A Mad Dash to the Finish Line

Rivers students marked the penultimate week of school by packing a whirlwind of activity into 19 high-energy hours. For Rivers middle schoolers, three signature events—eighth grade portfolio night, sixth grade water-project presentations, and the seventh grade boat launch—left students wistful, thoughtful, and wet, respectively. And as if that weren’t enough, the hotly contested Red & White, pitting students against one another in good-natured battles of trivia, singing, and silliness, took place within the same time period. Here’s a look at how it all unfolded.

May 30, 7 p.m.: Eighth graders and their families gathered in Kraft Dining Hall to share their art projects and school work in the culminating event of their Middle School years. Head of Middle School Mike Kris introduced the evening with a quote from Aristotle: “We become just by doing just acts, temperature by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” Certainly standing in front of families and peers and sharing reflections on their time in Middle School—as each eighth grader did—was an act requiring some bravery, but every student proved up to the task. Class co-presidents Gretchen Kerfoot and Alex Massarotti also welcomed the crowd, running through the highlights of the just-finished year. “I know those of you sitting out there wouldn’t want to relive middle school,” said Massarotti. “But that’s because you didn’t go to Rivers.”

One by one, the students took to the stage to share their reflections, talking about the life lessons they would take away from middle school. Only occasionally did cases of the giggles threaten to spin out of control. Andrew Young said that he’d come to realize that no matter how daunting the task in front of him, with diligence it could be accomplished. “What I’ll most remember are the relationships I formed with teachers and friends,” said Jacqueline Lee. “These people around me influenced me to become a better person.”

But the highlight of the evening was the opportunity for guests to wander among the tables where students had set out their portfolio work. In self-portraits and decorated skateboards, thick binders of written work and objects imbued with personal meaning, students celebrated and shared the interdisciplinary connections and self-reflection that are the hallmark of the Rivers Middle School experience. (To see photos, click here.)

May 31, 8:15 a.m.: Bright and early, sixth graders gathered in Benson Gymnasium to set up their displays describing their water advocacy projects. The students had worked throughout the spring term on these projects, choosing a particular country or region and focusing on that area’s challenges in supplying clean drinking water. Parents were invited to share the celebration, which was the culmination of the grade’s year-long interdisciplinary study of water.

Jamal Warren Gathers and Charlie Schlenker had studied South Sudan and Jordan, respectively, but they shared a trifold display, and that gave them the opportunity to compare the two countries. Warren Gathers explained how the class had read A Long Walk to Water, a book that brings into focus some of the world’s struggles with water. “We’re just so lucky to have access to clean water,” he said. “We don’t think twice about it, but others aren’t so lucky.” Joyce Do and Izzie Stein had learned how a lack of drinking water led to fewer educational opportunities for girls in some countries; Taylor Ehler had stuck closer to home by studying water issues in Iowa, where nitrate fertilizer infiltrates the groundwater.

The students had found ways to personally apply the lessons learned. Mulan Zhang said she’s more mindful about using disposable plastic water bottles and is more likely to refill a reusable bottle. And Ceci Giebutowski put it succinctly: “I use less water.” (To see photos, click here.)

May 31, 9:25 a.m.: Pandemonium erupted in Kraft Dining Hall—in the best possible way. In a longstanding tradition, the final all-school meeting was given over to the Red & White competition. Students had been previously sorted into red and white teams, and David Lyons, director of college counseling, donned a slicker (the theme was rain) and acted as MC.

The din tilted toward deafening as each team tried to be the first to produce a middle schooler in crocs, a student who could recite the formula to convert centigrade to Fahrenheit, and someone willing and able to sing “You Are My Sunshine.” The trivia round came up, fast and furious: Who was Rivers named for? How many days of rain occurred in April? What former VP was known for addressing climate change? More hijinks followed: Running in rain gear, a sing-along round, tossing stuffed “cats and dogs” into an inverted umbrella, and more. (A general takeaway: Wear comfortable shoes.)

It was a tight race, but in the end, the red team prevailed—earning bragging rights and a moment to cheer. Students on both teams left the building in high spirits, ready for the spring sunshine and the final days of the school year. (To see photos, click here.)

May 31, 1:00 p.m.: In another time-honored rite, the seventh graders spent the rest of Friday morning building boats out of cardboard and duct tape. The vessels, built by teams of five or six, were meant to support one student in a race that would take them about 25 feet into Nonesuch Pond and then back to shore. The rules are loose—boats can apparently be paddled, ferried, pushed, kicked, or towed—and again, the only prize is bragging rights, although some might argue that a good soaking on school day constitutes a prize of sorts. The ice cream party that preceded the boat launch also added to the festivities.

It quickly became apparent that the tape-and-cardboard were far from seaworthy—and that that was part of the point. The intrepid students who piloted the craft were prepared to get wet, and few of the boats survived the brief paddle fully intact. One raft-like structure, still afloat after the race was over, seemed to take top marks for buoyancy, but like the Red & White competition, the boat race was more about the process than the prize. (To see photos, click here.)

And getting wet. It was definitely about getting wet, as many students who weren’t strictly required to wade in did so anyway. But the weather held, and it was a fitting ending to a memorable day on campus and another successful school year.