By Craig Gemmell
Head of School
I spent time last week with our the robotics crew as they raced down the homestretch of their “build” prior to competition happening. They work out of an improvised shop created on the cheap in the East Crescent of the Smith Center – and this improvised space has seen a lot of, well, improvisation over the many weeks since they started their work.
On the surface, this is a wildly diverse group, deriving not only from east and west in the United States but also from Europe and Asia. It is the United Nations of robotics teams. But despite their superficial diversity, these kids all have the same game: they are all creative and collaborative and pretty passionate about making their robot perform a complicated series of tasks.
When I visited, the banter of adolescents was supplanted by purposeful exchange more common in a corporate brainstorming session than in high school. And the conversations all seem to blend together – talk of code and hardware, task sequences and durability flow through the air without a shade of pretense. And the three adults – Eric Hunt, Wes Matchett, and Chris Hafner – seem to melt into the group, taking instruction as much as they give it, thinking, bantering. This, I think, is the way education should be.
Wednesday was the final alpine ski race, and Brewster hosted. Gunstock warmed all afternoon, and conditions were suboptimal, but all involved seemed to be having a fine time nonetheless. During the latter stages of the first run, our boys squad gathered around the scoreboard, calculating. They realized they could pull off a victory in the Lakes Region Championship with solid performances down the stretch and into the second run.
There was a seriousness about this group for the few moments they stood together. I, for my part, studied the board and quietly drew the same conclusion they did and immediately felt that wonderful wave of uncertainty I grew to savor as an athlete and later as a coach.
As happens in ski racing, a few unfortunate falls took them off the top of the podium as a team, but there was not a shade of recrimination or regret on their faces when the races were over – just a convivial gathering around the largest crock pot I’ve ever seen (thank you, Mrs. Hanson) and warm embraces over a season that started with one kind of drama and ended with an entirely different sort – suggesting profound growth.
These two seemingly disparate events – building robots and rocketing down crystalline water on skis – share, at least to me, some important stripes and remind me of the ever-more critical objectives of education in the 21st century: inspire kids to care about that which is larger than themselves; prepare the environment to let them dive into what they are doing; and step back, knowing that the best learning happens alongside committed peers.