What A Day on the Kennebec With the Class of 2014 Taught Me

I have been thinking a lot about the value of teamwork and how that applies to a broad spectrum of experiences. The genesis of these thoughts was the glorious day I spent riding the Kennebec waves with the senior class as part of their Outdoor Experience trip.


After willingly subjecting ourselves to a screening of Jaws, our bus arrived at The Forks in Somerset County, ME. The Forks is the point of convergence for the Kennebec and Dead Rivers and is the home of Three Rivers Whitewater. We piled out of the bus, received our cabin assignments, and quickly unloaded our gear. It was 4:00 in the afternoon and we wanted to check out Moxie Falls before dinner.


Moxie Falls has one of the tallest single drops in the State of Maine.  After an easy 10-minute hike, a series of steps and handrails brought us to the edge of the Falls and a gorgeous view of the river, falls, and forest.  After 15 minutes, we headed back up the trail in search of the apparently elusive swimming hole.


The swimming hole turned out to be easy to find and a handful of brave souls, led by Carol Titterton, went for a swim.  It was not a particularly wonderful day, with overcast skies and cool temperatures, and the water temperature was chilly.  Most of the senior class chose to hang out on the bank of the river and watch the swimming from the warmth of their dry clothes.


In addition to the glorious views, our group received a great compliment from another group of hikers.  We were told that our students were remarkably polite, friendly, and helpful.  I had to agree.


We returned to The Forks for an evening of all-you-can-eat tacos, karaoke, and games.  The most athletic event was Twister and boy! was it athletic.  It combined a little Sumo wrestling, yoga, chess, and teamwork.  The winning teams were able to force their opponents into impossible positions.


After the evening’s events were concluded, we returned to the cabins to go to bed.  Actually, to be more accurate, we returned to the cabins at least.


The next morning, a tired group of seniors managed to get themselves to breakfast in time for our safety briefing.  It was a glorious day already and temperatures were predicted to be in the 80s and sunny throughout our rafting time.  The lead rafting guide walked us through all of the risk factors that could appear during our trip and the ways to avoid them.  We then donned our life vests, grabbed paddles, and climbed aboard buses to the start of the whitewater course.


Because the Kennebec is a dam-controlled river, the whitewater fun is created by water releases.  Our guide explained that the river is usually flowing at about 2000 cubic feet per second, but the whitewater release brings that up to 5000.  He described one cubic foot as the size of a chicken and had us envision 5000 chickens going by per second.


I was assigned to a great raft and had Emily Wasserman as my bow mate.  She and I were the only ones brave enough to take on the river first.  I would have been happy to give up my seat, in fact, I begged to give up my seat.  I had no takers.  So down the river we went.


Kenny, our guide, taught us the correct paddle strokes and encouraged us to paddle in sync.  This would provide us the greatest maneuverability and speed.   Before we entered a series of rapids, Kenny would tell us how we would maneuver the raft and then would begin yelling out his commands.


The first half of our rafting trip was the most exciting with a mixture of Class 3 and 4 rapids.  Kenny’s job was to position the raft in such a way that we would feel like we were in a giant flume with water spraying everywhere.  The thrill combined all the elements of a great amusement park ride: adrenaline pumping, nerves energized, and hysterical laughter all rolled into one experience.


After completing the upper part of the river, we were permitted to float through series of Class 2 rapids and swift water.  Just imagine our good fortune: the air temperature registered 84 and the water temperature was 69.  It was a cloudless sky and bright sun beating down on us.  It could not have been more perfect.


Since I am never one to miss an opportunity to draw a lesson from an experience, this rafting trip did not disappoint.  It was one of the rapids that made me realize that the teamwork aspect of rafting is like so many things in life.  If a rafting team doesn’t work all that hard, they will have a perfectly pleasant and fun ride down the river.  However, if a rafting team works really hard and concentrates on staying in sync, they will have the most thrilling ride possible.  I think this lesson can be applied to a lot of things in life.


Our day ended with a mellow float down the Kennebec followed by a picnic lunch.  It was a great way for me to get to know a bunch of the senior class and to spend a few days in the Maine outdoors.

Multiple Sports Leads to Multiple Benefits for Waynflete Athletes and the School

With a one goal lead just into the second half of a recent game against Class B Gray-New Gloucester, the Flyers needed to take advantage of a free kick from inside the offensive zone.  The two teams had battled evenly since an early Waynflete goal so all of the players knew that the next goal of the game would be critical to determining its outcome.  Ninth grader Isabel Canning looped the kick into the crowd gathered in front of the net, where Leigh Fernandez broke loose from her defender to get her head on the ball and redirect it past the goalie into the net. With a two goal lead, the momentum swung to the Flyers, who continued in their defense of the Class C state title by going on to win the game 3-0.


Leigh is in a unique position this fall.  Besides working hard with her teammates to defend their title, she is also hoping that for the fifth time in a row, her season will end in a state championship.  Leigh and Rhiannan Jackson, who graduated last spring, began the streak as teammates on the 2012 state champion lacrosse team.  Their teams then ran the table last year, winning state titles in soccer, basketball, and then lacrosse again.


With Rhiannan off in college, where she is planning to play basketball and lacrosse, Leigh is alone in pursuing a fifth athletic championship.  But she is not alone in changing sports with the seasons.  In fact, nearly all of her teammates play more than one sport and most play on three school teams.  In an age when individual sports are offered year round and young athletes are under increasing pressure to specialize, this phenomenon seems counter-cultural.  In fact, it is.  The path to success at many schools is to encourage athletes to specialize.  But when asked what he thinks of three season athletes, Athletic Director Ross Burdick candidly replied, “We are a small school. We depend on them. Without them, we couldn’t field our current slate of 18 varsity and multiple junior varsity teams, much less enjoy the success they have been having.”  To express it gratitude, Waynflete recognizes three sport athletes each year and gives an award in the spring to seniors who have played on three varsity teams for all four years.


But while students playing multiple sports benefits the School, does it benefit the athletes themselves?  The answer, according to Ross, is an emphatic “Yes.  One of the many benefits of kids playing multiple sports is that they learn how to compete, how to play as a team, how to play for different coaches, and how to be successful.  They learn how to handle pressure, how to come from behind, and how to have fun.”


Ross could point to the four championship girls teams to illustrate his point, as each team had faced the clear prospect of defeat before gathering itself and ultimately prevailing. While the 2012 lacrosse champions won the state final easily, they came back from multiple goal late game deficits in both the regional semi-finals and finals for two of the most dramatic victories in the already storied history of the program.  In the fall, the soccer team fell behind before striking with two goals in less than a minute to pull ahead in the final.  The prospects for winning the championship in basketball seemed particularly dim as the team fell behind by 14 points midway through the third quarter to perennial champ Calais before a packed crowd on the last evening of basketball ever at the Bangor Civic Center.  Unfazed, the girls in green pressed ahead with tenacious team defense, timely rebounding, and a stunning fourth quarter rally behind the red-hot shooting of Martha Veroneau to pull away to a 59 to 55 victory and the first Class C basketball championship in the School’s history.


The multi-sport phenomenon is not limited to the girls teams, nor is the success it yields.  Also populated by multi-sport players, the 2012 boys soccer team defended its 2011 State Championship by winning the conference title before losing on penalty kicks in the regional final.   The boys basketball team also won the conference and advanced to the regional final for the first time ever in Class C.  Sportsmanship is paramount at Waynflete and both the boys and girls basketball teams were presented with the “MPA Good Sportsmanship Award” for Class C West, showing that our teams know how to play hard, play well, and play with class.

Besides enhancing their athletic acumen, involvement in multiple sports benefits the athletes physically as well. Single sport athletes risk developing injuries through over-training.  The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends two to three months off per year from any one sport in order to give the bodies of young athletes time to recover from the strains placed on them through the repetitive motions required of that sport.  Another one of the benefits is increased athleticism.  By playing multiple sports, athletes learn to move their bodies in more ways, and being able to move in a variety of ways makes for a better athlete. The physical pay off of playing multiple sports is no doubt another reason for the School’s continued athletic success.


While some coaches might be tempted to encourage an athlete to specialize, the Waynflete staff is not.  A veteran group of successful coaches, they understand the benefits of their athletes competing in multiple sports. Assistant Athletic Director Brandon Salway has coached the boys soccer team for over twenty years and has coached basketball for many years, currently the girls.  Rich Henry has coached the boys basketball team for nine years and encourages his boys to play many sports.  “I don’t encourage the boys to play AAU basketball” says Henry.  “I would rather see them compete on the soccer, baseball, and lacrosse fields.  They can play basketball in the summer to prepare for the winter.”  Girls soccer coach Todd Dominski regularly attends basketball games and lacrosse games to watch his athletes compete.  Long time girls lacrosse coach and Waynflete faculty member Cathie Connors is the biggest fan of her girls during the fall and winter seasons, as is eight year veteran cross country coach Brian Gillespie.  Math teacher Zak Starr is an assistant on the boys soccer team, the girls basketball team, and the baseball team.  He also coaches in the middle school, where he conveys the multiple sport benefits to all future varsity athletes through word and deed as he was a multiple sport athlete himself at Colby College.

In the competitive athletic world of Southern Maine, a successful defense of their title is by no means guaranteed to Leigh and her soccer teammates.  But one thing is assured; the players will draw on their vast and varied athletic experience to play at their best, both as individuals and as a team.  At Waynflete, multiple sports has lead to multiple benefits, for the School and for the athletes themselves.

CSA Volunteers at Twilight in the Park

A traditional honoring, Twilight in the Park is an event sponsored by Hospice of Southern Maine that occurs every year in which people “celebrate life” by lighting a candle for a loved one who has died. The candle is placed inside a white bag with sand that bears the name of the individual being remembered. The bags are placed in Deering Oaks Park, and as the sun grows older, the candles are lit, creating a beautiful and touching memorial, showing love and compassion for “someone who has brought light into our lives.” To support this event, volunteers from Waynflete’s Community Service activity (CSA) and the parent community helped to fill and place each bag and later cleared them away.

In an email thanking the volunteers, CSA faculty advisor Breda White reflected on the event this way:

“Your efforts contributed directly, by all accounts, to the success of the event as a vital fundraiser for Hospice’s work. More important, however, was your role in helping grieving families and friends honor the life and memory of loved ones and /or to show appreciation for the caregivers who supported them through the end-of-life journey. As an Upper School community service maven, I was particularly delighted to see such a rich collaboration of Waynflete parents and students in the service of others. I hope we can have many more such joint efforts.”

All in all, a very beautiful way to spend a Saturday.


It’s not how smart you are that matters; what really counts is HOW you are smart.” Howard Gardner

Waynflete is offering a new program for Upper School students which will make academic coaching accessible to anyone wants or needs it.  Students who come to A.S.K. – Academic Skills & Knowledge – will have an opportunity to practice and master learning strategies using their own coursework, will identify personal learning styles, strengths, and challenges, and will set short and long-term goals for improving academic performance across the curriculum. In A.S.K., students will receive feedback to build on already-existing strategies and work habits.  Students will choose their own focus, with opportunities to strengthen organization, note-taking, time management/planning, memory, reading, writing and/or study and test-taking skills.  Students will be encouraged to take an active role in their learning through increased self-advocacy, self-reflection and metacognitive (learning about learning) skills.

Students may participate in A.S.K. on a voluntary, drop-in basis. They may come alone, or as a small group of peers who have similar goals. They may come once, or once a week for a year. Advisors and teachers may recommend that students participate. The Upper School Director or Dean of Students may require participation. There are many ways to benefit from A.S.K., but the most powerful results will come when students are self-directed, manifesting their own future success!

A.S.K. is run by Stacey Sevelowitz, Director of Academic Support. A.S.K. is being offered six times per week: all A-F blocks, each once per week, in the College Counseling room of the Student Center. Students will be expected to arrive with a specific task, question or skill to focus on.

The schedule is as follows:
A block: Mondays
B block: Thursdays
C block: Wednesdays
D block: Fridays
E block: Fridays
F block: Thursdays

From the Deadwaters of the Penobscot River to Middle Jo Mary Lake

I stood on a rock at the outlet of Lower Jo Mary Lake, watching Leah Grams and Chloe Williams wrestle with lining their canoe up the last section of the outlet stream. Three of our six boats were already safely secured behind me, and Leah and Chloe were almost there. So far it had been relatively easy, and they had obviously enjoyed the challenge of guiding their boat by hand against the current of the outlet stream that flowed from Lower Jo back into Pemadumcook Lake from where we had come.

But it seemed that Leah and Chloe were looking for more adventure than came with staying on the side of the stream and using the painters to guide the boat upstream. So, in the last section, they had waded out into the deeper water, where the current had grabbed their boat and turned it sideways. And there they stood, frozen in place, trying not to be swept downstream. With a mixture of excitement and uncertainty on each of their faces, Leah gripped the bow from the upstream side and Chloe held tight onto the stern from the downstream side. We called out instructions to them, which they could not hear due to the water rushing past them. After a few moments of uncertainty, they managed to overcome the force of the current and maneuver the boat back in line with it and then guide their boat into the shallow water and over to where their comrades and I waited.

As their faces relaxed in triumph, I looked past them to where James Jujaroen and Cecilia Pacillo were using their painters to maneuver their canoe upstream. James had hold of the bowline and leaned at an angle against the boat to hold it with his body weight. Just then, much to James’s surprise, Cecilia let go for a moment, and James toppled backwards into the stream. While keeping the canoe from slipping away, he pulled himself back up, flashing a big smile, and he and Cecilia moved the rest of the way up the stream without further incident.

Back in our canoes, we paddled a short way to a nearby island and pulled over to have lunch. Over more cheese, peanut butter and jelly, salami, carrots, and hummus than we would ever eat at school, the stories of each canoe’s journey upstream were enthusiastically told, some concurrently. Although they had all just made the exact same journey, each person related his or her unique perspective on what the experience had been like. They all agreed that it had been a highlight of the trip, and the two pairs that had had the most challenging journeys up the stream became the loudest proponents for going back down and doing it again.

Lining the canoes was just one part of my Outdoor Experience trip, on which Waynflete graduate Jason Chandler and I were fortunate enough to lead 10 high-spirited, fun-loving, and incredibly kind 11th grade students that journeyed from the deadwaters of the West Branch of the Penobscot down the river and across four lakes. We ran some light rapids. We portaged our canoes around the Debsconeag and Passamagamet Falls and paddled amidst gentle raindrops that literally danced over the otherwise still surface of the lake. We told stories and meditated by the lakeside at night, we camped on beaches and watched a remarkable lightning show way off in the distance that lasted nearly an hour. We explored deep into the ice caves above First Debsconeag Lake and afterwards jumped from the big boulders that line the lake into its refreshing water on a day that reached 85 degrees F.

We started the day of our canoe lining adventure by breaking camp, paddling the last few miles of the Penobscot River into Ambajejus Lake, and stopping off at the Ambajejus Boom House. There we had the pleasure of talking with Chuck Harris, who in the late 1960s had dropped out of art school to come north from Pennsylvania to work the log drives. When the river drives stopped in the early ‘70s, the workers all left except Chuck, who stayed and has lived in the foreman’s cabin ever since, dedicating his life to preserving the memory of the drives by turning the Ambajejus Boom House into a fascinating loggers’ museum and traveling the backwoods of Maine to paint as many of the old boom houses as he could reach. Chuck showed us around the museum and his cabin, and he even took out his guitar and played.

It turns out that there is nothing like a slide blues guitar riff in the morning to get you pumped up for the rest of the day. We left Chuck and the boom house behind and paddled 12 miles and crossed three lakes as the students sang songs from Les Mis and numerous other musicals. We arrived at our destination in the late afternoon. We had enjoyed a blazing campfire, eaten, and cleaned up before storms chased us into our tents. There, accompanied by the falling rain and howling wind, Cecilia told an unforgettable ghost story that was made even more haunting as we listened to her disembodied voice emanating from inside her tent.

You see, when we open the school year with outdoor experience trips, as we have for longer than anyone can seem to remember, we hope for beautiful views, adventurous exploration, the formation of new friendships, the deepening of existing connections, resiliency in the face of appropriate challenge, and a lot of fun. On this trip, all of that happened, and much more in our four days together. While our tents were wet on Friday morning, our spirits were un-dampened as we paddled across the last stretch of water to meet the bus that would take us home.

As we boarded the bus filled with ninth graders fresh off their own experiences at the Chewonki Wilderness Camp on Fourth Debsconeag Lake, we were treated to one last entertainment. With the gear stowed on the bus and most of the canoeists on board, Upper School Director Lowell Libby, who had been with the ninth grade, stooped over to pick up a single boot that had been left aside. When he asked whose it was, Jonas Maines, one boot on and one boot off, burst from the woods and regaled Lowell with a dramatic telling of a tale about being captured by ice cave bandits and his harrowing escape. As I watched Lowell laughing as he filmed Jonas telling his tale, I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent our first week of school.

See his next performance in The Franklin Theater as Reverend Hale in Waynflete’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible, which runs Thursday through Saturday, November 7, 8, and 9.