From the Dean's Desk

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 calendar year

by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey

As an independent school in Pennsylvania, Wyoming Seminary is not held to the 180-class-day requirement that dictates the calendar for our public school neighbors. Instead, we are held to a minimum number of teaching hours standard, set by the state. Each year we have to apply for the 180-day exemption and submit the number of hours we will be in session. We are always over the minimum number, but I do have to admit that two years ago, in the midst of several weather closings and delays, we came very close to falling below the standard. We were busily looking at ways to avert that; some strategies included the dreaded Saturday classes! 

I started this article with that background because I have just completed work on the Upper School calendar for next year. I am often asked how we decide when school will open and close, and why we start before Labor Day and use some National Holidays for classes. While all of those questions cannot be answered in this space, I will address a couple of them.

Given the breaks that we take between trimesters, breaks that we consider restorative and necessary, and the need to build in time for our international students to travel home, particularly at Christmas, we need to keep our start and end dates the same. This insures the contact hours that the state mandates will be achieved. We do, from time to time, tinker with the dates we are in session between Upper School Convocation and Commencement, however. Some of those changes are driven by the calendar itself, and some are driven by internal preferences and the desire to keep the Lower School and Upper School calendars as synced as possible. As you review the 2017-18 calendar, I would like to highlight some of those changes.

  1. We have decided to keep the four-day vacation weekend in the fall for next year. This proved to be very beneficial to our seniors who were trying to fit in their final college visits. It also gave many of our faculty members the opportunity to fit in a professional development day without interrupting classroom time.
  2. We have chosen, in conjunction with the Lower School, to make the Easter holiday weekend a four-day weekend, adding the day after Easter to Good Friday as days off next year. We hope this helps to facilitate holiday travel and important family time.
  3. The biggest change comes at the Christmas Break. As is the case every four or five years, we have been forced to bump that break for next year. Please check those dates carefully as we now get out much closer to Christmas Day but return well after the first of January. I would suspect that the same type of bump will occur with our spring break dates in 2019.
  4. Following the success of our first Service Day in 2016, we have placed it on our calendar for fall, 2017.
  5. We have not yet finalized dates for Homecoming/Parents Weekend, but we have decided to keep those two events together for next year.  Those dates will be sent out as soon as they are confirmed.

I know it seems early to be discussing the 2017-18 calendar when we have barely cleared the midpoint of the 2016-17 calendar, but I am sure that the parents of the class of 2018 have hurriedly marked down Sunday, May 27, 2018 on their personal calendars. We believe this calendar meets all of our objectives while also meeting the Pa. Department of Education’s expectations of us.  

And now back to thinking about the remaining days of the 2016-17 school year. Meteorological winter is well past half over, and the days are (allegedly) getting longer. At least there is more daylight each day, when it is not obscured by the gray of northeastern Pennsylvania winters.

Happy New Year to all of Sem families!  May 2017 bring you all peace and happiness.

Posted by Patty DeViva on Tuesday January 17 at 03:10PM
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Happy holidays from our Sem family to yours!

by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey

As I sit in my office today, there is fresh snow on the ground and December is starting to look like December. Winter has not officially arrived yet on the calendar, but for all intents and purposes it is present on the Northeastern Pennsylvania landscape and in the hallways of Wyoming Seminary.

On December 11 we came together for our annual boarding department Christmas Dinner in Fleck Hall. Everyone gets dressed up and our food service provider, Metz Culinary Management, goes above and beyond on the menu. The desserts alone were spectacular, and it was worth considering bypassing dinner and going right to the rows and rows of pies and cookies. 

This year my wife Judy and I sat with a student from New Jersey, one from China and one from Afghanistan. We asked them where they were spending the holidays and went on to have a discussion about how their families will be celebrating over the break. The conversation inevitably turns to foods that they are missing from home and stories about their families. It is at moments like these that I am in awe of the good fortune we all have to live and learn surrounded by such a wonderful cross section of the world. Holidays seem to make the importance and the impact of that all the more special.

While there is much entertainment at the dinner for kids of all ages, the absolute highlight is the arrival of Santa at the end. All of the faculty children get to sit on Santa’s lap and receive gifts. Parents have their cameras at the ready and the “older” kids all watch the special moment together. It is a true reminder that we are a bit more than a community going through the education process together. We are, at times like these, a family going through the wonders of life. Although it may be difficult for our dormitory students to feel totally at home while they are on campus, watching the littlest faculty children celebrate the wonderment of Christmas makes it feel a bit closer, I hope.

View the holiday dinner photo gallery >

To you and your families, whether home is Kingston, Pa., New Jersey, China, Afghanistan or some other point on the globe, my best to you for a restful holiday season and a prosperous, healthy 2017. 

Posted by Patty DeViva on Wednesday December 21, 2016 at 01:26PM
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Our Students and the Presidential Election

by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey

As I write this month’s newsletter entry, the date is November 10. Less than 48 hours ago America elected a new President, Donald Trump. I am not writing today to comment on the result as my Facebook feed is doing quite the job of reporting on the results, thank you! However, I would like to use this space to discuss the election. So if you thought it was over, please bear with me for a few more paragraphs.

Only once during every high school student’s career do they get to experience a Presidential election. This experience is unique because they are likely for the first time to be politically aware, although the vast majority cannot vote. They are old enough to have strong opinions on the issues but still not able to think of them in purely adult terms. This is where schools have a responsibility to raise the level of the discussion and play a part in creating the next generation of responsible voters.

In Presidential election years we offer a trimester elective history class on the election. For the past two election cycles I have had the privilege of teaching this class, and it has been a wonderful experience. On the very first day of class in August I shared my goal for the class: to produce educated participants in our politics. Today as we continued the election postmortem and class wrap up I asked them to remind me what my goal was and they repeated it without fail. Truly a proud moment for this teacher!

Wednesday, November 9 was a tough day on campus for several faculty and students. Many had to contend with a result that surprised and confused them. There were tears, there were arguments and there was frustration from those who had backed the unsuccessful candidate. These responses were understandable, as this election put so many historic and also divisive issues front and center. As we dealt with some difficult situations we were again reminded of the message of our Defamation Day back in October: to live together as a society we must understand and empathize with opposing views. It is possible to do this respectfully without forfeiting your own views and beliefs. 

As I opened my class the day after the election to a sea of several confused and sad faces, I started by saying that “today is a day of celebration that we live in a country where we are free to select our leaders, and the results are not dictated to us before the process plays out.” We also discussed how great it is to live in a country where even people too young to vote can participate actively in the process by joining a campaign. This point hit home when a student in the class shared that she, at the age of 17, had been volunteering for the Clinton campaign for months. In that moment I quickly was reminded of my favorite quote, coincidentally attributed to a former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt: 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I hope all students at Sem will become educated voters and will become actively engaged in elections and their freedom to express their opinions through open voting. Our generation is passing along some pretty significant challenges and it will take full, educated engagement by the next generation to overcome them. 

My best to all of you for a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families.
Posted by Patty DeViva on Thursday November 17, 2016
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