My Experience with Mock Trial

At the beginning of August, I got a package in the mail from school, detailing my schedule and the available activities for the coming year. Being the semi control freak that I am, I made a list of everything I’d be doing: all the classes I’d be taking, the activities I’d be a part of, and the performing arts I wanted to partake in. At the top of my list, I put Mock Trial.
I joined this activity last year as a junior, but I’d wanted to try it out since I was a freshman. When I finally joined, it was more fun than I’d ever imagined. Mock Trial is just that, a mock trial. Schools all over the place participate in this competition, taking it to a national level. This year, there were around twenty two schools just in the state of Maine.
Last year, the case was a charge of manslaughter. Even though it was my first year, I was picked to portray the defendant herself, and it was such an amazing experience. We spent about two months preparing the trial and then went to the district court house in Portland to compete. Over one weekend we competed on Saturday and advanced in the competition to another round on Sunday. Although we didn’t move on from there, it was an incredibly fun experience and I knew that I’d be doing it senior year.
This year, our case was the same charge of manslaughter, but the circumstances were very different. It involved a teenager texting while driving, who subsequently crashed the car and killed one of the passengers. I was one of the eyewitnesses to the accident, and I was so excited about going to court and fighting for a place in the finals. On our first weekend, we went up against Berwick, who had been to the semi finals the year before. It was more challenging than I’d expected, but it was a healthy competition and we moved on to the second round, which took place the following weekend. In round two, we went up against an equally challenging competitor. Although we did not move on, the experience helped me to learn a lot about the Maine judicial system, and it drew our Mock Trial team close together. It also was a plus to be able to present in the same courtroom used by Maine’s Supreme Court.

The experience was unbelievable, and I absolutely hope to continue with Mock Trial in college, in some way. I was very lucky to be able to work alongside such an amazing team, and it made my senior year that much more memorable.

Staying Connected with Your Teen and Communicating about Substances

We request that all Upper School parents read this article and then complete the survey that is linked here.


When we meet people and they find out that we are high school educators, they will sometimes ask about today’s youth and substance use.  “Is it still a problem?” they want to know.  Our  response is always the same. We sigh and simply say “Yes.”  While it is difficult to get a detailed picture of an activity that is essentially secretive, any high school administrator in America who has any awareness and is being honest will say the same.


How could we not?  The vast majority of America’s youth are either at-risk now or will be.  A fundamental reason why is that American culture is awash in messages to use drugs. Advertisements encourage viewers to  “Call your Doctor” for a pharmaceutical remedy to every ailment, athletic heroes turn to drugs to enhance performance or simply to get back into the game, and ever prevalent beer commercials run throughout every sports broadcast.  Moreover, the risk of use to youth is made greater because the consequences may well be severe, such as physical or emotional harm in the short term or possible addiction and irreversible brain damage in the long term. More subtly, substance use hijacks the brain’s natural reward system, deflates motivation, and limits achievement.


At the same time it tempts them to take these shortcuts, modern culture has made youth particularly vulnerable to substance use by marginalizing them.  The teen brain is primed for connection and purpose, yet our culture gives them few substantive roles to play.  We need their input and capacity to seek novel solutions to the very problems they are inheriting from us yet rarely ask for their input in meaningful ways. Thus, even high achieving students in this system are vulnerable to disengagement or feeling an emptiness inside which they are sometimes tempted to fill with drugs.  In addition, the cycle of procuring, using, and talking about using drugs further isolates youth by dividing users from their non-using peers and from important adults, including parents and teachers.  At a school such as Waynflete, which holds building high quality, trusting relationships between adults and youth as a core value, this cycle of use frays the fabric of our community.


Thus, we seek to prevent substance use among our students in myriad ways.  Anyone who has heard Lowell address the student body before Outdoor Experience on the subject of substance use knows that we communicate our expectations and the consequences for violating them very clearly and directly. But while rules and consequences are important components of an effective prevention strategy, they are not nearly sufficient to overcome the powerful lure to use as described above.  The key to doing so, in the words of Waynflete’s mission, is “to guide (our students) toward self-governance and self-knowledge and to encourage their responsible and caring participation in the world.”  In so doing, we help the young people in our charge to fill the void created by their marginalized status while strengthening their capacities to make healthy choices for themselves.  In a real sense, the entire Upper School experience serves as a prevention program in that each interaction and every component is intended to cultivate in our students a sense of meaning, purpose, and agency.  Furthermore, the emphasis on values and interpersonal skills in ninth grade seminar and throughout the advising curriculum provide our students with a place to get information about substances and the effects of using them.  Because we view students as the primary architects of their own lives, we help them to reflect on and improve their decision making skills.
We also know that parents have the greatest influence on all aspects of the lives of their children, including around decisions relating to the use of alcohol and other drugs.  For that reason, every year we seek to engage the parent body with this topic.  A few weeks ago, on the eve of Portland’s overwhelming vote to legalize the recreational use of marijuana,  we held a program for parents entitled “Communicating with Your Teen about Substances: An Evening with Geno Ring.” Geno has presented to Waynflete parents on multiple occasions.  A licensed substance abuse counselor, he has an uncanny ability to connect with young people as a therapist, consultant, father, and life coach.  His own story of recovery is one of reconnecting with a deep sense of purpose and meaningful work.


At the recent Waynflete event, Geno told his story to set the stage for the two people speaking with him – a young woman from Hyde and another from Bowdoin – who both shared compelling narratives of the impact of substances on their lives and the supportive role their parents continue to play as they recover.  Despite differences in circumstances, their stories had much in common.  Both young women spoke of social anxiety and lack of confidence in staying true to their own deeply held values that might have protected them from using had they sought more support from trusted adults early on.  Both cited the prevalence of alcohol use as a cultural norm that buffered them from seeing their own use as problematic until well after it clearly was even to their friends.  Perhaps most compelling was the insight by one presenter that though she started drinking to fit in and connect with people, her use had precisely the opposite effect.   Even during her highest usage when she was at the center of multiple parties, she felt utterly alone and disconnected from anything and anyone.


The presenters also reported that even after finally seeking and getting help they were haunted by traumatic memories of drug abuse and unwanted sexual experiences that too often result from heavy use of substances. Both girls said they have had to work hard to recognize and tolerate and seek positive alternatives to the varying degrees of painful memories and boredom that typically accompany recovery since they no longer use substances to mask those states. Their dramatic descent into such self-destructive behavior and despair and then the arduous work of recovery raised the question of what these young women, their peers, their school, and their parents might have done earlier to prevent such a painful episode.  The evening concluded with questions for the panelists and dialogue about how important it is to keep relationships with those close to us real and authentic rather than succombing to seeking an image of what we think others want us to be. At the moment, both young women are pursuing college and have reignited a desire to shape their futures through actively engaging their passions and interests.


The evening underscored the critical role we as teachers and parents can play in cultivating the capacity of each of our young people to realize a life of meaningful work and play.  “Teens have to learn how to be interesting and interested to keep themselves entertained and engaged without substances,” Geno noted, “so we need to give them plenty of opportunities to get that way. If you want to get to know your child, set the alarm for 11:00 p.m., get out of bed, and go watch YouTube with them – you’ll see what they think is funny and find out what they like.  Ask them what they are thinking and then listen.”


By engaging your children in such ways, you may or may not get a laugh, but you will learn something about them.  And most importantly, you may find that you are present for them, just when they need you most.

Please complete the parent survey linked here.

Students Really Invest in this Class

It’s that time of year again and I don’t just mean pumpkins, turkeys, apples, or the opening time of the Maine Mall on November 28th.  I am talking about the intense Upper School fall ritual known as the Stock Market Game.  Every fall, juniors and seniors taking the Business and Finance elective participate in a stock market simulation.  There are endless online trading programs, but this one is especially geared towards schools.  We use SIFMA’s (Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association) Stock Market Game.
There are 47 members of the Waynflete community currently participating; 36 students from either the Business and Finance class or the Finance Club, and 11 faculty/ staff.  The students are organized into teams and most are also managing individual accounts.
Each account provides $200,000 of buying power ($100,000 cash plus $100,000 as a loan).  Teams are ranked based on how their equity compares to that of the S&P 500.  Students are learning about corporations, stock markets, supply and demand, risk, and how math is really used in the real world.
Overheard in some recent classes…
“Wow, Tesla is tanking.  Classic example of a bubble stock or what?”
“Dude, we are looking at a 4.2% gain on that stock.  We could sell, but after the 1% commission what have we really made?”
“With the new gaming devices coming out, let’s take a look at Sony or something related.”
“Google blasted right through $1000.  So much for expected price resistance at that level.”
“I must defeat Simon.  He is too nonchalant about his success.”
“Whoa, Kautz is awful at this game.”
See above photo for a look at the latest team (as of Nov 13) rankings showing Team Madoff & Kostya leading the way.  The game ends December 15.

Global Perspectives Activity Presents to the Upper School

Global Perspectives is an activity in the Upper School that started five years ago. Modeled from a national community service organization The Empty Bowl Project, students joined the mission for this activity which is centered around the core values of our school: global understanding and community service. The students sponsor a dinner each spring with food donations from Waynflete parents who own restaurants in the area. The modest meal is served in hand crafted bowls made by the students. This dinner raises funds to support two children in schools, The Tanzanian Children’s Fund and Friends of Kakamega.

Broadening our commitment to service that focuses on empathy and understanding, students have joined Gabriella Nuki in her self-started organization Tools for Schools. While working in a school in Bhutan this past summer, Gabi recognized the need for school supplies for children in this impoverished country. Global Perspectives researched and read about Bhutan, and then students designed a slide show and filmed interview of Gabi for an Upper School assembly. They asked students to donate working pens, pencils, markers, notebooks, paper, and crayons.

Global Perspectives invites the school community to join our efforts by providing Tools for Schools for the children of Bhutan. Working pens, pencils, markers, notebooks, paper, crayons are all a welcome donation.  Donations boxes are in the library and Student Center. If you have any questions, please contact Lorry Stillman

Please visit these links to view the assembly presentation slide show and an interview of Gabriella Nuki.

Positive Risk Taking?

It is amazing to learn what people carry with them  every day, hidden from view.  In fact, you might never really know until you ask them.  Generally speaking, when the topic of teenagers and risk is raised, it has a negative connotation; risk-taking by teens is usually regarded as something to be avoided.  Recently, we polled the Upper School students and asked their views on a different kind of risk taking.  In a survey, we asked them to:
“Describe a recent time when you faced a fear and took a positive risk.”

The students responded with a broad array of stories about times they had finally faced a fear that had been holding them back, a fear that in most cases they had held to themselves.  Their stories included times that they had chosen to risk failure by electing a more challenging course load, trying out a new sport or activity, or choosing the most rigorous Outdoor Experience option; to risk feeling exposed by speaking out on a controversial topic in history class or at church; to risk social rejection by standing up for a friend who was being treated poorly or asking to sit with a new group at lunch; to risk being alone by choosing to attend Waynflete and leaving old friends behind; and to risk emotional pain by learning to accept one’s own feelings or by confiding those feelings to another.

We also asked the students to explain what gave them the courage to take those risks.  In each of the instances listed above and in the many more that students related, they cited the importance of their parents, their friends, and trusted adults in helping them to choose to do the right thing.  They also noted the importance of their own internal capacity to push through fear of any kind.

The survey was the latest part of an extended conversation that we have been having with students this fall about the importance of taking positive risks in life in order to grow.  The conversation began at the opening Outdoor Experience meeting this fall when program coordinator Emily Graham asked the students to see their trips as an opportunity to “step outside of your comfort zones” whether by simply going on the trip, which is a big challenge for some, or, if being in the outdoors is not a challenge, by assuming a leadership role on the trip.  In my opening talk to students this fall, I recounted a time in my own high school career when I had let fear of failure hold me back academically, and I showed a video of a Hamilton College graduate delivering a speech on the importance of doing things not only “in spite of our fear” but also “because we are afraid.”  (Click here to read the text of my talk and to view the video of the Hamilton College speech).  Her delivery proved a powerful illustration of her message as she spoke forcefully despite having a profound stutter.  A couple of weeks ago, at the invitation of the Upper School advising team, Geoff Wagg spoke to the student body about a time when he took a positive risk.

After Geoff’s talk, we conducted the survey of US students cited above to find out what holds them back from taking positive risks and what helps them to push through.  (Click here to view a copy of the survey questions). Following are some of the results:

  • Seventy-seven percent of the students reported being held back in a significant way by some form of fear sometimes(60%), frequently (15%), or everyday (2%).
  • Of the fears listed that hold students back in a significant way, failure (64%) and social embarrassment (63%) topped the list followed by criticism (48%) and rejection (35%).  The other fears were indicated by 26% of the students or fewer.
  • Of the sources of support that help students overcome their fears and to take positive risks, family was ranked the highest, followed by the students themselves,  their friends, trusted adults, and inspiring examples of people that they don’t know.
  • Eighty-nine percent of the students reported being interested in building their capacities to take positive risks, with the bulk of them (47% of all students) reporting that they have already started pushing themselves to do so.  About a quarter of the student body reported that they are interested in building their capacity to take positive risks but have no idea how to do so.

The survey is probably not sophisticated enough to yield many scientifically valid conclusions.  Its data does, however, seem to indicate that various forms of fear do hold our students back from making some choices that would help them to grow.  In fact, the students even added to the list of things that hold them back, including a generalized feeling of anxiety.  The student response to the survey may even support the notion held by many that ours in an age in which a pervasive sense of uncertainty about the future has caused a heightened anxiety that is inhibiting the ability of young people to thrive.  While there may not be much that we as the significant adults in the lives of our youth can do now to make the future more certain, we can certainly strive to empower them to take charge of their lives.  One way to do so is to help them to build their capacities to take the risks that will help them grow.

The survey data also shows clearly that parents are the most important force in the lives of young people.  While that fact does not surprise me, a reminder to you parents is probably refreshing, given that your children are of an age when they might not communicate that point on a regular basis.  The data also reveals the importance of supportive friends, which validates the work we do to cultivate a healthy social climate and respectful peer relations at school.  And the data shows the importance of trusted adults in the lives of our students, which certainly validates the work we do as a faculty to build relationships with our students.  In addition, the data also indicates an overwhelming interest among students in building their capacities to face up to fears and take positive risks, and many report that they are already trying hard to do so.  That is great news.

Risk-taking is a tricky subject with which to engage our students.  On one hand, there are many risk-taking behaviors that we actively discourage because they are unhealthy, self-destructive, or dangerous.  On the other hand, we don’t want our young people to be fearful of the world and become risk averse, because that would surely thwart their growth.  The survey data will be the focus of discussions by the Upper School team as we consider ways to continue to help our students to build their capacities to take positive risks.  We hope you as parents will help as well by continuing to point your children towards the opportunities that they have to grow and bolstering them in the myriad ways you do to seize the day.