Advancing Flexible Thinking Since 1878 – My Day as a Senior

By Bart Bronk

Head of School Bart Bronk is shadowing a student in each grade level to experience the University Liggett School approach through the students’ eyes.

I found my guide, senior Maria P., in second period yearbook class in the school’s Mac Lab. She and her classmates dove right into the work, each finalizing a set of pages for the first submission of this student-produced annual publication, which was due in a few days.

As the advisor, Mr. Pangrazzi and the editor, Maria, checked in, team members were engaged in a variety of tasks, including writing, editing, photography and graphic design. I was struck both by how independent –and yet interdependent, as students sought feedback from peers throughout –their work was, and how the class demanded flexible thinking and problem solving in the pursuit of a tangible outcome in ways that mimicked the real world.   I could have just as easily found myself in a newsroom on deadline or corporate marketing department and seen the same traits and skills displayed.

Intellectual flexibility and dexterity were indeed the themes for the day. After community time, we attended ARP in which seniors worked on their individual projects. Maria benefitted from an extended dialogue with her instructor Dr. Larson in choosing which path her project on the role of neuroscience plays in criminal behavior and the criminal justice and corrections systems might take.

Mr. Butzu’s Shakespeare class featured an engrossing discussion on the motivations of Polonius related to his daughter Ophelia, her relationship with Prince Hamlet, and his own standing with King Claudius in which students capably drew support for their interpretations from two texts – the Bard’s original play and Kenneth Brannagh’s filmic interpretation. So compelling and well supported were their arguments that Mr. Butzu confessed to having his “weekend plans ruined” by the students’ challenging of his own longstanding interpretations of the play.

The power of student voice and intellectual risk-taking were equally amplified in Dr. Lam’s Eagle and the Bear course on U.S.-Russian relations. Student presentations on Russian’s information warfare tactics and recent aggressions against Ukraine in the Sea of Amoz were followed by team meetings on group research projects; Maria’s group is investigating the role of the Space Race in the 1960s as a proxy front for the Cold War.

The day ended with a standard deviation scavenger hunt in Mrs. Harris’s probability and statistics class, in which student teams of two (selected via random probability, of course) encountered and solved real world problems related to standard distribution. The level of movement – and enthusiasm – was certainly unlike the math classes I remember!

I ended my day as a senior heartened by Maria’s estimation that it was a “pretty typical day at Liggett.” If “pretty typical” means intellectually energizing, student-centered, and dynamic, we have a lot to be proud of.