Advanced Math/Science Research Update

by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program

January 15, 2013

Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students.  AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.

The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope.  This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years.  The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus. 

One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14.  Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.

Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!

Who We Are: Faculty Profile of Jesse Howard
Posted 03/04/2014 08:32AM

In the middle of a snow-covered afternoon, Mr. Howard told us a little bit about himself and his teaching. Here's what he had to say:

I started teaching in about 1990 when, after I graduated high school, I was asked to run a few improvisation workshops for the recreation department in my town. I did it because it seemed awesome to make a little money doing something that actually interested me. But I did not have aspirations of being a teacher, nor did I see myself as a teacher yet.

The moment I knew I wanted to be a teacher came more than ten years into my teaching career. Omar, one of the few black students at the mostly-white school I taught at in Seattle, was very abrasive and mean towards other kids throughout the year. Attempts to understand and help him by community members seemed to be getting nowhere. On the end-of-year class trip, I asked him to ride shotgun with me in the van. I asked him what he most liked to do and he said, “Freestyle rap.” So I said, “Let’s rap.” I laid down a beat and he started rapping off the top of his head, then he took over the beat and I drew on my improv skills and rapped as well. We went back and forth like this for more than an hour. Later that night as the class grouped-up by the campfire, he told me that he had some things to explain to his classmates about why he had acted the way he had throughout the year. He said he wanted them to understand what a struggle it was to be the only black kid in his class, but he also wanted to apologize for not giving them a chance. He said that the only way he knew how to do this was through rap. He asked me to lay down the beat and rap with him so he didn’t have to do it alone. Of course, I said yes. Omar’s campfire rap that night stands out in my mind as the moment in which I realized the power of reaching out to someone.

My specialty is building groups. Although my focus is on theater, I think the production itself is a means to an end. What I try to do is build solid groups in which every single person feels essential. Working together in the crucible of a production provides a great opportunity for kids to take a second look at someone after they’ve maybe judged them. I guess I feel like this: if I have to do a theater production to get kids to rise up and communicate honestly and genuinely with each other, then so be it. But the production is really just the outcome of how the group functions and not the other way around. 

I often encourage students to come out for the play, or to take improv class. Sometimes, they are too scared or maybe don’t see themselves as “that kind of person.” Invariably, though, they seem to come around and give it a try. The most rewarding moment for me comes when a student who said they’d never do theater is up on stage performing and captivating their community. That’s a big win in my book.

After a number of years doing independent theater programs and workshops, I started the theater program at Seattle Country Day School in 1994. I then moved over to Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences for three years teaching music, theater, and starting a film program. I then moved back east and taught for 8 years at Berkshire Country Day School. I ran the film and theater programs there, first at the high school and then at the lower campus after the high school closed. But I missed working with high school kids when I moved down to the lower school at BCD. I really wanted to do more challenging material on stage and be a part of a community that wanted to grow its theater program into something new. That's when I came to Berkshire.

There is a tremendous amount of support here. The community gets behind teams, productions, projects, and endeavors when they are done with integrity and excellence. I think Berkshire achieves excellence in so many different areas that it is the rule not the exception. Therefore, one is always pushed to take things to the next level to match the commitment, excitement, and skill displayed in other areas. I take inspiration from that here.

I direct the three theater productions and teach improv. I also teach a lot of technical theater skills in the afternoon activities program.

My style is all about the ensemble, about making the group function together. People are simply more powerful when others in the room are supporting them.

One of my biggest ongoing goals is to make theater accessible to anyone who is interested. This means that we have opportunities throughout the year for kids of any skill level to participate. My next goal is to see tackle Shakespeare sometime soon. Shakespeare and musicals are the two pillars of many high school theater programs, so I have shied away from Shakespeare in an effort to expose the kids to other styles, genres, and writers. But I love Shakespeare and look forward to doing one of his plays in the next two years.

Kate and I live in Lee with our two children. Our son, Bailey, is 9 and our daughter, Chloe is 6. We spend a LOT of time together playing games, singing, romping around outside, and generally being as goofy as possible. Family is the most important thing to me, so I work very hard to balance the demands of school with the needs of home. My kids love what I do here and enjoy coming by rehearsals and performances, walking around backstage, and hearing stories about how different aspects of the productions were pulled off. They make up plays at home all the time and usually have Kate and me laughing ourselves silly at the results.

Something about me that might surprise my students? I spent my entire high school career certain that I was going to go into advertising.

Watch a video of Mr. Howard on theater here:


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