"GRAND" ADVENTURES THIS SUMMER FOR RIDGEFIELD ACADEMY STUDENTS, TEACHERS & STAFF
While you may imagine that summer is a quiet time for schools, this summer was anything but for Ridgefield Academy/Landmark Preschool students, faculty, and staff. The morning after the Class of 2023’s commencement ceremony, eighteen middle school students and three faculty/staff members arrived on campus at 3:00 am to begin an exciting journey out west with the student-focused travel program Grand Classroom.
By that evening, the students had settled into their campsite in Moab, Utah, and were gathered around a campfire enjoying s’mores. A seven-day adventure in Canyon Land had officially begun. Traveling throughout Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, the group visited national parks including Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion; toured Monument Valley and Lower Antelope Canyon; mountain biked in Moab; sledded down the Coral Pink and Dunes; kayaked on Lake Powell; and hiked the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Embracing challenges and taking intentional risks is an important part of any field trip for RA students. For Class of 2024 student Brooks Cody, hiking through the Virgin River in Zion National Park in the section known as “The Narrows” was a highlight.
“It was refreshing and fun, and you had to put hard work into hiking through the strong current,” Cody said. “This was a great experience, and I recommend it to anyone who that gets the chance.”
Along the way, the group’s travel guide narrated the journey with history and environmental facts. Students learned about the pioneers of the area, the Colorado Plateau, and sedimentary rock, and viewed ancient rock carvings known as “petroglyphs.” There was plenty of time for fun, too: singing in the tour bus, swimming in hotel pools, listening to ghost stories, and even being surprised by riding a military-style vehicle through Kanab, Utah, to a campfire dinner.
Trip leader and history teacher Diana Reid was thrilled that the trip was able to take off in June after the pandemic caused a three-year hiatus. Reid has chaperoned the trip more than eight times and has seen firsthand how traveling expands students’ worldview.
“Middle school students thrive during educational trips,” Reid said. “These experiences foster resilience, problem-solving, and self-confidence, which are crucial attributes for their age group.”
Faculty & Staff Professional Development
Just as the Grand Canyon adventurers headed back home, Grade 3 teacher Samantha Heller and Upper School English teacher Patricia Carrington were landing in Colorado Springs to attend the Gardner Carney Leadership Lab, a six-day intensive that helps teachers learn how to develop the leadership competencies of their students. RA/LP has made a commitment to continuous growth in professional development. According to Associate Head of Academics David Dobson-Smith (DDS), this ensures that teachers return each year reinvigorated and equipped with the most up-to-date, research-based educational strategies.
“We empower our faculty and staff to stay ahead in their fields, ultimately benefiting students with enriched classroom experiences,” DDS said.
Annually, RA/LP faculty and staff can apply for an enrichment grant to support their professional, personal, or creative growth over the summer. Below are the three enrichment grants awarded in the 2022-23 school year:
Give Kids the World Village. Math teacher and grant recipient Jan Dunn volunteered for seven days in Kissimmee, Florida, with Give Kids the World Village, which provides cost-free vacations to families whose children have life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers assist with every aspect of the organization’s needs, including entertainment, food service, and ride attendants.
Together in Differences. Landmark Bedford Preschool teacher Kristina Svec visited her home country of Bulgaria to examine what a full day of educational programming looks like for children ages 1-7. Svec’s mission was to improve her strategies as an educator and bring the methodology and curriculum that she learned in Bulgaria to Landmark Preschool.
Crossing Thresholds. As the first staff member to receive the grant, Director of Security and Facilities Larry Curry traveled to Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, with Crossing Thresholds and helped build a school. As a result of Curry’s experience, RA is in the beginning stages of establishing a partnership with Crossing Thresholds to donate technology to schools in Kibera.
In addition to the enrichment grants, many RA/LP educators engaged in professional development over the summer, including webinars and local conferences. Lower School teachers Kailey Bundy, Megan Maloney, and Pam Clasby attended the Orton Gillingham Training, in which participants learn to carry out a structured, systematic, multisensory phonics based approach. Preschool teachers Callie Kadeg, Jen Bollaro, Teresa LeLash, and Joyce Tobin attended the All Elevate Conference, learning strategies to make small impacts over time. English teacher Jenna Rubin focused on deep listening at the Stanley King Summer Institute at Brooks School in Massachusetts. All those who participated in professional development shared their experiences with the school community at the three-campus faculty and staff meeting, officially kicking off the new school year with refreshed ideas and enthusiasm.