Inside King's-Edgehill School

Joe Seagram, Headmaster

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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter – Week 6

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Oct 15, 2021 3:01:37 PM


Dear KES Family:

Dr. Stan Kutcher’s official biography on the Senate of Canada website describes him as “a leading psychiatrist and professor who has helped young people successfully manage major mental illnesses. His appointment to the Senate allows him to put his decades of medical, academic and policy expertise at the service of all Canadians.” Invited to the School to speak with our Canadian History and Politics students about Canada’s parliamentary system and the role of the Senate, Dr. Kutcher delivered an informative and enthusiastic address.

What really fascinated me was his quick description about the mental health guide he has recently created for Canada’s public servants in Ottawa. Although it was a quick comment about something he has been responsible for, I wanted to know more. There cannot be many jobs more injurious to one’s mental health than politics. One’s work/life balance would be impossibly skewed, every action and decision would be constantly criticized, and the pressure to make everything instantly better would create tremendous distress. When Nova Scotia’s former Premier stepped away from politics, he expressed the simple sentiment that he was “tired of being blamed for everything.”

Being in politics is a choice. Being a teenager is not. Afterwards, while walking with Grade 10 student Danica Scully ‘22 to Dr. Kutcher’s car, I asked him what advice he would have for today’s students who deal with the relentless pressure of criticism and society’s preoccupation with physical perfection. It was not a simple question and he stopped walking to compose his answer.

His advice to Danica and her schoolmates was in two parts. First of all, he said, “pay attention to where the criticism is coming from.” The source of negativity is important. If it is from someone you know and respect it may be worth paying attention to. Otherwise, you must learn to ignore it and not let it affect you. We all want to be liked, he said, but social media has created an addiction to ‘likes’.  We have to be okay with people not ‘liking’ us. As I listened to Dr. Kutcher I remembered what my son Kyle wrote to me recently: “Haters gonna hate”.  Developing the skill to not let negativity affect us is more important to this young generation than it was when Dr. Kutcher and I were growing up.

His second piece of advice was related to social media itself: “Teenagers must learn to take control of social media, and not let it control them.” This includes turning it off, setting strict filters, and being comfortable blocking would-be friends and followers. The developers of social media prey on the addictive nature of the teenage brain and develop software that creates FOMO (a fear of missing out). Dr. Kutcher was clear that teens need to understand that they are being manipulated and to take control.

As I listened to him, I could hear his vast experience with youth coming to the surface. I was also thinking how important this mental health advice must be for our country’s leaders to heed.

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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter – Week 5

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Oct 8, 2021 5:38:44 PM

Dear KES Family:

Surfing, making sushi, going to a movie theatre, apple picking, and visiting our mascot Dylan at his farm, are but some of the available activities this Thanksgiving for our students. KES staff member Paul Baumann is performing at the Wayfarer’s Ale Society, and a large group of runners is heading to Wolfville for the Valley Harvest Marathon and the 10-kilometre run. Looking ahead to this weekend, I cannot help but be grateful for all we are able to do here on campus and within Nova Scotia.

A year and a half ago, the pandemic hit us by surprise, descending upon us faster than we could fathom. One day we were reading jokes about the worldwide toilet paper shortage, and the next we were all locked down with many travellers scrambling to make it home before international borders closed. However, as our Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Strang has said, “The pandemic is not done with us yet.” The surprise now is how slow the pandemic is to leave. If a second wave was unthinkable last year in autumn (had the global lockdown and all our hard work been for nothing?), this fourth wave was beyond comprehension for most of us. My heart goes out to all who continue to struggle with the harsh realities of COVID-19.

The thing is, despite COVID…for us this has been a magical start to the school year. The students are focused and engaged. Our teams are winning, the School musical promises to be spectacular, our first report cards are excellent, and we are making arrangements to host a world debating tournament in Halifax in the new year. The spirit on the sidelines for basketball and soccer matches has been nothing short of phenomenal. Two years ago, we raised a record $17,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation with our annual run. This year we have raised over $42,000! Last year we opened the School with 327 students. This year we have 383 of the most wonderful young men and women you would ever have the pleasure of meeting. A new member of faculty penned a Thanksgiving message to me this morning: “I have been fortunate to work in three wonderful schools prior to joining KES, but this community is the warmest and most supportive that I have ever had the pleasure of working for.”

Last week I received an email from a passenger returning on the same flight as our girls basketball team: “We flew on a Flair flight from Montreal to Halifax, on Sunday night. The girls basketball team was sitting behind us, and I just wanted to write you and let you know that their behaviour was excellent, during the flight as well as before and after.”

This Thanksgiving, perhaps more than ever before, I realize just how much we must be grateful for.

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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter – Week 4

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Oct 1, 2021 6:16:11 PM

Dear KES Family:

Canadians have a reputation for being friendly, kind, and generous. We are teased for saying “eh”, wearing “toques” in winter, and apologizing for frivolous things. Generations of Canadians have been taught that we are a “cultural mosaic”, which means that we are made up of a multitude of ethnic groups living together. Learning the truth about our country’s treatment of Indigenous people has not only wounded our hearts and national reputation but affected the way we see ourselves as well. 

This Wednesday I was hiking up Mount Moses with a group of students and ended up chatting with a wonderful girl from Germany, Patricia Gerlach ‘23. Our conversation swung to the morning’s Truth and Reconciliation presentations. At one point, I mentioned how difficult it was for Canadians to learn about the residential schools for aboriginal children and what happened at them. Patricia was very sympathetic. She knew what I was feeling and exclaimed, “I think every nation has its dark history. Being from Germany I know what this feels like.”

What followed was a meaningful discussion on Reverend Curry’s assertion that morning about how one cannot confess sins for someone else, even though we feel the effects of their misdeeds. Patricia was clear that we have an obligation to ensure that bad things from the past are not repeated.

I would like to think that this week’s reflections on Truth and Reconciliation have provided all Canadians the opportunity to improve. I also hope that the sadness we have been feeling does not become yet another burden that generations of Canadian youth must shoulder. When the time comes to raise our flags again, I trust that we can do so proudly.

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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter – Week 3

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 24, 2021 5:29:52 PM

Dear KES Family:

The yearbook for last year has just arrived. Once again, editor and librarian extraordinaire Marilyn Curry and her yearbook team have done a marvelous job. The graduation section is particularly interesting, not just because of the candid baby photos next to each grad’s formal portraits, but because of what is written. Class of 2021 graduate Will Zhao wrote: “Just like the Ship of Theseus Paradox, when everything around you changes, would you still be yourself? If you want to know the answer, please go to Room 306 in the Senior building and have a wonderful, splendid, fabulous, extraordinary discussion with Mr. DeCoste.”

I love this for several reasons. Firstly, like Will, I enjoy my conversations with Mr. DeCoste immensely. I am thrilled that students enjoy deep conversations about life with their teachers. Secondly, Will’s insight into his changing environment and self as he enters university is profound. In real terms, he has flipped the paradox around because presumably Will is not changing, just his surroundings. Theseus’ ship was preserved to the extent that so little of the original ship remained the question arose about whether it was still Theseus’ ship. The ancient historian Plutarch describes the debate in his writings. Millenia later, philosopher Thomas Hobbes added to the debate asking if all the original discarded planks and rigging were used to construct a second ship, wouldn’t it have a better claim as Theseus’ ship?

Which brings me to our graduates. Are they the same person they were when they entered the School? Physically, the answer is no. Like the boards on Theseus’ ship our cells are being constantly replaced. For most of us it takes about 7 years for our body to completely replicate itself. Quite literally, I am not the same person I was back in 2014. Physically, I am a facsimile. A clone. But am I me?

Because teenagers are growing so quickly, creating and replacing cells constantly, this process takes less time for them. Depending upon when they arrived at KES, they are quite literally not the same people when they graduate. But, as Will asks of his classmates, “would you still be yourself?”

It seems to me a school whose mission is to change its students is doomed for endless conflict. However, a school that sets out to support students in the discovery of their best and truest selves has a noble mission. No doubt this journey of discovery will have its challenges, its minotaurs and labyrinths, but that is what makes growing up such a heroic endeavour.  

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter, Campus Life, bemore

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter – Week 2 (2021-22)

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 17, 2021 6:14:56 PM

Dear KES Family:

After what seems like years, it is “game day”! Baseball is playing a tournament in Ottawa. Girls’ hockey is in PEI. Girls’ basketball is in Antigonish playing StFX! Boys’ and girls’ soccer are playing a tournament on campus, and our boys’ hockey team is hosting a tournament. Wow! This afternoon we will have our first “noise day” for the soccer teams who are playing at our Tanna Athletic Facilities.

I am excited not just for the players but for our School. How long have we been waiting to be able to have a day like this? For a teenager, a year is a decade. Any longer is forever.

As I greeted the students arriving on campus this morning, I could hardly contain myself. Seeing Gabby Shaw drive up with her sister Nataliya, I remembered that she is in Grade 9 and would be playing St. FX tonight. I don’t know who is more excited or nervous about her playing in this game, Gabby or me, but in my enthusiasm I greeted her and then asked, “Did you eat your Wheaties this morning?”

I received a blank look.

Wheaties?

Am I really that old?

Throughout the 20th century, Wheaties was “The Breakfast of Champions”. Long associated with sports and high performance, Wheaties was what you ate for breakfast if you wanted to win. To be on the cover of a Wheaties box was like being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Baseball legend Lou Gehrig was featured as far back as 1934 (long before I was born by the way…).  Jesse Owens was on it in 1936. Elinor Smith in 1934. Michael Jordan was on the cover 18 times! 

Ironically, I never ate Wheaties. We were an oatmeal family. Boxed cereals were expensive. However, the concept of eating for success in sport, and specifically having a good breakfast, has been a huge part of my life. I always figured that eating your Wheaties was a metaphor, not a meal.

Now that Gabby has reminded me that we are in the 21st Century, my choice of metaphors will need to change. I am at a loss as to what though. Hmm…

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter – Week 1 (2021-22)

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 11, 2021 12:01:03 PM

Dear KES Family:

In Chapel this morning, Reverend Curry’s message about the function of religion at KES was brilliant. He was in fine form, full of energy and passion as he described how we must take delight in differences rather than try and blend everything together into a kind of “mush”. As frequently happens, Reverend Curry says something which sparks my brain into thinking about something else. His comments this morning made me think about the plasticene I used to play with as a boy.

Much like Play-Doh, plasticene is a multi-colored modelling putty that children play with. The colours are not as bright and it doesn’t smell as nice, but it is great fun, nonetheless.  Like Play-Doh, however, there is always a challenge separating the colours after one has finished one’s creation. Little bits of yellow hair will stick to the red hat, the green buttons will leave traces on the blue shirt. One day I was so frustrated that I simply mushed together all the different colours I had used on my multi-coloured stegosaurus. The result was gruesome. Instead of inventing a cool new colour, I had a blob of ugly, brownish-grey “mush”.

We are not perfect at KES, but I do love how we take delight in our differences. It is paradoxical to think that a school which has a strict dress code and takes pride in its uniforms and standards of grooming and behaviour, creates an environment where students can be celebrated for who they are and where they are from. Wandering around campus after class is a joy. There are students dancing and riding bicycles, there are students playing soccer and tennis and volleyball, and swimmers running with the cross-country team. Meanwhile, all our baseball and hockey players are doing their thing off campus. (Did I forget anybody?) Meanwhile, auditions start today for the play and our clubs sign up is on Monday.

Today I had lunch with Grade 10 student Tim Bednara. He has just arrived with his brother Ben from Germany.  He is keen to play soccer (“football”) which he has not been able to play in quite some time. What a delightful thing it is, especially considering the times in which we live, that a young man can be at home in Germany one day and the next day running around the soccer pitch with new friends and teammates from a parade of nations.

The School has been empty for almost four months. It is a joy to have it full once again.

Click here for all of this week's photos.

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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 37

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jun 11, 2021 5:03:56 PM

Dear KES Family:

I can hardly wait for tomorrow. At noon on Saturday, our Closing Day Ceremony movie will be released. A “Faucher” production, it promises to be well crafted and sprinkled with a unique mix of formality and humour. For the first time I have no idea what our Valedictorians are going to say. Typically, I would read their speeches well beforehand but as   Sarah and Righo  are off campus and have filmed their speeches separately, their parting words are joys to be revealed.
 
 
Additionally, many of our endowed scholarships will be presented by family members who have recorded their part of the ceremony. These promise to be lovely and meaningful additions. That the main recording takes place in Convocation Hall makes the whole production extra special.
 
The date has been set for our in-person   Graduation Ceremony, as we look forward to welcoming the Class of 2021 back to campus on   August 20th  for what should be a day long celebration of their educational journey.  I look forward to that happy day and excited “send-off” just a few weeks before they start their university careers. (Oh…and   Righo and Sarah  will have another Valedictory to give!) Students on our high-performance teams will soon be returning to campus for training, and summer courses in Physics and Calculus are about to begin.  Hooray!
 
Most of all, I look forward to a return to “normal” next year. Staff have already received their first (and in some cases, second) vaccination, and as children 12 and over in Nova Scotia are eligible to be vaccinated, many of our students have already been jabbed. I am also thrilled that we have the ability to vaccinate students onsite next year. Most of all, I was reassured when Minister Hadju announced yesterday that in the near future, fully vaccinated travellers to Canada will not have to isolate for two weeks when they arrive. This is great news for our international students who have access to vaccine at home. Those who don’t, we will look after when they arrive. As the school year gets underway, Nova Scotia should be in Phase Five of its opening plan and all public health restrictions will be optional.
 
The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter.  What a wonderful feeling to start the summer with!
 
It has been a memorable and remarkable school year. My heart bursts with gratitude for everyone’s hard work. The students were exceptional, the staff happy and professional, and the School’s population of wildlife, of foxes and deer, crows and ravens, of turtles and raccoons, remains as healthy as ever.
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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 36

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jun 4, 2021 5:31:22 PM

Dear KES Family:

There is something very exciting about seeing a brilliant idea.  The creators of last evening’s Arts Gala, Toven MacLean, Jeff Smith, Sandy Stewart, Sven Dietrich, Karlee Sinclair, Stephanie Cummings, and Jonathan Cheverie had several but this one struck me as genius: rather than have the ceremony dominated by adults, why not hand it over to our most creative students and alumni. As a result, our wonderful host Victoria Dubois, invited alumni from the Class of 2020 to present the special awards. It was fabulous seeing current students and their performances recognized by our Arts superheroes of yesteryear on screen.  Hearing them speak about their experiences at KES before making the presentation to their friends and former schoolmates was magnificent. My heart leapt when Class of 2020 graduates Mya Snarr, Ella Brown, Ohemaa Ofori, Katie Goddard, Max Cole, Eva Redmond, and Annalise Emery appeared on screen. Better than at any Academy Awards ceremony, the presenters were eloquent, gracious, and hugely enthusiastic. Be it in dance, drama, music, voice, visual art, the media arts…it was obvious that the Arts programme at KES occupied a special place in their hearts and memories.
 
I also realized how much these young graduates hold a place in our hearts.
 
Mya Snarr described how fondly she remembers Ms. Sandy Stewart’s hello every time she entered the Art room. I love this. Being greeted warmly each day says so much about the connection between teacher and student, the connection between space and creativity, and the joy of feeling welcome and safe. I know that Sandy greets everyone warmly. She has made her studio a cozy and comfortable oasis separate from the high energy hubbub of the main campus. For Mya, a boarding student for six years, I am sure the Art Studio was a place not only to create but to re-create.
 
How we greet people is important. Saying hello is such a simple thing but done well it has a lasting impact. It may have seemed like a simple bit of fun for Mr. Faucher, Mr. Walsh, and Mr. Chandler to put together their own award ceremony for the morning screening, but that daily ritual for all students and staff arriving on campus welcomed everyone and never failed to put a smile on our faces. And how much fun it is to recognize Sean Hurley’s chivalry, Natalia’s daily jokes, or Mr. Trace’s perfect hair!
 
I hope we don’t have to do morning screening next year, but somehow we have to ensure that every student carries memories with them of being welcomed warmly every time they came on campus, entered a class, stepped into the theatre for rehearsal, or joined their team for practice.
 
The Arts Gala can be found on YouTube.  Make sure you watch right through to the finale – best song ever!
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 35

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on May 28, 2021 7:55:15 PM

Dear KES Family:

Surprisingly, this has been an eventful week. Here are three highlights:
 
  1. Dr. Kevin Walsh, a local dentist and parent of two wonderful alumnae, has for many years looked after students needing emergency dental care.  He is a good friend and part of our KES family. This week he successfully summitted Mount Everest. His twenty glorious minutes flying the Nova Scotia flag on the highest point of our planet represent a rare accomplishment. Interviewed by CTV Atlantic from Base Camp last night, I was struck how uplifting his success is for all of us.  It is a great story for our School, our town, and our province.
  2. There are only seven students left on campus. Our Canadian boarders have gone home and almost all of our international students have been tested, loaded up with official travel documents, and have made their way home already. Online courses continue but with such a diverse student population, the difference in time zones is a challenge. David Curry reported to me with great admiration that during his ToK class, Stanislav Matkovskyi and Gleb Proshkyn zoomed in from Ukraine and Ben Bednaraand Lukas Schmidt did the same from Germany, despite it being midnight their time! The continued commitment to learning is remarkable.
  3. One of the reasons our campus always looks so beautiful is because our groundskeepers are so good. Be it flower beds, lawns, or our many shrubs and trees, Chris Northup looks after pretty much everything that grows. When we constructed the turf field a few years ago, Chris had Jakeman Field’s topsoil scraped off and saved in a massive pile behind Vair MacMillan House. It was a brilliant idea because every time we need topsoil we have our own supply. With the recent construction of the new Learning Pavillion, we needed to level and shape the ground around it. True to my mother’s old saying, “Waste not, want not”, this week Chris has used topsoil from the old Jakeman Field to even out and seed the ground. It seems like such a little thing, but we live in a time when everything is disposable, and few things get fixed. This kind of forward thinking seems rare. For us, even “dirt” has value and shouldn’t go to waste.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 34

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on May 21, 2021 5:07:27 PM

Dear KES Family:

A few years ago, Belinda gave me a book on survival. Written by Cody Lundin, it has the usual descriptions of how to prepare for your expedition, what to include in your emergency kit, how to start fires and build shelters, etc. However, what really caught my interest was how much emphasis he put into the absolute necessity for having a positive attitude and controlling one’s fear.
 
In Lundin’s list of the eleven essential skills and know how that people must possess to survive, at the very top is a positive attitude.  “Survival,” he says, “is 90 percent psychology.” How we think affects our mood and our body in tangible and powerful ways. Research has shown that attitude, self-esteem and humour influence changes in heart rate, hormones, and body chemistry.  I agree with Lundin when he writes, “How we think and feel about the world affects our perception about everyone and everything.”
 
So where am I going with this?
 
Without question, we are all in a kind of extended survival situation right now. We are all dealing with uncertainty, with fear, and with the uncomfortable conditions imposed upon us by this pandemic. How we react to these changes dictates how we treat those around us, and how we treat ourselves.  Over 2,000 years ago Horace wrote, “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” Two millennia later and this advice is still awesome!
 
Keeping our happy thoughts, keeping a positive attitude, is a skill that we must learn. It is essential for our health and the health of those around us. Like any other skill, it requires effort to acquire.  Ruling our mind takes effort. Does it take more effort than sprinting front hill or studying for a math test? I don’t know, but it seems to me that the reward is not only a healthier and happier life for oneself, but for those around us as well. Totally worth it. Like Sidney Crosby shooting thousands of pucks for countless hours into an old clothes dryer, the work pays off.
 
I texted back and forth with Head Girl Sarah Bell this week. At one point she wrote, “It is unfortunate that our year was cut short, but I’m so thankful that we got the solid 7 months we did get.” I love this. I also love that in the weeks ahead we will have so many virtual celebrations. Be it the Athletics Banquet, the Arts Gala, the Grade 9 Graduation, or our now famous Closing Day Ceremonies movie (produced by Faucher Films!), there are many wonderful things yet to come.
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