Brendan Largay, Head of School

Stargazing at BDS

Stargazing at BDS

Sometimes in life strange confluences happen, and we find ourselves—after not thinking about a particular subject for months, perhaps even years—suddenly hearing about it three times in a week. Such has been my experience of late with the night sky and the stars that reside there.

My first conversation about the stars occurred last Thursday with an alumnus, Paul Zofnass, Class of ’59. Mr. Zofnass, one of the world’s foremost environmental financial consultants, shared the story of his time in Belmont as a child—a time when he developed a deep love of the outdoors—and a time at Belmont Day when the school hosted an event to view Sputnik. “You could watch it streak across the sky,” he explained, “and our teachers were right there to show us what it was and explain all about it.” Our conversation left me pondering the spectacle of that moment—the conceptual challenges and boundless wonder that outer space can create for a child mixed with the geopolitical forces at work during the time of Sputnik’s launch. What a time to be a teacher, I thought, what a time to be a student—not only of mathematics or language arts, but of the night sky and astronomy that stretch the bounds of our own understanding.

Last night, I had my second conversation and it happened, of all places, on the tennis courts by Big Blue as darkness fell and a haze of clouds blurred the half moon in the sky. There, I watched Jake, Julian, Ms. Moriarty, and Mr. Spencer search the sky through massive telescopes looking for the moon. They found it, of course, even through the haze, and I stepped back to watch sixth grader after sixth grader—each charged from a pizza dinner and with a game of basketball beckoning—lose themselves in the magic. “Look at those craters!” “Oh my gosh, that is so awesome.” And on, and on, their curiosity with the cosmos overpowering their preadolescence if only for some fleeting moments.

Then, this morning, I had the distinct pleasure, as a parent of a fourth grade student, to experience the long-awaited Greek Festival. I arrived to hear my son and his classmates confidently describe every facet of Greek mythology and how this belief system served to explain the Greek’s day-to-day experiences. How winter’s bleak six months, for example, are the consequence of the six pomegranate seeds Persephone ate in the underworld. I was struck most by how completely the study of the constellations—Hydra, Scorpius, Usa Major and Minor—caught their attention. They were, for a brief moment, making sense of their own mythology. Realizing that somewhere in their minds, the science that shapes our modern day understanding of the boundless universe was replaced by Odysseus’ notion of celestial beings. Night somehow justified mythology. Or vice versa.

In each of these exchanges, the thread of consistency was clear to me: a Belmont Day student’s curiosity can be as boundless as the stars themselves; the universe is somehow as boundless as our students’ learning.

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