Tom Durkin, the new principal of The John Carroll School, was in the classroom Tuesday morning for the first day of classes, taking his sophomore English students through the SLANT strategy.
SLANT stands for Sit up straight, Look interested, Ask questions, Nod your head and Track the teacher with your eyes.
Durkin spent more than 30 years as an English teacher, learning specialist an assistant principal before coming to John Carroll in June. He is one of two new leaders of the Bel Air private school this year, along with interim President Stephen DiBiagio.
“It’s been full speed ahead since I started here,” said DiBiagio, who started his one-year term in July.
Durkin stressed to his newest group of students that following SLANT will help them get better grades.
Their teachers will see that they are active participants in class, he explained.
“Play the game,” Durkin told the students.
“They'll get better grades than they're getting now, doing the same amount of work,” he explained later in his office.
Durkin said the decision for him to teach the single section of 10th grade English was a “collective decision” among school officials, as that section was open and they did not want a teacher to have to take on that extra load.
Teaching also helps Durkin get to know students and the school culture, he said.
“It's really the best way to learn the culture of the school, to be right in the mix with the kids,” Durkin said.
Nearly 700 students at the Bel Air private school started their first full day of classes for the 2017-2018 academic year Tuesday.
There were 680 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grade, according to John Carroll spokesperson Joe Schuberth.
DiBiagio said the building “just exploded with enthusiasm and promise” on the first day of class.
The interim president said he has been trying to meet students between classes or in the cafeteria and learn their names and goals for the year.
“They have a full year of transformation in front of them,” he said, noting students in each grade will experience a major milestone, such as learning to drive, applying to college or getting into college.
DiBiagio explained one of John Carroll’s guiding principles, that “each student is known and valued.”
DiBiagio, a resident of Bel Air, is a former John Carroll trustee, and both of his daughters are graduates. His wife has also been a long-term substitute teacher there.
“It's easy for a kid to get lost these days, and we're committed that it's not going to happen here,” he said.
Four students — sophomores Sophia Shukla, Mackenzie Hopkins and Lukas Goble and senior Mark Bateson — socialized in the hallway.
Sophia, 15, of Bel Air, noted this year has been much less “nerve wracking” than her freshman year.
“I'm more comfortable,” she said. “I know where classes are, I know where teachers are, and it's, overall, easier to know what to expect.”
Mackenzie, 15, of Kingsville, said she came into her freshman year already knowing a number of older students through summer band camp, which made things easier.
She noted she feels more comfortable in her sophomore year “because I know all the teachers.”
“It was fun,” Lukas, 15, of Bel Air, said of the first day of his second year. “It was better than last year — last year I got lost a lot.”
Mark, 17, of Bel Air, reflected on starting his final year of high school.
“You have to be more adult because the freshmen and other grades look up to you,” he said. “Adult life is coming; the senior year of high school is sort of your last year of being a kid.”
Teacher Jake Hollin, a graduate of John Carroll, talked with 12 students, of all grades, during their first advising session. He introduced himself and asked each student to talk about themselves.
Schuberth, the school spokesperson, said meeting with a faculty advisor helps teachers get to know students on a personal level, plus students can bond with students they don’t normal interact with because they are in different grades.
“Get out there and do good things,” Hollin said as his advisees left.
Schuberth pointed out a “model classroom,” on which construction is expected to be complete by early October in time for homecoming weekend and the school’s open house.
Durkin said it is designed to be a “multi-purpose” classroom for 21st-century education that can serve multiple disciplines, such as math, English, foreign languages, drama and non-laboratory science.
The furniture can be shifted around to fit each class’ needs, there will be audio-visiual equipment, even walls on which students can write, according to Durkin.
“We call it education by design, where kids can get up and move around,” he said.
The model classroom is the first part of a long-term project to revamp the rest of the academic wing in a similar manner, according to Durkin and Schuberth.
“I think of all the possibilities I could do with my class alone,” Durkin said.