a hat, and the three people I picked and I decided together to get lunch from Crust.”
After lunch, Lee hosted a meeting with the division heads to discuss her ideas for the future of CCS. Lee described her love of pep rallies and the fact that, as an avid dressage rider, she’d love to see an equestrian program incorporated into the school.  Lee said of CCS in her meeting, “We have a lot more privileges here than those at other schools. I’ve never heard of more exciting stuff going on anywhere else.”
Lee wrapped up her day by donning Mr. Burr’s signature blue blazer and tie. CCS had a great day with Lee as Head of School! We want to thank her for doing an awesome job! 

When a Dean Becomes a Student – Learning about Students’ Experiences by Actively Engaging in the Curriculum

College is Just a Pit Stop:  Mr. Dan’s Experience as a CCS Upper School Student

Written By: Dan Miller, Dean of Middle & Upper School

Last year, I spent the day as a fifth grade student to investigate the quality of our Middle School Program from a student’s perspective (Click here to read “Am I Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”). I was blown away by the dynamic and engaging experience I had, and understood why Middle School enrollment grew by 300% in only four years! Well, this year I have the honor of being the Middle School AND Upper School Dean. Since we have made many recent enhancements to the Upper School Program, I wanted to give them the same quality assurance test that I did for the Middle School.

Before I get into the details of my day as a CCS Upper School student, I want to give you some perspective on my actual high school experience. I attended Washington Township High with about 4,000 other students. Feeling like a mere number to most of my teachers, I certainly couldn’t have told you the names of the thousands of students with whom I attended school; in fact, I probably couldn’t have told you the names of the 35 students in each of my classes. For the most part, I knew exactly what I needed to do to survive the traditional, systematic institution of high school. As most of my high school friends would attest, you either thrived in high school because you knew how to navigate bureaucratic structures within the education system, or you struggled to find your place because you had trouble seeing it for what it was: a predictable system of limitations. Think about this for a second: who was your favorite teacher in high school? It probably wasn’t the boring teacher that always followed the state standards and unit tests. It was likely the fun teacher that challenged the system and used his or her creativity to make the teaching material come to life. It was that teacher who you looked forward to seeing every day, and who caused you genuine sadness when he or she was replaced with a sub. Now, imagine a school full of those teachers. A school that inspires teachers to use their passions and interests to guide the lessons and use project-based learning concepts to engage students at multiple entry points… well, welcome to Charleston Collegiate School.

As the Dean of the Middle and Upper School, it is easy to brag about the amazing programs and phenomenal teachers at Charleston Collegiate. But would I feel the same way if I walked in the shoes of an Upper School student? The only way to truly understand the dynamics of student life at CCS was to immerse myself in the daily routine of a student, all the way down to the smart-casual dress code. With our new college readiness schedule, I knew it wasn’t possible to experience all of the new program enhancements in just one day, so I cleared two days of my schedule to experience our Jobs Program, Majors Program, student assembly, and some of the new course offerings.

Day One

My first day started with Mrs. Ellis’ Forensics class. Now, who doesn’t like a good investigator show on TV? Whether you enjoy CSI, NCIS, or Bones, you probably have a basic understanding of forensics and how it is used to solve crimes (well, at least TV crimes). Mrs. Ellis’ Forensics class made me feel as if I were the character Jack Hodgins from Bones. I learned about trace evidence, and watched other students present cases in which investigators used trace evidence to convict innocent people. I presented my own case, too – but I forgot to do my homework (such a bad first impression I made!). After the presentations, we completed a lab in which we examined the 12 characteristics of handwriting analysis and attempted to identify who wrote on the bathroom wall. (Don’t worry, no one actually wrote on the wall.) Once we finished discussing our handwriting results, we then used the infamous Jonbenet Ramsey case to put our newfound forensic knowledge to the test. Each of us was assigned a suspect from the case, and had to use forensics to prove his or her innocence. (P.S. I really think the mom did it.)  

After a very short break, it was time for Mrs. Boyd’s 11th grade Humanities class. If you know me, you know I am more of a math and science type of guy, but I figured, what is the worst thing that could happen? Well, this certainly wasn’t the traditional English or history class I experienced in high school. I mean, we weren’t memorizing Beowulf or reciting dates that generals died. Instead, we spent the class dissecting the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. By the end of the class, we didn’t just understand the meaning of that poem, we also understood its connection to Greece, the 1880s, the U.S. Government, our definition of liberty, and the symbolism it provides today. Mrs. Boyd used the poem as an introduction to this semester’s 11th Grade Exhibition Project. This year’s theme is “How Choices Have Defined American History.” I was a bit disappointed at having chosen that Thursday to be a student, because the very next day Mrs. Boyd had former U.S. Representative Sue Wilkins Myrick come speak to the class about the branches of government – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

After a delicious lunch provided by FLIK, I decided to dive into our new Majors Program where students declare a Major of Study at the end of their sophomore year. A declaration of majors allows students to get a completely individualized education experience designed to help them pursue their passions in life. I decided to shadow Sydney Linscott, a Chemical Engineering Major. Sydney currently interns at a chemical supply and manufacturing company called Xytrus ( During my amazing experience with Sydney, I was able to view the chemicals Xytrust creates and distributes. Even more impressive is that Sydney is working directly with one of the Xytrus clients to create a new line of custom bath and beauty products. The internship goes far beyond chemicals and mathematics, where Sydney is learning real-world skills such as problem-solving, relationship-building, communication, and financial literacy. Sydney has quite a phenomenal, real-world experience to add to her college application and résumé.

Day Two

I started my second day as a high schooler in my element – Honors Geometry with Mrs. Taylor. I aced this course in high school, so I walked into the class with confidence. I was pretty certain that fundamental Geometric Theorems, Postulates, Laws, and Rules have not changed in the last two decades. Well the good news is that they haven’t – but what I didn’t take into consideration was the discovery education approach that our CPM (College Preparatory Math) Curriculum uses. Mrs. Taylor made sure that I wasn’t able to simply regurgitate the information that I had miraculously retained over all of these years. Instead, she challenged us to demonstrate our mathematical abilities by creating our own unique units of measurement (I called my units Cute Bits), then using the new units to solve real-world problems. Although each of us was working on solving the same problem, no one in the class had the same units of measurement, so none of us had the same numerical answers. It was mind-boggling! This math class wasn’t just about getting the correct answer; it was about understanding and mastering the mathematical process.

Next I had the opportunity to explore our Upper School Jobs Program, which consists of five Jobs (Program) Crews: School Store, Yearbook, Oaks & Acorns, Technology & Events, OEC & Garden. The Jobs Program is designed to provide each student with a tangible way to make a contribution to the greater school community and to learn how membership in any community requires active citizenship through application of certain vital responsibilities. Before selecting a “jobs crew” I brainstormed where my skills would be best utilized. Missing my previous experience as the Lower School Character Education Teacher, I decided to join the Oaks & Acorns jobs crew. If you are not familiar with our in-house mentorship program, once a month our entire school comes together to participate in cooperative activities between our older students (Oaks) and our younger learners (Acorns) to instill a higher sense of community. Our Oaks and Acorns job crew is responsible for designing and implementing these activities, making it a 100% student-led program. Imagine the level of responsibility and accountability this Oaks and Acorns jobs crew must feel – at 15, 16, and 17 years old, they have to create and execute activities for 300 students and 50 faculty members! If their planning and communication are not clear and concise, they don’t merely get a zero or disappoint one teacher – they have the potential of getting feedback from 350 members of the CCS family. If you haven’t heard from your children, Oaks and Acorns has been amazing this year because this group of students has the soft skills necessary to create and implement these events with ease and precision. As a student, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek of the Oaks & Acorns activities they are planning for Green Week on Wednesday, November 8th, and your children are going to love them!

After Jobs Crew, it was time to dive into Creativity and the Arts, so I enrolled in a Drawing and Painting class with Ms. Howell. After the student-led class meeting, Ms. Howell gave us a teaser for the next unit: oil paintings. The class was on the tail end of the their unit on painting with watercolors, so all of the students took turns presenting their work while welcoming constructive criticism from their peers and Ms. Howell. Each student used K.I.S.H. Feedback (Kind, Informative, Specific, and Helpful) to help one another advance their painting to the next level, while Ms. Howell showed us paintings by professional artists to motivate us. The class was a masterpiece of inspiration – so much so that it inspired me to start my own painting! Considering the last time I took an art class with in 6th grade, I think I did a pretty good job. I give all of the credit to my teacher.

With my stomach rumbling, I was eager to get to lunch. As I approached the Café, I was greeted by Ms. Sowers. She handed me a yellow Lifesaver candy and explained that it was Mix It Up at Lunch Day and I had to sit with the table that corresponded to my Lifesaver color. Excited, I searched the Café for the other students that possessed a yellow Lifesaver. As my new lunchmates and I sat down, we noticed a list of questions on the table.  They were talking points to get to know one another – it was fantastic! We didn’t have to focus our conversation on homework and weekend activities, but instead were able to talk about fun, interesting topics that allowed us to identify our commonalities. I am certainly looking forward to the next Mix It Up at Lunch Day.

I chose to end my second day with a major that would challenge me and force me to step outside of my comfort zone, so I selected a Mechanical Engineering Major with students Josephine Bardone and Isaac Limehouse. As I approached the Industrial Arts Center in my v-neck sweater, I stood in astonishment at three partially assembled motorcycles. Now I know a thing or two about cars, but as a person that drives a Prius, I would never consider myself a motorcycle enthusiast. I watched Josephine reconstruct an engine while Isaac was just a few steps away creating a custom motorcycle – a Frankenstein monster of raw power. The very talented and dynamic Industrial Arts teacher, Mr. Lawrence, thought he would start me out with something small – welding and grinding. Learning to use different power tools not only provides students with some useful life skills, but also instills a sense of empowerment that is not easily found in most school settings.

Mr. Lawrence’s imagination and resourcefulness can turn what most people think of as trash into treasure. (In fact, he recently used two pieces of scrap metal and an old wrench to create a one-of a-kind business card holder.) His students aren’t just internalizing the value of mechanics and industrial arts, they are also helping Mr. Lawrence write grant proposals and get donations to grow and enhance our Industrial Arts Center. Nearly all of the tools and equipment in Mr. Lawrence’s class have been donated by local mechanics and hardware stores. Please consider getting involved and helping this new program grow to the next level!

I know what you must be thinking, “Wow, can I go back to high school at CCS?” I wish I could say yes, but it is not too late for your children. The Four Pillars of the Charleston Collegiate Learning Experience (Leadership through Outdoor Education, Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy, Arts and Creativity, and Project-based Learning), our cutting-edge programs, and innovative academics are not merely preparing our students to get into college, they are allowing our students to L.E.A.P. into a life beyond college. I have no doubt that most high schools can help your child get into college. In fact, 70% of high school students get into college (Charleston Collegiate’s college acceptance rate is 100%), but over a third of typical high school students drop out during their freshman year ( Now ask yourself this: if most of the country is using the same traditional programming to get students into college, but 30% of the students are dropping out, what are those 30% of students missing? Yes, Charleston Collegiate has College Seminar and SAT/ ACT Prep Courses to help our students prepare for college admission. However, we also have the additional progressive programs that instill “soft skills” in our students such as communication, collaboration, creativity, resiliency, and curiosity that will allow them to thrive in an endlessly evolving, competitive world. Why should we settle for college as the end goal for our children? College is just a pit stop along the road of life on which CCS students will travel – on their custom-built motorcycles.


Chickens and Checkbooks – Project-based Learning at CCS

Chickens and Checkbooks – Project Based Learning with Chickens at CCS

By: Shannon Leonard

“Ah-ha!” moments have a tendency to sneak up on us.  For me, it was one July morning after collecting eggs from my flock at home. I was thinking about how relaxing and easy it is to care for chickens – so easy that a child could do it. I immediately started thinking of all the things I could teach my students about raising chickens: embryology, growth and development of birds, livestock care, composting, selling eggs, multiplication….my list went on and on. I realized that this project would be the perfect way to incorporate the four pillars upon which our educational philosophy at Charleston Collegiate School is built: Project Based Learning, Creativity and the Arts, Outdoor Education and Leadership, and Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy. I knew it was an ‘outside of the box’ way of thinking, but I have the privilege of working at a school that fosters and encourages such thinking – not only in its students, but in its faculty as well. So, I approached Mr. Burr about my idea of having the third graders hatch and raise chickens here at Charleston Collegiate. He was instantly on board and ready to talk about coop placement!

I started looking for partners in our community who would be willing to support such an ambitious project. I wrote grant proposals to two different organizations outlining our project, in which the third grade students at Charleston Collegiate would research and present a proposal to Mr. Burr and other community members for them to incubate, hatch, and raise chickens, eventually selling their eggs on campus.  I was amazed to be awarded two grants to support this endeavor! Next, I was terrified I had to follow through on such a ground-breaking project. Was I really going to be able to get eight and nine year-olds to research, write and present on topics ranging from the benefits of having chickens on campus to how chickens can benefit the CCS garden to the many different breeds of chickens? BIG BREATH!

Mrs. Gasper, my fellow third grade teacher, and I introduced the idea in January of 2017 to the combined third grade classes. Our students were all excited, and couldn’t believe that they had an opportunity to possibly have chickens here at school! The students brainstormed ideas they needed to research to demonstrate understanding of the topic. I was blown away that the students naturally suggested research topics that Mrs. Gasper and I knew we wanted them to study, such as learning about predators and how to keep the chickens safe. The students were also interested in learning the effects from being exposed to “chicken germs” and how to prevent the spread of those germs.

It was so exciting to see the students take this one learning opportunity and make it their own. They were encouraged to go out and interview other teachers and staff members to learn how others could benefit from having the chickens on campus. One group taught second graders about the life cycle of a garden and how chickens can contribute to having a healthy garden. Another group worked with the Middle School science teacher to conduct a hand washing experiment. A separate group worked with Mrs. Dowis, our garden teacher, to plant foods the chickens could eat straight from the garden.

When presentation day finally arrived last spring, everyone was excited – students, parents, administrators and invited guests. Each group gave a three-minute presentation on their research topic, and did an amazing job demonstrating deep understanding of their particular subjects! The students were so proud to share what they had learned. Their maturity and responsibility proved to us that they would be able to continue with the project, beginning with getting fertilized eggs to hatch in class!

I am confident that the third graders learned invaluable skills and information when they conducted research, interviewed teachers, performed experiments, taught other students, created visual displays, gave oral presentations, and incubated then cared for the baby chicks. It was thrilling to witness once again how beneficial Project-Based Learning is for students.

Now that the chickens are thriving in their coop on campus, this year’s third graders are learning about the growth and development of chickens. Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship is one of CCS’s educational pillars, so our students are also learning how to develop a business model by identifying the needs of a community, creating a logo, brand and slogan, and being introduced to business terms such as problem, solution, cost, unit, profit, revenue, margin and start-up funds. We are teaching our students how to “balance their chicken checkbook” so to speak!  I look forward to students using research skills such as interviews and the internet to successfully implement their business plan.  I have a feeling these amazing students will come up with other topics to research. They may even take the project in another direction.  Where ever it goes, I am confident they will continue to make their school community proud!


Lower School Leaders – 4th Grade Marshals

As leaders of the Lower School, the fourth grade class is expected to set an example for the grades below. The Fourth Grade Marshals program was created to make this leadership role an official position for the students to strive towards earning. The Marshals Program fits seamlessly within the Charleston Collegiate mission and Four Pillars of Education, by focusing on the overall excellence of our students and combining academics with character, kindness, respect and helpfulness in order to nurture our students in their journey to becoming well rounded individuals. Each month, four Student Marshals are chosen from the fourth grade class by their teachers, based upon the leadership initiative that they show over a prolonged period of time. We find that the Marshals Program is successful in provoking positive actions by the fourth graders based upon impeccable character and kindness, rather than popularity.

Some of the responsibilities of the Fourth Grade Marshals include assisting in assemblies, raising and lowering the U.S. and S.C. flags, and getting the younger children to and from their classrooms during carpool. The Marshal Program is ever evolving to ensure that the children’s responsibilities meet the current needs of the school, nurture the students, and involve projects about which the fourth grade students are passionate. This year, the Marshals are going to meet once each week during lunch with Mrs. Doyle to discuss other services or activities they can do during their month as Marshals.The CCS faculty believes that rewarding positive behavior is the best way to foster long-term growth and improvement. The Fourth Grade Marshals Program has shown many positive results while continuing to set the stage for behavioral expectations between students and their teachers as well as their peers.

The Marshals this month are Jacob Berry, Rafael Hernandez Merino, Kylie Wojdyla, and Kylie Schroder, who say that they really enjoy getting to raise and lower the flags each day. They also enjoy the responsibility of helping with carpool, and overall they love being an example for the younger kids because it allows them “to teach the younger grades lessons on what to do around school.”

Teaching Our Little Fledglings to Fly

The unconditional love we have for our children, combined with the protective animalistic instinct that is housed deep within our DNA, compels us to shelter our children from the dangers of the world. However, we always need to keep our eyes on the end game: to create independent, young adults that can successfully navigate the dangers of tomorrow on their own.

In Jessica Lahey’s best selling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, she writes on this topic saying, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so, we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world” (Lahey).

We need to teach our fledglings to fly without us. Now, I am not suggesting that you push your cute, baby birds out of the nest before they are ready. Rather, I’d like us to work together to teach them the skills needed to take flight! Once they grow their flight feathers, we need to teach them to flap their wings, understand the wind, and instill the courage necessary to take the first leap out of the nest without us.

When children feel safe and supported, they have the courage needed to take the leaps in life. Ideally, they will soar and feel the wind through their wings, but sometimes they will fall to the ground. Falling is okay. Let your fledglings brush off their wings and climb to the top of the nest, then encourage them to leap again by asking, “What could we do differently next time?” We all make mistakes – but when we learn from those mistakes, they turn into lessons, and learning lessons is what school and life are all about.

What do standardized tests, reading scores, grades, and college admission decisions all have in common? This is not a riddle; all of them are used to compare our children’s successes against one another’s. Let’s resist society’s pressures that make us feel “judged by (our) children’s accomplishments rather than their happiness” (Lahey). With enough practice, every child can learn to ride a bike. Does it really matter if it takes him or her two weeks or two months? No – you are just going to remember the joy on your child’s face when he or she realizes you aren’t holding the seat anymore. “School is prime time for failure, even among kids who have sailed through school… The combined stressors of puberty, heightened academic expectations, and increased workload are a setup for failure. How parents, teachers, and students work together to overcome those inevitable failures predicts so much about how children will fare in high school, college, and beyond” (Lahey). Sure, we all want our children to be successful, but let’s refine our definition of success to include happiness, as well as character traits like determination, perseverance, and grit.  

Charleston Collegiate School is a family school, a community that partners with parents to inspire students to become passionate, lifelong learners by empowering them with knowledge, creativity, curiosity, and confidence to mindfully embrace the opportunities of tomorrow. What does that mean? It means we all need to work together to cultivate these character traits in our children that will empower them to handle life’s challenges. As Jessica Lahey explains, “the ability to attend to a task and stick to long-term goals is the greatest predictor of success, greater than academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, test scores, and IQ.”

So, the next time our children forget their iPads, lose their homework, or ask for poster board the day before the science fair, let’s ask ourselves- “What is the end game?” and “How can we turn this mistake into a lesson?” Let’s work together to teach our fledglings to fly high!


Dean of Middle & Upper School

Works Cited:

Lahey, Jessica. The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Harper. 2015.


Bringing New Skills to the Classroom – CCS Faculty Professional Development

The CCS faculty stayed quite busy this summer, with professional development trips to High Tech High in San Diego, California, Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, and to the American Wilderness Leadership School in Jackson, Wyoming – just to name a few! These experiences allowed the participating faculty members to work with inspirational instructors around the country, with particular focus on new and forward-thinking strategies regarding learning. Specifically, our faculty learned how to implement new technology into the classroom, new conservation techniques for our campus, and tools to improve the Diversity and Inclusion Department at CCS. Hacker Burr (Head of School), Letitia Sowers (Dean of Student Life & Director of Diversity) and Campbell Bowers (Lower School Outdoor Education), returned to CCS newly energized with the valuable knowledge they gained over the course of their experiences, which they share with us below:

“Our staff is extremely lucky to have the opportunity to participate in some of the highest quality professional development in the world.  High Tech High and Phillips Exeter are two schools that are on the cutting edge of education in the 21st Century. These institutions have been leading the way for years, and we feel it is important for our teachers to travel out of our immediate area and mingle with the best of the best. We are honored that the Stranahan Foundation and other generous donors see value in these experiences as well, and are willing to invest in our commitment to truly provide a 21st Century Education for our students.  This is an investment that carries exponential return, and the net result for our students is that they receive an educational experience to prepare them for the innovation economy that awaits them – which is far different than the industrial economy that previous generations of students experienced. It was exciting to see our teachers gain such valuable information from their experiences at these innovative schools over the summer!”

-Hacker Burr, Head of School

“Attending the Diversity Institute at Phillips Exeter Academy in June was an eye-opener for me in so many ways! This incredible opportunity not only benefited me in my professional life, but in my personal life as well. I spent the week with two profound instructors, Alex Myers and John Daves, along with educators from around the world, discussing various topics about race and gender using the Harkness Method.

A few standout themes from my experience include:

-that in order to implement a successful Diversity and Inclusion Department at CCS, there must be an institutional buy-in. This includes board members, employees, students, parents, and all other constituents.

-that schools should create a safe environment where students don’t feel like they are only admitted – but they are also accepted at the school!

-that many of us automatically think of race when we hear of diversity and inclusion. However, this concept also includes language, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, geography, physical abilities, age, personality, learning styles, and life experiences.

-that the terms and topics that framed our week at Exeter were: Cisgender, White Fragility, Meritocracy, the Gender Bread Person, and Racial Literacy.

I look forward to continuing the discussion about diversity and inclusion at CCS, as well as helping to guide CCS on becoming a proactive institution rather than a reactive one when faced with challenges that make our CCS students and employees different from one another!”

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde

-Letitia Sowers, Dean of Student Life & Director of Diversity

Each summer, the Safari Club International organization invites educators from around the country to participate in their American Wilderness Leadership School (AWLS). During the weeklong program, AWLS educates teachers on the importance of conservation and ecology, as well as firearm safety skills and archery certification. From dawn until dusk, educators participate in classroom lectures, ecology walks, and archery/firearm training, along with opportunities to reflect with colleagues on the information and skills learned. The goal of this program is for participants to bring their newfound knowledge back to their schools and programs to implement in the upcoming year.

“I had an amazing experience at AWLS! The instructors were friendly, engaging, patient, and helpful. Each instructor came from a different outdoor background, which provided an all-encompassing learning experience. We were generously given dozens of resources to help implement activities in our classrooms, and I enjoyed meeting educators from all over the country who teach everything from preschool all the way up through the college level. We continually discussed ideas for our own classes while working together in survival situations, archery certification, and various games. I also learned how to safely shoot a firearm and became NASP certified in order to help coach our archery team at CCS. These bonding experiences helped me to develop a better format for my classes that I am looking forward to implementing. I hope to be both a teacher and facilitator as I continue to provide hands-on learning opportunities – as these are the experiences from which our students benefit the most!

The main lesson I learned throughout the week was the importance of building relationships with people in both the school and our local communities. Meeting educators with different backgrounds and learning about their teaching styles and experiences was extremely valuable. As an outdoor educator, I hope to put myself and CCS into the outdoor community more often to build as many relationships and learning opportunities for our students as possible. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget. Thank you Safari Club!”

-Campbell Bowers, Lower School Outdoor Education

The Portrait Project – A CCS Commitment to our Students

This summer, our Media Arts teacher Ms. Austin Howell had the opportunity to visit High Tech High, a leading school in project-based learning in San Diego. You can read about Ms. Howell’s trip here.

Ms. Howell was inspired by High Tech High’s Arts program and their students’ passion for the Arts. Ms. Howell committed her summer to a project which shows our students how much they have an impact on CCS as a whole: she designed a digital portrait of each returning Upper School student. Each portrait took between two and four hours to complete! Ms. Howell took a time lapse video of her process, which you can view here.

These incredible portraits are on display in our Upper School building. This project represents one of the many ways the talented and dedicated teachers of CCS strive to connect with students on a deeper level!

Learning through Experience: Our Students’ Summer Activities – Middle School

Our Middle School students have been working hard completing their summer requirements.  Bodie W. volunteered, while Aiden B., Alexandra C., and  Brooke F., completed unique summer assignments in the culinary industry! Aiden was busy this summer taking a cooking class, and Brooke F. and Alexandra C. put together a philanthropic bake sale! Bodie W. volunteered by helping an organization that provides toys to children in need. You can read about their experiences and what they learned below.

Animal Sanctuary Fundraising Bake Sale

“0n July 1, 2017, Alexandra and I had a bake sale at the farmers market to raise money for Hallie Hill Animal Sanctuary. We raised $1,100 dollars! Hallie Hill is located in Hollywood, SC. They try to save as many dogs and cats as they can and they do not kill. They currently have one space for a kitten in need of a home. We need more animals to get adopted so we have space for more dogs and cats to save and get them a nice warm home. The money from the bake sale will help get more space for animals in need.

-Written by Brooke F.

Children’s Philanthropy

“The Charity I worked for was called Faith Hope. It was an amazing experience for me. I loved seeing people’s faces going from stress to happiness. I loved helping other people for something good. For the first couple days, I helped pack toys and such for children who don’t have the money to buy fun things like toy cars, bikes, and puzzles. It was a hard work but worth it. Over the next couple of days, I helped deliver the packages and that’s what touched me the most. I saw kids as young as two. Their smiles made my day! That is how my volunteer experience went this summer.”
-Written by Bodie W.


Learning to Bake

“This summer, I took two pastry baking camps at Trident Technical College. I made things like Creme brulee and Cannolis. They were so yummy. I think when I am older I might go into the baking business.”

-Written by Aiden B.

High Tech High: 21st Century Learning – Faculty Professional Development Reflection


Each summer, several of our teachers are given the opportunity to travel to San Diego to visit High Tech High, an innovative school paving the way in 21st Century learning. High Tech High’s project-based approach to education is delivering new ways of thinking and producing advanced learners. Our teachers attend workshops at HTH to bring these teaching skills, concepts and methods back to CCS so our students can utilize the best that 21st century learning has to offer. Ms. Austin Howell (Art) and Mrs. Jodie Haynie (4th grade) reflect on their experiences below, sharing their excitement about what they learned with the CCS community!

Ms. Howell:

This summer I was given the amazing opportunity to represent CCS at a teacher conference at High Tech High. I had heard many things about this school, and had seen the documentary “Most Likely To Succeed,” but nothing compared to stepping into the school building in San Diego, California. Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed by the amount of beautiful student artwork and projects on the walls. The building itself calls for the impressive opportunity to showcase student projects with an industrial style of exposed ceilings, untraditionally-shaped classrooms, and a multi-level open concept. Not only was there a plethora of artwork, but each section of projects was displayed in a unique manner.  As an art teacher, I couldn’t help but take many notes and countless photos of the projects I saw. I look forward to implementing some of these display techniques into how I showcase student work on our campus!

While in San Diego, I was also fortunate to be able to attend the HTH Middle School “Exhibition Night.” This event brought parents, friends, and other community members to the school to see the middle school students’ presentations of major projects or themes that their class had studied during the school year. This immediately reminded me of the CCS 8th grade exhibitions and the 10th grade exhibition night that challenges our students to express deeper learning by presenting their academic experiences using cross-curricular projects. This comparison made me proud of how CCS uses the Project-Based Learning model to prepare our students for the real world by instilling in them skills such as collaboration, communication, teamwork, and creativity.

So, what did I take away from this experience? I recognized that CCS does not have to “become” High Tech High in order to make project-based learning effective. We are doing a lot of the right things already that make CCS such a wonderful and distinctive school environment. However, we can always learn from what other schools are doing – including what works and what doesn’t work – to continue to enhance the Project-Based Learning model in the most constructive way for our students.

I’ll end by mentioning a project I have personally taken on this summer that was inspired by my trip to HTH. Process and informal assessment were themes of the conference, and my goal is to put myself “into the role of a student” by coming up with an essential question, working with deadlines, and recording my process. This project really challenges my skills in Adobe Photoshop and portrait rendering! My exhibition will be a surprise to the CCS students, hence the lack of details here…but I will say that my trip to HTH confirmed that so much of what I can do to be an effective teacher depends on guiding my students in meaningful and engaging projects. Encouraging them to think about their process along the way is just as important as focusing on the end result.

Mrs. Haynie:

Learning and traveling are two of my favorite things to do, so I felt honored to be asked to attend High Tech High’s Spring Residency in San Diego. The main focus of the presentations and conversations surrounded the concept of “Assessment 2.0.”  I’ve always liked a play on words, and it sparked my interest when a facilitator pointed out that the word assessment actually has ‘assess me’ written right there in the word. Do you see it? The same facilitator went on to explain that “Assessment 1.0” describes the process of the teacher as the only one giving feedback to a student. Now comes “Assessment 2.0”: imagine having your work or a project analyzed by not only your teachers, but also your peers and the members of community around you. I’m talking about authentic assessment that is dialogical, informative, equitable, personal, collaborative, experiential, engaging, and perhaps enlightening.

Well, this was my take away from the conference: CCS doesn’t have to imagine doing Assessment 2.0 – because we are already doing it in so many ways. Are there ways for us to improve? Of course! However, it is exciting to me to know that what we are doing here at CCS is what other schools who are on the forefront of education are practicing. The more we incorporate project-based learning, the more we create well-rounded, reflective students. Implementing thoughtful projects into our curriculum fosters essential habits of the mind and heart in our students, which they will long possess after graduating. I wholeheartedly believe CCS is on the right path with educating our students, instilling in them knowledge and skills they need to be productive and successful citizens. Being the adventurer I am, I am happy to be along for the ride!