As Sequoyah High School finishes its first year, the school is already deep into planning changes for the second. New teachers and staff have been hired, students admitted, and classes and programs being restructured and planned.
The biggest change will be in the student body. Currently, there are fifty-one students at Sequoyah High School, but next year the school will be admitting anywhere from 45 to 50 new students, from “a lot of different schools,” according to Marc Alongi, High School Director.
Another big change happening next year is the addition of an 11th grade as the current tenth-graders move on. According to Alongi, there will be 18 students in the 11th grade, four of which are new students.
For science, 11th-graders will be taking biology. Instead of the integrated Humanities courses ninth- and tenth-graders take, 11th-graders will be taking separate English 3 and American history classes, without any students from other grades. Students will be placed in math and Spanish classes the same way as last year, which means the grades will be mixed for those classes. A lot of overlap will happen in sports and electives as well.
There will also be twice the number of teachers in every subject and some new administrators. These include a K–12 Student Support Coordinator, a K–12 Athletics Director, and a K–12 Director of Field Studies, who will take over camping planning for the high school from Alia Kate. Kate will focus on her work as head of the Social Innovation Program next year, she said.
Carolina Arango, the new Student Support Coordinator for K–12, previously worked in the field of Psychology before finding a new passion: teaching. She then “pursued education studies in integrated curriculum, differentiation, language teaching, bilingualism and 21st-century skills among others,” said Josh Brody, Head of School, in an email introducing new faculty members dated May 5, 2017. Arango is a coach for Relax Kids, an organization that helps kids cope with stress.
Julian Petri will be joining the high school’s founding faculty next year as a Humanities teacher. A native of Germany, Petri came to California, more specifically the Eastern Sierras, and attended Deep Springs College, Harvard, and Princeton. Having an interest in philosophy, history, and literature, he obtained his BA in Social Studies and is now working to complete his Ph.D. in German literature. Besides his educational background, Petri also enjoys running, music, and theater—he at one point worked in a theater as a dramaturge.
Sean Hamidi will be joining the Sequoyah staff next year as well. Like Petri, he will also be joining as a Humanities teacher for the high school. “I’ve always dreamt of belonging to an educational community grounded in a belief of human dignity, love for the Earth, and intellectual curiosity,” Hamidi said in his introduction video. Hamidi was also a national champion of mock trial at the college level. He also obtained his BA in poetry writing from the University of Virginia and also earned his JD from Harvard Law School. Hamidi enjoys yoga, comedy improv, art, and Korean barbecue.
Sequoyah High School’s current Spanish teacher, Menelik Tafari, is moving on from Sequoyah next year. He is leaving to build community-organizing and anti-racism programs at schools. Tafari said, “It’s been a pleasure to coach and teach you all this year.”
Filling the Spanish teaching position will be Marisol Pérez. With more than 20 years of experience, she has lead trips to Barcelona, Costa Rica, Chiapas and Oaxaca, created multiple successful programs and curricula for students in Mexico City and Inglewood, and helped students become exposed to the history and culture of Los Angeles’s ethnic areas. “In our Spanish classes, we will be listening to a variety of music, getting to know artists, talking about history [and] geography and all the cultural phenomena that come with studying Spanish and the Spanish-speaking world,” said Pérez in her introduction video.
A second Spanish teacher has been hired, but the school has not announced who that person is, as of yet.
Nikki Pressley, who taught Visual Arts at the high school this year, will be moving on next year. “I will continue my path in art education, as well as maintain my own art and design practices,” said Pressley.
Peter Wallis will be stepping in for Pressley next year. Hailing from the mountains of Vermont, he has always had a interest in illustration and printmaking. He worked as a teaching assistant at the Center for Cartoon Studies and got his Master of Fine Arts degree at Goddard College. With a strong appreciation for traditional art and an open mind to newer forms, he plans to “[integrate] work with 3D printers, laser cutters and makerspace technology” while also putting “emphasis on the value of traditional tools and their applications in relationship to the new media,” said Wallis in his introduction video.
Melinda Wilder will be joining the Sequoyah community as a founding mathematics teacher. Though she grew up in South Korea, Wilder has been traveling to many places due to her education. She completed her undergraduate studies in Missouri, earned her Master’s in Mathematics at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and has also traveled to places like Costa Rica, Nigeria, Bolivia, and more. Besides her many travels and 20 years of teaching math, Wilder enjoys exploring the outdoors.
Chelsea Confalone, one of Sequoyah’s two incoming science instructors, is an interdisciplinary science teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles. She began her study to become a teacher at the relatively small College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, and received her degree in Human Ecology, a discipline which encourages its pupils to not merely understand the subject they are studying, but to understand how it can be integrated into the larger world. She has previously taught at UCLA and notably participated in a breast cancer study that enabled her to mentor several students within a laboratory setting. She will be teaching biology.
Justin Thompson, who will be teaching chemistry, is quite partial to Sequoyah’s process-based pedagogical techniques. He accepted a teaching position at a boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina shortly after receiving his degree in Chemistry from the esteemed University of North Carolina. At the University, he was a member of the Mossbauer Spectroscopy Research Group, which investigates copper/arsenic based superconductors responding to nickel-doping in the superconductive phase.
Tom Wheatley, Sequoyah’s current Business Manager, will be leaving Sequoyah next year “to pursue other opportunities” said Brody in an email announcing Wheatley’s leave. Taking on Wheatley’s position will be James Cooper, who has “23 years of experience in independent schools,” said Brody. He has worked at many schools as a business manager, teacher of computer science, and varsity football coach.
Since Adelaide Nalley, the school’s current Director of Field Studies, is leaving the school at the end of this school year, a new director and specialist have been hired. Brian Eagen, next year’s Director of Field Studies, and Lee Michael Krieger, Field Studies Specialist, will be helping to plan out the camping trips in the future. Eagen has had experience with outdoor education and even built a website to help people plan their own outdoor trips, which includes a way to help manage dietary needs on trips via forms similar to Google Forms.
Before discovering his passion for outdoor education, Lee Michael Krieger, Sequoyah’s new Field Studies Specialist, was studying Environmental Engineering. Ever since receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, he has been working with youth, “focusing on developing student’s integrity and self-reliance,” said Brody in an email introducing the new teachers.
The high school will not be expanding its space significantly next year. This year, the high school occupied six classrooms but not all of those rooms are continuously occupied throughout the day. Alongi said next school year “we’ll be using the rooms all day long,” in addition to an added room. Room 21, a large space which the church currently uses as a music room, will be added as an additional classroom. The school will also be using Ross Chapel, which is currently used for Morning Meetings, for more activities than this year.
As of now, plans are being made for an all school fall camping trip similar to this year’s. “There will be approximately 120 people, counting staff,” going on the fall trip, Kate said. All students will be camping at Canyon View in Kings Canyon National Park.
The camping trip, which was originally scheduled for August 23 through 26, has now been rescheduled to leave Sunday, August 27, and return Wednesday, August 30.
Longer trips are planned to happen during Mod 7 in May of 2018. Sophomores and juniors will be going to Costa Rica. According to Alongi, “the trip will be a little over a week long.” As of now, plans are still being made and finalized.
Social Innovation Program
Next year, the Social Innovation Program will be flowing in roughly the same direction it did this year. “There’s going to be one group of [students] doing their first year project, one group that’s going to be doing their second year project and another group that’s going to be doing the Impact Project,” said Kate. The program will operate pretty much the same for the former two groups; working in teams of ten to 15 students focusing mostly on local issues.
Ninth-graders will be working on a local issue and tenth-graders will be doing the same except they will also get the chance to explore more when they go on their international trip. The topic they will work on will be assigned, though it is to be determined what the topic will be. The faculty will debrief over the summer to decide the topic, which will most likely be a local issue.
The 11th-graders will be working on their Impact Projects, where they will work with one to three of their peers all year on a project of their choice. This will allow them to have a lot more autonomy in how they want to put the design thinking process into action to solve an issue they feel passionate about. “They will be project managing themselves and taking on the project themselves,” said Kate.
There will be a few new stewardship committees next year, including Judiciary and Admissions. Judiciary will be helping to solve issues between students while Admissions will be helping organize and facilitate school events. There will likely be subcommittees for several existing committees such as Student Diversity, Student Activities, Gryphon Media Company and other. Subcommittees will be formed by each committee based on their needs.
A new committee will be made for field studies trips. The committee will be open for students who have an interest in, as Kate said, “the operational and logical tasks.” These tasks would include booking reservations, safety procedures, communicating the information to students, and more. However, this committee as of now, will not be student lead until about senior year.
Existing Teachers and Classes
Full-time teachers are preparing themselves for the expansion. Math teacher Ronnie Bryan said he will be making some adjustments, though this is nothing new. “Even teaching the same class in the second term versus the first term,” Bryan said, “I’ve made a lot of changes to how I taught that.” Bryan said teachers will likely continue this process of reflecting on lessons learned over the summer. Sequoyah Advanced Studies (SAS) Calculus is also going to be an option for “any student who is qualified and ready,” said Alongi.
In science, the major change will be the addition of biology classes and a new biology teacher. Science teacher Laura Haney said the new teacher, Chelsea Confalone, might afford new flexibility. “We might be able to do different types of projects,” Haney said. Despite the addition of new forms, the basic format of her classes will not change. “I think my class will always be a little bit of writing, debate, discussions, [and] labs,” she said.