Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

December 2012

Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter December 2012

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Nobles Night: A Celebration of the Castle Project

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The Castle History

The Castle Project: Sustainability & Design

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The Castle Community

Congratulations, Nobles Theatre Collective Cast and Crew!

Congratulations to all involved with the fall mainstage play, The Importance of Being Earnest. The show ran from Nov. 7-10, in Vinik Theatre, and had rave reviews from Nobles audiences.

Get the latest news, recaps and inside scoop from the Nobles Performing Arts Program—follow them on Twitter at @NoblesOnStage.

From Community Service: A Day "On" by Sandi MacQuinn

“Intelligence plus characterthat is the goal of true education.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.
I graduated from high school in 1968 in the Pacific Northwest. We were a bit behind the times up there, and although news of all the upheaval and societal changes had of course been of much discussion, the full heat of the issues wracking the civil rights movement felt far from the small town concerns in my high school.
A small group of us on the school newspaper staff followed Martin Luther King's call for integrity and dignity, supported by a politically deft advisor. My church group was led by a young minister who brought us King's words to read and discuss. And King's face was often in the newspaper that my grandfather kept at the morning breakfast table. But I found many other activities and interests to occupy my high school mind, and until King's death I did not realize how central his ideas were becoming to me. His shocking assassination brought all of America to the realization that his powerful words of hope and healing were highly threatening to some. I believe my "true education" began somewhere in the stretch between John Kennedy's shooting (I still think of him as MY president) and the anguish of realizing that Dr. King too, had been shot. A lot of us vowed to remember him and continue his work wherever we found ourselves in the future. I suspect you had some of the same thoughts.

Nobles has been commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. for almost a decade by gathering a group of those who have the day to give, and going out on site to serve other people. It is a busy time of year, that is true. It is a day that comes at a needed time of rest, and it is vital to the health of our children that we spend quality time with them whenever we can. You will know what is best for you and your family. But: if you would like to think about your family day off from school as a day "ON" of service, we have been quietly planning to honor Dr. King's admonition that “the time is always right to do the right thing” by setting up some sites for you to visit with your family to help make lives better in the Boston area. You can even choose to come and help us here at Nobles for a part of the day as we sort clothing and toys for Boston kids through "Cradles to Crayons."

Part of the best education we can offer our children is to help them see beyond the cares and activities of their daily life into the genuine needs of our own local population who are cold, hungry, or needing to know they are not alone. In the next weeks, Linda Hurley and I will send you more information about the sites you can choose from. We hope that you will join us. When you get the email, talk with your family about whether it would be a good day for educating both heart and mind. You will hear from us soon.

Happy holidays to all of you.

Sandi MacQuinn and Linda Hurley

Homework and Rubber Bands by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School

When JoAnn Deak visited Nobles and shared her insights about the wonders, challenges and frustrations of working with the adolescent brain, myriad questions arose for Nobles parents.

How can my child get more sleep?
Can we accelerate the speed at which his brain matures?
Where does homework fit in with the development of my child?
What can I do to help her stay properly hydrated and eating well?

During her presentations Dr. Deak asked us to think of our brains as containing numerous rubber bands—some bigger, some smaller, some stronger, some weaker—that correlate to different neurological and cognitive aptitudes and abilities. She was clear that no brain has the same size rubber bands in all sectors and that some of those rubber bands are naturally bigger and stronger than others.

Dr. Deak maintained that to develop a facile brain, it is critical to stretch the bigger rubber bands to identify intellectual passions and to continue to use the smaller rubber bands to build a broad range of necessary skills. This approach endorses the approach we take at Nobles in maintaining a breadth of requirements while also allowing students to forge ahead in areas of particular talent and interest.

Following her presentation there were many valid questions raised about the efficacy of homework at Nobles—how much is given, its relevance to learning, and its impact on sleep. Over the years, and especially since her visit, the Nobles faculty has put significant time into considering the kinds of homework that we give, its connection to the goals of each course, the amount of time it should take, and the impact on student learning.

In the Upper School, Nobles teachers aim to give 40-45 minutes of homework each night—understanding that writing a major paper or studying for a test will take longer than that. If students use their free periods well and utilize their time at home properly, this amount ought to be manageable. It is important to understand what Nobles teachers are trying to accomplish and to consider ways to help students navigate their way through their outside-of-class work.

First, Nobles teachers try to minimize "busy work" they assign. In certain disciplines (math, language) repetition is critical to building certain skill sets. While at times it may feel to a student as though doing 10 of the same kind of math problems is repetitive, there is ample data supporting the need for that kind of reinforcing work.

Second, we know that the amount of time a homework assignment should take varies dramatically among students. What takes Charlie 45 minutes might take Susie 30 minutes and Alvin a full hour. Sadly, that’s the nature of the differences in all of our brains. Over time, Nobles students learn to manage their time to accommodate the varied amounts of time it takes for them to complete their work. This variability has its greatest impact in humanities courses that require significant reading. However, we also know that young people are reading less these days and that the best way to improve as a reader (and writer) is to read more.

Third, any parent of a teenager today can attest to the impact of social media and technology on the daily lives of kids. Our work with students indicates that significant productivity (and hours of sleep) are lost to the constant interruptions from text messages, tweets, emails, chats and much more. I’d humbly offer these suggestions as you try to help your child become more productive and to get more sleep:

  • Insist that the phone is off (not on vibrate) or in a different location during homework hours.
  • Consider installing a program such as Self Control ( or Net Nanny ( and determine with your child the most appropriate parameters to set. Net Nanny is a more comprehensive way to supervise your kids online.
  • Demand that there be a 30-minute "technology free" window of time before your child heads to bed. Considerable research supports this approach to calming the brain before bed.
  • Don’t let your child use a phone as an alarm clock as it will be buzzing constantly with texts and tweets during the night. An old fashioned CVS digital alarm clock can help a great deal.

Finally, for those students who have significant commitments outside of Nobles (club sports, music groups, etc.) it is critical to plan for school work well in advance and, at times, to step away from those obligations in order to get that work done. If it looks as though—even with good planning—that your child won’t be able to get it all done, have him/her reach out to the advisor or to individual teachers for support and strategies.

We hope that Nobles is concurrently a challenging and supportive community that will help your children appropriately stretch those rubber bands of the brain both in and outside of class.

Class III Reps: Ruth Gilleran (left) and Jennifer Potter

Dear Class III Parents and Guardians,

We hope you had a happy Thanksgiving and a restful break. Winter sports now begin and just a few weeks remain until the end of the semester and winter vacation, which seems pleasantly longer than usual this year.

We are beginning to plan for the Class III Surprise Lunch on Thurs., Jan. 31. We’re looking for several people to help create a theme, and to assist on the actual day however they are able. A brief planning meeting will take place on Wed., Dec. 12, at 8 a.m. in the Castle Study, and we invite and encourage parents to come. If you’re unable to make the meeting but would like to assist just let us know.

Looking further ahead, we also welcome and hope parents will get involved with the Head of School Dinner and Dance on Sat., April 6, which is an annual tradition for Class III only. We need many volunteers both to plan the event and to help with set up and clean up on the day of the festivities, so please let us know if you’re interested!

December will be a busy month for our students, and we’ve highlighted some important dates:

  • Dec. 13—Assessments begin
  • Dec. 14—Reading Day, no classes
  • Dec. 17-18—Assessments
  • Dec. 19—Comment Writing Day, no classes
  • Dec. 20—Last day of classes for fall semester
  • Dec. 21—Winter Break begins
  • Jan. 7—School reopens

As always, please get in touch with either one of us if you have any questions or suggestions for how we can help our students.

Happy Holidays!
Ruth Gilleran,
Jennifer Potter, 

Save the Dates!

On Wed., Jan. 9, at 12 p.m., or Wed., Jan. 16, at 2 p.m., join the Parents' Association at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), for their productionof Pippin.

Seats will go quickly, so please use the code “NOBLESPA” online at to purchase your $15 ticket.

Thank You!

A special word of thanks to all who planned, participated and purchased pies from the Middle School Pie Drive this year. The 10th Annual Pie Drive was a success mostly due to the tireless efforts of the two parent Co-Chairs, Sherri Athanasia and Anne London. A total of 100 pies were made and donated to The Single Parent Family Outreach Program. Pies were also donated to The Dedham Food Pantry and Dedham Youth Commission. Through your generous purchases, we raised $2,245 for Kliptown Youth Program to benefit their food and education initiatives. Thank you!

Middle School Reps: (from left) Rhonda Kaplan, Sarah Paglione, Janet Nahirny, Michelle Abrecht

After a busy November, things are really slowing down in December (if assessments can be considered “slowing down.”) New Afternoon Program offerings, assessments, the Holiday Assembly, and then winter break! As we say farewell to November, we need to acknowledge some amazing events. First, the Middle School Pie Drive was a rousing success—students assembled hundreds of pies in an hour, with many donated to the Dedham community and proceeds benefiting Kliptown in South Africa. Second, Nobles Night was an elegant and entertaining introduction to the renovated Castle. Also, the athletes competed valiantly during Nobles-Milton weekend, and the thespians performed a mainstage production.

Around the Middle School, students have been enjoying their X-block activities. Knowing that asking, "How was school?" doesn't get us very far with the Middle School crowd, maybe you can learn about X-block by asking specific questions: Have you built anything lately in Engineering Club? What have you learned to cook during Cooking Club? In Classics Club, what was the distance record for the marshmallow catapults?

As Middle School parents, some of us may be fairly new to the world of adolescence. Others may be growing weary of this stage! The Nobles “Experts on Adolescence” blog is a wonderful place to go for interesting insights from members of the Nobles community. Check it out at

We have a lot to look forward to in January, especially for the Nobles musicians. The Jazz/Blues/Percussion concert is on Jan. 10 and Wind/String/Orchestra concert is on Jan. 17. We hope to see you there!

Class V Reps

Sarah Paglione (
Rhonda Kaplan (

Class VI Reps

Michelle Abrecht (
Janet Nahirny (


Important Middle School December Dates
Dec. 6 Middle School Visual Arts Opening 6-7 p.m., at the Link (outside Lawrence Auditorium). Winter Choral Concert to follow at 7 p.m., in Lawrence.
Dec.13  Assessments: Classics (a.m.) and English & English via Latin (p.m.)
Dec. 14 Reading Day, No School
Dec. 17 Assessments: modern language (a.m.) and science (p.m.)
Dec. 18 Assessments: geography or civics (a.m.) and math (p.m.)
Dec. 19 Comment Writing Day, No School
Dec. 20 Last day of first semester
Dec. 21-Jan. 6 Winter Break
Jan. 7 School Reopens

Making the “Fit” Fit by John Gifford, Head of Middle School

Families interested in sending their children to Nobles have a lot of questions. They have great questions that run the gamut. They obsess over all of the social and academic implications of their decision, and I don’t fault them. If there ever were decisions to obsess about, ones involving the child’s education surely qualify. This is not to suggest, however, that a “right” answer is within their reach. School choice is nuanced and more complicated than right and wrong. While it might feel like a pat answer to parents, “fit” is the most important factor. But what is “fit”?

Fit is used as a term to highlight the basic relationship between school and student. A methodology that the school espouses may be great for some students but less ideal for others. Does your child need a school with strict rules or would they flourish with no more than a guiding touch? Are they ready for great classroom rigor or should they be eased into more challenging work? During the admission process, Nobles attempts to explain its program—understanding that you know your child best and should use what we say to gauge the school’s appropriateness. In spite of the fact that you know your child best, the school has to make its own evaluation of the applicant based on the application. (I admit that I shouldn’t be trusted as the sole source of information about my children.)

But why all this talk of “fit” in the Parents' Newsletter? Your children are already through the admission process! I believe there is a feeling that once the admission letters go out, thinking about where Nobles neatly suits your child and where it might pose a challenge is relegated to the back burner. This is understandable; you are relieved to have the decision behind you. You trust the school’s ability to make good decisions. You want your child to fully embrace his new school. I ask parents to reflect on the aspects of the Nobles program that you thought most deeply about during the admission process. An important life-lesson for Nobles students to learn is that there is no one institution—no one life situation—that fits all individuals perfectly. We have to learn how to make our situation appropriate for our needs.

There are certain aspects of the Nobles program that will not change. The school’s mission statement is a good place to find the basic characteristics of our program that will endure. But the mission allows each student great flexibility to find various strategies for success. Each year, as a broad range of personalities and talents graduate it is clear that there are numerous paths that accomplished students can take.

All this should serve as a reminder. When the decision is made to send your child to Nobles, you can and should feel confident that the culture, strategy and challenges of the institution are appropriate for your child. However, the job isn’t done and a critical component of education is young people learning the strategies that lead to the greatest success. It is why I so often speak about the value of failure because it puts, in stark relief, the areas that need attention.

Think back to what you were concerned with when your child applied. Was it the long day? The ability to speak up in class? The Afternoon Program? Chances are these concerns have already or will surface. Early adolescence is a time when young people can change drastically—what is a concern now that wasn’t just six months ago? These questions may have been part of a recent conversation with your child’s advisor, but if not they might be a good questions to ask. Working collaboratively on the incremental change that will make the “fit” fit, is what education is largely about. 

Class I Reps: (from left): Linda Courtiss Rheingold, Marion Mussafer, Elaine Sobell

Dear Class I Families,

Welcome back from what was hopefully an enjoyable and restful Thanksgiving holiday. November was an eventful month for Class I, as our seniors enjoyed the conclusion of a successful fall sports season as well as many exceptional music, theatre and arts productions. December marks the countdown to the end of the first semester, and for our Class I students this means both the final push for first semester assessments and the final touches on any remaining college applications. We recognize that this can be a stressful time for our seniors, and we encourage everyone to stay focused and upbeat!

Coming up for Class I:
Class I Exam Snacks, Thurs., Dec. 13, and Mon., Dec. 17. We will be setting up a special table of healthy treats for our seniors in the lower lobby of the MAC during these exams dates. If you are interested in participating, please contact Elaine Sobell at

Looking ahead to the new year, mark your calendars for our Class I Parent Winter Morning Social on Fri., Jan. 18, at NEST in Dedham Village. Enjoy coffee, breakfast treats and shopping at one of the area's most fabulously fun gift stores. More details to follow soon!

Also, looking way ahead, we are searching for someone to chair our Class I Valentine's Day Surprise Dessert Bar on Feb. 14. Last year, volunteers gathered at a Class I parent’s home to create festive desserts and organize offerings for the candy buffet. The surprise dessert bar on Valentine’s Day was a huge hit, and we are excited to continue this great new Class I tradition! If you would like to chair this fun event, please contact Elaine Sobell at

This has been a terrific year to date for our seniors and their families, and we look forward to an equally fun and rewarding New Year. Our best wishes to all of you for a wonderful holiday season!

Marion Mussafer,
Linda Courtiss Rheingold,
Elaine Sobell,

Write to Us!

The E-Newsletter is a monthly resource for parents. If you have comments, submissions or suggestions, please contact E-Newsletter Editor Julie Guptill at

You can find the current issue, along with back issues in the archive at

From the PA Co-Chairs

At this time of both giving thanks and celebrating the season, we would like to recognize all of the hard work done by parents this fall to bring our community together! We hope you have found our events fun and informative and a way to be involved and engaged in the Nobles community.

There is not a PA meeting in December, but we invite you to attend the choral concert on Thurs., Dec. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m., in Lawrence Auditorium.

In January there are several PA activities:

On Wed., Jan. 9, at 12 p.m., and Wed., Jan. 16, at 2 p.m., the PA Parent Outing Committee has reserved blocks of 20 tickets each to the American Repertory Theater’s production of Pippin. Use the code “NOBLESPA” online at to purchase your $15 ticket.

Please mark your calendar for the annual basketball game with the Cotting School on Fri., Jan. 11, from 6 to 8 p.m., in Rappaport Gym.

Our monthly PA meetings will resume on Wed., Jan. 16. Michael Denning, Director of College Counseling, will speak and answer your questions regarding the college process. Please join us in the MAC upstairs lobby (yes, the MAC—the Castle is in use) at 8 a.m., for what promises to be an interesting and informative morning.

We wish you all a safe and happy holiday season with family and friends!

Kris Ganong and Lisa Soule
Parents’ Association Co-Chairs 

Class IV Deans' Report

Dear Class IV Parents and Guardians,

It is hard to believe that we are past Thanksgiving and headed into December.

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. It begins with a brisk road race in the morning, usually the Buffalo Turkey Trot, America’s oldest footrace. This year, a slight change, as I ran the first annual Dedham Turkey Trot and Gratitude Run along with many Nobles folks. That gives license to appreciate more fully (and more recklessly) the sumptuous fare of the evening meal, with an extra helping of mom’s stuffing. Thanksgiving offers a chance for me to catch up with family members, and to meet new faces from the international community that my parents (also teachers) invite from their schools. Fitness, food, family and friendship—my very favorite things.

This year, I thought back to the first months of school, and reminded myself how thankful I was for many things during the first semester: the opening class retreat, the afternoon of leisure at the Endicott Estate, a pleasing round of grades and comments in the first quarter, the successful conclusion of a tremendous fall Afternoon Program, and the positive spirit of Class IV.

I hope that all were able to spend a few days reflecting on the things for which we are truly grateful. Although the list may differ from individual to individual, I am fairly certain that we don’t spend enough time really appreciating them. I think it is particularly important to keep family, friendship and health in mind as we approach a chaotic end of the year.

December can, unfortunately, bring about an ugly combination of craziness and consumerism. Materialistic concerns for the holiday blitz and the stresses of assessments detract from the good will and thanksgiving of the last few weeks.

In order to minimize the stresses, I would suggest that students do the following:

  • Look at the calendar. Mark upcoming English papers, history projects, modern language orals, and assessments.
  • Keep up on assignments.
  • Meet with teachers with any concerns or need for clarification.
  • Keep stress to a minimum. Do not heighten Alcove anxiety with exaggerated stories and needless worry.
  • Focus on finishing well.

As we enter December, may we carry the spirit of Thanksgiving into the coming weeks and focus on what is truly important. Let’s put a strong finish at the top of our wish list.

Best wishes,
Dave Ulrich 

Class IV Reps: Isabelle Loring (left) and Cindy Trull

Dear Class IV Parents and Guardians,

'Tis the season and we hope your December has gotten off to a great start! We have a few dates to add to your calendar, as well as some important school events that we want to highlight.

  • Thurs., Dec. 6, 7 p.m., Lawrence Auditorium—Middle and Upper School Choral Concert. This is always a wonderful evening with the talented Nobles singers.
  • Thurs., Dec. 13, Mon., Dec. 17 and Tues., Dec. 18—December Assessments. Please note that the exam schedule(s) and location(s) will vary depending on your child’s classes. Most exams will take place in the MAC, but your child should check with his/her teachers.
  • Fri., Dec. 14—No classes for Reading Day. Please note that this day off follows the first day of Assessments.
  • Wed., Dec. 19—No classes for Comment Writing Day.
  • Thurs., Dec. 20—Last day of the semester. The morning starts with Assembly at 8 a.m., followed by mini-classes from 9 a.m.-noon. The afternoon concludes after individual meetings with advisors. Winter break begins at the end of these meetings.
  • Mon., Jan. 7, 2013—Classes resume for the first day of second semester.
  • Fri., Jan. 25—Planning meeting for Surprise Lunch: 8 a.m., Castle Library.
  • Shhh...Thurs., Feb. 28, is the date of the Class IV Surprise Lunch. Every year, each class has a special treat lunch, usually with a fun theme, which is hosted by the parents/guardians in the Castle Library. This lunch is always appreciated by the students, who enjoy a break in the middle of the semester to do something a little different and fun. We would like to have our first planning meeting on Jan. 25. This is a great way to get to know and connect with parents in the class, so we encourage you to volunteer, either in the planning stages or the day of set up and coordination, or both! We would love to have your help. We would like to thank those who have already volunteered.

Finally, we want to wish all of the Class IV families and the entire Nobles community a wonderful winter break. See you in 2013!


Isabelle Loring (
Cindy Trull (

The Sweet Seduction of the Tweet by Erika Guy, Dean of Students

Having the benefit of a “long view” in terms of years on the job, I am often asked by graduates, by current parents and students, and even by members of my own family: "We hear so much about bullying these days, are kids any worse/better toward each other than they were years ago?"  While one could argue that the prevailing Lord of the Flies mentality of generations gone by created a harsher climate in which to grow up, the process of adolescent psychological development has not changed very much over the years. Adolescents still need to find ways to carve out an identity for themselves and to develop independence if they aspire to healthy adulthood. This process is not often pretty. Along the way, they test out these developing skills in a variety of ways. Too often, failed attempts to establish one’s identity or develop a level of independence create stress in relationships (those between parent and child and those between peers). Adolescents who struggle the most with these developmental tasks are often those who wrestle mightily to build healthy relationships with others. These individuals are the ones who most often intentionally or unintentionally treat others poorly. These kids have always been there, but in 2012 the tools with which they operate have gotten much better.

If I was being bullied or harassed (and these ARE two different things) while at elementary school in Fort Lee, N.J., I knew that once I got home, I’d be safe. If my nemesis wanted to torture me after school hours, s/he would have to phone my house and speak with one of my parents first. Few bullies back then were so bold. For the bullied in 2012 there is no refuge. The very devices that are the weapons of choice for bullies, are carried into the homes, the bedrooms and even the beds of the victims. In a recent forum at Nobles, psychologist JoAnn Deak cited the hours between midnight and 6 a.m. as the most active bullying time. 

Our students are told almost daily that their opinion matters. Whether it is their vote for the next "American Idol," their posted comment on a YouTube video made by a 14-year-old Canadian girl who was bullied into killing herself, a tweet from a sophomore to 30 followers offering an opinion about a performance in a Nobles Assembly, or their take on another student via FormSpring—the culture of judgment is deep and wide and more public than it has ever been. It is at once empowering and terrifying. So what are adults/schools to do? We need to do what we have always done: educate, confront, intervene, assess and correct.

In the weeks before winter break all students in the Upper School will be taking an anonymous survey to determine the culture of safety at Nobles. In collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Nobles has created a survey that will be a part of a larger initiative to assess the relative safety of our climate. This Harvard “Making Caring Common Initiative” will allow us to determine where we stand relative to other schools in the Commonwealth. Our goal is to assess, note areas of concern and address those in a swift and deliberate way. While we cannot control the far reaching effects of a social media dependent culture, we aspire to do what we can within our walls to make sure that all of our students feel safe. We will keep you posted on the results of that process in early 2013.

Happy holidays to all and thanks for reading. 

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