Students in graduation

Faculty and staff provide a plethora of afterschool clubs and activities

July 28, 2020

One of The Hive’s Benedictine volunteers, Kevin Lamb, has been playing chess since he was in third grade. In college, at St. John’s University in Minnesota, he started a chess club which is still going on. And this past academic year, he introduced chess, playing one day a week, in his Game Theory math class. He knows his chess. So, when Associate Headmaster Michelle Tuorto H’16 put out a call for faculty to offer activities during virtual Summer Phase, Lamb was right there with a Chess Club. Twenty-two kids signed up.

  Chess Club

Lamb was not the only one who responded. More than thirty faculty members came forward to offer virtual activities to St. Benedict’s students – ranging from Comics and Zine Club to Virtual Cooking, a Star Wars Fan Club, Guided Meditation and a Social Justice Club, and more. That’s in addition to customary extracurricular activities like the Drama Guild; the student-run school news outlet, The Benedict News; The Kayrix, the school’s literary magazine; Gray Bee Ministry; the Admissions Team; Crew (virtual); and yes, even virtual Cross Fit St. Benedict’s.

Ideas for the virtual activities came from teachers’ interests and passions. Michelle Tuorto’s Virtual Kitchen, conducted from her own home kitchen, provided kids with an opportunity to either cook with her or observe how she cooked a microwaved spinach quiche for a breakfast on the go, a pancake charcuterie or her popular Alaska burgers so familiar to Appalachian Trail project staff. Tuorto, who has run a cooking project during Spring Phase entitled Real Men Cook for many years, said the Virtual Kitchen offered  a way to keep the popular project alive this year when there was no Spring Phase.

Physics teacher Rich Molina ’06 shares material from his video classes so that participants learn the techniques of moviemaking and also get to talk about movies and TV shows. “I wanted to have something fun to bring students together, to create a small community,” he said. “It’s a nice way to keep the students and me engaged while we are stuck at home.”

In a Comics and Zine Club, Chair of St. Benedict’s Fine Arts Department, Pamela Wye Hunsinger, has taught her students the art of paper folding techniques to create a double four-page and a continuous eight-page zine. One side of the four-page zine, a home-made publication and outlet for creativity, was themed “Summer Means…” and the other side was “A Small Victory.” The kids are now working on the theme of a place that is special to them in the eight-page zine.

Once a week, English teacher Elizabeth Lodato leads a group of Prep boys and girls and some faculty in 15-20 minutes of guided meditation. They focus on breathing to reduce stress, body scanning to locate and release points of tension, and letting go of troubling thoughts. This past week's meditation was focused on cultivating self-appreciation and confidence. She started the meditation group because she had found great comfort in her own meditation practice. “Especially in the current climate of uncertainty and anxiety,” she said, “I wanted to share a few moments of calm with anybody who needs it right now.”

The activities are not limited to the Prep Divisions. Middle Division Latin teacher, Daniel Kane’03 started a Movie Night and a Journalism Club. He said Middle Division teachers encourage kids to take the lead; journalism is a way for them to do that. Because journalism is so important in today’s world, he said, “I’d love to help kids consider a career in journalism...and I’d like as many kids as possible to gain an appreciation for what journalists do and why it matters.”

 Virtual Kitchen

Some activities started well before Summer Phase and are now established. For Dean of Administration Michael Scanlan, starting an Investment Club before the pandemic would have been difficult between kids’  busy schedules and financial experts needing to show up at the school. But as a virtual club, there were no impediments to helping students  learn the ins and outs of finance.

St. Benedict’s Board of Trustees Chairman and Senior Managing Director at Mariner Wealth Advisors  in Madison, Robert DiQuollo ’65, serves as a professional advisor. The Investment Club has taken off, with more than 20 students, faculty and staff participating in weekly meetings where they test their investing skills by setting up managing simulated portfolios of $25,000. Younger alumni from the financial world, like Ahmad Ismail ’08, an investment grade underwriter at SMBC Nikko Securities America, Inc. have also participated.

“Tuesdays With Cass” is another opportunity to virtually hang out with Director of the Vox Institute, Dr. Glenn Cassidy ‘90. Dr. Cassidy also started almost right after the school went to virtual classrooms in March. Kids have been hanging out in Cassidy’s office for years, following the legacy of the late Fr. Mark Payne OSB ‘69, who always encouraged students and teachers to “waste time together.”

“It’s a weekly discussion about anything,” Cassidy said. “I use current events and social justice issues, but it can really be about anything.” Students have taken ownership of the meetings by changing the focus of the discussions and coming up with future topics. Cassidy’s “office” will be open in the Fall - either virtually or in person.

Drama Guild continues to meet virtually twice a week. Although they are not producing anything this summer, they are using the time to greet new members, share Drama Guild history, and read from scripts Director Pat Flynn H’95 has selected. They also discuss the possible forms theatrical productions might take once the plans for the Fall are in place.

Literary and journalistic activities have also been operating at full speed. A Reading Club begun by biology teacher Danielle Laube had started a once a week book club a while ago to give Benedict’s students more opportunities to read books that are written about kids like them, and to help foster a love of reading. She has continued to meet virtually weekly with 11 Prep students from both Divisions; they are currently reading Jackpot by Nic Stone.

Thirty-five students from both Prep divisions have been meeting weekly, keeping up a rigorous schedule of reporting and writing The Benedict News during the pandemic. The organization produces quality content over the course of the year – from newsmagazines, to online stories, to photos, videos and social media posts. According to Journalism teacher and adviser Kitta MacPherson, there are a lot of moving parts making it important to get as early a start as possible to get everyone involved and acquainted with their part in the enterprise “This way,” she said, “when the Fall Term starts, we can hit the ground running!”

The Kayrix, the school’s literary magazine, lost its dynamic adviser when Bill Petrick passed away suddenly in January, but  MacPherson is filling in temporarily  and has gathered six students from the Boys and Girls Prep Divisions who are working virtually this summer. She wanted to give students who are interested in creative writing an early start to the year. By devoting each session to a different aspect of creative writing, students are encouraged to try different forms, from essays, to short stories and poetry. The students have started on pieces they will develop into full submissions for the magazine. During the first meeting, in response to simple prompts, they took each writing assignment and ran extemporaneously with it, producing beautiful prose. “The students are amazing me with their talents,” MacPherson said.  “I’m dazzled.”

  Race to Action

On a recent Friday afternoon, more than twenty students and staff gathered in a virtual meeting of “Race to Action.” This activity was developed through a student-teacher collaboration in response to the murder of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed. In early June, senior Reuben Kadushin held a social media discussion with other Benedict’s students and students he knew from the program Prep for Prep about how to make sense of what was happening. Benedict’s history teacher and member of the Vox Institute, Louis Laine´ ’12 was also invited by one of the students. Afterwards, Lainé contacted Kadushin, suggesting that they create  something at the school that had an action component. More discussion with Kevin Jackson ’20 and English Dept. Chair Justin Ross ensued, and “Race to Action” came into being. Kadushin says RTA is more than a discussion group; they are looking for specific ways to act in response to systemic racism. A committee of adults and students – Lainé, Ross, Girls Division English teacher Char-Lotte Searcy, junior Troi Slade of the Girls Division and Jackson are the organizers.

Earlier that afternoon, Lamb was finishing up his chess tournament. Because an odd- number of kids had shown up, he joined the tournament, playing against a random and anonymous student. Initially the student was holding his own but after a bit of commentary and a few warnings, he was eventually overtaken by Lamb. “You have to be careful,” Lamb said, “I’m not the kindest  opponent.”

--By Noreen Connolly H’11