Inside King's-Edgehill School

Joe Seagram, Headmaster

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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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Headmasters' Weekly Newsletter - Week 32

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on May 13, 2019 7:12:39 AM

Dear KES Family:

Managing risk is a life skill. It needs to be learned (preferably taught but some of the most indelible lessons come the hard way). If we eliminate risk altogether then we do our children a disservice, spawning an anxious generation that is unable to be exposed or vulnerable: physically, emotionally, socially, or financially. Calculating risks and rewards, judging potential consequences, mitigating harm: these are essential skills that all of us use every time we drive a car, make an investment, ask someone out on a date, or choose an activity.

I believe in meaningful risk. I believe there is joy to be found in a well-rounded and perfectly thrown snowball. Students are allowed to throw snowballs at KES – just not at windows or at someone’s face. The new swing sets have an element of risk. It is foreseeable that a student, in an ill-conceived effort to show off, may do a risky dismount and hurt themselves on the ground. Or, someone texting with their head down could walk in front of a swinger and get kicked in the head. (Some lessons come through experience!) There is joy in swinging and if one swings responsibly the risks are acceptable. With coaching and practice and testing, sixteen year olds may drive cars. Taking part in activities where one’s judgement will determine whether there is a good or bad outcome is essential to success in life. When we had our students swinging pick axes and mixing cement by hand at a construction site in rural Tanzania, I think they learned more than the school group which came after us and was forbidden to do the same by their teachers.

Which brings me to rugby and last week’s provincial decision to ban it for safety reasons. It has since been re-instated, but there is an implicit promise on the part of Rugby Nova Scotia to structure and operate the high school game and league in such a way that it is safer for all participants. Much can and should be done in terms of training and development, coaching techniques and player preparation, but the reality is that rugby players will always be putting their bodies in harm’s way. There will always be an element of risk attached to the game. Whether that risk is acceptable or not will remain a choice for parents and students and school administrations.

I find joy in the game of rugby. I have since I was thirteen years old. Without doubt my love for the game is intimately associated with the fear I must control when I play. Every time I step onto the rugby pitch I know, as does everyone else around me, that I can get hurt. Injuries are foreseeable, bruises and abrasions are likely. Perhaps because it is so physical the game has acquired a unique culture. The opposing team is not the enemy. There is respect and affinity for anyone who plays the game, and anyone who wants to play (regardless of size and ability) is able to find a way to contribute on the pitch. All you need is courage and determination. I would never force or persuade anyone to play. It has to be an individual choice. However, regardless of their age or body type, for those who take to the field I have nothing but profound respect. There are lessons one learns out there in the fray – about oneself, one’s teammates, and about life – that are difficult to find anywhere else.

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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter - Week 32

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on May 4, 2019 4:01:58 PM

Dear KES Family:

Our new Strategic Plan has three strategic priorities: 1) Balance the Four Pillars, 2) Wellness, and 3) Financial Stability. Some of our work is visible to all (such as boosting the Arts Pillar by adding dance to the curriculum and co-curricular offerings) and some work is yet to be revealed (such as boosting summer revenue with high performance camps in basketball, hockey, dance, soccer, etc). However, I was thrilled to see that one of our wellness initiatives came to light yesterday. Happily, and to considerable excitement, we installed two swing sets! These are not part of a “playground”. Instead, they are positioned in community areas with sunlight and, we hope, contemplative views. Not many high schools have swings but many thanks to 2018 graduate Tessa Firth (whose idea it was) we have our first two!

It was with dismay that we received the news from the governing body of high school sport in Nova Scotia (the NSSAF) that the rugby season was cancelled. It came as a surprise to everyone. In a meeting today with representatives of the NSSAF and representatives from schools with rugby teams, we were told that since 2016 rugby has been on every NSSAF Board agenda. We were informed that there were difficulties communicating with the NSSAF’s School Insurance Program and recent comparative data on injuries suggests that rugby is not a safe sport. The NSSAF Board meets three times a year and in its May 2nd meeting the decision was made to cancel the season. Rugby is no longer an NSSAF sport. We have been told that the NSSAF is hopeful that the governing body for rugby in the province, Rugby Nova Scotia, will pick up the pieces of the season. However, we were also told that there were no prior conversations with Rugby Nova Scotia (or Rugby Canada or other provinces’ governing bodies) or about helping mitigate safety concerns this season. This being the case, there is a bit of a scramble going on to hastily put something together. Not a great scenario. Despite the passionate pleas of hundreds of high school rugby players at a demonstration in Halifax today, and despite a petition with over 10,000 signatures, the NSSAF stands by its decision. Unless Rugby Nova Scotia can mobilize its clubs and insurers to take on the high school program, there will be no more provincial high school rugby this spring.

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Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 30

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Apr 28, 2019 9:16:10 AM

Dear KES Family:

Earth Day was last week. We did our bit. We picked up garbage in town and we turned down the heat (completely off in some places) and our students wore sweaters to stay warm. It catalyzed some good discussions. At my Headmaster’s Council meeting our Junior School representative Hannah Bryant brought forth initiatives for re-usable shopping bags, turning down the heat permanently, and making compost collection more efficient. Mr. Alguire’s Environmental Club is meeting and forging ahead with its initiatives too. However, this morning I watched a Ted Talk on YouTube and realized that what we are doing are steps in the right direction but are not enough.
A fifteen year old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, delivers a message in her Ted Talk on climate change that we must all hear. It is crystal clear and, quite frankly, accusatory. Her voice is a cry which pierces through the wilderness and touches a nerve. It certainly touched me.
As I write this note I am acutely aware of the contrasting Canadian states of emergency declared in Biggar, Saskatchewan because of wildfires and in Ottawa, Ontario because of flooding. Images of flooded streets and ruined homes in Quebec and New Brunswick fill the news. The contrast of fire and flood tell their own tale. No one is immune to climate change.
Greta’s story is fascinating. She objects to school and refuses to attend as she believes that traditional schooling has failed the planet and addressing the global crisis of climate injustice must be our top priority. She is articulate, well versed in multiple languages and the sciences and math. She appears supremely educated and capable. Recently, Greta addressed the United Nations (that address is on YouTube as well) with a piercing message for all the adults in the room. She, and this generation of children she speaks for, might just be the voice of change that our planet needs. Her Ted Talk is 11 minutes long. Take the time to watch and listen. Click here:
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 29

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Apr 22, 2019 8:34:48 AM

Dear KES Family:

April is proving to be a cruel month, offering glimpses of spring warmth and sunshine and then showering the KES campus with rain. In one of the extended periods of sunshine, I was quite excited to hike through the back campus trails by Turtle Pond and see two turtles basking on a log. (An aptly named body of water!) Surrounding them in the water were schools of goldfish. They had emerged from the icy depths to enjoy the warmth of the shallow water close to shore. I was pleased to see the goldfish and turtles again. Our environment seems so fragile these days that examples of healthy ecosystems seem rare. I don’t know why there are gold fish in the pond but each year there are more and, it should be mentioned, at six or eight inches long the older ones are getting quite big.
The artificial turf on Jakeman field continues to bring joy to the School. Be it after hours on a Saturday afternoon, or late in the evening with the lights on, it gets as much use as it does during the daily sport period. It is simply marvellous having five different teams use the field (and its generous end zone areas) each day. Having the track team running circles around us (literally and figuratively!) during sports practice is an absolute joy too. We all seem to pick up on each other’s energy.
I have to admit though, that a highlight this week was watching Guy Payne coaching his sprinters last Sunday afternoon. It was gloriously sunny and Guy and his runners were in fine form. I was three years old when Guy first started coaching track at KES. 52 years later, he is still out there in his free time helping student athletes get stronger and faster. And loving it the whole time!
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Topics: Joe's Journal -- Weekly Headmaster's Newsletter

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -Week 28

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Apr 13, 2019 9:30:19 AM

Dear KES Family,

The story is told by Prince Harry that in the early days of their courtship, Meghan Markle’s (now the Duchess of Sussex) first visit to Windsor Castle to see Harry’s grandmother went very well. The reason for the successful visit was that the Queen’s beloved corgis, who had always given Harry a frosty reception, greeted Meghan warmly and happily. The royal canines gave their instant approval. The Queen’s quickly followed.
Belinda and I don’t have corgis but we do have two small dogs, both of which partake in receptions and School events with regularity. When hockey legend Guy LaFleur came to our home during the Long Pond Classic, Guy spent most of his time on the kitchen floor playing and petting with Zuri and Nara. Similarly, hockey famous tough guy Chris “knuckles” Nilan, would have much preferred scratching Nara’s exposed belly (she has no shame…) than signing autographs for the other guests. Who knew that these “larger than life” hockey players were so sensitive? (Guy confided that his little tea cup dog sleeps on the bed.)
And so on Tuesday night at 9:30pm, I made my way across the snow to the Dining Hall with Zuri and Nara for an evening walkabout. We did not actually make it into the Dining Hall itself as in the hallway were a group of students who spontaneously started petting and playing with Zuri and Nara. It was great chatting with Susana and Andrea and all their friends as well as Christian and Duncan and everyone who meandered through the hallway. Evening snack was ending and everyone seemed relaxed and happy. Zuri and Nara were in heaven with all the attention and quickly picked up the Spanish instructions they were given (Zuri is half Papillon so being a Spanish breed it was easier for her…).
While I sometimes lament that we are all generally more relaxed, expressive, and affectionate with animals than with people, I love the interchange that takes place. Perhaps our true selves show more clearly? Or, maybe dogs can sense who we really are inside. It was clear that all the students were happy and comfortable and in a ‘good space’. Christian mentioned that I should bring them around during exams. Maybe I should. Studies have shown that petting an animal reduces anxiety and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
Be it the Mess Dinner, the record-breaking long assembly this week (superb prom-posal, Lane!), or the way in which the students embraced the winter storm which hit, I am finding the student body relaxed and fun to be with. As one Mess Dinner guest exclaimed after the student reception, “I have never seen such confident children. It is such a rarity to meet teenagers who look you in the eye.”
Joe Seagram

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

Headmaster's Weekly Newsletter -- Week 27

Posted by Joe Seagram, Headmaster on Apr 7, 2019 6:11:17 PM

Dear KES Family:

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

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