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Looking Back at the First Semester

It's hard to believe that we've arrived at the conclusion of the first semester of the 2023-24 school year. What a year it has been.

Here's our best attempt at recapping all of the magic that has happened in our halls, classrooms, fields, and beyond.

The school year began by welcoming 45 Form C students to the community in a display of community and friendship, as Form VI students walked into the Washington National Cathedral with them by their sides for the opening of school service. The beloved tradition made not only for picture-perfect moments, but set the stage for a year of brotherhood and community.

Shortly after, as Lower School students dived headfirst into LEGO robotics coding, art class gessoing, and algebraic equation solving, Mr. Chandler was studying up himself. By the second week of school, he had the names of every student in the Lower School down pat, as he greeted each student at the door every day with a dollar wager on the line if he made a mistake. As expected, he did not have to pay out a single penny — which makes sense given that he has started every day greeting boys with their name, a handshake, and a smile for nearly a decade.

That's not to say that Dr. Schaffer can't keep up. In fact, it's quite the opposite. While he does spend most mornings outside greeting students with a handshake, Dr. Schaffer's name has become synonymous with the selfie. Dozens upon dozens of Schaffer Selfies were taken this semester, capturing the minutiae of a St. Albans school day — everything from a lunchtime announcement, to a student's pride over his diorama project, to Bulldog mania in the stands with the BEEF Club.

It is worth noting that the Instagram post of Mr. Chandler's handshake challenge went viral, while Schaffer Selfies are consistently among the most-liked posts on the page. Which tradition is better? We'll let you decide.

There was certainly much to capture in the day of the life of our students. That is, when they were here. Field trips galore seem to be an early theme of the year. Students visited the Supreme Court, the Chinese American Museum, the Natural History Museum, and more. And if there was not a place to go visit, someone would come visit us. In classrooms and at assemblies, dozens of visiting scholars, poets, historians, artists, curators, veterans, and others shared their craft and stories with students. 

Of course, the daily routine of school quickly took shape. Form III students memorized and recited the opening lines of The Odyssey in Ancient Greek, the Knitting Club retained its popular status and high membership, and General Tso's chicken graced the lunch table more times than anticipated, a welcome surprise for hundreds of hungry students.

Let's take a quick moment to celebrate a few accomplishments for our faculty. The University of Chicago awarded four St. Albans current and former teachers for their work here: Math Department Chair Colleen Dunn and former math teacher Jarad Schofer, former English teacher Victoria Dawson, and Voyageur Director John Velosky. Math and computer science teacher Michael Hansen had a piece published in the September issue of the American Statistical Association's newsletter. Donna Denizé presented alongside nationally known Shakespeare and race schools at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Former Art Department Chair Sandy Larson ’56 and History Department Chair John Campbell '85 hosted compelling art shows in the on-campus gallery. 

On the fields, the Bulldogs quickly returned to championship form. Soccer earned the “Treble” — winning the IAC regular season and tournament, and the DCSAA title. Cross-country dominated the IACs (for the fourteenth time in a row). And football had three honored as All-IAC selections. These talented athletes proved Dr. Schaffer's mantra of, “It's a great day to be a Bulldog,” to be quite true.

We'd be remiss without noting that pitcher Myles Upchurch ’25 and swimmer Charlie Greenwood '25 (USA) and forward Kahu Treacher ’24 (New Zealand) represented their respective countries in national competitions and camps in the summer leading up to this year and during the fall semester. Congratulations to these athletes, and to Sebi Hume ’25 who was named the All-Met athlete of the year for his cross-country performance and Oliver Wang ’24 who was named a Rolex Scholastic Junior All-American.

Lower School sports were nothing to overlook either, as daily practices and multiple weekly games provided an excellent opportunity for skill and character development. With teams coached by faculty members, players had the opportunity to bond with teachers and compete together towards a common goal.

For many students, sports were not the end of the day, but just a brief stop on the way to rehearsal for one of the incredible performances put on this year. St. Albans and NCS Upper School students performed two murder mystery one-act plays to kick off the 2023-24 theater season. The winter musical Frozen Jr. hit the stage at Trapier Theater next, starring Form I and II/Grade 7 and 8 students from NCS and St. Albans. 

Heading from the stage to the Cathedral, the Fall Music Festival filled the nave with beautiful harmonies from Form C all the way through Form VI. Lessons and Carols capped off the year with beautiful Christmas hymns, sung by both St. Albans and NCS students, in Washington National Cathedral

Speaking of the Cathedral, chapel services at the Little Sanctuary took a moment to find themselves back in their original form. A severe thunderstorm downed a tree onto the roof of the beloved gathering space, leading to more than a month of repairs that kept the space closed. Thanks to St. Alban’s Parish, we continued to gather for chapel and leaders continued to come forward to share messages with the community. Students and faculty shared messages about family, resilience, faith, trust, and honor were warmly received by classmates — typically with a hug or a handshake at the end of the service.

Gathering as a school — whether it be all together or just as an Upper or Lower school — was the anchor of our first semester. The Upper School's DEI theme of the year, The Power of Personal Stories, was unveiled at an assembly in which three staff members who mostly work behind the scenes shared compelling stories from their past. 

Both the Upper and Lower Schools celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with special assemblies. Pepe Gonzalez of the band Zapata performed for the Upper School while sharing stories of how music connected with his identity as a Latino in Washington, DC. Estampas Peruanas performers showed Lower School students dances from the highlands and Cuzco such as la Valicha; from the coast, such as La marinera norteña or trujillana, synonymous with Peruvian national identity; and dances from the Amazon rainforest.

Christ's College, an all-boys school from New Zealand, spent the day at St. Albans early in the semester. Their visit culminated in an incredible assembly, featuring Haka from Christ's Church students and Kahu Treacher ’24.

Traditions such as Battle of the Books and the Upper School Talent Show energized Trapier Theater, and alumni came back to visit and share lessons that they've learned in their careers, such as when Thomas Duckenfield '82, Rob Knauer '95, Hank Montalbano '06, Tip Meyers '11, and Judd Linscott '16 presented at our Armed Forces assembly, or when Rob Moore '99 presented on his AI research at the University of Florida. 

If you asked faculty and staff to label this semester with one word or phrase, you'd most likely get a response of “AI.” Artificial intelligence was a prominent figure on campus this semester, as acknowledged by Headmaster Robinson in his homily at the opening of school service. AI has presented countless challenges and hurdles for students and faculty alike to balance. The prominence of ChatGPT has led to adjustments in the way that we learn, write, and create — and the school has adapted on the fly to ensure the utmost integrity in the work that we produce. 

Above all else, as technology advances continue to drive wedges into social relationships, we've prioritized moments where screens are not part of the equation. Sitting down at family-style lunch, quiet moments of peaceful reflection in the Little Sanctuary, and teaching all Form III students study skills through our Teaching and Learning program have helped us adapt. We know there's far more work to be done in the semester ahead.

That work requires partnership and community with our Parents’ Association, whose support this semester was on full display on campus. The Christmas House Tour transformed the St. Albans campus into a winter wonderland, with dozens of vendors packing classrooms, hallways, and common spaces. More than a thousand guests from all across the region flocked to the Close. The Bulldog Bash raised thousands of dollars for the school in a dazzling night of dancing, merriment, and community to kick off the school year. The PA Visual Arts Fellowship Ceremony highlighted the incredible work of student artists who spent summers creating animations, photography, drone videography, paintings, and 3D models. Even more, the series of author and expert visits set up to discuss technology, raising boys, and much more through Parent Education Talks have enriched our community deeply.

It's certainly a sign the semester is going strong when more than 700 visitors come to campus for the 2023 Fall Admissions Open House. Both the Lower and Upper School panels were packed to the brim with prospective families. Many of those families returned for a tour, where they were welcomed at the door with a handshake and a greeting from Coach Green. As the second semester begins, we’re most excited to know that dozens upon dozens of those visitors will be joining the community next fall. 

There's quite a lot to look forward to as we begin the latter half of the school year: spring sports, the musical, and Flower Mart to name a few. We’ll celebrate the Class of 2024 and honor the extraordinary efforts of our student body.

Until then, there's much work to be done, lessons to be learned, and curiosities to explore. Let's get going!
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Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.