What’s the Story in Your Grade?

By Jennifer Klemunes, Middle School Science and Math Teacher

whats-in-a-grade“I just checked NetClassroom and have a ‘C’ – What does it mean?”  As a 5th grade teacher, I often hear this question.  Cumulative grades are one new part of the academic story for 5th graders to understand.

Letter grades tell a story about student performance on homework, quizzes, tests, labs, and class participation.  In general, an “A” suggests a strong understanding of the material covered with few or no mistakes.   A “B” shows a good understanding of the material; a “C” means average.  Earning a “D” suggests a poor understanding of the material, and an “F” shows there is much to learn and clarify around a skill or topic.

With NetClassroom, each assignment and assessment grade is weighted and averaged into a cumulative grade that reflects student performance over each quarter and semester during the school year.  In 5th grade, quizzes and tests are a lower portion of the cumulative grade than in the upper grades.  Class participation, focus, preparedness, and homework are also part of the cumulative grade.

At the beginning of the grading period, only having one or two grades in the grade book means that a missed assignment or a lower grade on an assignment or quiz can give you a shockingly low average.  As the quarter proceeds, however, there will be many more opportunities to gain a better understanding of the topic and earn higher marks to reflect this.  Completing a missed assignment without delay will increase the average grade quickly.  A lower grade due to being late, studying the wrong material for a test or quiz or managing time poorly and completing an assignment poorly are all valuable if a student learns how to improve his or her personal organization or choices for the next time.  Grades in middle school are a helpful measure of understanding, but often a lower grade results in the greatest opportunity for learning!

At Harrisburg Academy, we are fortunate to be surrounded by highly successful, hardworking, intelligent students, parents, teachers, grandparents, and friends.  Do your best and be true to yourself.  Rather than focusing on the letter grades, be sure you are pleasing yourself with your performance and the joy of learning.

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Harrisburg Academy’s Centers Program: Opportunities That Inspire Dreams

By Martha Peaslee Levine, MD, Trustee of the Board and Parent of David ’12 and Dayna ’15

cast-performance“As You Like It?”  Make that, “As WE Like It!”

Last week, Harrisburg Academy’s McCormick Auditorium was packed with an enthusiastic audience as creative energy flowed from the stage.  The Cambridge University American Stage Tour (CAST), which was established under the patronage of Dame Judi Dench, performed an engaging version of “As You Like It.”

This is one of the many advantages of attending this nurturing private school.

Not only did CAST perform for the community on Thursday night, but also during September 21 – 23, the cast and crew held workshops with Harrisburg Academy students.  Middle and Upper School students had opportunities to closely interact with Cambridge University students and learn more about Shakespeare, acting, and the world at large.

This performance was sponsored by the Center for Literary Studies and the Center for the Creative Arts.  So when people ask, “Why do you send your child to a private school?”  remind them that in this environment, Centers have been created to nurture our children’s interests and talents.  These Centers work to bring in exciting individuals who can spark our children’s imaginations.  In this close-knit community, students can develop personalized connections with the talented individuals who teach at the school or come to visit.  Imagine being able to work closely with a UK actor and feel the buzz of learning more about Shakespeare, Cambridge, and the UK, which is just a hop across the pond!

I sat in the audience with my son who graduated in 2012 and my friend, whose son also graduated in 2012. We agreed, this is what Harrisburg Academy is all about — the chance to get closely involved in innovative and exciting education.  These are the opportunities that allow our children to not only dream, but to consider how to make their dreams their realities.

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When the Answers Are Your Own — Gratitude for Opportunity

the-oscarsOne of my favorite celebrity speeches of all time was given by Matthew McConaughey right after he won Best Actor at the Oscars for his leading role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” (in 2014). McConaughey was up against Christian Bale for “American Hustle,” Bruce Dern for “Nebraska,” Leonardo DiCaprio for “Wolf of Wall Street,” and Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave.” I am no expert, but in the three movies I saw, each actor was simply amazing in his role. For me, it was up in the air, and it could have gone any direction.

When McConaughey walked up on stage to accept his award and deliver his speech, I was expecting a performance reminiscence of “Dazed and Confused.” I was not expecting to be totally turned upside down in a mere three-minute speech.

Let me go back to his competitors for a second… titans in the industry, and not a lot of separation between their talents. The very first thing McConaughey opened with was his recognition of the immense talent of all the nominees, and he said the performances were impeccable, without a false note anywhere.  Like any A-list actor, McConaughey knows how to capture the attention of an audience through his acting, but this was different. It sounded different, felt different, and it wasn’t acting. It was genuine, motivating, and inspiring.

He went on to say that he needs three things each day:

1. Something to look up to
2. Something to look forward to
3. Something to chase

McConaughey’s answers were his own (if you’d like to hear them yourself, click here).

The reason this speech impacted me is that everyday life and success was put into perspective. Here is a man who has achieved success, fame, and, fortune beyond my realistic dreams. I can never do what he does, make the money he makes, live the life he lives… or can I? I started asking myself how I would answer these questions, where do I place value, what are the simple, everyday things in life that I might overlook and take for granted, and can I still dream big?

I may never have the same value in my bank account as Matthew McConaughey, but I can start opening my eyes and be thankful for the people who are in my life and what they teach me. So to that I say, “Alright Alright Alright.”

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“To Understand This, You Must Know About That” — Science, Math, and History Come Together

By Steve Stewart, Middle School History Teacher

eratosthenes-projectIt’s high noon, September 21, and the Autumnal Equinox is nearly here (tomorrow, Sept. 22, 2016, at 10:21 a.m.).  Harrisburg Academy 8th grade ancient history students scramble outside to set up their equipment and await the noonday sun, in an attempt to take measurements of the sun’s shadow and calculate the circumference of the earth as ancient geographer and mathematician, Eratosthenes (240 BCE), did more than 2,000 years ago.

Like Eratosthenes, the project lives on in obscurity, except for, perhaps, ambitious physics students — but the class is willing to give it a go!  Using two eight-foot rods, levels, measuring tapes, protractors, a stopwatch, and string, the students report to their stations and assignments.

Helping us with our project are two civil engineers: one, located in Charleston, South Carolina, and another in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania.  They, too, are taking measurements of the sun’s shadow at noon in their respective locations to compare with our class’ measurements.  Academy alumnus, Greg Stewart ’02, will report his readings from Charleston, and our own 8th grade engineers will compare their results with his.  Ultimately, our students’ calculations should provide us with a close approximation of the earth’s circumference.

A second experiment takes John Fenn’s measurement of the shadow his rod casts at noon in Huntington Valley, 95 miles east of the Academy.  The idea is for our students to compare the length of their shadow here at noon with John’s shadow in Huntington Valley.  A stopwatch marks the passage of the sun overhead until the Academy’s shadow reduces to the exact length of John’s shadow a few minutes before.  Marking the time it takes to travel the 95 miles between the sites, our students will be able to calculate the circumference of the earth at the 43rd North Parallel.

Our theme this year is, “To understand this you must know about that.”  Eratosthenes’ calculations came within 195 miles of the true size of the earth at 24,902 miles.  With data in-hand, it is now time to calculate and analyze our own results.  Stay tuned for more on the accuracy of our own experiments and if they replicated Erastothenes’ work.

We study ancient history for so many reasons, only one of which is to recognize the connections between math, science, and history.  Eratosthenes also calculated the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn within a quarter of a degree, plus other contributions to mathematics.  He knew more about the size of the earth 17 centuries before Christopher Columbus (Columbus estimated the earth as being only 18,000 miles around, which should explain why he believed he reached the outskirts of India and not two unknown continents that were in his way!).  Teaching at the Academy provides educators with the freedom to create engaging and collaborative lessons that respect the connections between educational disciplines.  Not only are these hands-on lessons rewarding, they are fun for teachers and students, alike!

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A Day in the Life of a HATS (Preschool) Student

By Kelly Seely, HATS Teacher

The first few weeks of school are a time of adjustment for everyone in the school community, and this is especially true for our preschool students, or HATS (Harrisburg Academy Threes). Many of the children are experiencing school for the first time, and saying “Goodbye” to Mommy and Daddy in the morning can sometimes be tough.  Once they enter the classroom, though, they are excited for another fun day of singing, playing, learning, and growing. Check out our photos to see a “day in the life” of a HATS student.

Blog 1Singing “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Blog 2Reading books in the library center.

Blog 3Drawing pictures.

Blog 4Playing in the bean table.

Blog 5Climbing on the turtle.

Blog 6And giving a little cheer: “Hooray for HATS!”

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Oh, Canada!

canada-college-counseling-tripI am sure very few people would consider visiting 10 colleges in five days a fun and relaxing part of summer vacation — just ask any parent of a junior or senior — but for me, it’s an exciting adventure filled with new experiences to be had and friendships to be formed.  I don’t think my summer vacation would be complete without at least one college tour.

This summer, I found myself in Canada courtesy of EduNova, the provincial governmental agency responsible for promoting studying at Nova Scotia’s universities.  The tour itinerary promised to be a balance of campus visits and cultural excursions in order to discover what makes Nova Scotia unique from the other Canadian provinces.  Luckily, due to previous visits to Toronto and Ottawa, I would be able to compare Nova Scotia’s universities to other top universities in the country.  Most students and their families are unaware that attending college in Canada can be cost-effective due to the significantly lower tuition and room costs.  Canadian universities are heavily subsidized by the provincial and federal governments, and those savings are passed along to the students, even international ones!

My journey to Nova Scotia involved a hair-raising flight and two layovers, but I eventually found myself in Halifax surrounded by the friendliest Canadians I have ever met — and that’s saying something in itself.  The tour kicked-off in Halifax with whirlwind campus visits of the universities in the city.  Then I headed north to start the tour of the rest of the province.  Fifty-seven thousand steps later (thank you, steps-tracker app!), what stood out to me about my trip was the uniqueness of each university, not just in campus appearance but also strength of specific programs.  Unlike their United States counterparts, which try to be everything to every student, the Canadian universities concentrate on programs that are unique or strong for their specific institutions.  Each university could speak with ease about what they are “known for,” whether it’s filmmaking and tourism or engineering and agriculture science, with no apology for not expanding their focus.

This was certainly the case when I visited the Universite̒ Sainte Anne, which is a Francophone university that instructs all of its students only in French.  Not only did I get to experience my first lobster dinner of the trip there, but also the summer French immersion program it held for both students and teachers from around the world.  The University of King’s College was another surprising experience, which I can only best describe as the honors college of Dalhousie University, for lack of a better explanation of a very unique educational experience.

Our students have thousands of options when it comes to pursuing their college education, and the choices can be overwhelming.  I have the pleasure of exploring those options without the pressure and anxiety of actually choosing ones to which I might apply.   Call me crazy, but I think this is a fun way to spend a summer vacation, and I can’t wait to see where the summer of 2017 will take me!

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Why Are We at Harrisburg Academy?

matriculationMaybe you were present?  A good number of parents were, including the parents of students newly enrolled at Harrisburg Academy.  The occasion was the Academy’s annual Middle School / Upper School Matriculation ceremony.  The event welcomes all new students (including international students) to our school community, as well as students transitioning to a new division (like 5th and 9th grade).  Students sign their names in a large leather-bound book during the program, thereby documenting their matriculation along with many other students from past years.

Typically my role is to welcome everyone and add comments that highlight the unique nature of Harrisburg Academy and its significant value to students and their families.  This year, however, I did something different.  I asked, “Why are we here?”  I wanted to hear the perspectives of our students to this essential question rather than simply projecting my own thoughts.

Students immediately offered their opinions to my open-ended question: “to learn;” “to make friends;” “the Academy Advantage;” “to be admitted to a good college;” and “to be part of a welcoming community.”

Their answers covered nearly the entire spectrum of reasons that I, myself, would have suggested as to “why we are here.”  To learn — and learn how to think critically and deeply.  To make friends — and learn from the Academy’s diverse multicultural environment.  The Academy Advantage — learning how to benefit from the extraordinary advantages that constitute significant opportunities at Harrisburg Academy.  To be admitted to a good college — and gain sharper written, verbal, and quantitative reasoning skills to prepare students for what is next.  And to be a part of a welcoming community — learning and growing with people who value the development of character skills and embrace a challenging academic program.

After the students responded, I suggested one more reason — one from the Academy’s mission statement.  Simply put, it is to teach skills that prepare students to thrive in college and beyond, thereby contributing to the betterment of our global and local communities.  We believe it’s important for Academy students and alumni to recognize that their experiences are preparation for both their own personal success and for the success of others.

And succeed, they do.  We will recognize outstanding alumni again at our Alumni Achievement Awards Ceremony and Athletics Hall of Fame as part of Alumni Weekend (Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2016).  We will again proudly present our Service to Humanity Award to a highly-deserving Academy graduate. Not surprising, recipients of our Professional Achievement and Academic Achievement Alumni Awards have also spent much of their careers sharing their personal achievement for the benefit of their local and global communities.  It’s that one more reason “why we are here.”

“Why are we at Harrisburg Academy?” It’s certainly a big question… but not too big for students to begin to analyze critically.  As the year proceeds, I look forward to pursuing the question further with them.  I can’t wait for their next round of responses.  Matriculation was just the start.

I’m so pleased the new school year has begun — I can’t wait to share this journey with you! ​

Posted in Community, Events and Celebrations, Middle School, On Education, Thoughts from the Head of School, Upper School | Leave a comment

Celebrating the 2016 Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees

Eric Clark'03
Eric Clark’03

Harrisburg Academy will induct two alumni into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.  This ceremony is very special not only for the inductees and their families, but it is also inspirational for our current student-athletes.  This year, long-time swimming coach, Chris Clark, will proudly watch her son, Eric Clark ’03, being honored for his record-breaking achievements in the pool.  Eric owns many Academy swimming records, including finishing 12th in the state in the 200IM and being a 4-Time District 3 medalist.  After earning a bachelor’s degree from American University and a master’s degree from Shippensburg University, Eric works as a finance and accounting professional.  When asked what he learned as a student-athlete, he stated: “The Academy and athletics taught me discipline, goal setting, and perseverance.  This created the foundation for lifelong learning and physical activity.”

Stacy Dee Adler Smith'83
Stacy Dee Adler Smith’83

Stacy Dee Adler Smith ’83 is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Stacy was a 3-sport athlete (field hockey, basketball, and tennis).  She qualified in Singles for the P.I.A.A. District 3 Tournament and played at the collegiate level at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.  In addition, she earned the Academy’s top athlete award, the Sports Club Trophy Award, in 1983 and is also a 13-Year Student.

Currently, Stacy is a lead proctor MAP and educational technology assistant in a school.  Stacy is proud of the education she received at Harrisburg Academy and credits the school for her success, stating, “As a student-athlete learning through commitment, teamwork, sportsmanship, and discipline, one can gain ‘grace and grit’ — invaluable lessons I gained from participation.  Values that remain standard in my life — accountability, determination, motivation, and organization — all commenced at Harrisburg Academy.”

This is our 13th year hosting this ceremony, and it gives me reassurance when I speak with former student-athletes that being an athlete has played a vital role in their success.  Playing sports outside the classroom is a perfect complement for our students’ academic careers.  Experiences on the field and courts provides them the opportunity to develop character, perseverance, teamwork, and humility — traits that an athlete may not set out to achieve, but ones that he or she will develop as a result of training and working towards personal and team goals.

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What Has Surprised Us Most About the Academy?

As we begin another new school year today, I am glad to take the time to reflect on some of the reasons that families choose the Academy as their educational home.  As we prepare to add dozens of new students and families to our community, however, I am also quite interested in making sure these new families — “our families,” to the Admission Office — are ready to join the Academy community and feeling welcomed by current students, parents, faculty, and staff.

A common question I hear in meeting with prospective families is this: Since many of the students have been at the Academy for years, how will my child fit into that group — academically and socially?  Which reminds me of what one parent told me…

“What has surprised us most about the Academy? That the children, their parents, and the staff are so warm and welcoming. My daughter, one of only two new children in her grade level, was immediately taken in by her classmates and included in all activities and conversations, a point made even more remarkable because it occurred amongst middle schoolers!”


Harrisburg Academy’s admission process seeks to admit students who, first and foremost, have the potential to be successful in our program and must fall academically and socially into the parameters of the group of students in which they will be placed.

Each faculty member, through daily interactions as well as more structured advising programs, is committed to student success and positive outcomes at the Academy. Faculty and staff partner with parents to ensure that each student’s individual needs are evaluated and met during the process of first joining, then thriving, in the Academy’s educational community.

An age-appropriate focus on character education at the Academy is an important underpinning to the successful transition of new students –- whether it is “generous” Kindergarteners, “respectful” 3rd graders, or “open-minded” 8th graders. Each student in our community benefits from the sense of inclusion and acceptance, including those from diverse socioeconomic, geographic, racial, and cultural backgrounds.

Our parents value the difference in the Academy community and the educational advantages we are building in our teaching and learning environment.

“The Academy teachers work very hard to make sure new students get up-to-speed as quickly as possible. In addition, each Academy student knows what it’s like to be the ‘new kid’ and lives the Academy’s ideals of inclusion. Due to the smaller class sizes, every friend counts and every student is included.”

“Academy teachers tell us that their students –- our children –- are some of the most welcoming, accepting young people whom they, as teachers, have ever encountered. Since we are a small community in comparison to most other schools, Academy students are excited and curious when new students arrive. New students contribute valuable gifts to the Academy family.”

Ready to learn more? Or chime in about your student’s experiences?  Let us know.

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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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