Fostering Community for Special Needs Students
“I constantly invite people to visit the club to see for themselves the level of creativity these kids truly have. Being the club’s sponsor and seeing this every week has been a privilege and a great joy.”
– –Tia Jones, Finding Purple Club Sponsor and Special Education Instructional Assistant
If you’re walking the halls of Winnetka after 4 p.m. on a Thursday, you might hear music and singing coming from the Transitions classroom and think there’s a party going on. That’s the Finding Purple Club having their weekly after-school crafting hangout. According to Tia Jones, Club Sponsor and Special Education Instructional Assistant, “The fun we create is contagious!”
Finding Purple offers the opportunity for students with special needs to spend time with their peers once a week and create seasonal crafts while socializing in a safe, fun environment.
“We keep it simple and leisurely but also meaningful,” points out Jones. “We want them to be able to proudly display their creations in their homes, share with friends and family, or send to a teacher.”
Kids in the Educational and Life Skills (ELS) program come together after school to hang out with peers that may or may not be in classes with them, work on their crafts, and most importantly socialize. Crafts can vary from drawing with color pencils to cutting paper and gluing leaves. Peer helpers assist with tasks that require fine motor skills like cutting certain shapes out of paper or drawing a straight line.
“It’s great how committed the peer helpers are to this program which shows in the amount of time they invest in planning, organizing, and taking part in the activities every week,” points out Jones. “They know these kids from their day-to-day school interaction, and to see them outside of the normal school hours gives them the opportunity to create a whole new level of interaction and a new learning experience with each other, while enjoying each other’s company.”
Jones and co-sponsor Maria Santos receive a lot of positive feedback from parents who’ve asked if the club can meet more often. “Thanks, Ms. Jones, for all the time, thought and sensitivity you put into the class and the logistics pertaining to it,” says Corinne Guarraia, Madeline’s mother. “My daughter loves your program.”
“Claire loved the club last year (and seeing Tia and Maria) and is very excited to join again,” confirms Julie Schrager, Claire’s mother. “We also love the new name of the club.”
Formerly known as Shout Out Loud, the club was renamed Finding Purple in honor of a student who recently passed away to carry on the legacy of what she contributed to the club, her presence, and her bright personality.
The Foundation is proud to provide a grant to the Finding Purple Club to purchase craft supplies and materials.
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Royal Shakespeare Company Comes to New Trier
“English students across all course levels at both campuses gain a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s texts, and Theatre students learn to perform the works on a richer level. On a deeper level, Michael’s approach to learning Shakespeare helps students to build valuable life skills including critical thinking, social/emotional learning, and collaboration.”
– –Brent Strom, English Faculty
The first signs of spring at New Trier came with flowers budding, birds chirping and voices of students reciting Shakespeare sonnets. The New Trier Educational Foundation has long supported the English Department’s study of Shakespeare through the annual New Trier at Oxford program, which sends students and teachers to learn in the United Kingdom for two weeks each summer.
After 12 successful years, the Foundation was excited to bring this unique opportunity to the rest of the New Trier High School community through an artist-in-residence program with Michael Corbidge, voice and text coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). After Corbidge conducted a series of masterclass workshops with students and faculty, the week-long program closed to rave reviews.
“The language Shakespeare created is engaging and active, not passive – and, thanks to Mr. Corbidge, our students loved learning that they have the skills to make that happen,” says Hilerre Kirsch, Media, Speech & Theatre Department Chair. “As a teacher and director of Shakespeare I felt enlivened and renewed by his visit and look forward to using his tips, techniques and approaches to inspire my students!”
“Michael’s expertise and the strategies he uses to help students mine language for its inherent emotional impact brought the text of Shakespeare to life in no time,” points out Ed Zwirner, English faculty. “His approach and technique suggested new ways we can implement a performance strategy into our curriculum for students and enhance an existing program at the Northfield campus to make it even stronger for students.”
Working with the RSC, Corbidge has had incomparable access to the world’s leading practitioners of performing Shakespeare. His workshops, however, never indulge in an exclusivity for approaching the text. In fact, his ‘No Fear’ Shakespeare approach celebrates and empowers how anyone can master Elizabethan text even if at first it seems impossible.
When asked what his favorite aspect to his visit was, this is what Corbidge had to say: “I’ve been touched by the competencies of the students. I’ve been touched by their tenacity. They’ve gone beyond my expectations. I’ve asked them to do something and they didn’t just do it, they did it with kind of, you know, and some.”
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NYC International Festival Spotlights New Trier Student Filmmakers
“Participation in the festival provided the students with a larger audience for their work, the opportunity to earn recognition and receive feedback from their peers and respected industry judges. The competition draws out their best efforts in applying what they’ve learned in the classroom.”
– Jim Syrek, Film and Broadcast Faculty
Eleven New Trier filmmaking students traveled to New York city this fall to attend the All-American High School Film Festival, the largest international high school film, photography, and media arts festival. Four New Trier films were selected for this year’s competition.
“Being chosen to be screened among hundreds of the best high school films from around the world demonstrates the level of quality filmmaking that our students have achieved,” points out Jim Syrek, Film and Broadcast Faculty, “and I’m confident we can do even better next year.” In 2017, two films by New Trier students were selected to compete.
At the festival, students gain from looking at the future of filmmaking from the perspective of a young adult, understanding the actual scope of filmmaking, and learning about the growing number of students nationally and internationally in the field.
“It was incredible for our students to see their films on the big screen and to share them with their peers from various cultures,” says Syrek, “And each year, we get a better sense of what is considered to be the best in the field, so that going forward, we know where the bar is as we seek to make our return the following year.”
The event features short films under 30 minutes in various genres: comedy, drama, documentary and public service announcements. Judges look at the writing, direction, editing and other production criteria in selecting entries for the competition.
“I want to thank the Foundation for helping us defray the cost of this year’s trip,” acknowledges Syrek. The Foundation provided $5,000 funding support to help reduce the out of pocket cost for the students to attend the festival.
Senior Olivia Luna submitted two films that were selected for the festival: one public service announcement titled “Oversharing” produced with fellow seniors Marion Madanguit and Lilly Meehan-Egan, and a short film titled “No New Messages.” Junior Eleanor De Fer’s short film, “Ribbon,” and senior Ben Senior’s short film, “Velveeta,” were also selected. All official selections were screened at the AMC theater in Times Square.
In addition to social gatherings, the festival provides several opportunities where our students network with representatives from media colleges and film schools located all over the country. This makes the three days of movie screenings, panel discussions and technology demos even more valuable.
Prior to the film screenings, a week-long broadcast journalism competition and photography competition present opportunities for more New Trier students to be involved. “This opens up the scope of student involvement beyond Media, Speech & Theater to include students from other departments,” says Syrek.
There is great potential for more students to collaborate, make meaningful content and get the most out of this experience. “The quality of our curriculum and tools help New Trier students to push the envelope as storytellers,” attests Syrek. “Each year, the film festival presents a great opportunity for us to showcase their talent and creativity on the world stage.”
Learn more about the festival at hsfilmfest.com
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New Trier and Perspectives Charter School Partner for Peace
“The solidarity and collaboration between New Trier and Perspectives is showing how young, creative minds from varying backgrounds can connect and work together for a common goal – more peace in Chicago.”
– JJ Hill, Modern and Classical Languages Faculty
New Trier’s Integrated Global Studies School (IGSS) and Perspectives Charter School on Chicago’s south side have formed a “partnership for peace.” Their goal is to build solidarity and discuss ways they could work together to decrease violence and bring more peace to Chicago. Forty-five New Trier students from the IGSS program and 45 Perspectives students have met several times within a school year to get to know each other and to start laying the ground work for a collaborative project.
“This partnership has huge potential to be personally transformational as well as to positively impact the wellbeing of communities and the city as a whole,” says JJ Hill, Modern and Classical Languages Faculty. “What gave us so much hope was seeing that despite different external circumstances, students seemed to see the humanity in each other that makes us so similar on the inside.”
The Foundation provided $1,000 funding support to pay for a facilitator to guide the first of three exchanges between the students from both schools. The facilitator, who has experience working with youth from different communities, helped all of the students get to know each other by creating a safe place to share personal stories. By leveling the field between the students, the facilitator helped students from both schools to engage around issues of race and class, while also helping them see their common humanity.
“It was important to facilitate them getting to know each other before they could do meaningful work together, particularly given the stark differences between the schools in terms of race and socioeconomic background,” points out Lindsay Arado, Social Studies Faculty. “It was essential in finding common ground.”
“We’ve witnessed students becoming vulnerable with each other and sharing personal stories, as well as having insights around peace, what peace means to them, and action they could take individually and collectively to decrease violence,” recalls Hill.
“What was so striking was the commonalities they found between the groups even though they have, in a lot of ways, much different experiences growing up,” says Arado. “The conversations revealed how the experiences of being an adolescent crosses racial boundaries and socioeconomic boundaries. They found a lot in common despite significant differences.”
Students from Perspectives were struck by the internal pain that a lot of New Trier students experience such as depression and anxiety. Our students were struck by the external violence that Perspectives students face. Lack of peace was a common experience but manifested differently.
The partnership began when teachers JJ Hill of New Trier and Lindsey Schwartz of Perspectives attended a conference and came up with the idea to connect their students in a meaningful way. Although their students come from diverse backgrounds, the two educators wanted them to put their minds together to discuss the issues plaguing Chicago and create a peace initiative.
The Peace Summit was hosted and led by the Perspectives students, and co-emceed by students from both schools. Students attended workshops throughout the day where they learned how to express peace through art like spoken word, music and visual arts. Participants discussed ideas and plans to spread peace throughout their communities and beyond.
As teachers from New Trier and Perspectives think of ways to build on the connections formed between their students, they are looking toward collaborations where students can roll up their sleeves, tap into their creativity and work on something tangible that can be used by groups of people or individuals for positive outcomes.
“We want the exchange between our students to be meaningful and for them to be working on something together, says Arado. “We want them to realize that both groups can affect change which is even stronger when they continue to work together.”
“We are committed to maintaining and strengthening our relationship with Perspectives,” states Hill. “Continuing the collaboration between both schools would be a way to bring students together from different parts of the city to build community and work toward uniting a more peaceful Chicago.”
The IGSS is designed to provide a small school setting for students who are passionate about learning and who wish to help direct the path of their own education. The IGSS is driven by individuals whose open mindedness inspires the spirit of inquiry, whose personal involvement is fueled by compassion, and whose convictions lead them to be responsibly active, both locally and globally, in the world outside the walls of New Trier.
To support programs like this, call the Foundation at (847) 784-2346 or go to our giving page.
New Trier Robotics Students Gain Competitive Edge and Lifelong Skills
“Students in the robotics club have the opportunity to hone their skills by doing more sophisticated projects that put what they learn about building, coding, and design thinking to the test.”
– Chip Finck, Applied Arts Faculty
Every year, 18 to 20 New Trier robotics club students have the opportunity to participate in the VEX Robotics Competition, where they design and build a robot to compete against teams from other schools in a game-based engineering challenge. Students get to apply what they learn from their STEM classes while developing lifelong skills in teamwork, leadership and communication. Tournaments are held year-round at the regional, state, and national levels and culminate at the VEX Robotics World Championship in April.
“The club is an extension of the Applied Arts classroom where students get to apply what they learned to a longer and often more complicated challenge,” points out Chip Finck, Technology Education Faculty.
Students in the robotics club compete to qualify for the VEX State Competition each year. To help them prepare, the Foundation provided $2,146.29 funding support for the club to invest in a VEX Competition Field Perimeter Kit through the grants program. Designed to be reusable every year, the kit provides a relatively low-cost, high-durability modular field perimeter for use at a competition tournament.
New Trier robotics club members participate in three events: land based (VEX Robotics), water based using a remote operated vehicle (ROV), and air based drone competitions. The VEX field is primarily used for land robots, but the students are able to take elements from the VEX field and use those elements to help create the drone race course, to improve their reaction time and their control skills for the drone relay race, where New Trier’s varsity team finished as the 2018 State Champion!
“Our team looks forward to hosting the kickoff round of the scholastic drone competition in 2019,” says Finck. “It will be an opportunity to showcase the students’ skill level and passion, thanks to the investment of the Foundation in their education.”
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New Trier Dance Showcases Original Student Work, Fosters Community
“Dance education brings classroom discussion to a higher level. We reap the benefits of these kids learning about this art form and articulating what they see and understand, even if a student won’t pursue dance as a profession.”
– Christopher Rutt, Dance Division Coordinator
Teachers from the New Trier Dance Division light up when asked about how deeply the students and their families get involved in the performances. Dance Division Coordinator Christopher Rutt is a constant witness to the power of the arts to keep kids in school. “Parents have come up to me at a concert and said that what drew their student to this school was Menz Dance,” recalls Rutt. “They found a deep connection to school through dance and it’s what got them to graduate.”
“Passion for the art is evident in these kids,” adds Dance Faculty Johannah Wininsky. “Our advanced students in Dance Lab 2 come back to the studio and work hard at rehearsals even after graduation, not for a grade, but for the love of the art form. The experience makes them feel connected to each other and to the community, and that connection is evident in their performance.”
In Dance Lab 2, the capstone class, advanced dance students have the opportunity to perform their original choreographed works in an iconic Chicago theater. They learn how to produce a professional dance concert by going through the process of renting professional performance space, reviewing and filling out professional rental contracts, creating posters and flyers to publicize their concert, working with a professional lighting designer and collaborating with their peers. For the 2018 concert, the Foundation provided $3,200 funding support to rent the Vittum Theater in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, hire a professional lighting designer, buy costumes and create publicity materials.
“Because this is their original work, they have a visceral connection to the work. They feel it in their bones,” points out Wininsky. “They’re the choreographers and the performers. It’s their vision and there’s nothing else like it in the world.”
The Dance Studio Theater is used for both dance classes and smaller concert dance performances. In 2011, the school funded the initial equipment and materials needed to transform the studio. Side lighting, cyclorama, and a light board enabled Dance Division to provide students with an experience like that of intimate professional venues in the city. Many of our other dance and performing arts classes take advantage of the staging to provide a theatrical experience for in‐class studies, rehearsals and performative assessments. The opportunity came up recently to improve this experience for students. In response, the Foundation provided $5,561 funding support for much needed front lighting that utilizes the existing electric boxes and incorporates a simple truss framework that can be set up and taken down with relative ease.
“I feel that the new lighting effectively frames the space in a way that helps the dance students experience it as a more professional and performative space,” says Rutt. “Creating a visual separation between audience and performer enhances the curriculum by taking away the classroom feel.”
According to Wininsky, improving the quality of the lighting also creates a better viewing experience and presents the opportunity for bringing in new audiences. “I feel that many people don’t know about the magic that happens in our dance studio that’s tucked away inside the lower level of our building,” says Wininsky. “We need to bring it out more and make it visible to the community. Having a larger audience certainly helps our advanced dance students better prepare for their capstone concert. More importantly, it brings more New Trier families together as a stronger arts community.”
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