Providence Day Magazine
FALL 2017 - On the cover
Strings Ensemble students “break out” of conventional means of learning. Middle School Librarian Corley May has been utilizing Breakout EDU games and scenarios for students, faculty and staff as a means to help develop collaboration and critical thinking skills.
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Students Strengthen Collaboration and Critical Thinking Skills Through Immersive Learning Game
Providence Day School often utilizes a variety of innovative and technological means to foster problem-based learning and critical thinking among students.
And lately, it’s been using a simple wooden box.
Inspired by the latest escape room craze, in which willing participants work together to decipher clues to escape a locked room within a certain timeframe, the California-based Breakout EDU company developed a way to bring this enticing model into classrooms.
Wanting to impact teaching at a basic level, making it more problem-based, more interactive and more social, Breakout EDU designed a kit full of nifty devices — locks, invisible-ink pens, black light flashlights and more.
The kit — coupled with a teacher’s imagination — allows countless lessons and scenarios to be crafted in which students must use teamwork, critical thinking and good-old ingenuity to crack the clues and succeed in opening a locked box.
As students go, their natural curiosity demands they find out what’s in the box.
“The box and the locks are pretty much always the same, but everything else changes based on the class, the teacher, the age group and the subject matter,” said Middle School Librarian Corley May, who began implementing Breakout EDU games at PDS last school year.
“I try not to let students know ahead of time what we're doing, because the surprise is half the fun and really sets the tone for the rest of the experience,” said May. “There's usually a story that we're telling, and the students are dropped into the middle of the plot. Beyond that, we use whatever we can think of to tailor the experience to the group.”
May first took Brick Smith’s 7th-grade history class through the breakout challenge shortly after they’d completed a unit on Civil War spies. The students were told they had to “prove their worth as members of Lincoln's spy network” by getting into the box before the contents self-destructed.
“They had to use skills from the unit, recalling dates and famous historical figures, breaking codes and using bits of trivia that Mr. Smith had taught them,” said May.
Since then, the Breakout EDU game has been utilized a variety of ways — such as, in Middle School history, English, math, strings and World Language classes; in Upper School English, Global Leadership, strings and AP U.S. history and AP psychology classes; in faculty and staff professional development sessions; and during a Middle School Harry Potter-themed celebration.
“It's a really fun creative exercise, because the sky is the limit in terms of what you can use to build your puzzles and clues,” said May. “We've incorporated digital elements, props and even virtual reality.”
And when it comes to revealing to a particular group that they’re doing a breakout scenario, “we're always finding new ways to stump the students,” May added.
“The teachers had the act put together pretty well — they convinced us we were doing a research paper on classical composers,” said 11th-grader Joe Kerrigan, a student in Sarah Russell’s Strings Ensemble class. “Suffice it to say, none of us were ecstatic about that.”
May even placed a few musical history textbooks around the library room to help sell the illusion for the strings students as they filed in. When a video of Bands director Dr. Michael Hough interrupted the assignment presentation, explaining how the class was really involved in a breakout scenario with a potential prize as the goal, the students were immediately engaged and intrigued.
It was last spring, when Middle School faculty played a Breakout EDU game as part of professional development, that Russell knew she’d found her new bonding tool for her Middle and Upper School classes.
“So much of what we do in ensemble instruction depends on the way the students interact, work, solve and approach the music as a team,” she said. “It is not about who is a stronger player; it is about creating and producing a solidified, blended, unified, characteristic sound.”
“Many of the skills required of a successful ensemble are also necessary when completing a Breakout box, so it was a natural extension of the environment I hope to create in my classroom and in our strings rehearsals,” she added.
For Russell’s strings students, May incorporated clues from the musical literature they were studying. While each class approached the problem-solving aspects differently — e.g., 6th-graders dove in with tremendous energy while Upper Schoolers were more thoughtful and logical — their overall experiences exceeded Russell’s expectations.
“I think the most interesting part was that there wasn't a ‘right or ‘wrong’ way to solve the box or approach the clues — the locks could be taken off in any order and it really depends on where the students chose to start,” said Russell. “My philosophy of musical instruction sort of emulates that idea — it's not as important that we do things in a strict ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way as it is that we agree upon styles, characters, bow strokes, etc.”
The breakout activity benefited the students by bringing them closer together to solve the problems.
“I learned that, as the cheesy phrase goes, ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’ If everyone works together, then almost anything can be accomplished,” said 8th-grader Charlotte Harvey, one of Russell’s students. “We were successful — after a couple of nail biting moments, we were able to unlock each and every lock.”
“It was a fun experience for the class to form some bonds,” said Joe. “(It) was a great opportunity for us to all get to know each other.”
Upper School Assistant Head Cathy Bard utilized the Breakout game at the start of school for her Advanced Algebra I students, who had to decipher a series of logic puzzles in order to open five locks. Bard’s primary goal was for them to learn the value of collaboration and perseverance.
“They worked in small groups to solve the puzzles and more than one group potentially weighed in on the final answer,” said Bard. “The activity totally accomplished the goal that I had. It was helpful for me to see how each student approached the problems and their peers — I knew very few of them on that first day, so the activity allowed me to watch them in action.”
“We all shifted around the room trying to solve all of the problems,” said 7th-grader Christine Schumer. “When we got stuck, we would move to a different problem.”
Deciphering the clues “makes you use all different parts of your mind to figure things out and really helps your brain get going, especially on the first day of school after a long summer,” said 7th-grader Maiden McLoughlin.
The experience not only helped the class bond but also to have a little fun, said Maiden, “even though it was a tad bit difficult.”
Students find the breakout game a fun alternative to the familiar learning experiences, said May.
“On a deeper level, we're providing experiential learning with opportunities to really use the information they've been digesting,” she said. “We're also providing opportunities for students to work together, listen to each other and fail together. They don't always get all of the locks open, and that's okay.”
May plans to continue building breakout game scenarios for any interested faculty or staff who wish to partner or brainstorm ideas with her. She also has a notebook full of ideas for “games in classes and beyond” garnered at a recent Games for Change Festival in New York, at which attendees learned how games can impact education, healthcare, research, civics and social issues.
“We're planning to set up a station of games for students and teachers to sample here in the library, with a selection curated to connect to what's going on in Middle School classes, either directly or indirectly,” said May.
“There is a lot of possibility for virtual reality games and experiences to have a huge impact on our students' learning, and that's a topic I'm hoping to explore in greater depth this year,” she said.
Breaking Down the Breakout Box
Breakout games teach teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve.
How it works:
Step 1) Following instructions provided in the Breakout challenge, the facilitator sets up the Breakout room: hiding keys, boxes and inserting any required mystery items.
Step 2) The facilitator invites players into the room and introduces the story, explains the rules and answers any questions.
Step 3) Players have a fixed amount of time to solve a series of challenges, riddles and mysteries in order to “break out.” Each game is designed so that players are immersed in the experience and are racing against the clock to break out before time expires.
Step 4) The facilitator reviews how the team did and reveals what they may have missed if they were unable to solve the puzzle mysteries and break out. The team takes a photo with the failure or success sign to share with their friends.
Annual Food Drive Commemorates Beloved Coach While Helping the Community
As they’ve done annually for the last decade, Providence Day Chargers both young and old will soon take to the track for a good cause.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Gil Murdock Turkey Trot, a schoolwide non-perishable food and supplies drive. Held in Overcash Stadium Nov. 14, the event netted approximately 10,200 items for Second Harvest Food bank of Metrolina.
"We more than doubled our best year," noted P.E. and Health Department chair Kristie Oglesby.
In addition to the food donations, she said, "we have been able to honor an amazing man who meant so much to so many people in our community."
That man, Gil Murdock, was a longtime teacher, coach and administrator, who passed away unexpectedly in 2006. Oglesby can still recall that first Turkey Trot in 2007.
“The Murdock family was in attendance and it was very emotional for a lot of our faculty and staff, as well as the alumni who participated,” she recalled. “It felt like the community really came together to support Coach Murdock. The feeling is hard to put into words.”
Oglesby never got to meet Murdock, but feels she has come to know him through the people — colleagues and students — he impacted over the years.
“He was a mentor, colleague and dear friend,” said P.E. and Health teacher Jim Cerbie. “The world would be a better place if more people were like Gil Murdock.”
Before succumbing to a heart attack at age 64, Murdock had a distinguished career at PDS. He was the school's first physical education teacher, joining the faculty in 1971 a year after the school was founded. He built the athletics program and formed and coached the majority of the school's sports teams, including basketball, baseball, tennis, football, cross country, track and golf — a sport he coached his last 12 years at PDS.
Over the years, Murdock's boys' golf teams won three North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state titles, and his girls' cross country team won two titles. In 1997, the PDS baseball field was dedicated in his honor.
“Gil was a role model for us young guys when we first arrived,” recalled Cerbie, who joined PDS in 1987. “He did it all for PDS — P.E. teacher, coach, athletic director,” said Cerbie.
“He improvised for equipment to stay under budget. My favorite example is he used to roll up newspaper and use masking tape to make batons for P.E. class.”
And Murdock exercised every day, recalled Head Athletic Trainer John Erb, who joined PDS in 1991.
“Through his work as the first P.E. teacher, he touched many lives over his years here at Providence Day by teaching the importance of an active lifestyle,” said Erb. “As a cross country coach, he reached out to students who were not playing a sport to get them active on a team and into running.”
But as big as Murdock was into physical fitness, he was equally big on helping the community and individuals.
“One of the main reasons we do the Turkey Trot in his honor was due to his passion for helping others,” noted Cerbie.
It was due to Murdock’s desire to help others that his family and friends established the Gilmer L. Murdock Jr. Endowment Fund in 2007. The fund’s purpose is to ensure all students are able to fully benefit from the PDS experience by covering “extra” expenses such as tutoring, SAT review classes, sports equipment, team camps and more for any students demonstrating financial need.
“He was always truly concerned about others, asking about your family, how everyone was doing,” said Cerbie. “He would ask other faculty members about their children and how they were doing both in and out of school.”
“I always got the feeling that he genuinely cared,” said Erb.
Today it is part of PDS's mission to instill in its students a sense of social responsibility. The goal is to encourage students to engage in activities that teach leadership, principles of service to the community, and personal responsibility.
Fitness and Philanthropy
Typically students have participated in the Turkey Trot during their P.E. and health classes, dropping off their donations before making the rounds on the track and/or joining in group dancing and other activities on the field.
“Our students benefit by learning to give to those who may be struggling and in need of a little help, which in turn teaches empathy,” said Oglesby. “They also get to celebrate with a healthy activity in the process.”
Faculty, staff, parents and alumni participate in the Turkey Trot along wth Murdock's family — his sons, Gil '92 and Robert '95, and especially his widow, Linda, who has attended each year, walking and assisting with donations. Many alumni look forward to talking and reminiscing with her, said Olgesby.
The event is one of the Murdock family's favorite days of the year, said Linda.
"I feel Gil's presence so closely when I'm here at Providence Day for the Turkey Trot," said said in 2015. "I know he would be smiling and encouraging and just so pleased for what this means, for trying to combat hunger in Charlotte.”
The efforts have grown steadily over the decade, since the first Turkey Trot netted 1,800 food items. Last year saw the highest number collected yet — 4,849.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary, and to emphasize the social responsibility aspect, collection bins were placed around campus to encourage donations prior to the event, especially from older students who didn't have P.E. classes the day of the trot. The theme was "10 Years, 10 items," with the goal of each person contributing 10 donated items.
It worked. With this year's record collection, the total food items collected at the Turkey Trot over the last 10 years is approximately 41,750.
Linda Murdock described the record-breaking event as "absolutely amazing."
"So much for so many in need. My heart is overflowing with love and gratitude to you all," she added. And "Gil is tipping his hat to you as I am."
Donations went to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, "so a lot of people in our community benefit from the donations during the holiday season,” said Oglesby.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Gil is thrilled and smiling down on us while we continue his interest in community service,” said Cerbie.
Turkey Trot By the Numbers
2008: 1800 food items
2009: 2,375 food items
2010: 2,333 food items
2011: 5,670 food items (event combined with a National Junior Honor Society drive)
2012: 3,129 food items
2013: 3,348 food items
2014: 4,590 food items
2015: 3,400 food items
2016: 4,849 food items
2017: 10,200 food items
Charger Club Helps Athletics and Campus to Grow
Whenever student-athletes, coaches and fans converge for Chargers home games, you see a particular group among them — staffing the admissions gate, working the concessions stand, manning the grill.
There is much more the Charger Club does behind the scenes in its mission to support Charger athletics through volunteerism and fundraising. Formed in the 1970s as a football booster club, the Charger Club has evolved over the years to keep pace with the growth and changes at the school.
“A club that was originally founded by a small group of parents to support the football team has now become a community-wide parent organization,” said 2017-18 president Lisa Sicard. “Last year, we had more than 700 members supporting more than 65 sports teams.”
“The Charger Club is an integral extension of our Athletics department,” said Athletics Director Nancy Beatty. “It is an amazing club whose generosity impacts so many sports, teams and coaches.”
They do so by “providing volunteers to staff events and by raising money to purchase items that are not included in the coaches’ annual budgets,” said Sicard, “We also make significant contributions to larger capital campaigns that benefit the school, such as construction of the Mosack Athletic Center, the renovation of Overcash Stadium and the construction of the Field House.”
Jay and Amy Wilson got involved in 2015 when their son Charlie, now in 8th grade, started playing football — he signed up to be part of the football chain crew and she assisted with game concessions.
“My husband and I felt it was important to support all aspects of the school, including athletics,” said Amy Wilson. “It seemed like a small amount of volunteer time asked of parents, so I was more than happy to do it.”
She admitted to being a bit nervous about working the concessions stand the first time, but found it “incredibly organized” and a lot of fun.
“I loved greeting PD students and their families during the game,” she said.
“Volunteers are the Charger Club's most valuable asset,” said Joceylyn Zeulkhe, who serves as Concessions VP along with Jill Asher.
Volunteerism takes many forms, said Sicard. Club members serve as team parents who act as liaisons between coaches and parents; create spirited and festive environments at home games; promote events and share athletic successes on social media; plan and staff the annual Charger Club Golf Classic in the fall; and organize appreciation events to recognize coaches, faculty and staff.
“We have more than 110 coaches in grades 7 to 12, and every one of them receives an end-of-the-year gift and celebration party sponsored by the Charger Club,” said Beatty.
“Conservatively,” said Sicard, “I would say we had more than 500 parents donate more than 1,000 volunteer hours last year at more than 400 events.”
Their fundraising comes from four main sources: gate revenue, concession revenue, membership dues and the golf tournament, the first of which was held in 2014.
“Over the last decade, the Charger Club has given $1.5 million back to our athletics program and school,” said Beatty.
Examples include campus athletic facilities adorned with items gifted from the Charger Club, including banners hanging in the Mosack Athletic Center; protective netting around the fields; backstops and scoreboards; gymnastic mats for cheer and dance teams; equipment in the Wellness Center, wrestling gym and weight room; bleachers and even water fountains.
“The projects that the Charger Club funds directly impact all of the students at Providence Day, not only the athletes,” noted Sicard. “While more than 75 percent of students in grades 7-12 participate in at least one sport, students in all the divisions use the facilities during their P.E. classes that we have helped build.”
The way to help the Charger Club to grow and continue its success in support Athletics is for more parents to get involved.
“Purchasing a membership or working a shift at the gates or in the concession stands are the best ways parents can help us,” said Zeulkhe. “These volunteer opportunities are a great way to meet new people within the Providence Day community.”
“This club truly makes a difference in our community and without the involvement of our families, it would not be a success,” said Beatty.
How to Support the Charger Club
President Lisa Sicard suggests the following ways parents can support the Charger Club.
1) Join the Charger Club. They have two levels of membership: Regular ($65) and Super Charger ($175). Both levels receive car magnets and free admission to all home games (except for tournaments). Super Chargers also receive a special gift and are invited to a tailgate to thank them for their support.
2) Volunteer to work a shift in the concession stand or at the gate for a home game. Parents of student-athletes are expected to work one shift in the concession stand or at the gate for each season their child plays a sport.
3) Be a team parent and get to know other parents on your team as well as the coaches.
4) Participate in or become a sponsor for the annual golf tournament.
Ian Flynn '01 Draws Upon His Love of Comics to Influence Innovation
Like the characters in his favorite comic books, Ian Flynn ’01is hoping to make a difference in the world — by encouraging new generations of scientists.
As vice president and one of the co-founders of I&T Publishing Company, Flynn is helping to create “AcademyX Space Crew,” an online action-adventure comic book series that presents academic quests tailored to each reader.
Geared toward students in 4th to 8th grades, the comic allows readers to take on the roll of Star Agent, who — along with a crew of colorful characters — promotes peace and justice in the galaxy through personalized, 30-page stories that incorporate various STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) themes and concepts that students might encounter in school.
“The world is inexorably heading toward a market and society driven by science, technology, engineering and math,” said Flynn. “We want the kids of today to find those topics interesting so they actively pursue them at home and in school.”
He also hopes to encourage more girls into STEM fields, because “they’re woefully underrepresented right now.”
Encouraging STEM interest in students is fitting for a former student who once found aspects of it daunting.
"I have always struggled with math," admitted Flynn. I will always remember Mrs. (Pam) Wilson and Mr. (Matthew) Zippin at Providence Day especially fondly for helping me through my math courses. They made me feel mathematics was accessible."
The “AcademyX” concept was the brainchild of Tariq Koosa, president of I&T, which takes its initials from both Flynn’s and his first names.
With a teaching career in children’s education and, like Flynn, a deep love of comic books, Koosa wanted to blend his two passions — a fun and unique comic aimed at young readers that promoted STEM as well as equality.
“Comics are inherently cool,” said Flynn, “and they’re a nice stepping stone for young readers graduating from picture books to full prose.” The appeal of comics is the way the art and dialogue work together to convey a story, said Flynn.
“A well-written, well-drawn comic can give you a sense of splendor, movement, joy or terror that the written word alone cannot,” he said. “At the very least it does so in a different way.”
After graduating from UNC-Greensboro in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in English, Flynn quickly got his first professional gig working for one of his favorite childhood titles — Archie Comics’ “Sonic the Hedgehog,” a popular comic book based on Sega’s videogame franchise. He was named lead writer in March 2005.
In 2008 Flynn married Aleah Baker, a fellow writer and colorist at Archie Comics. He has kept busy over the years with his podcast and gaming channel, and writing for television, videogames and of course comics, including popular titles such as “Mega Man” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He credits his writing influences to a diverse group of authors including Shakespeare, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Kirkman and Dr. Seuss.
“I’m working on producing some original works while also nailing down new contracts,” said Flynn.
At I&T, they’re hoping to launch an intricate website housing the customizable “AcademyX” comic book in summer 2018. Once operational, customers will be able to create their main characters and become the heroes of their personalized series.
“We’re dreaming big,” said Flynn. “Whatever we do, however we branch out in multimedia, we want it to be in a way that supports teachers and inspires kids to be their best.”
Learn more about “AcademyX” at www.AcademXSC.com.
Learn more about Flynn at www.BumbleKing.com.
PD Connect is "One-Stop Shop" for All-things Alumni
Providence Day alumni now have more resources at their fingertips.
The Alumni Association launched a new website in July to provide more opportunities for the school’s 3,500-plus alumni to network and engage with one another and the school.
“PD Connect is our new alumni-only platform, a powerful tool to keep alumni informed about Providence Day and to bring them together no matter where they are in the world,” said Steve Bondurant ’98, Alumni Relations director. “It's literally a one-stop shop for everything alumni-related.”
Among the features available are an alumni directory and map; a career center featuring internships and mentorships in various fields; volunteer opportunities, including becoming or finding a career mentor; and a calendar of alumni-related events.
“All alumni events are posted on PD Connect. You can see the details of the event, register for the event and also see what other alums are attending,” said Bondurant.
“PD Connect is the only online network that is exclusive to members of the Providence Day community,” said Colby Anderson ’07, Board of Alumni president. “This allows our alumni to connect professionally and socially in a secure fashion.”
In conceptualizing PD Connect, the Alumni Association surveyed a wide range of alumni to tailor the platform’s functionality around what was most requested and needed. Members of the Board of Alumni and its Communications Committee, along with staff members, tested PD Connect during its beta phase to fine tune the functionality.
“After the board learned about and explored the tool, we knew this would be an asset to our alumni,” said Anderson.
The response thus far from alumni has been outstanding, according to Bondurant.
“We have more than 550 alums from all decades already signed up and that number continues to grow every day,” he said.
Bondurant has received numerous reports of alumni reconnecting with former classmates, connecting with fellow alumni when moving to new cities and career networking.
“We also are seeing more registrations for events and that leads to more alumni coming together,” he added.
PD Connect’s effectiveness and long-term success relies on alumni participation.
“The tool becomes more powerful as more alumni join,” said Anderson.
As such, both he and Bondurant would like to see all alumni utilizing the platform and helping it to grow, both in scope and in functionality.
“We have more than 3,500 alumni worldwide and PD Connect can bring all of them together with the click of a button,” he said. “PD Connect is all about opportunity, and those opportunities apply to all alumni no matter when they graduated.”
It’s all part of PDS’s commitment to establishing and maintaining relationships with alumni and to help them stay connected with the school. Other initiatives include the annual Alumni Roadshows, the PD NetWORK and the establishment of alumni chapters around the country.
Magnifying PD Connect
PD Connect features an alumni directory, an alumni “career center,” an events calendar, social media feeds, news and announcements and more. Alumni can register at alumni.providenceday.org.