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 12, 2019 1:46:57 PM

Dear KES Family:

Us and them, cat and mouse…ugh. I would hate school if the relationship between students and staff was adversarial. Being on the same side, having the same goals, and not letting the big teacher desk come between us, is essential to creating a happy and respectful school culture. When we realize that we are all in this together, and anyone’s successes and achievements make us all feel good, then something really magical happens on campus.

There have been many magical moments this week. I was in awe this Wednesday during assembly at the students’ reaction to Mr. Pat LePoidevin’s original bagpipe composition and “gift” to Mr. Kevin Lakes and Major Hynes. The piece is emotionally stirring and, as I marvelled at Pat’s piping on stage, I noticed that all 361 students shared my attention and appreciation of the music and significance of the moment. Huge applause by all.

Hiking Cape Split with the entire Grade 9 class on Monday provided me an opportunity to see how special the group is. Despite the time pressure to be back at school early for everything from soccer matches to volunteering at the hospital, these young men and women made their way through the woods and rugged trail with laughter and good spirits. On the return journey, the group needed less than 90 minutes to hike the final 7kms! How wonderful it was to see Ms. Cummings, Ms. Sullivan, and Mr. Lakes walking and talking so naturally and happily with everyone the whole time.

Although twelve-year-old Cooper Pape ‘schooled’ me with his soccer skills in the week’s staff/student soccer match, I loved the spirit of the event. It was competitive yet not adversarial. Both sides wanted to win. There was applause for good plays on both sides…and lots of laughter for not-so-good moves. For me, the spirit of the game was summed up in a spontaneous reaction from Grade 10 student Josie King. She is a fine multi-sport athlete and, by absolute fluke, I happened to block one of her shots on net with my foot. Her immediate and positive response of “great play” as she chased after the ball illustrated superb sportsmanship and healthy confidence.

If I were a student here, I would want to be in Mr. DeCoste’s drumline, and Ms. MacLean’s cast of Chicago, and Mr. MacLean’s or Ms. Hannah Sinclair’s Chemistry classes. The thing is, everywhere I look I see enthusiasm and passion being shared. Be it debating or dance, yoga or math, basketball or history, there is a sense that we are all in this together. It makes a difference when we do things together and don’t simply walk around with a whistle or a mark book. It makes a difference when our own children (and babies!) share in our Thanksgiving supper together.

This Thanksgiving, I am extra grateful for the school culture of acceptance and togetherness we have. It is rare and precious. No doubt it will be tested in the months to come, but I trust we will weather those storms when they come.
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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter, Week 5

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Oct 4, 2019 6:47:17 PM

Dear KES Family:

An interesting thing happens when we turn our brilliant LED stadium lights on at night: the light removes the darkness on campus. Sounds obvious of course, but in removing the darkness we remove fear. We also create community and opportunities for joy that did not exist before.

With the turf field brightly lit, the evening snack after prep is better attended. Girls and boys from the satellite houses around the field (Buckle, Vincent, and Vair McLellan) are more likely to make their way to the Dining Hall to join their friends. Although we have street and path lights, the reality is that without the turf’s stadium lights, the walk is darker, the shadows deeper, the trek more intimidating.

Last night after prep, 22 students joined me and Mr. Foley to play touch rugby under the lights. It was glorious fun. Playing with us were not only boys and girls, boarders and day students, but a parade of nationalities: Canada, Ireland, South Africa, China, Japan, Finland, and Mexico. Feeling a bit like rugby stars under the lights, we played until call-up for “lights out”. While we were playing, a single female student ran around the track circling us again and again for the better part of an hour. I marvelled at her, but it was my wife Belinda who remarked how, without the lights and perhaps without us playing on the field as well, it is unlikely this girl would have felt safe running alone in the dark.

The American poet, Robert Frost, once described the nighttime forest as being “lovely, dark, and deep”. However, this is a rare observation. Being scared of the dark is much more common. Scores of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Shakespeare to Anne Frank (as a teenage girl she wrote how a ‘candle can defy and define the darkness’) have described the night or darkness as anything but lovely.

Our LED stadium lights are the first of their kind in Atlantic Canada. They are absolutely incredible, shining a shadow-less light that is direct and does not bounce or wash across the Town of Windsor and the residential areas adjacent to the School. They use so little electricity that they operate for under $5 an hour. Despite being higher than our tallest tree on campus, they have withstood everything Mother Nature and Hurricane Dorian have thrown at them in the last year.

My appreciation for these lights is growing daily. Their benefits are beyond what first meets the eye.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

HeadmasterWeekly Newsletter -Week 4

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 27, 2019 8:55:07 PM

Dear KES Family:

Growing up in downtown Montreal and Toronto in the 1960s and 70s (makes me feel so old!), my friends and I spent all our free time outside. Parent free, we rode bikes, climbed trees, played shinny hockey in winter and pick-up baseball and football in the summer. My friends and I knew where the raccoons lived, and which ponds had turtles or frogs or goldfish. We would play catch with the local police officer on foot patrol, and he knew all our names and where we lived. When I split my forehead on a teeter-totter, he was the one who looked after me. It was a different time, but I loved those days when you could simply go out and play, returning home once it became dark.

Life is different for children now. That freedom I enjoyed is long gone. Or is it? Being just outside of a small town, surrounded by farms and forest, and blessed with wonderful facilities, I see our students happily discovering the joys of “going outside to play”. I thought it was a lost art, but I see so much evidence of unstructured fun and the obvious conclusion is that unstructured play is natural and supervised structured play is not play at all. It is unnatural.

If you could see the fun created outside during break, or lunchtime, or that wonderful hour after supper and before prep, you would understand what I mean. Skateboards and bicycles come out, swing sets squeak their timeless tune, balls are kicked or thrown, children run and roll (it always amazes me how our younger students will lie down and roll around on the turf field!) and laugh and squeal. We provide frisbees and spike ball sets, soccer balls and footballs, etc, but we don’t structure the play, and we don’t force anyone to leave their room. We provide the time and space and equipment and simply ask that it be respected.

Although it is “indoors” the same could be said of the gym, or of Mr. Smith’s music room or our new recording studio, where many a free hour is also spent in creative musical play. (I believe that playing a musical instrument is very athletic and healthy – for all sorts of reasons, of course.)

It has been said that this young generation has been sheltered, forced to grow up too fast, and incapable of unstructured play. What I have marvelled at this week are the many positive and impressive signs of youthful wellness. I am seeing healthy play and healthy relationships. I am also seeing true empathy and respect towards others (something definitely missing from my childhood where every joke was at the expense of someone different from me and my friends).

In the photos below, I hope you can catch a glimpse of the joy of childhood I see every day.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmasters Weekly Newsletter -Week3

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 21, 2019 12:10:50 PM

Dear KES Family:

Each year we invite everyone to come to campus to help us raise money for cancer research. On Sunday, with the rest of the School and the community of Windsor, I ran the Terry Fox Run for the Cure.

Two days later I attended a funeral for an alumna who passed away from cancer at age 26.

I have wrestled with the dueling emotions of sadness and anger this week. However, I am also mindful of Terry Fox’s heroic journey and the positive impact his life has had. We run for him, but we also run for those who are close to us who have been touched by cancer. Although the Terry Fox Run appears as a whole school community event and a “fun” fundraiser with family and friends and our pets (lol!), it has a powerfully personal relevance and purpose. This year (for me at least), more than ever.

I am also struck by the number of alumni and staff and former staff at the funeral on Tuesday. We were a large and tearful and diverse group. It speaks to the strength and intimacy of the bonds created at our School. Seeing the happy photos from School events – in a prom dress or rugby hoodie – reminded me of how important these days are for our students, and how important it is that they are happy days.

I remember when the President and Chancellor of Acadia University, Ray Ivany, told me that what distinguishes King’s-Edgehill students was their ability to navigate life’s grey zones. In class or in campus life, he discovered that our graduates were good at understanding life’s complexities, of seeing good and bad together, at understanding that life combines joy with sorrow, injustice with generosity, or senselessness and purpose.

And so at today’s soccer tournament, we begin fundraising for the victims of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. It is the students who are reaching out and making the effort to help people they have never met in a country only a lucky few have visited. They feel it is important to do something. I am hugely impressed. Out of destruction and despair comes action, love, and hope.
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Headmaster's Newsletter -- Week 2

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 14, 2019 7:30:22 AM

Dear KES Family:

Despite its destructive power, or perhaps because of it, Hurricane Dorian had a positive effect on our school community. It brought us all together. Before the turbulent winds and loss of electricity, the heavy rains did nothing to dampen school spirit. We had a full slate of Saturday classes and finished the day with sports practices. We are blessed with many indoor facilities (double gym, swimming pool, dance studio, yoga studio, theatre stage, wrestling room, etc) but not everyone avoided the (literally and without any hyperbole) torrential downpour. I was thrilled to see cross country runners splashing their way around the track for their afternoon workout. So envious were the girls on the hockey team they took off their shoes and ran barefoot in the rain around the turf field! It was the perfect “cool down” after their intense indoor training session. Laughter and great memories made in a moment.

With the power outage on Saturday night came a loss of wifi. Ironically, this made us more connected than ever. It also seemed that every teenager in our boarding community did their very best to support each other and soothe away any anxiety created by the storm. Students and houseparents congregated in the Dining Hall for a night of old fashioned board games and face-to-face conversation. There was lots of great food and good fun for all. What could be better than boys and girls of all ages and nations connecting in real time over candlelight and flashlight?

Sunday ended up being gorgeously sunny. Our 200 boarding students mobilized themselves into work groups and within an hour had all the branches and leafy debris on campus piled up for removal on Monday. The enthusiastic desire to help out was overwhelming. Every time I went to pick up a branch it seemed I had four different students offer to carry it for me.

Sunday afternoon was punctuated by a “slip and slide” on Front Hill and more fun and games organized by the Prefects. I cannot thank them, Ms. Schaffer, our Houseparents, and our heroic maintenance crew, enough. What could have been a difficult time of transition ended up being a positive example of resilience, cooperation, and school spirit. And we did not miss a single class!

It has been an excellent second week.
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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter - Week 1

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Sep 7, 2019 2:42:35 PM

Dear KES Family:

“Dorian” is on its way, and we are well prepared to weather the storm to come on Saturday, but the week has been absolutely glorious. The long days of summer have stretched into September, and it seems that our students have been outside every spare minute. Indeed, on a cloudless Wednesday night at 9:30pm, there was a whole group of students lying in the middle of our artificial turf field staring up at the stars and revelling in the mild temperatures and the sparkling elements of the Milky Way overhead.

Yesterday afternoon our sports programme was in full swing. Soccer, tennis, cross-country…everyone was outside getting exercise. Our hockey teams were introduced to “Front Hill” and the joys of Shauna Forsyth’s(our strength and conditioning coach) killer workout! I was thrilled to see the boys and girls working so hard together before they start skating on the ice next Monday. When their exercise programme finished, I went up to see what our soccer and cross-country teams were up to. I was confused when later on I saw our Head Girl, Ava Benedict, working out with the cross-country team. She was participating fully in the team’s sprint drills and making friends with all the new athletes around her. Now Ava has been on the hockey team for years, and so I asked her if she had joined cross-country. “No”, she said with a laugh. “I am as excited as ever for hockey, but we were finished our session and I thought I would do some more training with Mr. Hadley and his cross-country team.”

In a world where people will walk by a set of stairs to take the elevator to their gym class, or will drive in circles to find the closest parking spot to their yoga studio, it is refreshing to see such an enthusiastic and humble example of health. In Chapel on Thursday, Reverend Curry introduced the students to the concept of metanoia. It is a powerful Greek term which literally means “after / mind” and is often interpreted as a changing of one’s mind or repentance. In a King’s-Edgehill School context, I have to think that it literally means a transformative changing of one’s mind: that children who may instinctively think of their desires first may start to take an interest in the world and the needs of others, or that students who have spent their lives avoiding chores and work (like emptying the dishwasher maybe?) will happily do what needs to be done, or that teenagers whose first words may typically have been negative or pessimistic may find themselves more optimistic about life and complimentary of others. Making the choice to attend King’s-Edgehill is a powerful statement. Learning is far more than memorization. Whether in Chapel or in class, in the dorm or on one’s team or club, learning entails personal reflection and growth. Real learning means more than passing tests or achieving good SAT or IELTS scores, it means changing one’s opinion and set of assumptions about life and oneself. It can literally mean changing one’s mind.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 36

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jun 9, 2019 9:32:12 PM

Dear KES Family:

When the media calls for an interview I get nervous. When it is the Globe and Mail calling with regards to a special report on Private Schools, a big part of me wants to hide. The reporter/writer, Saira Peesker, is interested in environmental education and the climate crisis. She wanted to speak with staff and students. Our KES Green Team is led by Mr. Ryan Alguire, and he coordinated Saira’s interviews with Mr. Bouwman, Grade 11 student Katie Goddard, and himself.

As Saira was in Ontario, our interviews were all on the phone. Although I found it very disconcerting hearing her tap away on her keyboard as we spoke (I thought all reporters recorded interviews digitally nowadays?), she was very engaging and personable and knowledgeable.

There is no doubt that with regards to the environment, we do a lot to educate, create awareness and modify behaviour, but as a school we have a huge carbon footprint. Gone are the days when the only school building with heat in the winter time was the Dining Hall. Now we have hundreds of thousands of square feet to heat, 30 acres of grass to mow, and students travelling all over the world just to get here and then again to participate in our different programmes. We all want fresh fruit and vegetables when they are out of season and avocados for our guacamole. The sixty-mile meal is theoretically possible throughout the school year, but if we were rigid with our implementation, I suspect that food complaints would sky rocket and the local restaurants would be delivering far more pizza and Chinese food than they already do.

It is very hard to avoid single-use plastics and so much has a carbon footprint: travelling to Science Fair Nationals, or a Robotics tournament, or a Track and Field meet. A single Google search uses enough power to light a lamp for 17 seconds.

Needless to say, I went into the interview feeling “guilty as charged”.

To my surprise the interview went well. To start with, we were the only one of ten schools that Saira had contacted who agreed to be interviewed. Secondly, we were the only private school she had found who participated in the Climate Strike on May 24th. She also was very complimentary (reporters pay compliments now?) about the initiatives we have ongoing at our School, the capital investments we have made to reduce our footprint and purchase blue boxes and the like, and the prizes we have won for environmental videos and posters, etc.

I am used to reporters who are adversarial. Too often I have felt like a prisoner suffering through an inquisition being prepared for sentencing. Perhaps though, when it comes to Mother Nature, we all need to be on the same team. Every positive action, no matter how small, helps.

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

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 35

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Jun 2, 2019 4:45:39 PM

Dear KES Family:

As I listened to the Junior School Public Speaking contest finalists, I was surprised to hear one of our very youngest students, Gabby Shaw (Grade 7), speak about the history and origins of reggae music and the intent behind its lyrics. She spoke eloquently about Bob Marley, a musical legend who passed away in the spring of my graduating year from high school. All these years later his message of “One heart, one love, let’s get together and feel all right” is still powerful and resonant with the younger generation.

I wish it resonated more with the older generation. It bothers me to no end that hate crimes are on the rise across North America and around the globe. The opposite should be true. We should be learning from the mistakes of previous generations and moving towards a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for our differences.

Yesterday we had two young male students visit our School. As is my custom, I met formally with each one at the end of the day in my office. Both boys had thoroughly enjoyed their visit. The first thing that each one remarked upon was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. Their reception here both surprised and pleased them. This is a familiar response and it warms my heart. Although I dislike the outside perception that being a private school we must be snooty and self-righteous, I love that time and time again visitors remark upon the warmth of our student body.

In his address to the graduating class last week, alumnus Jim Mullan (Class of 1999) talked about the strength of the friendships created at KES and how important it is to own the decisions (good ones and bad ones) that we make in life. At one point he mentioned how much he dislikes the phrase “when you get out into the real world”, because life is very real at King’s-Edgehill. Unfortunately, we all know what he meant. In many ways we have a school community that shares “one heart, one love”. As I hear the huge cheers for our athletes like David McCurdy (a new Grade 12 student who won the Senior School Good Sport Award at the Athletic Banquet), and as I hear the applause for graduate Lindsay Hogan (first time performing at a Coffee House!) and Joelle Gordon (Grade 10) and all our performers on stage, I realize that this is a school that is genuinely caring and supportive.

I was almost finished this newsletter when I was scheduled to meet with another boy who had spent the day visiting the School. Partially to prove a point to myself, my first question to him was whether he was surprised by anything he saw today. His immediate reply?

“I was surprised to see how kind the students and teachers are.”

We are not perfect. We definitely have our teachable moments. But let me leave you with this image: when the Senior Boys Rugby Team lost its final game on Tuesday, extinguishing any hopes of competing at the provincial championships, I took one final look at the other team’s field as we left. Our side of the pitch was pristine. The bench was upright and the grass was clean and neat around it. The other team’s bench was lying on its side surrounded by dozens of water and Gatorade bottles and tape balls and garbage.

I love it when our graduates receive fabulous offers and scholarships for university, but I am most proud of our little moments of goodness, and of kindness and respect shown to others.
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmasters Weekly Newsletter -- Week 34

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on May 27, 2019 2:57:50 PM

Dear KES Family:

One of the least celebrated skills learned at KES is the art of the quick change. Depending on the schedule, students will likely change four times (often more) each day to prepare for their different activities. Time is frequently of the essence as one cannot dawdle between tutorial and practice or, as was in evidence last night with the rugby girls returning from Truro and then immediately jumping on stage for the Spring Fling. The same will be true tonight when our Track and Field team will return from Regional Championships at Acadia (soggy and cold today, unfortunately) and then transform in time for the Cadet Ball (and for graduates, the formal Alumni Banquet beforehand). Some of our athletes and ballroom dancers are writing their IB French exam today, too.

When Jeff Smith asked our Spring Fling Emcee Joanna Bond to tell a story from her seven years at KES, Joanna replied with a brilliant smile and an exclamation, “I don’t know which story to choose…so much has happened. It is almost half my life.” Indeed, for her and so many others who performed at the Spring Fling, their years here have been multi-dimensional, packed with challenge and adventure. After all, it was just last week when they were all in highland dress leading the RCACC 254 Cadet Corps in its Annual Review.

There were countless brilliant moments last night: Nicola du Toit opening the Spring Fling with her piping; Elizabeth Walsh and Joanna Bond performing an emotional tribute to the tragedy of 911; Melanie Bent, Sarah Hardy and Rhyan Rusaw belting out “Set Fire to the Rain”; Brian Li performing an original piano composition; and Ella Brown dancing and swaying as she ripped through a brilliant trumpet arrangement. There was a special moment following the show when Ohemaa Ofori (Grade 11) remarked on her brother Papa’s (Grade 7) drumming with the Senior Concert Band, “Mr. Seagram, I had no idea that Papa played the drums or that he played them so well. He was really good!” Papa was right beside me and basked in the exuberant praise from his older sister.

At one point in the evening, our Athletic Director, Kim Walsh, leaned over to me and said, “That was spectacular! I love that they are in School uniform, too.” He was right. It is interesting to note that the music transcended what people were wearing; whether it was Kathleen Balcome and Katie Goddard singing sultry jazz notes, or Ben Lohr looking ‘oh so cool’ and comfortable playing the bass guitar (or tuba!), the dress for the evening was our uniform. No need to change into something ‘artsy’, and one less clothing change to make. :) 

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

Headmaster's Newsletter -- Week 33

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on May 20, 2019 10:10:39 AM

Dear KES Family:

Am I allowed to write about Avengers – Endgame yet? Have enough people seen it that I don’t have to fear for my life with some observations as some “spoilers" have discovered?

It is interesting to note that most of the time when we choose a film or a novel, we want to know what it is about beforehand. Not so with the 22nd Marvel Comics movie. Three weeks ago when it was released, I was in St. John with the rugby team and Justin Day told me that he had turned off all his social media so that he would not inadvertently read anything about the film. In fact, he said that he had friends back home who did not attend school until they had seen it. That could be a long wait as every show was sold out for weeks in advance. This accounts for the record smashing $1.2 billion opening, but also accounts for long waits in isolation for fans who don’t want the plot spoilt – intentionally or unintentionally.

And so it was that last weekend I was in Montreal with Righo and Brisnel Etou, as their legal guardian in Canada, for a visa application at the French Consulate, when I mentioned the possibility of seeing the film while we were there. The instant excitement in their eyes was fabulous. For three weeks they had been unable to join into countless conversations and each had literally walked away from friends who were discussing the film. To be able to watch it in Montreal, (In Imax 3D no less) made the whole trip worthwhile. We purchased the tickets in the morning for an evening show and discovered that almost no good seats remained. Incredible.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the show and actually found myself admiring the writing. Being the fourth Avenger film, it is enhanced if one knows the backstory and has seen the other Marvel films. Clearly, the multi-generational audience I shared the theatre with was rapt from start to finish…over three hours later! I have never seen so many people, especially children under ten years old, sit still (or not have to pee) for so long.
Brisnel and Rhigo enjoyed the film, and I thoroughly appreciated being able to talk about the existential aspects of it. Apart from all the special effects and action, there are messages about love and family and the meaning of life that are worth reflecting upon. I have always thought that Hamlet’s mother sacrifices herself by drinking the poisoned wine Claudius intends for Hamlet. I don’t like to think of her as simply “passion’s slave” without redeeming qualities. It does not fit my internal paradigm. Likewise, I like to think that in Endgame Iron Man sacrifices himself to save young Spiderman. He feels responsible for him, and the boy’s death in Infinity War weighs so heavily upon him that he gives up everything he cherishes to bring him back.

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