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Last week, five University High School faculty members traveled to Baltimore for the 2017 annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).

Math teacher Jenny Cox, history teacher Tom FitzGibbon, science teacher Stacey Summitt-Mann, Assistant Head of School Alicia LaMagdeleine, and Head of School Chuck Webster represented University High School at the conference.

Below, they share which sessions stood out to them at the conference.

Jenny Cox, Math Teacher

Jenny-Cox-NAISOn “The Homework Dilemma: Achieving the Right Balance with Appropriate Homework Time and Rigor.” “My favorite session was by The Pembroke Hill School (Kansas City, MO) who did a three-year homework study with students. [In the study,] students timed themselves on their homework, made predictions on how long it would take them to do their homework, and measured their stress level from 0-10. The school found the average amount of homework per class and discovered that the 9th grade students were doing just as much homework as the juniors and seniors, which were problems for them.”

“[Based on these results, Pembroke] made some changes. They implemented a new schedule, which is a two-week rotation. They added a Wednesday late start. They grilled their athletic department schedule about away games during the week. They have three designated homework holidays per year, which are weekends when no teacher can assign any homework. And they have a 5-to-2 rule, which says students can have at most five homework classes, but then the other two should be classes that assign no homework.”

Tom FitzGibbon, History Teacher

Tom-FitzGibbon-NAISOn “The Homework Dilemma: Achieving the Right Balance with Appropriate Homework Time and Rigor.” “Another thing that the session helped me with was to have a better understanding from the student perspective of all these messages we’re giving our kids. We say you should take a very challenging and rigorous schedule, you need to get all of your homework done on time with a high level of quality, we expect you to play sports or be in clubs or do other extracurricular activities, and we expect you to go to bed at a decent time so you’re awake and alert in your classes. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I think that we at University are extremely sensitive to student concerns and student issues at our school, but this is one area in which we can be a little more empathetic as faculty members. If we understand how grueling a student’s daily life is, we can possibly reform our homework approach when possible.”

On “Struggling to Launch: Rethinking the College Search to Find Success in Tomorrow’s Job Market.” “There was also a good one on how schools, including ours, do a great job of getting students ready for college, but we don’t always help students understand the things they need to focus on in college in order to be successful after college. The presenter shared the statistic that half of college graduates who are hired right after college were interns for their employer at some point during college. Many students don’t realize the importance of internships and building their networks until after they graduate and can’t find a job because they don’t have those connections. Building relationships with professors (the people who are going to be writing your recommendations), being an assertive student, and not treating college like a spectator sport might seem like obvious lessons, but these are the types of things we can tell our students and mentees now that will help them be better college students.”

Stacey Summitt-Mann, Science Teacher

Stacey-Summitt-Mann-NAISOn “Greening Your Mission: High-Impact Environmental Strategic Planning and Partnerships.” “By 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, my brain was swimming with ideas and excitement. I connected with the Headmaster and the Sustainability Coordinator at The Gunston School (Baltimore, MD). They presented on how their school created an environmental strategic plan that accounted for using their physical campus as a teaching tool, incorporating environmental literacy into their curriculum at all levels, and building community partnerships and programs. It was exciting for me to see another school who has this vision and is doing this work. They also spelled out the steps and timeline of their process. It was a full community effort, and they discussed the different ways that students, faculty, parents, and board members participated in designing the strategic plan over the course of 1.5 years. Gunston sits right on the Chesapeake Bay, so one key element to their process is that they’ve found multiple community partners. The way they framed it was ‘we have this campus, and we should use the resources on this campus.’ I really felt that connection and believe that’s the opportunity we have here at University too.”