Oaks and Acorns

November 5, 2018

I both love it and hate it when people refer to Harley as an “arts school”

You can guess why: I love it because we are, in fact, unapologetically and proudly, committed to and great in the arts. Right now we have graduates at the most selective visual art schools in the country (Cooper Union, RISD and others), pursuing music (Ithaca, Oberlin, Eastman and others), and studying theater (Boston Conservatory, Ithaca College) … You get the idea. We think a significant experience in the arts is part of what it means to be an educated person. This is why we’re committed to the arts and make sure we do an excellent job in that area.

But there’s another side, and you can guess that too: what some people really mean when they say Harley is an “arts school” is some sort of sideways, pejorative judgment about the school’s commitment to science, math, technology, rigor, etc. Ever heard this? Here’s important news: this judgment is stupid and wrong! Let’s make the case, starting with some numbers. Here are the average AP scores in math and science last year, contrasted with the national averages:

                                                     Harley   National

Biology                                         3.75      2.86

Calculus AB                                 4.71      2.91

Calculus BC                                 5.00     3.74

Chemistry                                    4.21      2.75

Computer Science A                  3.27      3.17

Environmental Science             3.33      2.62

Physics 1                                      4.08       2.32

Statistics                                      4.40       2.85


Not too shabby.

Sure, you might say, the tests are great, but what about college and beyond? Where does it all actually lead? I love that question. The real test is in the long-term: have we, in fact,  graduated people who are out in the world in the sciences, mathematics, technology or engineering? I’ve been at Harley since 2004 now, so the graduates from my first class (2005) are now about 31 years old, so—just from my years—there’s now a body of evidence about where the Harley program actually leads. Are there, in fact, Harley grads who are succeeding in STEM fields? Let’s poke around in a couple of classes…


A quick check-in with the class 2006 finds Armando Acosta as the Director of Marketing Analytics at American Express after a BS and M. Eng from Cornell; Preston Barrows is a Plasma Physicist at Phoenix Nuclear Labs after Ithaca College and a master’s in Nuclear Engineering from U. Wisconsin-Madison; Sam Willsea is in software engineering as a Senior iOS Developer at Udemy, an education startup, after earning MA’s from both Schumacher College and the University of St. Andrews, both in the UK; Luke Lennox is wrapping up his last academic year of residency at Case Western, having gone to med school at SUNY Buffalo and undergrad at St. John Fisher; Paul McIntyre teaches chemistry, astronomy, and forensic science in central Pennsylvania, graduating Clark’s Summit University in 2009 and now working on an MEd at Wilkes University; Marika Toscano is the second doctor in the house, now a 4th year resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the U of R after attending undergrad at Skidmore, finishing an M.S. in Clinical Chemistry at RIT and obtaining her medical degree at Upstate Medical University; Stewart Laird is a satellite electronics designer at Harris Corporation, having earned his BS in Electrical Engineering from Penn; Bailey Smith, meanwhile, works for the state of California developing policies to encourage behavior that reduces emission, having earned her Environmental Engineering degrees from the Colorado School of Mines (B.S.) and the University of Colorado Denver (M.S.).

How about 2009?

A couple of years ago (note the dated glasses!), I did an interview with some oh-niners who were engaged in doctoral programs of one sort or another. Let’s revisit…

Though they’ve only been out of college a two years, I happen to know a bit about 2012, given my daughter Lily graduated then. What’s she up to? Well, after majoring in Physics at Vassar, she’s now a Systems Engineer at Lockheed Martin while enrolled in the Electrical Engineering Master’s program at U. Southern California; her classmate Amelia Mazzarella Black is teaching math in DC after graduating from Williams and earning an MSEd from Johns Hopkins; Brendan Whitfield, meanwhile, was snapped up by Tesla after his undergraduate degree at RIT; Madeleine Laitz, after undergrad at U of R, is now in a Ph.D. program in Electrical Engineering at MIT; Ben Kurchin is working at the exceedingly mathy Jane Street Capital, having earned his BA at Vassar.

Have I made my point? (At, no doubt, too great a length?!) I hope so. A great education is complex and multifaceted; it’s not just a STEM program, or a new center for the arts, or a testing regimen, or sustainability initiative, or writing across the curriculum or what-have-you. As I look through the above names of students who are now thriving in STEM fields, I remember distinctly each of their (typically quite serious) artistic activities, and their many other pursuits as well.

Our Biomimicry Club Impresses Again

Harley’s Biomimicry Team won the Youth category at the Seneca Park Zoo Society’s Environmental Innovation Award & Symposium. In this video, our students talk about their project. They are so passionate and smart!

Soon to Be at Play

Join Jeff Lindstrom, Creative Director at Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, as he takes us on a tour to learn about the progress on the Winslow Natural Playground & Outdoor Learning Center. Enjoy his insights here.

“You really need to be thinking about who you’re becoming.” Say hello to our new Director of College Counseling, Amanda Edelhart

We we’re so happy to welcome Amanda to the community at the start of October–perhaps no one more so than Upper School Head Kim McDowell, who’d been pulling double duty! Be sure to find time to connect with Amanda.

The Net Promoter Survey

Just a heads-up that we’ll be sending out our annual Net Promoter Survey next week. This is a very quick survey that we’ve now made an annual piece of data collection, and it’s immensely helpful. Please watch for it next Friday, November 9th, and I do hope you’ll take a few minutes to fill it out.

A Word about Violence in our Society

The other day I got an email from Doug Gilbert ’87, MS History Teacher at Harley, which began, “Terrible week in America.” Times like these bring me closer to the work of this school, of serious schooling everywhere. Harley’s goal, as stated in our Mission, is to prepare our students “to meet the challenges of tomorrow and to lead lives of great purpose.” Heaven knows there are challenges, and in these challenges, truly great purpose. That’s why we do what we do.

Our friends at NAIS (the National Association of Independent Schools) are great about staying in touch at such moments. Earlier this week, they sent this along:

Resources for Talking to Children About Violence in the News, Preventing Bias, and Building More Equitable and Just Communities (Despite their appearance, the following bullets are live web links.) 

Times like these bring me closer to the work of this school, of serious schooling everywhere. Harley’s goal, as stated in our Mission, is to prepare our students “to meet the challenges of tomorrow and to lead lives of great purpose.” Heaven knows there are challenges, and in these challenges, truly great purpose. That’s why we do what we do.

Here’s to a peaceful November.