How Do you GEL?
In a faculty meeting several years ago, our Head of School, Mrs. Sarah Whiteside, shared with us a vision of Altamont that positioned our school as a visible, prominent entity in the Birmingham community. In her vision, the school becomes more than just an independent school on the hill. We become a center for continuing education, a hub for community discussion or idea dissemination, and a public venue for top-notch presentations. Her vision is of an Altamont that is actively enriching the lives of both our school family and the broader community.
When I took over the Global Initiative last year, one goal of mine was to make some aspect of her vision a reality. Whether it was hosting guest speakers, holding public performances, or becoming some sort of idea hub—I wanted our Initiative to be big enough for the whole community to enjoy. It seems like a natural extension of our mission and vision. Early in the summer of 2015--after the lockers were cleaned out, the evidence of the past year erased, and cries of liberation silenced, I decided we needed to host a lecture-type series. Similar to TED but with noted differences, I wanted our series to feature Altamont people—from students and parents to teachers and alums. I realize we are sitting on a wealth of insights and experiences, and I wanted our series to provide our community with an opportunity to share. What good, after all, is an idea that remains cloistered or available to a select few? The connection to the Global Initiative was that it would follow the global theme for the year. So what is it? It's lectures, storytelling, dance, art, multimedia, etc.—a multi-dimensional approach to depicting a theme. I’ve yet to think of a catchy phrase, and Presentation Series doesn’t exactly excite, but the nature of the series is dynamic and very powerful. I’ll work on the ten-word blurb.
How does it differentiate from TED? That’s not an easy question. Clearly, it is an outgrowth of our Global Initiative, and it—for now—features only in-house presenters. In addition, we’re not looking for expertise, but we’ll certainly welcome it! We’re interested in giving people with cool ideas and perspectives a venue for sharing. And, adopting the TED format and branding moves the series out of house. I want this to be a uniquely Altamont endeavor. Several of us settled on the name GEL, but we’re not sure what it means! Borrowing from the rationale for the name of our middle school leadership program, LEAD, GEL is an unspecified acronym. I want each letter to have multiple resonances. Think global or generate for G, ethics or education for E, and leadership or listening for L. Or anything else that comes to mind. Ostensibly, the word means to blend and coalesce, so there’s the surface connection to our Initiative.
After much planning and jockeying for space, GEL (beta!) happened on 4/28. As with any inaugural program, we endured some hiccups. We fought with technology, we chose a very busy night, and we ran very long. But the presentations were exceptional, and the themes of Culture and Identity were fleshed out beautifully. Mr. Buck Crowe spoke on the lasting resonance of Homer. Mr. Landon Rogan identified a global rhythm sequence. Ms. Martha Summey showed how story forms the heart of culture and identity. Nivedita Rao, a tenth grader, performed a classical Indian dance that has been around for thousands of years (and she was spectacular). Junior Elise Solazzo and Finnish exchange student Kaisla Siren discussed Kaisla’s year in Alabama, her thoughts on Southern culture, and the unique culture of her home. Finally, Senior Nicole Vaughan spoke with us about being two-faced—embodying two equal and distinct cultural heritages.
Certainly, there is much to improve. There always will be! But I’m proud of this first run, and, for their time and effort, so thankful to our presenters. And I’m so fortunate to work in a school that says Yes-make it happen. From all constituents, we received enthusiastic support. We hope to repay the support with a better GEL in 2017!
Several clips from the evening are up on our Vimeo channel. Check them out here: https://vimeo.com/altamontschool/videos
If you’re interested in pitching a presentation topic for next year, check out the Contact page or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Director of the Global Initiative
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