Exploring Magnificence: The National Park Service Turns 100

By Lisa Nazar, Upper School Math Teacher

An important part of our family’s vacation plans is deciding which and how many national parks to visit. Will we camp in Yellowstone? Hike in the Great Smoky Mountains? Rock climb in Acadia? Pay our respect to the heroes at the Flight 93 Memorial? Then we pack up the car and go.

Rocky Mountain National Park (2009).

When we started these adventures, my daughters participated in the Junior Ranger program. They completed activities and attended programs based on their age level to earn a badge. The entire family worked together on crossword puzzles, poems, and journal entries. We learned about the history, the wildlife, the conservation efforts, and the special features of each park. We perused trail maps searching for great hikes. We watched movies about volcanoes or dinosaurs. We listened to rangers talk about the grizzly bears or building roads over alpine tundra. And we took thousands of photos. After each visit we felt we understood a piece of American history better, respected our natural resources a little more, and grew prouder of the magnificence of the “land of the free.” Now that they are older, we aren’t using the Junior Ranger program as our guide, but we still give a lot of attention to exploring each park and learning everything we can in the process.

Snake River in Grand Teton National Park (2009)

Today (Thursday, Aug. 25) is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. Every park, monument, and memorial under their care is offering free admission for the entire weekend and most have special events for community participation. I hope you will consider spending time with your family at one of these amazing national treasures – if not this weekend, sometime soon.

Death Valley National Park (2013).
Grand Teton National Park (2013).
Denali National Park & Preserve (2016).
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Reflections on School Pride — Our First Visit to the State Playoffs

IMG_6019By John Martin, MS Athletics Director and Health & Physical Education Teacher

In my opinion, the greatest aspect of sports is how it brings a common group of people together.  It may be 85-plus-degrees outside today, but my mind drifts back to six months ago, with snow on the ground and excitement in the frozen air.

On Feb. 20, 2016, the Harrisburg Academy community came together to support and witness history in the making. The Varsity Girls’ Basketball team had the chance to become the first team in Academy basketball history to advance to the PIAA State tournament. As a team, we were excited to play in a District game (versus our rival, Lancaster Country Day School) at home and in front of our fans. We had earned the advantage to have our loyal fans support us in our most important moment.  However, nothing prepared us for the atmosphere and enthusiasm that would ensue. We had alumni, parents (from all grade levels), administration, teachers, and our Upper School student body at the game to support us. I was so grateful and moved that all of these people would come out to support the girls.

During the game, our fan section was cheering so loud and truly giving us the home court advantage. Our Upper School student section was sensational. They were the heart and soul of our community fan base. Each of the students wore a gold shirt in a unified show of support. During timeouts, they would be so loud getting the rest of the crowd pumped up that the girls could not hear me coaching. They were full of so much energy that I fed off of it during momentum swings during the game — and I could tell that our players fed off the energy as well. They put as much effort as they could put into a game. In my years of coaching, this was one of the top moments in Academy sports history.

After we won the game, we went into a classroom across the hall from the gymnasium to celebrate. However, Dr. Newman told us that the fans wanted the team to come back out! We re-entered the gym, and everyone was still clapping and cheering for us. It was like we were in a sports movie! After reflecting on all of this, I believe that the accomplishment, itself, was overwhelming, however being able to share it with the community was even more special.

As we start a new academic year full of promise, I can’t wait to see what kind of new athletics victories, lessons, and memories are in store for Harrisburg Academy.



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Going beyond preparing for college

h&R-block-budget-challenge-logo“What is overdraft protection?”  “A $75 charge! What did I buy at the movies?!!”  Strange questions were asked in the junior college prep course last year… questions about health insurance, 401k contributions, insurance deductibles, loans, and bank fees, to name just a few.  Sure, the focus of the college prep class is the college application process, which encompasses writing college essays and developing interviewing skills, but fiscal awareness is also an important part of the curriculum.

What is fiscal awareness in the context of the college preparation process?  I believe it is helping our students understand the financial impact the cost of their college education will have on their future, not only in lifetime earnings, but financial freedom.  So how do you help teenagers understand personal finances that most adults don’t understand? Through participating in a national budgeting simulation called the H&R Block Budget Challenge.

The 2015-16 academic year was the second year the Academy participated in this simulation, whose aim is to help students learn how to successfully manage their money after graduating from college.  Budget Challenge places the students in a real-life scenario of having to make decisions about how they will spend or save their money.  The decisions they make at the beginning of the simulation will dictate outcomes throughout the game.  Choosing a bank that requires a minimum balance and pays interest is a great way to earn points, but could hurt you at some point when expenses cause you to go below the minimum bank balance.  Paying bills on time earns you points while lateness results in point penalties.  Correctly answering weekly quizzes on financial terms and situations also helps students gain points.  Someone will crash their virtual car and have their virtual laptop stolen in the simulation in order to teach them how to plan for the unexpected events in life.

If a student can successfully manage his or her personal finances, the reward goes from being virtual to real, by way of a scholarship in the amount of $22,000 — a great incentive to keep asking questions such as, “How much should I contribute to my 401k if my employer matches 10 percent?”

College readiness starts early and so should fiscal awareness.  I look forward to continuing this valuable simulation with my students in the 2016-17 academic year!

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Novels on the Secret Shelf

by Mhelaney N. ’18

As originally published in The Insider, Harrisburg Academy’s quarterly student newspaper.

Mhelaney N“The book is always better” is a phrase often heard when yet another book becomes a victim of the film industry’s inadequate adaptations.  True, not all book-based films heartlessly ravage their literary origins with bad acting and poorly reconstructed plots… but many do.  So, to avoid the anxiety that comes before seeing a book-based movie, why not indulge in a book that will probably never be made into a movie (like ever)?

A great book that will not be victimized by Hollywood any time soon is “Starters” by Lissa Price.  “Starters” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world (because you can never have enough of those) where society was destroyed by “The Spore Wars.”  In these wars, missiles left behind toxins that killed everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty, including the parents of the main character, Callie.

“Starters” takes place in Los Angeles in the future, where people live well past one hundred and advanced technology is everywhere.  But, for kids like Callie, life is grim.  Kids without guardians are supposed to live in the state “homes,” which are about as horrific as the insane asylums of medieval Europe.  Callie has no living family, so she lives in an abandoned apartment building with her younger brother and friend, Michael, who is constantly fighting for food and running from cruel authorities. Callie’s only hope of survival lies in Prime Destinations or the “body bank.”

The elderly people, or enders, can “rent” young starters’ bodies and get to be young again. An ender and his or her starter’s brains are wirelessly connected to a computer with microchips; then, the starter falls into a deep sleep and the ender can walk around in the starter’s body as if it were his own. All she had to do was three rents and then get some quick cash, but if it were that simple it would not be worth reading.

“When I came to, I had a gun in my hands…A gun…Why?” (Price, 105).  Instead of entering a deep sleep, Callie woke up in her own body, forced to pretend to be her renter. And then, just to make things weirder, “…I heard a voice…Inside. My. Head” (68).  Now Callie has three problems: there was something wrong with the chip in her brain, she is hearing a voice, and she has to pretend to be a rich ender who might be a murderer. On top of all this, she only has a month: 30 days, 336 pages to get back to her brother, to give him the life he deserves. How does she do it?

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Who Am I Today?

by Paul Gibson, building substitute

paul-gibson-building-substituteIn 1st grade, where I spent the first two months of the 2015-16 academic year assisting Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Mahaffey, our character trait is thankfulness, and I am just that — thankful for the opportunity to serve Harrisburg Academy and its students to the best of my ability; thankful for the relationships I am building with coworkers and students; and thankful for the lessons each one of these people have taught me.

As the building substitute, my day may begin in a senior English class before I’m off to a Middle School Spanish class, and by the end of my day I am outside at recess with Junior Kindergarten.  This can be and has been my day on occasion, and as you can imagine, it is very exciting.  I can see the full spectrum of students and teachers, from pre-college academic disciplines to pre-elementary picture books, in a single day.  This privilege affords me the ability to interact with more students in a single day than I would as a first-year teacher in any single grade or subject.  And it also allows me to get to know more of the wonderful (and supportive!) Harrisburg Academy staff.

Sure, being a building substitute also means staying on top of my schedule and not the other way around.  Knowing exactly where I have to be and when would be impossible if not for my smartphone’s integrated calendar, with up-to-the-minute updates (Again, I’m thankful!).  We starting a new school year, but for this building substitute, it feels like things are just beginning.

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Importance of Play in Early Childhood

by Gretchen Qualls and Jackie Stabach, Junior Kindergarten teachers

As Early Childhood teachers, we understand the developmental stages of learning and we embrace the importance of play.  Here at Harrisburg Academy, we believe social skills are just as important as academic skills.  There is a lot to be said about play and the learning that comes with it.  Children are naturally social and curious creatures.  When left to explore in dress-up, art, building, and other activities, the magic of conversation, creativity, and cooperation sparks.  Young learners are immersed in having to think and act both independently and within a group.  Imagination and creativity overflows during these interactions.  We feel that providing our students with time to play is just as valuable as the time provided teaching pre-reading, writing, and math skills.

creative arts

Children develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spacial skills, and self expression through creative art experiences and active play with items like building blocks and play dough.

building blocksThey are encouraged to use their imagination, creative thinking skills, and problem solving when joining in dramatic play with classmates.

dramatic playWhen participating in science lessons and hands-on lab experiences, Early Childhood students learn decision making, observation techniques, and inquiry skills.  They are also actively learning early math skills, including number sense, estimation and measurement, and geometry.

scienceFinally, outdoor play is an important part of our Early Childhood classes, teaching students important health lessons, communication and cooperation skills, and environmental awareness.  All of these lessons are important to our developing students, and they make an Early Childhood education at Harrisburg Academy truly unique.

outdoor play

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Parents as Partners in Teaching

by Maria Lee, 1st grade teacher

Harrisburg Academy teachers and classrooms are very fortunate to have an amazing and supportive group of parents.  From field trips, to presentations of ethnic celebrations from around the world, to classroom parties, parents play a pivotal role as “dedicated teachers” in the classroom.

IMG_1468In 1st grade, our curriculum incorporates a specific theme each month, along with other subject areas.  For many of our themed lessons, we have parent volunteers come into the class and lend their support to successfully implement planned activities with the students.  For example, we have had parents help host Miss Spider’s Tea Party during the month focused on insects, and polar bear Rice Krispie® treats during the month dedicated to winter animals.


Ethnic celebrations from around the world is always a fun theme.  Parents partner with me to introduce the culture for a country of their choice.  We have learned about how Germany, Israel, Italy, and Mexico celebrate their distinctive cultures.  Parents come well-prepared with digital presentations, print outs, crafts, and delicious treats.  Our students enjoy every lesson and so do I.

IMG_1148Harrisburg Academy provides a number of opportunities for parent involvement, and students’ academic performance benefits greatly from parent engagement in the school curriculum.  I also believe that parent presence in the classroom helps with students’ mental and behavioral development, which is another important aspect of elementary education.  I am proud to say that Academy parents stand beside me as my teaching partners!


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National History Day: Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History

By Lindsay Bowman, Middle School social studies teacher

National History Day 2016Each year, hundreds of students from across the region participate in National History Day (NHD) at Messiah College… like science fair for History!  For the past three years, 8th grade history students at the Academy have participated as a requirement and 6th and 7th grade students could earn extra credit for entering.

The students begin by selecting a topic of interest to them and then choose the best way to present their information – paper, performance, exhibit, documentary or website.  By allowing them to choose their topic and presentation method, students are more likely to be passionate about the project.  This is important because the next step is getting into the research (insert foreboding, “Jaws” theme music here).  With help from the MS/US librarian, we educate the students on the importance of finding reliable sources, identifying primary and secondary sources, and identifying multiple types of sources.  It is important for NHD to show a depth and breadth of knowledge.

The final step in the process is to take their research and turn it into a project.  The true benefit of this project, in my opinion, is the opportunity to present and defend their work in front of college professors, graduate students, and respected members of the community.  How often can students in middle school say that they’ve presented in front of such a distinguished group?  This process makes them realize that they need to truly understand their topic, and research methods, and forces them to think quickly on their feet – which will serve them well as they move on to the Upper School and college.

The 2016 theme was Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History.  While everyone is a winner in my book, we did have some students make it past the first round.  In the Junior Division, Group Documentary, Kate ’20 and Emilee ’20, placed in the top six with their video about the 19th Amendment and the Suffragettes.  Also in the Junior Division, Group Documentary category, Orion ’20, John ’20, and Michael ’20, earned 3rd place for their piece on the Space Race!

While it has been nearly six months since our students competed in the regional competition (on Saturday, Feb. 27 at Messiah College), I am still so proud of our students last year and hopeful to see what this coming year’s students will do.  Save the Date for 2017!  The regional competition is scheduled for March 4, 2017 at Messiah College, with a theme of “Taking a Stand in History.”  Students in 5th through 12th grade may enter.  The Junior Division is for students in 5th through 8th grade, and the Senior Division is for students in 9th through 12th grade.  Please consider coming out to cheer the students on next year and to see all of the amazing projects from around the area.  You are guaranteed to learn something new!

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History Comes Alive at the Capital Area Classics Festival

by Travis Kreider, Upper School history and Latin teacher

classics-festival-2016When I began teaching Latin at Harrisburg Academy in 2001, I knew that I wanted to go back to the Classics Festival that was run by the Capital Area Classics Association (CACA), if it was still occurring.  CACA is an organization of the high school Latin teachers in Southcentral PA, and the event has been happening annually since before I was born.  When I was a Latin student at Linglestown Junior High School and Central Dauphin High School in the 1990s, I had the opportunity to compete in the Classics Festival, thus it seems a like a natural progression that these days I am one of the members of the organization, and I was pleased to be able to be a colleague with my former Latin teachers before they retired.

Another great part of this has been bringing students from Harrisburg Academy to the festival.   We have come home with a few ribbons from year to year.  Last year we won ribbons in three categories, including two first place, but this year, I am proud to say that we won six ribbons!  That is great considering we only had 12 students participating.

The festival is a way to celebrate the culture of the ancient Greeks and the Romans by making it all come alive.  There are two live performance categories where all the spoken or sung words are in Latin.  For example, this year a group performed “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and another group performed a skit based on the Scooby-Doo cartoons.  There are also many creative categories to compete in like frescoes, sculpture, and pottery.  Additionally, there are more academic categories that focus on Latin grammar and vocabulary.  This is the area where Harrisburg Academy students traditionally do well.  I remember how much fun it was as a young Latin student to have this experience and see all of the projects, performances, and academic competitions on those days, and it has been fun to watch the growth of the program come to fruition in the form of ribbons and to see the students enjoying and learning at the Classics Festival as I did a generation before them.

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Kids Love Horror… and So Do I!

by Anne Anderson, Early Childhood and Lower School librarian

IMG_4859Fear is a natural human response to real or perceived threats.  Not everyone enjoys being scared, but for many of us there is nothing like it!  I’ve recently read several articles exploring why people intentionally place themselves in situations they know will scare them — horror movies, Halloween haunted houses, and zombie runs, for example.  The simple answer is that the thrill is worth the scare, as long as we know the threat is not real and in the end we escape.  The movie ends, you leave the haunted house, the zombies aren’t real.

For middle readers, 4th-6th grade, one of the safest places to be scared is in books. Authors like Bruce Coville and R.L. Stine have pulled in many a reluctant reader.  But as reading skills improve and readers mature they want more thought provoking, less predictable storylines.  I’d like to share a few titles I have recently enjoyed.

  • “The Night Gardener” by Jonathan Auxier is the story of orphaned Irish siblings sent to work for the Windsor family at their creepy English mansion.  The estate is haunted by the night gardener who tends to a magical tree that grants wishes.  But is the reward worth the cost?
  • “A Tale Dark and Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel.  Cleverly written with the author humorously interjecting throughout, he promises blood early on and makes good on his promise.  It is followed by two sequels for kids who love series.
  • “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman won the 2009 Newbery Medal.  It tells the story of Nobody Owen who, as a toddler, witnesses the murder of his parents.  He escapes by crawling into a neighboring cemetery where he is adopted and raised by the supernatural inhabitants.  Most of the story revolves around his relationships and experiences, but as he comes of age the story turns to finding his parents murderer.
  • “The Nest” by Kenneth Oppel deals with childhood angst, accepting imperfections in ourselves and others, and a really creepy angel/wasp.  The main character, Steve, makes a deal to “fix” his sick baby brother but realizes his choice may have been the wrong one.  Is it too late to go back on his deal without facing dire consequences?  The story is hauntingly illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Jon Klassen.

To those out there who love a good scare, I hope you will check out these titles. And remember, if the story gets too scary, just close the book!

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