6th Grade Chickens!

By Mr. Shane O’Neill and Mr. Anton Vorozhko

IMG_2332“Did they hatch yet?!” Did they hatch yet?!” This was the question heard non-stop a few weeks ago down the 6th grade hallway. And the answer is, yes, they did hatch and are now growing rapidly while the 6th grade class observes and engages in their development.

Heights middle school teachers, Mr. Shane O’Neill and Mr. Anton Vorozhko are pleased to welcome into their classroom “Chronos,” “Oreo,” and “Twitchy” to name a few of the 10 newborn chicks that have become the subjects of fascination for many students. Since the beginning of April, the sixth grade class has cared for and studied these rare breeds of chickens as they’ve progressed from egg to chick, going through the daily routine of changing their water, food, bedding, as well as a physical check-up every morning.

During this process, and on a weekly basis, the students sketch these birds as they grow, carefully noting even the small changes. In this way, the classes learn first hand about birds and their development, not only by observing them on beautifully drawn diagrams or pictures, but by studying them in the palm of their hands, detecting their individual personalities. It is from this first hand sense experience and observation that they get a bigger lesson of life and responsibility.

FullSizeRender (2)The chickens, all 10 of them, are under the care of the 6th grade class. It is the boys’ job to make sure that the chickens have everything they need. Though these little friends have changed our morning routine, and the silence of our classroom is interrupted by the occasional “peep,” the lessons learned are priceless and the additions are well worth it.

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A Talk with Dr. Kevin Strother – Music in a Liberal Arts Education

Dr. StrotherThis week we sat with Heights music teacher, Dr. Kevin Strother, to speak with him about the importance of music in a liberal arts education.  Our conversation is available below.  Dr. Strother notes–no pun intended–that when students engage in the study and practice of music, they reinforce their learning in other classes such as literature, math, and even science. Dr. Strother also explains that the benefits of musical study are not limited to the purely conceptual.  There are very practical benefits that accrue to our boys:  the discipline required to learn (and care for) an instrument, for example, cultivates diligence, attention to detail, and care of personal property. The student of music must force himself to dedicate time to practice, and, that complete, must stand before an audience and perform.  Part of the beauty of said performance is that the benefits of music extend beyond the performer and to the audience.  Those attending tonight’s concert will witness first hand what we mean by this.  Good music elevates the soul.

So, as you make your way to The Cultural Arts Center for tonight’s concert, feel free to listen to Dr. Strother’s interview.  He does a great job of explaining why our boys on stage are doing what they do–and quite well, as you will hopefully soon see (or hear) for yourself.

Tonight Dr. Strother will be conducting The Heights Men’s Choir during their spring concert at The Cultural Arts Center  at 8:00pm. Directions are available here

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Interview with Mr. Joe Bissex

VerilyanewhopeIn anticipation of The Heights Spring Theater Production of Verily, A New Hope, I sat down with Mr. Joe Bissex, who teaches Drama and English here at The Heights, and discussed what we can expect in a Shakespearean rendition of the fourth episode of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. Naturally, the conversation led to the necessity of drama in a liberal arts education and how its practice is implemented into the formation of the student. The first showing of Verily, A New Hope will be this evening at 7:00pm, and again on Saturday at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. More information available here. Click below to listen to the full interview. Enjoy!

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The Five Gifts of Western Music

by Mr. Patrick Love

Inspiration, Amusement, Receptivity, Silence and Contemplation.

Of all the gifts man has received through creation, music is perhaps the most elusive, the most potent, and the most elemental human gift.  It can be said that in its origins, music is divine–at least in the sense of Greek mythology.  Music gets its name from the word “muse” (from the latin muss), meaning to think, to remember or to inspire goodness.  Western culture has long relayed Hesiod’s telling of the story wherein we read that Kronion (Zeus) fathered Mnemosyne’s (the goddess of memory and remembrance) nine daughters, the Muses.  All nine muses are related to music, especially Calliope (epic poetry), Erato (love poetry, lyric art), Euterpe (music, especially flute), Polymnia (hymns), and Terpsichore (dance).  Music in Western Philosophy most often includes poetry.

Fall Band
Inspiration, a word related to muse, comes from the latin inspirationem, “to breathe or blow into,” alluding at least to the breath of the Holy Spirit but also to movement and to life.  Think here of that stirring image of Aslan singing Narnia into creation in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.  Similarly to our embarking on any real work, music begins and ends in an encounter with another.  There is something at work which the artist and his audience are caught up in.  Amusement: something a-muse-ing and outside of the artist from which he derives his power; it is the origin of his gift.

StrothsMusic fosters receptivity and silence, not only in its creation, but if a listener is open to its fruits, the listener receives a gift in silence as well.  It is a gift that is posited deep in the recesses of his heart most often without being named.  And yet, while a sculpture endures in the natural world for centuries, music is gone in one hearing.  To be fully appreciated, it must be recalled from our memory and made present again and anew.  There is a deep link between music and memory–a reason mythology relates the muses as children of remembrance.  If you attend the competition of the bard, you may notice how inspiring it is to watch the process of a student retelling a poem from memory and of the impact that its retelling has on those listening.  It is to this deepest end that music rightly takes its place in the Liberal Arts–that is, in the celebration of a feast or the contemplation of a mystery.

Many of our great feasts are marked by music.  There seems to be a power, a space which exists in the bard, in poetry and in music, that allows us to remember things that have come before us, that fosters a freedom to engage with those truths, and that, in a certain sense, affirms their goodness.  Like that first Alleluia of the great Fest of Easter, sung against the backdrop of the silence of Lent, music calls out to us to pause, to reflect and to behold what is good.

We all need moments of contemplation in our lives.  Some of the finest moments of contemplation occur in the silence of prayer.  Perhaps equally important is the contemplation experienced in the silence of music.  Josef Pieper pulls out this distinction in an essay from his collection, Only the Lover Sings.  In it he says, “music opens up a great, perfectly dimensioned space of silence within which…a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.”

Higher than music you say?!  He must be speaking of the highest of acts, the act which Pat Lovegives us a foretaste a heaven, which affirms the good and which is an act which is good in itself, the act of contemplation.  So the next time you think of playing music in your house, let these five gifts be the measure for your selection.  Whether its Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marecelli, or Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor–remember the Five Gifts of Western Music: Inspiration, Amusement, Receptivity, Silence and Contemplation.

Mr. Patrick Love is a music teacher at The Heights and, together with Dr. Kevin Strother, conducts the Lower, Middle, and Upper school bands and choir. The Heights Spring Band Concert will be held next Thursday, April 24th at 8:00pm at The Cultural Arts Center with directions available here. Tickets will be sold at the door at $5 per person with a $25 family maximum. The audience will have the opportunity to experience performances by the 5th Grade Band, the Middle School Symphonic Band, as well as the Upper School Jazz Band and Wind Ensemble.

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What is The Heights?

How to describe The Heights?  Yes, it’s rigorous.  Yes, it’s got great athletics.  Yes, we have a fantastic curriculum.  Sure, our campus is lovely.  But how do you really share with someone what sets us apart–in a way that doesn’t sound cliché?

IMG_2072It can be hard, can’t it?, to put into words the spirit and grit and fellowship and freedom of the School?  It’s not until you see the lower schooler on the sled, or the 7th grader in the Chapel, or the sophomores at lunch with an advisor, or the senior at Mass, or the alumni sharing a drink and trading Heights stories over a fire pit that you begin to understand the spirit of the place.

It’s hard to put into a view book the small yet significant things that define our School.  Have you noticed that there is a directory by the entrance to the Chapel?  It’s not there so teachers can call parents after Mass.  It’s there so that we can pray for your boys.  Individually, and by name.  How about the living room and advisory rooms at 7:30am, already bustling with conspiracies for the good between parents and teachers–working together to bring about the good of the boy?  Weekly confession opportunities, daily Mass, acorn wars, Charlotte’s WebThe Aeneid, Old School, sleds, freezing cold treks on the Appalachian Trail, spoiling the near perfect season of an unsuspecting opponent, and the list goes on.  These things are elements of The Heights, but, again, they are difficult to capture in their totality.

One of many Middle School field trips this year.Difficult, that is, unless you are a fourth grader, and you see things in a simpler, clearer light.  Here is an original poem, by one of our own valley youngsters, describing The Heights.  Not our college acceptance rate or average faculty tenure (both impressive), but the spirit, feel, and yes, smell, of a School that we all love.  We are grateful to this young man for capturing so well the many things that we find only at The Heights–even those that we forget, don’t notice, or take for granted.


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Crescite Week

By Mr. George Martin ’10


What do exploring ruins in Pompeii, horseback riding in Texas, and visits to the Supreme Court in D.C. all have in common? If you are or were a Heights student, you’d know that these are all opportunities that have been offered to Upper School boys during our much-anticipated Crescite Week. Though there are no classes during these trips, this week is a significant component of the curriculum for Upper School students at The Heights. Students turn the world into their classroom by climbing mountains, backpacking in foreign countries, or volunteering for charity.

What is “Crescite”?

GroupWe derive “Crescite” from the Genesis account of the first words God spoke to man, “Crescite et multiplicamini,” or, “increase and multiply.” The Latin word Crescite in this context does not simply mean to increase in number or size, but when used in a commanding manner to a person takes on a closer meaning to “come to be” or “grow.” Thus this imperative calls us not only to grow physically, but also spiritually and intellectually. In accordance with the mission of The Heights, Crescite Week serves as an invaluable opportunity to strengthen all of these essential components.

Developing Life-Long Learners through Exposure to Reality

So how does a pilgrimage to Santiago, a journey through the art-abundant Florence and Milan, or even a local trip around our own historic Washington, D.C. aid in the formation of young men? The answer lies in our oft repeated commitment to encouraging and fostering our boys’ engagement with reality. While studying the history of Athens or Icelandic Vikings in books is all fine and good, bookish learning by itself can lead to a loss of familiarity with the actual, real entities that are being studied. We foster a deepened love of learning by traversing the fjords, and we increase awareness of history–real, honest to goodness history–by walking where the ancient Athenians walked. Viewing pictures of the Roman Colosseum is a vastly different experience from standing on the same ground where gladiatorial battles were fought millennia ago.

Relatedly, it is our intention at The Heights to create life-long learners. That is, to imbue students with the desire to know, and the understanding that they should not cease to learn once they step out of school. Crescite Week facilitates this lesson by allowing boys to watch teachers passionately share their hobbies and hard sought knowledge and expertise.  Watching a teacher demonstrate basic navigation while on a boat in the Florida Keys, or hearing a teacher explain Antoni Gaudí while standing in Park Güell exposes students to an unlimitedly knowable existence; it reveals to them that our minds are–or should be–constantly at work.

Advisory on the Road

IMG_0046With an eye towards the formation of the student, teachers on Crescite Trips are always acting as advisors, finding ways to develop a student’s virtues through experience. For example, before embarking on Mr. Cardenas’ biennial pilgrimage to Santiago, the boys will meet in the chapel to listen to Fr. Diego discuss the meaning of “pilgrimage” and perform the Blessing of the Shells, followed by having dinner as a group. The trip itself involves a rigorous 20 mile-a-day trek to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. And we know that this mission-based, character-focused travel is working!  Our students and graduates tell us!  As an example, Mr. Cardenas revealed to me that one of his former students sent him a page from the journal that he kept while on the trip.

Friendship through Adventure

There is also, as in any shared experience, a fostered camaraderie between all students on a trip–between and among upper and lower classmen alike. I will never forget my first Crescite Week, almost a decade ago, spent hiking through many of Maryland and Virginia’s snowy trails with biology teacher, Mr. Fornaciari. During a particularly cold day when the snow was coming down much more violently than expected, we sought shelter under an overhanging stone formation that we found amongst the rocky ledges we were maneuvering. Through a combination of sheer need for warmth as well as boyish ingenuity, in less than half an hour we found ourselves eating lunch circled around a roaring fire. Though this was my first year at The Heights, after that week, my trip-mates and I had all shared both the burdens of the trip and the satisfaction of its completion. Through this common experience we established an enduring connection to our School and classmates, but also to the world around us.


Creating the Conditions for Growth

Though the trips are enjoyable and create lifelong memories, the final cause of Crescite Week is not recreational. A case in point, students are encouraged, and in most cases required, to surrender use of their cell phones. Similarly, Crescite trips endeavor to avoid hotel rooms as much as possible.  The reason for these practices is that they allow a young man to fully immerse himself in the culture and place around him. Staring at a cell phone’s GPS and spending time in a hotel room have the effect of disengaging a boy from the reality that is around him, and it is precisely this engagement that is one of the chief formative goals of Crescite Week. If you ask our boys, they’ll begrudgingly agree.  In fact, we’ve had a current student write his college essay about the time he was forced to navigate through a foreign city without the use of his phone during a Crescite Week trip in Europe.  Imagine if you could check your iPhone instead of asking a friendly local for directions; think of the silence on an electronically pacified bus full of students that should be playing pranks on each other and singing about who-knows-how-many bottles of beer on that infamous wall.


Lofty Goals for Trips Near and Far

It is with all of this in mind that the faculty at The Heights plan a Crescite Week trip. Whether spent travelling abroad or staying local, each trip is designed as an integral part of the curriculum at The Heights. And while any current student or alumnus will tell you how much fun the trips are, like all aspects of The Heights, the aim is the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and physical formation of the students.

Mr. Martin ’10 is Admissions Associate at The Heights.  

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Five Lessons Our Sons Can Learn from “Teedie” Roosevelt

By Mr. Colin Gleason

Back when Theodore_Roosevelt_portraithe was a young lad in the Valley, one of our students asked me cheerfully as he headed home for the long Presidents Day Weekend, “Which president will you be celebrating this weekend, Mr. Gleason?”  I noncommittally answered, “All of them!”  The boy smiled, but most likely walked away disappointed, for children want to choose favorites.  And they should!

Children’s enthusiasm and eagerness to do great things must be nourished by the stories of heroes, and the list of our country’s leaders is replete with such figures. Presidents Day is formally the birthday of George Washington, but the observance extends to all American presidents.  And while I do celebrate each of them, I would like to offer a few qualities of one hero in particular that it would behoove our boys to emulate: Teddy Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), the 26th president of our country, took up residence in the White House from 1901-1909.  And while there is much to glean from his presidency, the following are five lessons our sons could learn from his childhood.

1. Cultivate Your Love of Nature

From the earliest days of his childhood growing up in New York City, “Teedie,” as he was called then, reveled in the wonders of nature. He continually sought whatever stretch of “wild” he could reach within walking distance of his home and, much to the dismay of his parents and siblings, brought home critters and specimens. His collection of plants and animals, dead and alive, grew so numerous that he soon claimed his own “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History.” His nature journals reveal extensive and copious amounts of information based almost entirely from his observations.


Our young men of the Valley get a great introduction to the Natural World through the Lower School curriculum, but they shouldn’t stop there.  Kick them off the couch and out the door on weekends—even when it’s cold—and let them meander, wander, and explore. Encourage their outdoor curiosity—even if they must check their catches at the door!

2. Form Your Moral Imagination by Reading Great Books

President_Roosevelt_Reading_a_BookWhen Teedie was not out traipsing through Central Park, he was sitting in his favorite chair in the family library engrossed in a book. He taught himself to read, largely by looking at Natural History books.  In addition, his aunt gave him lessons and introduced him to the power of story. Teedie especially devoured legends and stories of adventure featuring fictional and historical characters of virtue and daring. In his autobiography he admits that, “from reading of the people I admiredranging from the soldiers of Valley Forge, and Morgan’s riflemen, to the heroes of my favorite stories … I felt a great admiration for men who were fearless and could hold their own in the world, and I had a great desire to be like them.” 1

Reading great stories of admirable characters reveals to young readers a world of awesome possibilities that transcends that which they learn through their own everyday experience.  Providing our sons with books that espouse nobility and honor is one of the most effective ways for us to teach them virtue.

3. Be Adventurous

For the majority of his youth, Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma.  His young body lacked the healthy muscle and girth that would later loom in his presidential portraits. At times, he remained bedridden, and “so accustomed was he to recurrences of illness that he rarely bothered to record them [in his diary.]”2  Such physical setbacks, however, did not restrain Teedie from living an energetic, boyish life. He would continue to hike, hunt, and generally explore, and rarely complain. Despite having extreme seasickness, he joined his family on a trip across the Atlantic. While on this European expedition and during a two-week-long bout of asthma and stomach sickness, Teedie ventured to climb a mountain on the Austrian border. Clearly, the vigor and optimism that Roosevelt exhibited during the trials that marked his presidency owe much to the habits developed by the young adventurer, who lived life fully when many excuses could have allowed him to sit some of it out.


4. Acknowledge Your Weakness and Work to Improve

One day, when Teedie was twelve years old, his father told him, “Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body… I know it is hard work to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.”  The future president’s response was terse and determined: “I’ll make my body.”3 He knew that he was scrawny, mainly due to his infirmities, and he set himself to the task of powering through. He began weightlifting daily, first at a neighborhood gym, and then at home, after his father turned an upstairs room into a gymnasts’ playroom. He exercised so continuously—enduring such “drudgery”—that by the end of six months not only had he improved his strength considerably, but he had also eradicated nearly all symptoms of his sicknesses.

RoughRidersOne of the most important lessons our sons need to learn early is that they are not perfect! Rather than serving as discouragement, this realization can teach our boys how capable they are of overcoming their own weaknesses when they put forth the effort. Our responses as parents can help our sons be humble in the face of their weaknesses and determined to work harder, and so become members of what Teedie would call “the fellowship of doers.”

5. Thank Your Parents

Finally, Teedie teaches us a simple lesson through his own writings, in which he effusively expresses his gratitude and love for his mother and father. His early letters to his mother gushed with filial love and enthusiasm, and he recorded in his autobiography that his father was “the best man I ever knew.”4

Gratitude is a natural response to joy, wonder, and love, but it is also a virtue formed—like others—through habit.  Teaching the boys to always say thank you, to write thank-you letters for their presents, and to acknowledge all of their gifts will help them develop a sense of deep gratitude not only to their natural parents but also to their heavenly Father, source of all gifts.


And so, our sons can develop a sense of wonder through nature; expand their horizons through reading great literature; live life with gusto no matter what obstacles arise; strengthen their weaknesses; and all the time, never forget the source of their ability. In sum, they can learn to be as manly as the “Happy Warrior,” Teddy Roosevelt.

Mr. Gleason (’99) is Head of The Heights Lower School. 

1.  An Autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt.
2. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris.
3. My Brother Theodore Roosevelt, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson.
4. An Autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt.
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Digging for Troy

On Thursday, January 29th, Professor Eric Cline came to The Heights to address the 8th Graders and any interested Upper Schoolers about the archaeological finds related to the Trojan War. By Mr. William Dardis


“Did the Trojan War Actually Happen?” While that question may not have kept you awake many nights, it held the 8th grade class spellbound for 90 minutes, as Professor Eric Cline of George Washington University explained the evidence for and against the historicity of Homer’s Iliad. The students had read The Iliad in Mr. Hatch and Mr. Breslin’s English class.

On Thursday, January 29, Professor Cline had a special session with the 8th grade (and any faculty or upper school students who could fit in the standing-room-only event) to address that burning question He seamlessly combined a fun and engaging style with extensive professional research and experience.

His disarming demeanor was evident as soon as his cell phone rang playing the theme from Indiana Jones. He told the students his actual fedora and his actual bull whip (the latter of which is broken) were left at home. However, his down-to-earth style belies an extensive knowledge of ancient history, language and culture:

• He is the author oreric-cline4 editor of 16 books and 100 articles;

• He has participated in 30 archaeological digs in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, and the United States;

• He is co-director of the excavations at Megiddo (biblical Armageddon) and at Kabri (a Canaanite settlement from the time of Abraham);

• He is the first professor at GWU to receive their two highest awards: one for excellence in teaching and the other for faculty scholarship.

To engage the youthful audience in this weighty subject matter, Professor Cline began by asking the boys to name the 11 college football teams with the mascot “Trojan.” They shouted out “U.S.C.” and “Troy University,” but somehow were unable to identify “Trevecca Nazarene University” in Nashville and eight others. Dr. Cline pointed out the irony that no college has the mascot “Mycenaean”—that is, universities have named themselves in honor of the losing side.


He then delved into the question at hand, summarizing the textual evidence for the Iliad’s historicity and pointing out both Bronze Age and Iron Age references in the epic poem. He then summarized the archaeological evidence discovered at Hissarlik, where 9 different cities have been found one on top of the other. Each successive archaeologist—Heinrich Schliemann, Wilhelm Dorpfeld, Carl Blegen, and Manfred Korfmann—reached a different conclusion as to which city of Troy could have been the actual site. Professor Cline’s photos of the excavations (often with himself smiling in the foreground) brought the presentation to life.

“So it’s either Troy VI, or Troy VII. Or maybe it’s both—perhaps Homer is telescoping several hundreds of years of fighting into one ten-year period.” Thus the debate began, and it continues among the faculty and students to this day.

eric-clineAfter his presentation came the barrage of questions from the audience:

• “Do you think the Phoenicians reached the New World?” Answer: no, I don’t think so, but they definitely reached Spain and beyond.

• “Which level of Megiddo is your favorite?” Answer: Level 7 (for various reasons)

• “How did you decide to become an archaeologist?” Answer: my mother gave me a book on Heinrich Schliemann when I was 7 years old; I was an archaeologist from that moment on. She gave me another copy of the same book when I finished my PhD.

• “What is your favorite archaeological find?” Answer: I recently helped find the Near East’s oldest wine cellar, but even better was the find on my first dig in college. I happened to hit a bronze object with my pickaxe, which turned out to be the bronze ornament from a chair. We cleaned it up and turned it in. Decades later I discovered this object in a museum in Israel, and excitedly took a selfie photo with it. When I returned with a friend, the ornament had gone back into storage. Thank goodness for the selfie!

• “What is a typical day like on a dig?” Answer: digging with pickaxe and shovel from 4:30 to 8:30 am, then breakfast, more digging, then washing every item we find, some free time (probably a nap!), then dinner. After dinner, despite waking up at the crack of dawn, there is a mandatory class from 8:00 to 9:00 pm. Then off to bed (exhausted) or out on the town (more exhausted).

eric-cline3“That was fascinating!” said one student. “I want to dig with him in Megiddo someday,” commented another. At least 5 students vowed to become archaeologists someday, while others, after hearing the grueling schedule of a dig, decided to try other options.

“These were eighth graders?” asked Dr. Cline at the end of the talk. He was extremely impressed with the intellectual enthusiasm of the boys, and the depth of their preparation in classical language and history at such a young age. He also enjoyed his time visiting with the faculty at lunch beforehand, where he gave tips to Mr. Yaceczko and Mr. Cox about their upcoming Crescite trip to Greece.

The event was a fantastic opportunity for the boys to engage in a thorough investigation of a fascinating question. They also enjoyed meeting someone whose interests at a young age eventually led him to the very top of his profession. For Dr. Cline it was a chance to enjoy a few of the things we love most about the Heights: a commitment to the classics, the pursuit of truth, deep intellectual discussion, and a passion for the Liberal Arts.

eric-cline bookIf you enjoyed this article, you will also enjoy Professor Cline’s engaging book on the end of Bronze Age civilizations (the Mycenaean Greeks, Egyptians, Hittites, and Trojans), entitled 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. It can be purchased here.

Dardis_William_110292Mr. Bill Dardis joined the faculty at The Heights in 2011. After receiving a B.B.A. from Notre Dame and a commission in the U.S. Navy, Mr. Dardis worked as a computer consultant with Ernst & Young in New York.  He later founded UrbanFUTURE, an after-school program for youth in the inner-city of St. Louis. Since then he has run professional development programs for suburban and at-risk youth in St. Louis and Chicago. As a director with Youth Service International, he has organized service projects and summer camps in the U.S. and Mexico, including three Katrina Relief projects in his home town of New Orleans. Mr. Dardis teaches Ancient History to eighth graders and Religion to seventh graders.


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What our Boys Learn in Natural History

By Mr. Thomas Steenson

To an outside observer, a Natural History walk at The Heights may seem to fall quite short of the academic rigors of science. Yet it is not without reason that former Lower-School Head Joe McCleary called Natural History in some ways, the most important class that we teach the boys in the lower school. Following the wisdom of our Heights forefathers, I’d like to suggest three ways in which our Natural History instruction gives our boys a strong introduction to the world of Science.

Natural History

Science involves observation

In its foundations, science requires one to look, in a careful and unbiased manner, to the phenomena around us. Physics, with all of its formulae and rules, is finally, the study of motion – and motion is all around us, experienced, seen, felt. Even atomic theory, giving us knowledge of elemental forces and strata, seemingly on the opposite side of the spectrum from observation – even it owes its beginnings to truths deduced from observed experiment.

Our Natural History classes offer myriad lessons in observation. I recall the springtime when my boys were making observations on the Carpenter Bees as they (the bees, not the boys) returned to make havoc once again on our log cabin.

Natural History 1

“Write down what you see,” I told them. “Look, wait, and watch. Give me five observations on what the bees are doing. Don’t write it in your journal unless you see it with your own eyes.”

The bees were bouncing along the cabin’s wooden wall. We see them going in, and leaving from, a sort of knothole. I inspected one boy’s journal. “The bees are going into their nest and making honey.” An eyebrow raises involuntarily as I ask: “Did you see them make the honey?” It turns out the student cannot yet peer through walls, and finds that what he thought he observed, he imagined instead. Still, though the particular journal entry was less than perfect, the real lesson learned had to do with the beginning of the study of nature: Observation, true observation, is fundamental.

Wisdom begins with wonder

I remember, fondly, the experience my fifth-graders had in discovering rocks. On a nature walk, I happened across a shiny, black rock that was unlike most of the other stones I had seen underfoot. Taking it to Mr. Dolan, my class received two important insights – the name of the thing, and an intriguing property it had.

natural history 4

“That’s anthracite coal,” he said. “You can tell because it is so light.” Sure enough, as I passed the stone around, and the boys felt it in hand, they were amazed to feel first-hand its relatively light density.

What was recess like after that? A Fifth-grader or two standing in the middle of a soccer game, bending over and peering, oblivious to the sport . . . searching for anthracite. With that sense of wonder, with that spark of interest (coal-fired, as it were), my boys ended up learning a lot more than any classroom lecture I could have given on rocks.

Natural History teaches Philosophy

Although the study of nature may seem to be a quaint pastime, an old-fashioned means of investigation before man developed modern technologies, in reality there are higher-level truths that depend on one’s understanding of nature.

For example, more than one of St. Thomas’ proofs for God’s existence are summaries of arguments found in Aristotle’s Physics. Key premises in these proofs are notions about the way the physical world is structured – notions learned from the study of nature. When I teach St. Thomas’ proofs to seniors in the History of Western Thought, I find the 18-year-old Heights student may not know the natural world as well as his 11-year-old brother in the Valley.

Nature acts for an end; even non-intelligent beings act for the sake of some good. Although my Western Thought scholars need reminders of the particular ways that trees, insects, and birds fulfill this dictum, fifth-graders will have first-hand knowledge.


I recall working through the reason that most leaf-bearing trees lose their leaves in the winter: Without shedding their leafy appendages, they would keep too much weight in a snowfall or ice storm, and suffer great losses. The conifers, on the other hand, have much more flexible branches, and needles which will stay relatively clear of frozen precipitation. Hence, they shed not.

Ah, but someone brings up the holly tree (which is conveniently located on campus, and therefore it is no accident to be brought into the discussion.) Doesn’t the holly keep its leaves year-round? A trip to the very tree in the middle of a rainfall, and the boys come to see its particular ordering towards its own good. The holly can retain its leaves, since they have a groove down the center, channeling the water to semi-prickled edges (ordered to gathering water in drops, which then fall of their collected weight, instead of pooling.) Further, the top of the leaves has a wax-like coating, discouraging the external retention of precipitation.

For the lower-school Natural History student, the fact that nature acts for an end is not just a premise to be memorized for a test. Rather, it is a fact of their everyday experience.


The philosophical saying is worth repeating: there is nothing in the mind which is not first in the senses. Following this, there is wisdom in beginning one’s scientific study of nature by looking at, listening to, and touching nature. Whether it is in the forming of universal concepts from a gathering of particular experiences, or in the learning of nature as an internal principle of motion, our lower-school students are given a good beginning to the study of science in Natural History.

— Thomas Steenson teaches fifth grade, and the History of Western Thought at The Heights School. He taught Natural History in the valley for years.

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30 Possible Parenting Resolutions for the New Year

Faculty member James Erickson enjoys the auction with his son, Finley.New Years’ = Fitness Resolutions.  How many of us have numbered some deficient aspect of our physical wellness in our list of new year’s resolutions?  Many, if not most, we’d wager.  It wouldn’t make sense, though, would it, to join a gym or establish a fitness regimen without adjusting our diet?  If you’ve started going to Gold’s Gym daily, a quick stop at the golden arches following your time on the treadmill is likely not part of the program.

In a certain sense, our sons are an extension of our physical selves, and The Heights, for those who send their boys here, is like a gym.  Parents send us boys to make them stronger:  intellectually, morally, academically, spiritually.  To chase the analogy a little farther, isn’t our home-life a bit like our diet?  Improved diet will optimize the results of our exercise; improved home-life will optimize the intellectual, moral, academic, and spiritual gains that our sons make during their time at The Heights (and beyond).

Here is a list, courtesy of the Heights faculty, of new year’s parenting resolutions that you might consider throwing into the mix.  They are things that you can do as a parent to improve your son’s experience at our School–your son’s experience anywhere, for that matter._dsc0973_1035

A caveat:  none of us, faculty, claim to be anything remotely close to a perfect parent.  A second caveat:  we’re blessed, at The Heights, to spend a great deal of time with amazing parents.

Along with your 40 minutes of cardio three days a week, consider a diet rich in vegetables, and a point (or two or three) from the list below.  It could totally change the way your son works out at The Heights.

  1. Take each of your high school children out for one-on-one time. Show them that you actually want to be with them and enjoy their company.  It is very affirming to them to see that you choose them over other things you could be doing, and especially over other things they know you would enjoy doing.
  2. Family dinner.  Everyday if possible, and try to make it possible.
  3. Don’t look at your cell phone during dinner or when engaged in conversation with the family.  Otherwise you communicate that the outside world is more important than them.
  4. Make time to pray every day with your family.  Boys, in particular, need to see their fathers praying.
  5. If it’s important enough to contact you son’s teacher, it is important enough to call.
  6. Reevaluate your electronics use.  Determine what is necessary, what is superfluous, and what is potentially a pitfall.
  7. Hike as a family.
  8. Forgo being a “hot-house” parent that tends a child as if he were a delicate flower.
  9. Practice “benign” neglect in little things, all the while keeping one eye open.
  10. Pray daily to your child’s guardian angel. You don’t need to tell him about this, though encouragement for him to get to know his guardian angel is important.
  11. Teach your son to cook, and get him involved in the kitchen, aside from eating and cleaning up.
  12. Read the books your son is assigned in English class. Discuss, in a friendly way.
  13. Start a book club that meets about 10 times a year with your peers (with time off for Christmas and summer). These monthly meetings over wine and cheese and books will make a lasting impression on your children.
  14. If you don’t have a large bookshelf in the house, get one. Unfinished furniture stores are a good bargain, and can  be easily painted or stained to match a room. A house of a Heights family should–over the years–collect a few hundred books for pleasure-reading, etc. Make the book–not the flat-screen–a center of the family’s time.
  15. Pray for, but also pray about your children. Make a weekly appointment with Christ in the tabernacle.  As Proverbs 16:3 says, “Lay open thy works to the Lord: and thy thoughts shall be directed.” Let Him help you father or mother your son or daughter.
  16. Date night (without kids): Invariably the relationship is strengthened, which obviously improves everything for the entire family, including kids.
  17. Attend (as a couple) some means of family/parenting enrichment. Could be something formal or just a talk at the local parish by the priest or guest lecturer.
  18. Assign simple Saturday morning chores for each person in the family to just develop the habit of everyone pitching in.
  19. Make cookies and bring them to the local volunteer fire station. Everyone ends up having fun usually with a private tour of the station. The volunteers feel appreciated and everyone in the family is more grateful for the service these folks provide.
  20. Board games!  Or learn how to play some (multi-player) card games — poker (with many variations), hearts, spades, bridge, whist. Play said game with your son(s) and some friends of his or yours.DSCN4334Copy
  21. Host a dinner party and have your sons “formally” assist at welcoming, taking coats, serving the table, etc.
  22. Read a book aloud with all or part of the family.
  23. Complain less and don’t seek to blame someone for every problem.
  24. Family Rosary. (We used to pray it while cleaning up after dinner. No one argued. We just prayed and worked.)
  25. Go with your son/daughter to buy books at your local book store. My father used to take each one of us to the bookstore and browse through the stacks. Of course, I realize now that he already had the book/s in mind he wanted us to read but it seemed like a team effort.
  26. Visit a museum once a month as a family. You could ask your son to plan out the visits: what museums to visit first; what to see, etc.
  27. Go on a short pilgrimage to a Marian shrine during the month of May. Explain what a pilgrimage is.
  28. Make your son/daughter write thank you letters–always… and even letters to grandpa and grandma. Postcards. Anything other than texts and emails.
  29. Go to a nursing home to visit people who get no visitors. (You may also consider asking your pastor if anyone in the parish needs visits/help. Father/son or as a family.
  30. and the thirtieth resolution?

Well, we’ll leave #30 blank as a nod of gratitude to the Heights parents that gave us a few of these ideas in the first place.

Good luck, this year, parents, and here’s to making our boys stronger.

The Vigil

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