By Monica Gillespie
Head of Upper School

“Can you tell me about a time when you learned something new in school?”

It’s a powerful question for any adult when referencing their K-12 education. Often they describe an experience that was an extension of their classroom learning. For me, it was a third-grade field trip to a snake venom research center. We had been studying snakes in science–looking at images, identifying types of snakes, drawing pictures of them, and learning the differences between venomous and non-venomous species. However, it wasn’t until we visited the research center that the learning “stuck” for me (and clearly has stayed with me many years later although I never pursued that field of study). Learning is all about connections–about making meaning of the skills, ideas, and information, as well as developing our ability to transfer what we learn in one area to another. It’s a dynamic process. 

At Parker, our faculty understand the value in building on the classroom experience. In fact, they redefine “classroom” as everywhere learning can happen. Because of the vision of our faculty and commitment to making experiences possible, Parker students have myriad opportunities to make connections as their “classroom” expands beyond the traditional walls. And, the impact is profound. Here are just a few examples from September:

Understanding Diplomacy in Action

“Attending the San Diego Diplomacy Council Conference was an eye-opening experience that gave me a glimpse into the world of diplomacy” (Diego Foglio, Class of 2021)

Through a partnership with the San Diego Diplomacy Council, Mr. Wineholt’s Global Studies and Statecraft students had the opportunity to attend a local symposium. As Mr. Wineholt writes, “The main purpose of the field trip was to familiarize the students with the variety of complex challenges that arise at international borders (refugees, human trafficking, uneven economic development, etc.) and to expose them to some of the solutions that folks on both sides of the border are working on. The symposium was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Diego and included business people, academics, NGOs, and quite a few students from area schools.” According to Mr. Wineholt, “The students told us that they really enjoyed the Refugee Simulation, which asked them to form interest groups and negotiate ways to cope with our current challenges, as well as the speakers they heard after their simulation.”

Building Relationships through Athletics

Parker’s football team had the opportunity to travel to northern California. During their four-day trip, they visited peer schools, played against the Menlo School, toured Stanford University, and attended their football game. 

The purpose and goals of this trip were several as described by Varsity Football Coach Matt Morrison: “We wanted to build and establish a relationship with Menlo School, whose school profile, makeup, and mission is very similar to ours. They will be traveling to San Diego next year for another game. We also wanted to provide our players with the opportunity to travel to and visit one of the premier athletic and academic institutions in the world (Stanford). This is something that several players on our team would never have had the chance to do unless part of a school-sponsored trip. In addition to visiting the campus, we received a guided tour of the Stanford athletic facilities and heard from several people about what a day in the life of a Stanford student-athlete is like. Another goal was to connect with and support one of our School and program alumni who now plays at Stanford, as well as provide the players with an experience of what it is like to attend a major college athletic event. We also wanted to reach out and connect with as many Parker alumni as possible from the Bay Area.” 

“Lastly, we wanted to give our team the chance to travel and spend extended time together. Through this proximity and shared experience, I truly believe that we came back from the trip more connected as a team than when we left. I also believe that those connections and relationships will allow us to perform at a higher level for the remainder of this season and beyond. While no one was pleased with the performance that we put on the field, I know from the feedback that I have received from both our players and our parents that this trip created lasting memories for all who took part.” 

 Learning about the Future of Water in San Diego 

Students in Ms. Vasquez’s AP Environmental Science classes had the opportunity to connect what they are learning in their course with the real world when they visited Pure Water San Diego, “the City of San Diego’s phased, multi-year program that will provide one-third of San Diego’s water supply locally by 2035” ( Several students shared their thoughts about the experience:

“It was fascinating to see how Pure Water San Diego is using science and critical thinking to positively contribute to the community and the greater world. It was also a great real-world example of how long-term investments can be very beneficial. In addition, being able to see what we are learning in class actually being tested and used was really helpful and cool to see.” (Cary Dornier, Class of 2020) 

“This trip gave us an inside look into how water circulates through our community. The technical tour of the facilities and the processes allowed us to visualize how wastewater can be chemically purified and then repurposed for non-potable uses. Furthermore, the Pure Water initiative showed us the future of water management. They plan to open a new facility which will transform wastewater into purified drinking water which meets federal standards, further conserving water and protecting our fragile ocean ecosystems from dumping.” (Radha Carollo, Class of 2020)

“Pure Water San Diego gave us the opportunity to learn about how we get our water in San Diego, a place where we have limited freshwater sources. It was really interesting to see how wastewater is recycled, the process it goes through to make it drinkable, and how it is distributed throughout the city.” (Nithya Palakodety, Class of 2020)

Fostering Relationships and Expanding Student Leadership 

Our student leaders who serve on Parker’s Associated Student Body (ASB) and their advisors Ms. Duehr and Dr. Patsko, attended the local conference sponsored by the California Association of Student Leaders (CASL) held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Students participated in workshops, heard from speakers, and spent time making connections. Avalon Smith, Class of 2020, shares the impact of this experience, “CASL has always been an amazing experience for me. It gives student governments the opportunity to learn new tactics or events that can be brought to their school. It also is a place where kids are able to learn the value of networking (I have made many ASB friends at the conference). The CASL events have always been so much fun, especially when we get to dance or chant (imagine a thousand of our amazingly spirited ASBers in one room and the possibilities).” 

Hannah McNeil, Class of 2022, describes the conference as “a very energetic engaging environment that taught a lot about leadership.” 

The students also gained insights about their roles as leaders in the school. As Alena Callahan, Class of 2022, describes, “the main thing that I took away from the CASL conference is that the spirit of the school is largely influenced by the spirit of ASB. Our spirit will greatly affect the attitude of the student body. I also took away that ASB’s job should be to make everyone in the student body feel important and valued because you never know what people are going through.”

Our students’ classroom truly is the world in which they live. They are building their understanding of complex issues, making connections, expanding their horizons, and forming relationships that will last a lifetime.