Bonding Beyond the Classroom

Sage Hill President Gordon McNeill offers insights about his experience during Spring at Sage and why this year-end tradition is a vital part of the School's transformational journey not only for students but also for faculty and staff.

I returned from China at the end of May, where I had the great privilege of chaperoning 20 students for “Dynasties to Dumplings,” a cultural and culinary exploration of this incredible country. Before I left, a friend asked me what I was looking forward to most. And I responded that as excited as I was to see the sites, like the Great Wall of China, I was also looking forward to the conversation I might have with a student on the bus ride there. And as much as I wanted to stand in Tiananmen Square, I also wanted to build relationships with each student on the trip. The time away from campus, in a completely different setting, gives me the opportunity to understand better what it’s like to be a teen today. And to listen to concerns they might have about school or friends or whatever. Maybe it’s partly because I was Sage Hill’s Dean of School Life for seven years, but my interest in our students and their well-being has never waned. So, it was remarkable to visit a Chinese school and see the Forbidden City, but it was equally remarkable to spend time with this special group of students.

And that’s what I love most about Spring at Sage: the chance to break away from the routine of regular classes and connect on an entirely different level. Our faculty and staff have the opportunity to pitch their own Spring at Sage ideas, and many of the seminars this year reflected unique talents and interests beyond their professional skills. Who knew that science teacher Chris Vivo taught martial arts to Hollywood stuntmen before he offered a Renaissance martial arts seminar for the past two years? Dean of School Life Jon Poffenberger has been sharing his fascination with the paranormal since the inception of Spring at Sage six years ago, while Spanish teacher Diego Izurieta has taught students to build their own guitars four of those six years. You probably didn’t know that Latin teacher Lance Novotny is also an expert in designing children’s books until he offered that as a seminar topic this year.

In other cases, a faculty member builds on their known expertise by leading a thematic seminar or trip. For example, the Sound of Music trip visited significant sites in music history in three European countries, fittingly under the leadership of choral music director Megan Eddy. Our lucky travelers to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador had Spanish teacher Sally Sefami and biology teacher Tyler Zarubin on hand. Environmentalist Lauren Fieberg led the Farm to Fork seminar, where students foraged for their own organic food at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, and then dined on a lunch more flavorful than any you could make from supermarket food. They also witnessed the convergence of development and conservation by visiting a brand-new housing tract where residents share a community garden, complete with crops and chickens. Math teacher Kelly May taught perennial favorite Engineering Discovery, and Pete Anderson offered a Financial Literacy seminar.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the incredible ways Sage Hill students broadened their minds and built relationships during our beloved end-of-school tradition. Those new interests and relationships will endure into the next phase of each student’s life, whether they graduated earlier this month or are returning to Sage Hill in the fall. I know that I will feel forever bonded with my travel companions to China, and I am grateful for the time I shared with them.
    • <strong>Welcome to my blog!</strong> It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of the school -- this blog is an opportunity to share my perspective on Sage Hill School.  I invite you share your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Feel free to email me at <a href=""></a>.
      Mr. McNeill's Blog

      Welcome to my blog! It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of the school -- this blog is an opportunity to share my perspective on Sage Hill School. I invite you share your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Feel free to email me at

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