A great education prepares students for a rapidly changing world. At the Upper School, we combine the most effective traditional lessons and experiences with a curriculum that evolves with new research, best practices, and knowledge, as well as current events. In this new series, we highlight students as they are deeply engaged in the process of learning—extending their knowledge and skills and constructing real-world applications. Rory Ashmeade and Jay D’Ercole share insights on their educational journeys as they describe “what they are working on.”
RORY ASHMEADE, a senior, is beginning to understand the real-world applications of math.
“When I was in seventh grade, I learned math, but I wanted to know how I could actually use it. Now, I’m reaching the point where I’m really seeing how.”
Rory is currently taking Computer Science X, an advanced course that is a mix of applied math, physics, and computer science, and is taught collaboratively by three members of the Upper School faculty: Gordie Campbell (Computer Science), Annette Iversen (Math), and Doug Carr (Physics and Engineering).
For a class project, she developed a mathematical modeling analysis of a player’s choice to shoot or pass in a basketball game. She leveraged Boolean algebra, logic, gates, and circuits to model the actual dilemma. Other students in the class looked into maximizing the student schedule in the Upper School and developing content recommendation algorithms, as YouTube does.
For Rory, her math classes in Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra with Coleman Hall are complementing her CSX class.
“The math classes are very theoretical, and the physics and computer science are application heavy, and I like having that balance. The subjects just reinforce each other and line up nicely—it’s the optimal way to learn.”
“More than memorizing, this approach to math is a way to think about the world. It trains you to approach situations in a very methodical way, which is just super cool.”
Aside from being absorbed in math and modeling this semester, Rory is also taking Economics with Andrew Dutcher and African American Literature with Idara Foster.
In Economics, students are learning about capitalism and markets. Since the class is project-based, the students were put into teams and acted like a consulting firm representing a country. Rory was part of team Mexico and had to research the country’s political institutions, the cycles of production, and wealth inequality.
“Together, our team came up with a brief and made suggestions about how the country should use its resources, where it should invest, and also pull back. It required a lot of research and collaboration.”
Rory is looking forward to learning about supply and demand and labor markets as the year progresses.
In African American Literature, Rory just finished reading “Of One Blood” by Pauline Hopkins, a contemporary of Booker T. Washington, who challenges the idea of the 1/16 rule—that if one has any Black blood, one is considered Black. She is preparing for a classroom debate on the topic in the coming week.
After high school, Rory is interested in pursuing medical research and computational science in college. For right now, however, she is interested in learning as much as possible and is motivated by the prospect of discovery.
“When you’re in the middle of a project, it can be very overwhelming and daunting. But the more we wrestle with ideas, the more my team engages deeply with a topic, the closer we get to some real understanding.”
JAY D’ERCOLE, a junior, is spending a lot of time in the classroom of Dr. Nikki Barrat, his Environmental Science and Marine Biology teacher, and Junior Thesis advisor. For his thesis project, Jay is working in partnership with a NASA program, researching the optimal ways to grow radishes on the International Space Station (ISS) to help feed astronaut teams.
Over the past couple of months, he built an environment that simulates the conditions on the ISS. Almost daily, he needs to check on the conditions in his “black box,” water the plants, and measure the stems.
“There are very specific ways that we need to take care of the plants and collect data. Right now, I’m learning how the equipment works and how to measure in these set conditions. And then in the spring I actually get to pick my own variable to study further.”
Jay is pursuing a Sustainability Diploma, a GCDS signature pro-gram that provides opportunities for students to express their passion in fields that are increasingly popular at the college level. The diploma involves both required coursework and extracurricular activities. In Environmental Science, Jay worked with a partner to research the water quality on the ISS. In Marine Science class, students conducted research on the Long Island Sound. Outside of school, and as part of his Sustainability Diploma work, Jay has also applied his learning to start a private recycling business.
Another course that has kept Jay very busy this semester is International Relations taught by Paula Russo. Both of his projects this semester have entailed creating briefings in the format used to develop UN Resolution books. Currently, he is working with a partner to pre-pare a 40-page briefing to represent France’s interests during the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956.
“I didn’t really have any idea what the Suez Crisis was. I learned some fantastic history about the Middle East and the Cold War context, and how the Suez Canal is a major part of global economics. Although the class is about politics, I think about the ways sustainability ties in with the crisis.”
Jay had to use university databases and draw on research from the actual institutions they were studying. “It took a lot of research for me to even understand the basics. Our teacher pushed us to find scholarly sources.”
For Jay, GCDS’ project-based learning offers opportunities for him to engage in what he finds interesting. “This is what my education boils down to: the pursuit of understanding things that I am genuinely curious about.”
Jay credits his grandfather, who was president of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, for his passion for sustainability.
“I’m interested in land companies and how they operate and keep land sustainable. Who knows, maybe researching them is my next project.”