About 25 alumnae living in the Boston area reunited for a Back to School night on Monday, March 13, 2017, at the XV Beacon Hotel.
After drinks and hors d’oeuvres, alumnae heard updates from Head of School Bodie Brizendine about the Long Range Plan; a new Computer Science Department Head; partnerships with Harlem Children’s Zone; and the School’s new building at 412 East 90th Street, which, in a few years, will offer new opportunities for athletics and the Science and Performing Arts departments.
The alumnae then split into two classes: English, taught by Brizendine, or Dots and Lines, taught by Director of Teaching and Learning and math teacher Eric Zahler.
In Brizendine’s class, the alumnae studied Shakespeare’s fourth soliloquy in Hamlet. Brizendine explained that she would approach the soliloquy in the same way she does with her juniors and seniors who take her Shakespeare class as an elective. Interpretation, for Brizendine, is about two forms of agency: voice and scholarship.
“For the vast majority of students, this is the first time they’re looking at this marvelous play together. And what I want them to have is access to it,” she said.
Brizendine added that she also seeks to give students a sense of voice and self, as well as various ways to interpret the text.
“I’m going to give you different ways into the text as if you were juniors or seniors back wearing your uniform,” she said.
Alumnae took turns reading aloud the “To be or not to be – that is the question” soliloquy. Each person read until she encountered a punctuation mark, then let the next person continue on. Afterward, Brizendine asked alumnae what effect this had, and the alumnae talked about what lines or words were emphasized. They also broke into groups to parse the meaning of small sections of the soliloquy.
In Zahler’s Dots and Lines class, alumnae delved into an “Euler path,” which is a trail that uses every edge of a graph exactly once. Alumnae experimented with different networks to find a pattern, then brainstormed whether they could find a general rule to see if a given network had a Euler path. In other words, with different shapes and paths made up of dots and lines, alumnae counted how many lines intersected each dot. They realized that in order to have a Eulerian trail, they needed to have either zero or two odd-numbered dots.
The alumnae also discussed graph theories related to how one can find the shortest path from A to Z, with lots of stops in between. Zahler taught the alumnae about the “greedy algorithm,” which goes from point to point using the shortest available distance each time, versus Edsger Dijkstra’s algorithm, which finds the shortest path by selecting the lowest distance but also calculating the distance to other unvisited points and updating the path if it finds a shorter route.
After the lesson was over, Zahler’s class reminisced about their Spence teachers, including Zahler himself. “Calculus savior!” one alumna said.