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Read the latest thoughts and musings from our Head of School, Janet Durgin. Each week, she takes a picture of life on campus, and shares insights into the current state of affairs. Occasionally, Assistant Head of School Ellie Dwight or Dean of Student Life Jason Gregory weigh in with thoughts and perspectives.

This Week's View From Here

List of 1 news stories.

  • A Lasting Legacy

    Janet Durgin, Head of School
    Almost 20 years ago, Sam’ Horton's wife Martha saw an article in the Press Democrat about a new high school that would open the following year in Santa Rosa. Martha showed it to Sam, who at the time was commuting from their home in Forestville to University High School in the city and she said, “Sam, this is the school for you.” Sam knew it was a good idea to listen to Martha, as she was a woman of strong will and good common sense. 

    So, because of Martha, this blue-eyed wizard was sitting across from me in the little corporate office that had been lent to us in the Airport Business Park. It was one of many early signs that magic, serendipity, and good fortune would shine on our school. I couldn’t believe that this amazing educator, who had been a founding teacher at UHS, with expertise in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, and California Natural History, was willing to leave his prestigious, stable job for something uncertain. Over the course of the next year, Sam joined Ellie, Jamie, Hillary, and me for a series of meetings in Hillary’s San Francisco apartment and Ellie’s barn to begin to dream our school into being.

    The party we had last weekend for Sam made his retirement a little more real than I have allowed it to be in my mind to date. But the time has come to recognize Sam’s almost half century of teaching, during which he has reached generations of students (literally -- several of the children of Sam’s first students at UHS showed up as students at Sonoma Academy, to both their parents’ and Sam’s surprise and delight). 

    Back at the barn in the year before we opened, Sam jumped right into creating our interdisciplinary curriculum. Well before STEM became “a thing,” Sam had a vision of how a high school program could inspire reverence and care for our planet by teaching students to see the relationships and interdependence of biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena--the great "web of life,” all of which, by the way, is abundantly displayed in Sam’s classroom: snakes, turtles, fish, and fish eggs, and at the other end of the life cycle, taxidermy, lovingly preserved by Sam himself.

    Sam founded our Vision Quest program, where the natural world becomes a mirror for the inner, helping our seniors see who they are in ways that allow them to go forth with greater direction and clarity.

    When the school moved from our first home, in the Luther Burbank Center, to the new campus at Taylor Mountain, Sam turned towards the mountain and made it into his textbook and syllabus, cajoling scores of sleepy teens out of their seats and onto the mountain, amongst the flora and fauna.
     
    Earlier this year, Humanities teacher Colin McNamara was unexpectedly asked to teach a science class at Kawana Elementary, one of our neighborhood partner schools. He sent an email, asking if Sam just might have a microscope and maybe a couple of animal or plant slides. Sam replied, “the bacteria are not so interesting visually, but I have both microscopic and dissection scopes of plants, animals, and fungi. I will be glad to set up a 'to go' kit. How many are needed?”

    Right up to the end, Sam keeps showing up with this same kind of “Samlam-ness.” You won’t be surprised to hear that he was one of the first to sign up to bring food to his retirement party. When we wrote back and told him he wasn't supposed to bring food to his own party, he responded as follows: “I wish to honor all of those incredible educators and friends I have been inspired by and have worked with from one to 18 years. I just don't want to receive without giving back (my world view). Happy to be a contributor to a community, a shared potluck, and a celebration of what we share in our collective histories...signed, SamIam.”

    It's hard to imagine walking across campus and not meeting Sam's twinkly eyes, believing that he sees me, and that no matter what kind of day he has had, he will have time for me. I know am not alone feeling this way. The school’s heartbeat is synchronized with Sam's great heart, and we will have to strengthen ourselves very deliberately to manage without him. He reminds us why we’re here: love. And this we must not forget.

    I’d like to finish with words from one of our students who did a profile of Sam in the school paper: “Every day, this community can count on Sam to be present with a great big smile and a gleam in his eyes. He is one of the people who has shaped SA into what it is today, and for that, Sonoma Academy is incredibly grateful.”

    We are honoring Sam in a simple way that I hope will serve as some measure of our gratitude. Every year, the school applies almost $1 million in financial aid to approximately 40 STEM scholars. From now on, this will be known as the Horton Stem Scholarship Fund and they will be the Horton STEM Scholars. Thank you, Sam.
     
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List of 2 news stories.

  • The View From Convocation

    This year, we're going to approach this column a little differently. If there's one thing we value at Sonoma Academy, it's being open to others' points of view. With that in mind, we've decided to include "views" from many members of our school community in our bi-weekly blog. You'll hear from teachers, students, staff members (and, yes, occasionally from me!) about what is going on at school: projects, traditions, seasonal events, educuational issues. These many perspectives will give us all a whole new "view" this year. 

    Each summer, as I wonder what I will say to you as we kick off the school year, I am fully aware that no one will remember much of anything I say past lunch….I know I can't compete with the excitement of the day, and yet I persist. I persist in saying a few words with the almost superstitious hope that they have the the tiniest “butterfly effect” on you and on the course of this school year. The “butterfly effect” is the notion that the fluttering of one butterfly’s wings can put a force into motion that has the potential to become something far greater, though we may never know exactly what or where.

    Each year, over the summer, in my readings and travels, I look for inspiration, for the slight flutter of wings that will set me into motion as I prepare to launch a new school year. One of the books I was most inspired by this summer was Educated by Tara Westover, her memoir of growing up the youngest of seven children in a survivalist family in rural Idaho. The family eschews formal education and though Tara’s mother teaches her to read using the Bible and the Book of Mormon, any further instruction is deemed unnecessary and even suspect. Tara decides to teach herself math and science well enough to attempt the ACT which she passes after a few tries. She manages, with no support if any kind, to matriculate at Brigham Young University and eventually will earn a doctoral degree at Cambridge University in England. What Tara must overcome and sacrifice along this journey, as well as the quality of her prose, takes your breath away.

    Here’s a quote that resonated with me:

    “Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me… and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create.

    This self-creation is exactly what I wish for you this year and it speaks to the heart of our philosophy. We believe that education is about much more than imparting facts and skills; education is the process of finding your own truth, learning to articulate that truth, and learning to respectfully engage with the varied truths and experiences of others. Our goal for each of you is that by the time you leave here you will have the tools to construct your own mind and to create a life of truth. Your teachers will offer you clues and you will know when you see it in others, during community meeting and in classes, through senior speeches, discussions, and performances. But ultimately, it is up to you to find your truth. So watch for it. Catch it. Shape it and treasure it.

    Speaking of a single butterfly, did you know that a swarm of them is also known as a kaleidoscope? We are that kaleidoscope, Sonoma Academy. So many facets! So many beautiful combinations! As the year twists and turns and the colored bits shift and slide and fall, you will put into motion powerful forces that will shape your destiny and ultimately, I believe, that of the world. None of us can know at this moment, of all the things we will do this year both great and small, which will put into motion a force that transforms our life or that of someone else.

    There’s another quote from Westover’s book that springs to mind: “First, find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.” The idea for a club you want to start? The new person you will dare to sit with at lunch. The exploratory you try. The books you might read. Any of these actions could change your life. There are endless possibilities and we don’t know which ones will turn out to have the most momentous effects.

    You’ve already taken the first step, the first twist of the kaleidoscope, the first flap of those little butterfly wings. You chose Sonoma Academy. You chose this community. You have disturbed the air and put a force into motion, and whatever that force may be, I can guarantee you that by the end of this year you will be different.
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  • The View From Here: What to Wear... to Big Night Out

    by Janet Durgin, Head of School

    It’s no secret that at Sonoma Academy, we love to dress up. From the Halloween parade around the gym to co-block lipsynch competitions to role-playing Humanities exams, many occasions at SA call for creative costuming. But it’s not only the students who enjoy dressing up; from time to time, our staffulty and parents like to try on some unusual clothes (and maybe some unusual personas, as well).

    SA’s biggest dress-up event of the year doesn’t occur during school hours; it’s Big Night Out, our annual fundraiser. This not-to-be-missed evening always has a unique theme, often inviting guests to try out some outlandish fashion for the evening.

    This past Wednesday, the new Broadcast Studio was transformed into a fashion shoot set. Using props from the garden shed, loaned frocks from Hot Couture Vintage in Santa Rosa, and a slew of fabulous accessories purloined from the theater department, our Marketing & Communications Interns photographed and filmed students, parents, and staffulty members—and yes, yours truly—modeling a variety of different looks to provide inspiration for BNO attendees. The photo is of Nina von Raesfeld '19 photographing her mother, Kathleen, as she models one of the many outfits designed to inspire you. SAPA volunteers and fashion-focused students assisted with styling and makeup, and we even had a surprise appearance from a very well-behaved and photogenic chicken!

    This year’s Big Night Out theme, The Secret Garden, lends itself to many different interpretations. From Victorian Garden Party to Venus Flytrap Femme Fatale to American Gothic to Compost Heap Chic, anything plant-inspired goes. Let nature be your guide, and you’ll nail the dress code.

    Of course, creative costumes and stunning decorations make Big Night Out a lot of fun, but we don’t just gather for a costume party. The funds raised at BNO allow us to provide financial aid, invest in sustainability features, put on incredible performing arts productions, and hire and retain incredible faculty, among many other things. This night of revelry is actually one of the most important events of our year, and the generosity demonstrated by our community at BNO is critically important to our growth and success as an institution.

    Keep a lookout for the “What to Wear to BNO” video, coming soon… and in the meantime, raid your closets and your potting sheds to pull together a home-grown outfit, or start shopping for some garden-glam garb. It isn’t your outfit that matters, it’s your support of our school and our future.
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Sonoma Academy is...

The only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On its beautiful 34-acre campus nestled at the base of picturesque Taylor Mountain in South Santa Rosa, Sonoma Academy students are able to explore their interests and passions in a challenging environment that prepares them for college and life beyond.