Academics / Arts

The Congdon sabbatical program lets teachers grow, learn, explore

If you had one year with no commitments, what would you do? Dana Hall allows teachers to answer that question through a sabbatical program. This program allows two classroom teachers a year to take either half of a year or a full year off from Dana Hall and spend the time gaining “professional growth and development outside of the classroom,” according to Ms. Anne Richter of Advancement and Alumnae Relations.

The sabbatical program is called the “Congdon sabbatical” because it “was established in 1984 with gifts from Jean Congdon Adams ’44, Elisabeth Congdon Mason ’50, and Dorothy Congdon,” says Ms. Richter. So far 56 faculty members have been recipients of the program. The teacher must return for at least one year following the sabbatical, ensuring that the rest of the school will benefit from the recipients’ experience.

During her year-long sabbatical in 2013-2014, English department head Julia Bucci learned the basics of screen writing. “I wrote a full length screen play that I would not have been able to do without the time off to really dive into the project,” says Dr. Bucci. She also took time to read world literature and took a two-week seminar at Boston University. “My students benefited because I was refreshed, so recharged, and couldn’t wait to start teaching again,” says Dr. Bucci. She gained new perspectives, techniques, and ideas for the classroom when she returned. Dr. Bucci says about the sabbatical program, “It’s the most wonderful thing in the world; it’s such a gift.” She is thankful for the time she was given outside of the classroom.

Director of Choral Music David Coleman took the time off from the 2014-2015 school year to be a musical director for several musicals. He also assisted with productions at the American Repertory Theatre, performed and participated in several programs at other schools, and directed and accompanied choirs, including Tufts University Gospel Choir which performed at the White House. He saw many concerts and shows and began composing an original full length musical about all-girls’ school, titled “Sister School.” He gained new ideas on how to “intensify and diversify” his work at Dana Hall. Since his return to Dana Hall, Mr. Coleman has had his students sing some of the songs he wrote over the course of his sabbatical. He feels having his students sing songs with the person who wrote them is a unique experience for the students. “Me being a song writer is something unique to Dana Hall, and I think my students benefit from that…. I’m grateful to be back,” says Mr. Coleman.

Spanish teacher Myriam Villalobos took a half-year sabbatical during the 2013-2014 school year. “I had the pleasure of being a student once again. I was finishing my Masters in Counseling Psychology, and the school granted me the gift to complete my internship as one of the requirements for becoming a counselor,” says Ms. Villalobos. She worked for over 1000 hours in 9 months, working with patients of “any population, any gender, race, ethnicity and age.” She says, “I decided to honor my vocation for poor communities and work with them, with women and families and Latinos…. This was one of the biggest gifts Dana Hall gave me, to let me help my Latino community, and I will be in debt to my school for the rest of my life.” Since returning to Dana Hall, Ms. Villalobos has been working on opening her students’ minds, increasing positivity, and says she is more open to help them cope with stress. She notes, “Thanks again to the school for giving me the marvelous opportunities.”

Next year, Devon Fitchett, Director of Dance, and math teacher Nicholas Lloyd will be taking sabbaticals. Ms. Fitchett plans on taking half a year off to “to pursue an intensive, semester-long study of either traditional Senegalese dance or traditional and modern Balinese dance while immersed in one of these cultures abroad.” She will be applying to programs that will give her “first-hand styles and techniques” of these dance styles. “My hope is that these experiences will broaden my understanding of the vast umbrella of dance and inform my work as an artist and creator of dance, as well as a dance educator,” says Ms. Fitchett. She would like to bring these dance styles back with her to Dana Hall, where her goal to further Dana Hall’s Global Education initiative.

    Mr. Lloyd will be using his sabbatical to complete his master’s degree. He is enrolled in the Math for Teaching program at the Harvard Extension School. He will be taking classes on topics such as Mathematics of the Ancient Greeks,Teaching Math with a Historical Perspective, and Group Theory, as well as classes such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus from the perspective of how to teach these topics. “Though I’ve been taking classes for a number of years already, this sabbatical will give me the opportunity to really focus on just being a student, something I’ve looked forward to for a long time,” says Mr. Lloyd. “I’m exceptionally grateful for the Congdon Family and my colleagues here at Dana Hall for this opportunity.”

The Congdon sabbatical has allowed faculty members to take the time off of teaching in the classroom to focus on personal growth, with each of these teachers bringing back something unique to Dana Hall, as well as sharing their new-found knowledge with their students. With the Congdon sabbatical, these teachers are able to take time off from the classroom to grow. Head of school Caroline Erisman says the sabbatical program “allows faculty to step back, and they bring back what they have learned” to the Dana Hall community, adding that “it always makes an impact” on the whole Dana Hall community.

Photo: Summer 2015 high school production of CATS at the South Shore School of Theater in Quincy, MA, one of the many musical theatre productions for which Mr. Coleman was music director during his Congdon sabbatical.