What is the best thing about being a nurse at SDS?

By Marilyn Burtnett
School Nurse

When I graduated from nursing school in 1972, it was never my intention to do something as “mundane” as school nursing. I loved the fast pace of surgery and ER. I wanted to get my hand on the pulse (so to speak) of taking care of people who needed me. The only reason I left the hospital and the surgery suite was because I had a seriously asthmatic toddler who needed me to stay at home with her.

As it turned out, I went back to school when she started kindergarten and got my degree in art. That lead to my working at Spartanburg Day School as a substitute teacher in art, and every other classroom I could get into. After a few of years, I landed in the art department for real – teaching Middle School art. I was happy. Things were humming along.

Then I got the letter from the State Board of Nursing. I would lose my hard-fought-for nursing license if I did not work as a nurse. That was not going to happen. Gary Clark (headmaster at the time) agreed to add “school nurse” to my contract and told me to buy some bandaids. Now, I look back on that beginning and have to laugh. Little did either of us know what that addition to my contract would lead to.

To answer the title question, I think I have to say my favorite thing is…

  • learning something new everyday. No…
  • relying on my training to do the best I can for our students. No…
  • watching 3-year-olds walking in a serpentine line by my office door, holding hands and chattering as they go. No…
  • when they stop by to look at my aquarium and feed the fish. No…
  • handling an emergency on the playground – and getting it right. No…
  • asking a 6-year-old who’s bumped her head the questions in the protocol for evaluating a concussion; and trying desperately to decide if her child-like answers give me a negative or positive result. No… definitely, No…
  • having a Middle School student say that the salt water gargle I made for him made his throat feel better. No…
  • helping a young diabetic figure out what to do when his blood sugar goes high. No…
  • visits from Upper School students who drop by for a cough drop – or just because – yeah, that’s it. No…
  • the relationship I have with parents who begin to trust that I always have their child’s well being in mind. No…
  • when I can tell that a student trusts me to believe what they say and to work to make them feel better. No…
  • watching kindergarten children become high school seniors in the blink of an eye… No.

There are a million answers to this question, and all of them relate to the atmosphere of a school that uses its people according to their strong suits. We are given opportunities to share our passions and gifts in a very fluid manner: creating courses and units of study and clubs and events and moments that show who we are, not just as teachers or staff members, but as unique individuals who have a wide range of talents to contribute to our small community.

So, my position at SDS is anything but “mundane.” I’ve learned more from my job than any advanced degree could have taught me. I’ve learned to rely on my gut once in a while, and to follow that with some serious Googling. I’ve made hundreds of friends in the parents I’ve communicated with over the 26 years that “school nurse” has been part of my contract. My Facebook page is filled with posts from former students – and patients. There is no way to place a value on these things; it’s just up to me to acknowledge that they do add tremendous value to my life… my Griffin life. And Yes! The best things are the hugs.

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For what it’s worth: A thousand words (or so), ‘The Last Picture Show’ and Spartanburg Day School

By Mike Corbin
School Photographer

There are times in life when you are especially thankful luck was on your side.

In 2005, I almost died. Thanks to some expert medical attention and a bit of luck, I recovered and was able to return to teaching junior high school art and taking pictures. Two years later, I retired from the classroom and had another piece of luck: I began working at the Spartanburg Day School.

PC front, The Last Picture Show, 7nov17 copyI had known that the Day School was a special place before I began working here. My wife, Nancy, had been in place for many years and had helped transform the arts program. The youngest of our three sons, Max ‘05, joined SDS in first grade and loved the place and the people surrounding him.

I was never a gifted teacher (I tried to emulate the qualities and practices that I admired), but I could always recognize those around me that were. The Day School is chock full of gifted teachers. It has been a pleasure to walk into any one classroom and see what they are doing that day.

The entire school community is kind of amazing, really. From board members and heads of school to assistants to maintenance staff, the Day School folks that I have worked with have been tremendous at what they do.

And what they do – and what I have tried my best to do – is serve our families and students as best they can. From 3K to senior year, the transformation from childhood to maturing adolescence to beginning adulthood never ceases to amaze me. The talent, commitment and humor of our students are a recurring source of pleasure and wonderment to me. You Griffins rock!

The Spartanburg Day School campus has undergone several transformations since its founding in 1957, but perhaps none so radical as the changes that have occurred over the past 11 years. That is something else that I realize I was fortunate to witness and be a small part of.

All of this – the physical campus, the Griffin students, families, teachers, administration and staff – is what I have tried to document over the past 10-plus years in photographs for the school. From thousands of these images, more than 400 have been selected to make up the exhibit, The Last Picture Show, up now in the Mildred Harrison Dent Gallery. A closing reception will be held on Feb. 21 from 3:15-4:30 p.m.

“F/8 and Be There” is an old adage for photojournalists that, I found, can apply to almost any discipline. “F/8” is an admonition to use the aperture setting of the camera lens to capture un-posed images with acceptable sharpness and exposure. By extension, “F/8” is an admonishment to get all of the technical and compositional considerations of photography as good as I can for each picture that I take. “Be There” is analogous to the old Nike ad campaign, “Just Do It!” I have tried my best to “Be There!” to capture the Day School community over the past decade.

I hope all past and present members of the Day School community will stop by and see The Last Picture Show. Make sure to “Be There” for the closing reception. Fayssoux McLean & Friends will treat us with their music, and there will be some good eats and a picture take-away. Any of the photographs in the exhibit are yours for the taking at the conclusion of the reception. Please, take them all!

A link to an archive of the photographs in the exhibit is here. If you want a copy of any of the images not available at the conclusion of the exhibit, you can always download any of them and have a print made.

There are too many people to properly thank in this space for allowing me to just be here and for making me a part of this community. I appreciate you all.

Go, Griffins!

Summer behind the scenes: a Q&A with Nick Buxton

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When a person’s passion for what they do extends beyond the boundaries of “have to” and into the realm of “want to,” good things – really fun things – happen. We at Spartanburg Day School are fortunate to have a faculty that exemplifies what it means to “be more” every day.

During the academic year, Nick Buxton is a PE teacher, a soccer coach and athletics operations manager (and more). By summer, he leads athletic camps and programs for players looking to get a leg up on the next season. Since becoming a Griffin in 2014, Coach Buxton’s passion keeps him on the soccer field and beyond all year long.

What will you be doing at SDS this summer?

I have a couple of things going on this summer. First off, I do a summer training program, which involves speed and agility, as well as soccer. It’s in the evening and it’s for rising second graders all the way up to rising 12th graders. We do a lot of footwork and a lot of technical work with the soccer ball. And then we just allow the kids to play, have fun and play some pick up games. The summer training program is really more for the dedicated soccer player that wants to improve and get better.

I also run a soccer camp from Monday to Friday, which I’m doing right now, and it’s a lot of fun and games. We’ll mix in some indoor soccer and just have a lot of fun by playing different activities with the kids.

And then coming up, in the end of June, I do an all-sports camp. And it’s just a variety of different games and exercise activities. We could be playing dodgeball, or we could be playing soccer again, or we could be playing tennis. I try to judge by the kids we have to see what their interests might be, and I cater to the kids we have.

You could do a lot of things over the summer. Rather than going to the beach, why did you choose to spend a good chunk of your summer here?

I want to give something back to the school. And offering camps for the students at the school and also getting kids who don’t normally come to the Day School the opportunity to come and see what we have here. It helps me out in the long run if I’m getting these kids in the summer, and they’re dedicated to a sport, it’s gonna help me in my season. For instance, middle school soccer season is just around the corner and I’m offering this summer training program and I have nine or 10 middle school soccer players who are going to compete in the fall for me. They’re here, working hard in the summer. It’s only going to help the school and the soccer program in the long run.

Do you see the community aspect here that we see during the school year?

I still get the community feel. For instance, when we had a kid from Florida come last week, I introduced him straight away to some of the middle school boys and they took him under their wing and started asking him questions, “What’s it like in Florida? What are you doing here in Spartanburg. It’s so great to see you. This is what we do. This is how it is.” Every time you step onto the campus, it’s a great community.

What specifically do you enjoy about your summer work here at SDS?

I just enjoy being out here with the kids. It’s a great environment; we have great facilities here at the school. And just seeing the kids have fun, excel at the different sports and activities that we do. It’s just worth doing.

Do you know most of the kids you are working with this summer or are you getting to know some new faces?

It’s a mix. We do have a lot of kids who go to Spartanburg Day School at summer camps, but we also have kids that come from different schools and different environments. We’ve even got a kid this week from Asheville.

More generally, what is your favorite part of the Day School?

I just enjoy the whole atmosphere of the school. It’s very friendly, and a great place to work. I love mixing with the kids. In my role, working in the department I do, I get to see the kids at 3 years old and I get to work with the kids when they’re in the high school, as well. I love the different environments. I love having those 3 and 4 year olds and having fun with them and just seeing them play the different games in PE. But then, when I get to coach the older kids, I still enjoy doing that and being with those guys as well.

3K, the griffin way

Over the past several years, parents have begun enrolling their children in school at a younger age. Instead of beginning their educational journey in Kindergarten, more and more families are opting for early learning programs to enhance socialization and instill a love of learning. While there are several preschool options here in our community, we thought we would ask the people who know our program best to explain “our difference.”

“I love the comfortable environment created to allow the children to learn in many different ways.  In addition to the physical and intellectual growth we’ve seen this school year, our son’s confidence and creativity have also really developed. SDS has an energy about it that fosters excitement and curiosity within its students and participation by their parents. ”

– Sarah McGirt

“One of my favorite events in 3K was the un-birthday party where they celebrated 9nov, 17 copyeveryone’s birthday with a party and a homemade gift. Children at this age usually are so egocentric that if you ask what someone else wants as a gift they answer with the item that they wish for, but not these students. They know each other so well that they made things that were exactly the perfect gift for that other child. My child slept for months cuddling her pig made from a coffee container that her classmate made for her. They took a piece of garbage and made it one of Elena’s most valuable and cherished items.

One of the things that truly sets SDS 3K apart is the communication with parents. Our teacher uploaded pictures and a short paragraph about the kids’ day, every day. Asking a 3K student what they did for school that day doesn’t always lead to much information, but when you can show pictures, they can tell you details and stories that allow us to really witness their learning experiences.

The twins have learned to explore and are excited to learn every day. They have gained confidence to be like those big kids attending school. They are compassionate with their classmates and have learned how to compromise and share. And of course we see huge changes in their school-related knowledge, such as how to write letters, draw and sing songs. They even have learned a new language, Spanish.”

– Kara Bopp

“The SDS 3K program stands out in my eyes because my son is learning how to write his letters in a fun and creative way. He doesn’t even know that he is learning.”

– Ann Hopkins

IMG_3835 (1)“It’s unbelievable to see our little boy’s progress since he started in the SDS 3K program.
Just recently we had our parent/teacher conference where we got to see how Willard wrote his name at the beginning of the year versus how he can write it now and the improvement of his fine-motor skills is incredible. Even more important to us though is that he loves where he is and he loves to learn – he’s learning to adapt to different situations, making life-long friends and having fun. For this, we are forever grateful.”

– Manning Fairey

“SDS 3K program offers plenty of opportunities for active play.  Our daughter is playing and learning while playing.  The program also stands out to us because of the talented and loving teachers.  Not only the classroom teachers but the PE, Spanish, art, music and library teachers.  How wonderful that three year olds are exposed to all of the above.

Our daughter has grown leaps and bounds this year.  She knows her colors, some letters, how to write her name and how to discover new things through play.”

– Ann Johnson

“Both of my children were in a home daycare setting prior to 3K with minimal student skills and both have left 3K writing their name, knowing a few Spanish words, loving art, loving school, ready for SDS summer camps and looking forward to the next school year.”

– Haley Williams

Caring and knowledgeable teachers, an environment full of joy, a curriculum fostering both curiosity and a love of learning…all coupled with daily communication from teachers…that is the value of the 3K experience here at Spartanburg Day School. An experience that pays rich dividends by preparing even our littlest griffins for a life truly well lived. 

Griffins Got Talent

By Marilyn Burtnett
School Nurse, Talent Show Coordinator

Twenty years ago we decided to try producing a talent show at Spartanburg Day School. With sidekicks Fran Davis, who taught music and band classes at that time, and Middle School Latin teacher Chris Harrelson, who taught dance in a former life, I began “shaking the bushes” in Lower, Middle and Upper schools to see what performers may land in our laps to form our first-ever show of this nature. Now you have to consider that this was way before reality TV became the rage, and no one had ever heard of Ryan Seacrest.

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The result was a wonderful conglomeration of acts, highlighting gifted singers, musicians and dancers. Mrs. Davis created a rock band out of my sixth grade homeroom students to make their debut in the show – and from that little group spawned an extremely talented drummer who went on to major in music in college and perform with his own successful group touring across the globe.

After that first show, we decided to make it a tradition to produce a similar production every other year – giving students a chance to think about their gifts and talents and look forward to participating in the next one. It also gave the production crew a rest.

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Since that first show, we’ve seen just about everything. We’ve showcased verging magicians, closet dancers (as well as very well-trained ones), want-to-be Taylor Swifts and Mrs. Harb’s best warblers. We’ve had dog tricks and novelty acts (balancing a quarter on a stick which was stuck in one’s belly button comes to mind!), pianists and banjo pickers. The participants have ranged from 4 years old to… adults. We’ve had alums to come back to perform, and had students who went on to make performance their goal. So we see this as an opportunity to give children inspiration – to spark a new talent, to muster courage, to receive applause.

The one thing we can always promise our performers and their parents is that this is the most loving and forgiving audience you’ll ever have. From technical difficulties to “oops and start-overs,” our audiences have always been a most important participant in the production: laughing when appropriate, cheering when deserved, supporting when needed and encouraging when required.

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So come be our audience. Enjoy our 4-year-old comedians and 3-year-old singer. Encourage our Chinese dancers and Middle School Elton Johns. Be amazed by every young student who steps up to a microphone or puts on tap shoes to walk into a spotlight, as that’s the joy of a school-wide talent show. Give yourself that gift.

We’ll begin our show at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, in the Seth Milliken Gymnasium. There will be a 30-minute intermission when dinner will be served. The second half should be finished by about 8:30 p.m.

Welcome back.

By Donlyn Aiken
Parent, Upper School Assistant

Welcome back! Welcome back to Homecoming! As someone who has not gone back to any (of my own high school’s) homecoming events – does my high school even do homecoming? ­– it is so cool to see graduates come back to Spartanburg Day School.

As a parent, it’s reassuring to see that students you once watched play in the band or sing in the chorus, play on a field or on a court are doing OK. College was challenging, fun, a success, but they were prepared. You breathe a sigh of relief that, hopefully, your child will do the same.

I have watched – for two-and-a-half years – one of my children do that. She has gone away from home to Europe and the Big City and has been OK. There have definitely been text messages late at night, IN ALL CAPS, about problems with roommates, stress about too many things due at the same time, etc. But she knows she has a home in me; I’ll listen and text back in the morning.

She also has another home, her Spartanburg Day School home. Her classmates are there for her during break, on trips to see each other, and of course Facebook Messenger. Her teachers are still a resource for her, and she is now a resource for them. As an environmental science major, she spoke with Mrs. Webster’s class about waste management, internships and what she studies in her major. Zero waste!

When I asked her how she thinks the Day School prepared her for University, this is what she texted:

“Leadership Opportunities – captain of sports team, working service chair and ASTRA 5K committee, editor-in-chief of the yearbook. Rallying people, reaching out to the communities, student power on a small scale = confidence to make change and understand that it is possible at a much larger school.”

These Day School positives have helped her get involved and be involved at a large campus. The design skills Mrs. Mitchell and the yearbook taught her helped her get part time jobs for spending cash and a paid summer internship. Other time she has told me that Dr. Fisher’s class prepared her for the type of writing required in this or that college course, and she continues to study math because of the love of numbers Ms. Tobey encouraged in her. (Thank you!)


Aryn ’14 at a holiday alumni social

Now for my Day School senior. When I pause and look carefully at all he has done at Spartanburg Day School, I am amazed. He has stuck with band for all seven years. I am sure that his double bass instructor in elementary school would be surprised. He not only has stuck with it, he has gotten up two or three mornings a week and gone to school at 7 a.m. to be part of Jazz Band. He has joined Pep Band and played for the basketball games, been part of ensembles at mentorship breakfasts and other events around town. I see how strong the band home is as graduates come back to visit Mr. Barnes, play for graduation and join in on one of the many game nights. Thanks, Mr. Barnes!

Sports have been a great experience for him just like his sister – leadership opportunity, learning to work as and with a team, learning discipline and responsibility. Thanks for “coaching everything,” Coach Wilson.

Looking at one of his college essays he wrote:

“This pride and value I place on my well-roundedness…”

I love this. I love that he feels well-rounded. Spartanburg Day School has been a great home for him to develop into a well-rounded young man – an artist, an athlete and a scholar (well, smart kid).


Lee ’17 on a Special Studies trip to Tanzania with Global Bike

It takes a village to raise a child, it’s true. Within that village are many homes where my children can come home. I am so gratefully that one of them is Spartanburg Day School.

True red & true blue Griffins

By Rachel Deems
Head of School

One of my favorite weeks of the year is about to begin. Homecoming week at the Day School has a spirit that is infectious and includes everyone – all ages of students, faculty, parents and alumni.  It is a week-long nod to the essence of who we are – true red and true blue Griffins!

All week long we will enjoy the connections of being Griffins. There will be the Red and White Game that captures the shared experience of our athletic stars and our younger children. The Griffinettes will give us their best performances and create adorable memories and photos sure to be used in their future Griffin years. Class competitions will be fierce and friendly. Halls will be decorated, banners made, and skits spoofing much-loved faculty and staff will remind us of how well we know and appreciate each other and how we do love to have fun. There will be good music thanks to the Day School Jazz Band, cheers lead by our Griffin cheerleaders and a traditional performance by the male cheerleaders and lots of basketball to be enjoyed as we watch all the of the girls’ and boys’ teams compete. A queen, elected by her classmates, will take her place in the history of the school. A revered former teacher, coach and administrator, the late Bill Ross, will be inducted into the SDS Sports Hall of Fame. 

Homecoming is our way of expressing our love and loyalty to our school and to each other and our way of remembering and welcoming back those who came before us, those who walked these halls, performed in plays, studied hard, earned awards, expressed themselves creatively, played on fields and courts and who reveled in their days as Griffins while students here. So to all of our Griffins present and to Griffins past, welcome to Homecoming week at the Day School!  Welcome to a place we all feel right at home.   Happy Homecoming!

What about Wednesday?

By: Farrar Richardson, head of Middle School

It is difficult for me to remember exactly when and how this idea about doing something differently in the Middle School with Wednesdays emerged, but I know the reasons why. I know this because asking ourselves ‘why’ or ‘what if’ is how we make most decisions in the Middle School. Last spring, the following questions kept finding their way to our faculty meetings and into my head.

What would happen if we gave students a bit more choice?

Why do we always separate students by age and not consider grouping by interest?

What would happen if families had one predictable night a week to be together without homework as part of the equation?

Why couldn’t we consider giving students a break in their week where the schedule and flow of the day were not the usual?

What would happen if we gave students time to try yoga or learn to knit or code during the school day?

Why wouldn’t we model and make time for creativity, choice and balance if we all agree that it is so vital to our own happiness as adults?

Well, the answers to the whys and the what ifs made it clear to us that we had the desire to create a place and time for a different and weekly experience.

Wellness Wednesdays were born.

In a nutshell, Wednesdays offer a modified schedule in the morning where students rotate through their academics minus ten minutes per class. We have lunch, recess and then a bit of time on the halls to transition into what we call Workshops. We spend the afternoon in workshops and end the day in our Advisory groups. There isn’t homework on Wednesdays and SDS t-shirts (untucked for sure) fit the dress code. Wednesdays are different this year.

14441010_10154674759955649_3011760463474952582_nWhen you walk through our school on Wednesday afternoons, you may see Middle School students of all ages playing Ultimate Frisbee, Japanese or American chess, a variety of card games, mat ball, or other games in the gym.



You may see a jiu jitsu club in action, a group practicing yoga, or students learning to code or knit.


You will see students paired with three and four year olds in our Extended Day program playing outside and helping with snack or naptime. You might catch a glimpse of students working on a middle school publication, working in the SDS garden, making a variety of crafts, constructing dog toys to donate to the Humane Society, learning origami, or making art for our Reading Room.


The list keeps growing, and one of the coolest things that happened last Wednesday were three new workshops organized and lead by students themselves. I should have asked the question: What would happen if we gave students opportunities to be experts and teach others?

21sep-32-copyAs with any new endeavor, there are things to work out and logistics to manage, but with one semester of our new weekly addition behind us, we think Wellness Wednesdays will stay.

Alfie Kohn, a personal favorite, writes about the need for schools and educators to take children seriously.

thumb_img_8795_1024“Progressive educators take their cue from the children- and are particularly attentive to the differences among them. The curriculum isn’t just based upon interest, but on ‘these children’s interests…they design it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours.”

I remain consistently in awe of our students and what they can do. Teaching them to take time for creativity, fun, a new skill, and caring for others is well worth the time away from what one might consider more traditional schooling, and dare I say essential to being well.

Being thankful…the large and small of it all

By: Bethany Cobb, director of marketing

What are you thankful for? That is the question I posed to various members of the SDS community throughout the past week. I enjoyed stopping them in the hallway and gathering their impromptu but thoughtful responses.


“I am thankful for my Mommy and Daddy.” – Jennings, 3K


“I am thankful for my Dad. I can get nervous sometimes and he really helps me see the bright side of things.” – Caleb, 6th grade


“I am thankful for the health and well being of my friends and family.”
– Alexis, 10th grade


“I am thankful for the love and joy of family, memories that warm our hearts and good health that allows us to experience every day to the fullest.”

– Page Birney, 3K teacher


“I am thankful for my family. I know everyone says that but I have been reminded recently of how great, fun, crazy, loving, make me crazy my extended family can be.  This Thanksgiving I hope we all remember to reach to out to family we are not with and hug the ones we are with.”

– Donlyn Aiken, Upper School assistant

These students and faculty members are thankful for things that matter most in their lives…family, friends and their health and well-being. Large things. Important things. They didn’t take but a moment to deliver their responses. It was heartfelt and touching.


“Being grateful is an action, a positive step that includes being kind-hearted and helpful, showing compassion and being generous of spirit. The act of gratitude surrounds us at the Day School, lived out daily by students, faculty, staff and families. This is just another one of those “something quite special” values of our school community. This time of year it is ever so evident in the random acts of kindness that are within our halls and beyond our walls. So this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for Griffins, small and large, as they go about their quiet acts of selflessness and kindness.”

– Rachel Deems, Head of School


“When thinking of the upcoming season of thankfulness, I immediately think of my children’s haven, Spartanburg Day School.  It is such a supportive, nurturing and caring environment. I am also thankful for the Parents’ Club. I have enjoyed becoming involved with this organization, which plays such a significant role in fostering this unique environment that our children enjoy each day.”

– Sherri Daniels, SDS parent, Parents’ Club bake sale chair


I am lucky to have married an SDS alumnus, and to have had my alum son flourish at SDS. I am thankful to be working in a school where I can watch the progress of the student from 3K through high school, how students and teachers develop supportive relationships, for making living in the middle the best place to be at SDS, for my students who tell me Latin is easy, for opportunities to learn every day.”

– Chris Harrelson, Middle School Latin teacher

I too am thankful for this Spartanburg Day School community. Over the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to see many aspects of the school as I popped in and out of various events, programs and classrooms. While these programmatic elements were amazing, it was the small things that made me smile. Why? Could it be that I had previously missed them somehow?

It was witnessing the act of getting children INTO the costumes for the annual Turkey Trot… these 4K teachers and parents worked feverishly to get our students to actually WEAR trash bags filled with newspaper for this beloved event. Lots of work, lots of time…but worth every minute to see those extremely precious gobbling, wobbling turkeys.


It was reviewing photos of the Quiddich match, which solidified my belief that our Upper School faculty will do just about anything for our students…I mean they ran around with broomsticks on a Friday night for goodness sakes.


And then there was the Middle School teacher who literally could not contain her excitement about taking part in her first Middle School awards assembly. I have always known that our teachers were passionate…but I loved this touching reminder.


And last but certainly not least…it was the many small acts of kindness that I had the pleasure of witnessing daily from our students. Whether it was drawing a picture for a friend during extended day, baking cookies for a buddy after the loss of a cherished pet, or cheering on a teammate during a tough game, these moments were sheer joy to watch.

All of these moments are small. If I had blinked, I would have missed them. But they had large meaning for me. These moments reaffirmed all that I believe about Spartanburg Day School; that our teachers and parents really do go the extra mile, as do our students.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for both large and small of it all. For the big important parts of my life – and the small moments that are worth looking for.

Happy Thanksgiving!










Why a garden…and why me?

By: Marilyn Burtnett, school nurse

Though many of the answers to the question of why would a garden have a place on a school campus are obvious, they may warrant reiterating. The best answer I can give is that a garden is different from any other classroom on campus. It offers fresh air, exercise, room to stretch, very little sitting, and is an unpredictable space for problem-causing and problem-solving. Though it is typically used by science classes to study soil, water, botany, nutrition and life cycles – I’ve always imagined English classes trekking out to be inspired to write poetry or pieces about nature. It is a dream of mine to have garden plots dedicated to history: a colonial garden, a Paleo garden, or a George Washington Carver peanut bed. The ideas are endless.


Our garden came to fruition thanks to an article left in my school mailbox by our former headmaster, Chris Dorrance. He had only recently arrived and didn’t know me well enough to be hesitant about giving me an idea. The article touted school gardens as a way of teaching young children to eat nutritiously. Within weeks he was forced to find a spot on campus I could dig into. With the help of former teacher, Allyn Steele, current teacher, Celia Cooksey and my husband John, plans were drawn up, land was plotted and some extremely hard soil was tilled.

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My favorite “why” for the garden comes in the form of a story. Our first year we were struggling along with that tiller. Every afternoon for days several adults (faculty and parents), along with a few eager students, dug, tilled, and sweated our way through extremely tough grass only to find some pretty pitiful soil underneath. On one of these toilsome afternoons a scrappy fifth grader spent his after school hours being bandied about by the tiller and loosening clods of dirt with a hoe – really hard work. His father rounded the corner at 5:30, looking to take him home, and Robbie looked up distressed and pleading, “Just 30 more minutes – please!” My heart took an extra leap and in that moment…I knew that this garden thing just had to work. Children like to feel productive. They want to tackle the hard stuff and feel useful. And they truly enjoy working alongside adults who are struggling along with them.


Through the years the garden has been both bountiful and sparse. We’ve had years when Mobile Meals benefitted from our over-productive garden, and those when the only bounty we had was eggplant and grass! Every age student has had their hands in dirt at some time. This year I have more opportunities to work with students in the garden than ever before. Wellness Wednesdays, upcoming projects with Lower School students and two classes a week with eighth graders next semester, will enable a wide range of students to experience the garden. In addition to out-right gardening, our eighth grade class will learn some old world skills that relate loosely to gardening: pickling cucumbers, canning tomatoes and making jelly. We may even have some of these items available for sale.

There is always a sense of expectation when planting a garden. Those first tiny sprouts that pop up through the earth are a reason to rejoice. Picking the early spinach and handing Chef Dana a mound of freshly-picked kale can promote a feeling of accomplishment. We always expect success. And success, by the way, in our garden will never be measured in bushel baskets but in small lessons learned – lessons about making bad soil good, how much water is too much, how close you plant corn kernels and just how hard it is to grow a cucumber. Along the way, I expect myself to amass new viewpoints and strategies for working with students.

garden5-1I have learned a lot about growing vegetables in 15 years. But I have learned much more about children through my work with those rakes and tillers. A school garden is not just worthwhile when it is producing well. The lean years teach you too – and stretch your imagination and fortitude. It is the same when it comes to working with young people. Their value and contribution is not dependent on an A on a paper, or easily mastering formulas or being the best speech-writer. If we measure the small things such as taking note of the little ways they show their appreciation, acknowledging the tiny improvements and growth, and watching closely for hints they give us that the possibilities are right there before us – the reward is great.

So then, why me? You’d have to ask Mr. Dorrance that question. I only know that I am glad it was.