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13 Reasons Why
Jessica Eckert, Associate Head of School

You may have heard about a controversial new show called 13 Reasons Why. The show was adapted from Jay Asher's book by the same title, and deals with the very difficult topic of teen suicide. The book came out almost ten years ago, but the new show has brought both the story and topic into the spotlight. Some are concerned about suicide contagion or the glorification of suicide, while others applaud the fact that the show forces us to have open conversations with our children and students about anxiety, depression, and suicide. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, here are 13 Reasons Why you should read the book, watch the show, or both:


1. If the kids are talking about it, you should too. Sometimes it is difficult to talk about things with adolescents. We worry we might trigger feelings that are uncomfortable or harmful. We fear the unknown. Silence, however, creates the biggest unknown. Honest conversation can help shed light on even the most uncomfortable of topics.

2. "Welcome to your tape." In a digital world where everything becomes a meme, I am both surprised and not surprised this has gone viral. However, if you hear this, it is important to open up the conversation about where the phrase comes from, what the intention was for using it in the story, and if it is appropriate to use in in a cavalier way. Check out this article to know more:

3. Almost 20% of teens grades 9-12 have contemplated suicide. This statistic is alarming and it should be. Chances are your child knows someone who has contemplated suicide or self-harm.

4. The effects of bullying last long after the incident. Whether supporting a student after they have been bullied or helping a bully to understand the consequences of his or her actions, understanding the more-than-casual relationship to depression and anxiety is an important connection to make.

5. Approximately 20% of students report being bullied in the last month. With the age of social media and ease of communicating from a distance, bullying has become even more prevalent.

6. There is more to bullying than just the bully and the bullied. Within and around that dynamic are many, many bystanders. Chances are, even if your child wasn't directly involved in a bullying incident, her or she has most likely witnessed one. Unfortunately, standing up for someone can make you a target. It is important to help your child understand how to advocate for others in a safe way.

7. Controversy should make us contemplate both sides. Some people praise this story while others vilify it. In order to make an informed decision, we should all experience the story and both perspectives. This article published by CNN gives a holistic explanation of both points of view.

8. Talking to other parents helps. You are not alone in your desire to protect your child. Luckily, there are other parents out there who also want to keep their children safe as well. Talk to them. Share your concerns. Collaborate. The more we connect to one another, the more we eliminate the stigma attached to such topics.

9. Talking to teachers and administrators can shed light. Your son or daughter spends a lot of time at school, and they are around a lot of adults. Chances are there is at least one they connect with who may have some insights, even if your teen responds to your questions about what happened at school with "Nothing." Reach out to them. We are all on the same team.

10. There are signs. There are always warnings or signals. They may be subtle, but they are there. Don't overlook them. Don't explain them away. Ask questions. Don't give up.

11. If you build it, they will come. Many teens struggle with the idea of coming to adults for help. They worry about getting in trouble, getting their friends in trouble, or other social consequences that are insurmountably important to them. If you build a relationship that is based on mutual trust and communication, the chances are much higher they will come to you for help when they need it. I have heard several parents who have "safety first" rules. For example, if a teen finds themselves at a party where they feel unsafe, and they can call home and get a way out with no fear of punishment. They can tell their friends, "My dad called, I need to get home," so they can save face and not come home to a punishment. This is just one model that can build a relationship with your teen around safety and trust before anything else.

12. It is about time we forced ourselves to be uncomfortable when it comes to the lives of our children. If we can't talk about these topics, we make them more shameful and more powerful. By opening up a dialogue, we create a level of comfort that may save someone's life one day. If your son or daughter is worried about a friend, and feels they can talk to you about that, you have successfully ended the silence that may have resulted in tragedy.

13. The more you know, the more you can do. Educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations is just the beginning. Experience this story with your son or daughter. Show them how to get help, either for themselves or a friend.

Jamie Tworkowski said it best, "Hope is real. Help is real. Your story is important." I encourage you to visit the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms to learn about resources and ways to support your kids and their peers.



Purnell News Highlights

Intellectual Rigor and Student Support are Not Mutually Exclusive
Anne Glass, Ed. M.

Purnell's philosophy of educating students is developmental in perspective and is informed by research on learning and positive psychology. We are guided by an ethical commitment based on equity and access for all students to learning opportunities and to meeting each student where she is. Research on developmental neuroscience informs our diagnostic teaching of students as well as prescriptions for intervention. Our philosophy also borrows from the work of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University on the value of having a Growth Mindset. Cultivating a growth mindset means acknowledging the importance of effort and resilience for learning outcomes.

We aim to be holistic in our approach to supporting our students. Such an approach takes into consideration all aspects of a student's development and personhood. As teachers, this approach requires a view toward the future and the informed optimism of always working toward improving our practices. There are important connections between affect and emotion and cognition and learning. There is ample evidence of the inextricable relationship of emotional thought to processes, which are critical to education: attention, judgment, motivation and memory. Therefore, it is important to optimize the context of instruction and learning, and augment our focus on the individual student with attention to the social and relational context of teaching and learning. By extension, it is not a leap to realize the importance of free play and athletics in all of this. All cultivate emotional fortitude and agency and add to a holistic perspective of our students.

Taken together, research and experience renew our focus on teaching and learning and inspire us to rearticulate our philosophy for student support. Intellectual rigor and student support work together. Emotional well-being and resilience have an intrinsic impact on our students' learning and willingness to take intellectual risks. Purnell's program balances attention to girls' needs with their intellectual growth by focusing on individual needs and self-awareness, curricular goals, and school philosophy. At Purnell, we educate the whole girl.

School News

"A life not lived for others is not a life."

Mother Theresa

On November 15, 2016 Purnell is launching an exciting new leadership program called Learn to Lead. Purnell School and Bedminster Township are collaborating on a unique public/private partnership where our Purnell girls will mentor thirty 4th grade girls from Bedminster through sports, literature, and adventure activities. Over the next two months, our Purnell girls will receive extensive training on how lead their younger partners (see extended blog). Once the L2L programs begin the Purnell leaders will be on their own to teach and mentor their younger neighbors. This is intentional in design. Daniel Coyle, in his book The Little Book of Talent, “To learn it more deeply, teach it.” The idea of learning by doing can be traced to the turn of the twentieth century and the works of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Kurt Hahn. This approach works because when we teach a skill to someone, we come to understand it more deeply ourselves. The Learn to Lead program will be run three times in November, February, and late spring. The year will culminate with all parents attending the last session. This will be a great opportunity to build partnerships in our local community.

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The Idea behind Learn to Lead

Concepts like teamwork need to be intentionally taught to students. Teachers and coaches simply yelling, “we need more teamwork” is similar to a teacher yelling, “We need more algebra.” One way children can learn about these concepts is through “teaching others” which deepens the learning and creates a circle of good within the community that can trump bullying.

Learning through doing

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Little Book of Talent, offers the tip “To learn it more deeply, teach it.” The idea of learning by doing can be traced to the turn of the twentieth century and the works of John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Kurt Hahn. This approach works because when we teach a skill to someone, we come to understand it more deeply ourselves. According to the Montessori method, “Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.” Character development actually comes from both explanation and experience especially in a community where children are encouraged and empowered to learn by doing. If given the opportunity, adolescents can learn about teamwork by “doing teamwork” and by teaching teamwork to others. Teaching high school students how to mentor younger students through sports and literature takes the learning experience to a deeper level.

Intentionality is the key

Learn to Lead is a comprehensive leadership program for high school students. Learn to Lead approaches the teaching and learning of leadership in the same way we teach math or science. Most schools do not intentionally teach children how to lead. Intentionality is the missing link. Schools teach students how to do math or kick a soccer ball. Teachers carefully plan the sequence of teaching algebra I-and-II and how each one developmentally leads to the next and prepares students for geometry. Coaches teach baseball skills such as fielding and trapping the ball. But, we seldom apply the same pedagogical approach to teaching children the skills of how to lead. We expect that our students will somehow learn on their own what responsibility means and how to engage in responsible acts. We expect our young people to know how to stand up to bullying on their own. Some students will by chance, if they are lucky. But luck is not the way we want to assure our children’s future. This year at Purnell, the Learn to Lead program will offer an intentional step-by-step process designed to teach our girls how to lead themselves and others.

The Learn to Lead Program: Developing the Whole Child across Learning Domains

On November 15 thirty 4th graders will ride their bus to Purnell School. The trip alone to a local private high school is exciting for these girls. For most if not all of these local girls this will be the first time on the Purnell Campus. The Bedminster bus will be met by the Purnell leaders and escorted to the Carney Center for an introduction. Once this is done the thirty 4th graders will be broken into groups of ten led by a Purnell leader. The Purnell leaders will then take the girls to three different stations including Lessons from Literature; Lessons form the Field, and Lessons from Adventure. This is where the Purnell leaders take over and learn to lead. The groups will rotate through the three stations and we all will have Lunch in the dining Hall. There will be a cool-down session at the end of the day where the girls will have the opportunity to debrief.

learn2lead schedule


Training Purnell Students to be Leaders

The underlying foundation of Learn to Lead is to train our Purnell gives first on how to mentor in this case 4th grade girls.

Training Session I: Introduction to PLUS (Monday, October 17, 2016)

  • Warm-up: Learn2Lead /PLUS Program overview (10 minutes)
  • Quote of the Week, Write, Think, Pair up, Share, Reflect (10 minutes)
  • Activity: Wilma Unlimited, watch video (10 minutes)
  • Cool down: Pondering Perseverance – Group and personal reflections (10 minutes)
  • Warm-up: Plus Cycles (warm-up, activity, cool down) & Rotating schedule explained- (5 minutes)
  • Activity: Plus Cycles assigned. Brainstorm ideas (10 minutes)
  • Cool down: R&R Huddle- Recap, Reconnect, Reset (5 minutes) Homework: Begin to notice when and where Perseverance exists in your life and surroundings.

Training Session II: Pondering Perseverance (Monday, October 24, 2106)

  • Warm-up: Why is Perseverance a valuable character trait? Share anecdotes and observations from past few weeks (10 minutes)
  • Activity: Create Posters to represent Perseverance (25 minutes)
  • Work separately on Cycle ideas and formulate Cycle action plans (20 minutes)
  • Cool down: R & R Huddle-Homework: Begin to create a list of examples of personal perseverance, write down stories to share. (5 minutes)

Training Session III: Perseverance in Action (Monday, November 7, 2016)

  • Warm-up: Plus Leadership Rubric introduced (10 minutes)
  • Activity: Heart Rate Activities (20 minutes)
  • Cool down: S.M.A.R.T. Set new Goals and plan achievement strategies. Reflection and Sharing (10 minutes)
  • Activity: Work on cycle plans (10 minutes)
  • Cool down: R&R Huddle, Homework: Do the Heart Rate activity with your partner to push yourself to your stated goal (5 minutes)

Training Session IV: Planning to Lead (Monday, November 14, 2016)

  • Warm –up: Review. Where are we? What do we need? (5 minutes)
  • Activity: Complete cycle plans (20 minutes)
  • Groups come together to share cycle plans (20 minutes)
  • Feedback for each group from their peers (10 minutes)
  • Cool down: R&R Huddle (5 minutes)

*All Sessions are from 3:15-4:15pm

PLUS Leadership Ladder


To define and measure what is important, Learn to Lead employs the Leadership Ladder Rubric. The L2L Rubric breaks complex concepts of leadership into concrete actions that students could “see, do, and eventually teach to the younger players.”


Five Skills defined by Leadership Ladder

The Leadership Ladder Rubric serves as the backbone of the Learn to Lead program. The cognitive and behavioral levels provide understandable behaviors that our high schools can see, do, and teach. The Leadership Ladder Rubric provides children with a valuable roadmap to understand where they are in relation to the team and how they can improve in regards to how to be a leader. The L2L Rubric can be used to measure the student’s progress in the classroom, playing fields, and at home.

To define and measure what is important, Learn to Lead employs the Leadership Ladder, which breaks complex concepts of teamwork into concrete actions that students could “see, do, and eventually teach to the younger players.” Teamwork is defined by the ability to live, work, and play successfully and productively with others. At the highest level 5, teamwork is defined by the ability to work collectively with people of similar and diverse backgrounds toward a common goal PLUS model these behaviors to others. At level 5 students can lead younger students from being detracting through the levels to leading.

The Leadership Rubric is based on Robert Carkhuff's Detractor to Leader Scale and Jeff Beedy and Steve Davis's Total Human Development Model (2002).

Important News from Jeremy Jeffery, Chair of the Board of Trustees


September 1, 2016

Please click here to read an important message from Jeremy Jeffery, Chair, Purnell School Board of Trustees.


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