Hewitt’s summer grant program supports faculty experiences that align with the school’s four academic pillars - presence, empathy, research, and purpose. Made possible by support from the Hewitt Parents’ Association and from Hewitt's professional development fund, summer grants are just one of the many professional development opportunities offered to members of the Hewitt community throughout the year. Read on to learn how this year’s summer grant recipients engaged in mindful interactions, expanded their perspectives, fostered their own growth mindset, and affirmed their purpose as educators and as individuals.
Danielle Shields, Math Teacher
Thanks to the generosity of the Hewitt Parents’ Association, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece, a country that some would argue is the birthplace of mathematics. One highlight of my journey was my visit to the Parthenon, an example of ancient mathematical beauty. The Parthenon’s architects relied on their revolutionary understanding of mathematical proportions to erect a structure that uses optical illusions to create the appearance of perfect symmetry. I am excited to teach my fifth grade mathematicians about this architectural feat as they use their knowledge of geometry to build model cities.
While in Greece I also had the pleasure of visiting Athen’s Kotsanos Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, where I got to see the Ostomachion of Archimedes, the oldest known mathematical puzzle. This tangram puzzle contains 14 pieces which can be put together in more than 500 unique combinations. As a math teacher, I am constantly reminding my students that there are multiple solutions to every mathematical problem, and I loved that this ancient puzzle proves that there is not always one correct answer. I came home from my trip excited about introducing the Ostomachion of Archimedes to my classes, and am already brainstorming with my colleagues Erik Nauman and Young Kim about how my students can build their own versions of this ancient tangram in the Hewitt Innovation Lab.
Isabelle Toussaint, French Teacher
I used my summer grant to travel through Canada, where I explored the francophone landscape and researched material for “Women in the Francophone World,” a course I designed for Hewitt’s world languages department. During my trip I visited government and cultural organizations as well as universities to investigate the role that francophone women have played in Canadian life. I was also interested in learning about the country’s efforts to empower women to use their language skills to make a difference in their communities and further their careers.
I was fascinated and extremely impressed by the work of the Alliance des Femmes de la Francophonie Canadienne, an organization dedicated to defending the rights and showcasing the achievements of francophone and acadian women. I also visited the Université de Québec à Montréal, where I met with their department of feminist studies to learn about how they are designing curriculum that closely aligns with their students’ own causes, struggles, and emerging identities. And at McGill University Library, I explored “Women, Work, and Song in Nineteenth Century France,” an exhibit which provided me with yet another insightful lens into the lives of francophone women through their stories, actions, and contributions to society during that time period. I am so grateful to Hewitt for providing me with this unique opportunity to develop new course materials through firsthand discovery and learning.
Carla Waldron, Physical Education Teacher
My Hewitt summer grant allowed me the opportunity to travel to Oslo and Brussels, where I attended Ashtanga yoga workshops with my teacher, who resides in India with her family, and spent time deepening my practice without the distractions and responsibilities of daily life. Ashtanga yoga classes are mostly silent, with the teacher guiding students through physical assists and occasional verbal instructions. Hearing only the breathing of my fellow students was a beautiful and serene experience, and the focused energy of the room was palpable. During the workshops I benefitted from my teacher’s deep well of knowledge as I tackled two very challenging poses that I’ve been working on since the last time I studied with her in India.
Though I am a yoga teacher, I am also a student whose personal growth is enlivened by continuing my own education on this path. In yoga, much of the learning happens by simply showing up on one’s mat and practicing. During the year, when I am without the guidance of my teacher, consistent daily practice is how I continue to gain a greater understanding of myself. Spending time with my teacher this summer was a powerful conduit for my evolution as a student and a great source of energy and inspiration for me as a teacher. At Hewitt, I teach students that yoga is a wellness tool that can help them live in greater harmony with themselves and their world. The deeper my understanding of yoga, the more authenticity I can offer my students. I am grateful for this grant, which allowed me the opportunity to focus on my own practice and to nourish the student-teacher relationship.
Erik Sommer, Visual Arts Teacher and Library and Information Specialist
Thanks to my summer grant, I am further developing my practice of curating contemporary art exhibitions. For the past six years I have taught a contemporary art elective for Hewitt’s seventh and eighth graders in which we visit art galleries near and around school. We are lucky to have access to numerous world-renowned galleries in the neighborhood, proof that New York remains one of the centers of the art world. My elective challenges students to question what art is and can be while introducing them to the many professional roles that exist within the art world. One role I am personally undertaking is that of curator, the organizer of exhibitions. With help from this generous grant I am curating exhibitions here in New York City and interviewing some of the most exciting and challenging contemporary artists from around the world. Just as the students in my contemporary art elective keep me inspired with their questions and insights, this grant will help me continue to research and purposefully explore the canon of contemporary art.
Colleen Britt, Drama Teacher
This summer I was given the opportunity to revisit a play that I truly love: The Resolute by Gabrielle Sinclair. Set in Poughkeepsie, NY, just after the end of the Civil War, the play imagines the intersection of famed astronomer Maria Mitchell in her first year teaching at Vassar College and the bold young Vassar students who created America's first women's baseball team. It is a story of sisterhood, the transformative power of play, and who we choose to be when no one is watching.
I directed the first production of The Resolute in 2017 at the Wyoming Theater Festival, and this summer I used my grant to revisit the play. For much of the summer, I collaborated with Sinclair and a brand new cast to examine the language of The Resolute’s script and rehearse the play together. We will present a staged reading later this year and hope to mount a new production of The Resolute in the spring. This new production will feature a local female composer and cellist, whose score will add even more depth and movement to the story. As we prepare for those events, the cast, playwright, and I will continue to dig deeper into the play’s themes of feminism, origin, identity, form, personhood, and memory. As a female director and teacher at a girls’ school, I was excited to immerse myself in The Resolute, a play written by a woman and driven by strong female characters. I returned to Hewitt this fall eager to engage my drama students in discussions about the female voice in theater and what it means to them to work with scripts that speak to their own life experiences.
Estefania Suquilanda, Technology Support Specialist
My curiosity about weaving was sparked as I watched Hewitt students engage in the practice in Robin Lentz’s art room. That experience inspired and propelled me to travel to my homeland of Otavalo, Ecuador, to immerse myself in the practice and intricacies of backstrap weaving. The opportunity to learn this new skill was truly a magical gift.
Backstrap weaving has been part of my culture for centuries, stretching back to the time before colonialism and the Incan Empire. In Otavalo, I was taught by the great master weaver Taita Luchito. We spent hours researching patterns, studying the movement of the wool, and filming, photographing, and sketching the puzzle that makes up backstrap weaving. Learning how to weave this way was certainly not easy, and I struggled at first and made many mistakes along the way. However, I chose to learn from my mistakes and transform them into beautiful moments that would help me during the process of making my scarf. My experience of learning how to weave led me to believe in the power of purpose, will, and motivation, and I plan to bring this practice to Hewitt as I develop an elective course in weaving for middle and upper school students.
Chris Leaver, Physical Education Teacher
As a physical education teacher and lifelong athlete, I have always been interested in learning about the history of sports and the importance of physical activity in different societies. My grant allowed me to travel through Europe exploring these topics, providing me with an entire summer of personal and professional growth that I will never forget.
In Rome, Florence, and Venice, I learned about ancient cities that revolved around sporting spectacles and elevated athletes, such as gladiators, to hero status. These cities relied on sporting events to raise the spirits of the people, especially during tough times. In Portugal and Spain I visited Futebol Clube do Porto and Valencia Club de Fútbol to see firsthand how some of the most successful soccer academies in the world educate their students. As someone who has taught in both British and American schools, it is always very interesting to witness how different countries approach their educational systems. Finally, I went home to London, where I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. As I explored the museum’s huge collection of indoor and outdoor games, some of which date back as far as the 1600s, I observed how children have engaged in play throughout history. It was intriguing to witness the differences and similarities between some of the museum’s exhibits and the ways young people play today. Throughout my trip I was fascinated to see how sport and physical activity have always been a cornerstone of society, instilling pride in people all over the world for centuries. This trip has given me a strong sense of purpose about what I do for a living, and I look forward to reflecting on the research I undertook in Europe with my students here at Hewitt.
Robin Lentz, Art Teacher
Located in Bentonville, Arkansas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is often celebrated in the art education world for the research they’ve conducted on the importance of art field trips for children. When Crystal Bridges was founded in 2011, museum educators had the foresight to start conducting surveys of regional school children both before and after visits to the museum, giving these educators a remarkable glimpse into the impact that viewing art can have on young people. While in Bentonville I was thrilled to be able to meet with Dr. Nile Blunt, the head of school programs at Crystal Bridges. In conversations with Dr. Blunt, I learned about how the museum’s educational programs are designed to help students increase their empathy and tolerance and improve their ability to retain historical facts, as well as the challenges inherent in providing exposure to the arts to visitors who have had no prior access to museums. Thanks to the generosity of the Parents’ Association, I made Bentonville my home for ten days, an amount of time that allowed me the freedom to explore the museum daily and the presence of mind to generate a lot of my own artwork. An unexpected yet unsurprising takeaway from the experience was my discovery of several new artists — all women — whose artwork I am already using to inspire young artists here at Hewitt.