By Ellen Turchyn
Brearley is fortunate to be able to offer an extraordinary benefit to the faculty that is unlike that of almost any other school. Each year, as Dr. Jim Mulkin, Assistant Head of School for Academic Life, explains, “faculty may apply to take a year away from teaching in order to continue their own learning and thus enrich their teaching when they return to the classroom.” In just the last 25 years, he adds, this longtime Brearley practice has afforded over 125 members of the Brearley faculty the opportunity to recharge their own “adventurous intellects.” The following is a sample of recent sabbatical experiences.Kate Javens, Art Department
During Ms. Javens’ sabbatical, her work was featured in art exhibitions, she participated in a renowned art residency program, she spent hundreds of hours volunteering in her community, and she intensively studied sign language. Ms. Javens’ artwork was featured in a three-person show at Site/109, in a New York Academy of Art fundraising exhibition at Sotheby’s and in a show in Philadelphia. She also was awarded a month-long residency at The Golden Foundation in New Berlin, New York that she found to be “incredibly productive.” While there, Ms. Javens worked with scientists doing groundbreaking work in water and acrylic mediums. She learned new techniques in image transferring and Turkish marbling, which she has since incorporated into the Class XI and XII curriculum.
During the year, Ms. Javens was also able to spend more time volunteering in her local community garden in Harlem, an organization with which she has been active for many years. The Rev. Linnette C. Williamson Memorial Park was built in 1965 as the very first vest-pocket park in New York City and the United States. During her sabbatical, Ms. Javens was able to take on a leading role in the Park Association’s Art and the Gardens summer youth enrichment program, hiring and supporting educators and being their board liaison. Kate and another volunteer in the Park Association, Regina Hood, took on another challenge: learning sign language together. Regina is deaf, and Kate and her dear friend studied together—both to be able to communicate better as friends, as well as to share it with the community. After six months and hundreds of hours of study, they were fluent enough to teach craft activities in sign. Having this experience provided Ms. Javens with an important tool to more “creatively teach” art. When she returned from her sabbatical, she began to incorporate small amounts of sign language in her art classes at Brearley. Ms. Javens explains that children are helped to “settle into their visual world” when they do not speak and are surrounded by silence. Ms. Javens hopes to introduce sign language more formally into the Brearley curriculum as a potential after school activity.Katherine Swett, English Department
Dr. Swett’s sabbatical was a mixture of traveling, writing poetry, reading and spending extended time with family. She visited Prague, Paris, Copenhagen, England and Italy. In August, she and her family drove to western Kentucky to see the total eclipse of the sun and toured the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, the third largest Shaker community in America.
Dr. Swett also had the time to do some of the things she loves the most, reading hundreds of books and writing a lot of poetry, including the crown of sonnets about the Dutch painter Vermeer that you can find here: http://www.mezzocammin.com/iambic.php?vol=2017&iss=2&cat=poetry&page=swett
. Dr. Swett feels grateful for Brearley's recognition that its faculty members lead “rich, intellectually creative lives and need the time to nurture that.” She notes that faculty members’ sabbatical experiences bring hard-to-measure knowledge to teaching future classes.Clay Squire, Science Department
Mr. Squire’s “transformational” sabbatical was a combination of service, travel, fitness and family. Mr. Squire devoted a large part of his time to service, teaching science classes for pre-K at Rutgers Presbyterian Church, volunteering at a soup kitchen and working as a horticultural volunteer at Riverside Park. One experience near and dear to his heart was when he contributed to the sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family by Rutgers Church; he was part of a large welcoming committee when the family landed at JFK, and he was the first to escort them on an "excursion" in New York City (walking his dog Lovie in Riverside Park).
Adventure was another large part of Mr. Squire’s time off. He and his wife traveled to Botswana, South Africa and the Greek Islands. Mr. Squire also participated in a land-based conference for Grand Canyon river guides, where he attended workshops on the cultural, natural and human history of the Canyon. Lastly, Mr. Squire found the time to be more physically active, becoming a more familiar face in the gym as well as rediscovering his love of swimming.
Although he loved and appreciated his sabbatical, Mr. Squire missed the “strong community” at Brearley and the lively discussions with his colleagues and his students daily.Douglas Levine, Physical Education Department
Mr. Levine was very grateful to have this time off to be a more present father and husband. He began his sabbatical by taking his ten-year-old daughter Leela and his wife to Vietnam. The primary purpose of the trip was to give their adopted daughter a sense of her Vietnamese heritage.
Their journey began in Laos, where the Levines immersed themselves in the beautiful culture and people and helped elephants recover from mistreatment and abuse at Elephant Village, one of two sanctuaries in Laos. From there, they met up in Hanoi with nine other families whose adopted children ranged from ages 8 to 14. The Levines and their group traveled south from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. During their journey, they took time to return to the orphanage in Hung Yen province where Leela was born. The group stopped off in Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and Da Nang. After the tour was completed, they continued on to Phu Quoc Island where they enjoyed the serenity and solitude of the beautiful beach.
Mr. Levine feels fortunate that his sabbatical gave him the gift of “quality time” with his family and taught him to appreciate every precious moment.Annabel Gordon, Music Department
Ms. Gordon’s sabbatical was a mixture of travel adventures and reconnecting with her family, using London as her home base (she has friends and family there). Ms. Gordon felt very fortunate to be in Japan during cherry blossom season and took photos of the magical images around her. When touring solo throughout New Zealand on a bus coach tour, she was pleasantly surprised at how many people befriended her and marveled at the majestic glaciers and fjords. She also spent time in Singapore, en route to Australia for several snorkeling excursions on the Great Barrier Reef. Throughout the year, she visited friends in Paris, Normandy, Provence, and Sweden. In the Perigord region, she was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the splendid cave art from about 20,000 years ago.
Ms. Gordon played in recitals during her months abroad, performing solo concerts in Antwerp and London. She ran string workshops and performed at the Yerbury School, a state school in northern London attended by her young nephew; during her time in London, she was able to grow close to her nephew and solidify their relationship. She also enjoyed volunteering at the Water City Music Festival, which gave hundreds of students the opportunity to perform at the Tower of London. While she was on sabbatical, Brearley sent Ms. Gordon to attend a string teachers conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where it was “fascinating to listen to and learn from other string teachers from around the world." Attending the Slovenia conference and learning about other schools' music curriculums confirmed to her that “what we have here in Brearley’s Music Department is extraordinary."
Upon her return to New York City, Ms. Gordon took advantage of classes at Brearley by attending a dance class (taught by Marisa Ballaro) and yoga classes offered to Brearley faculty. She took a drawing class taught by Dale Emmart and also volunteered with the Lower School strings, where she assisted Brearley violin teacher Marc Szammer. She felt as if she were “getting a Brearley education on the sly." Ms. Gordon describes her sabbatical year as “precious,” a time when she “learned to breathe and take life more slowly."