Summer Reading Bingo

Earlier this year, English Instructional Team Leader Diane Curry led the One Book, One River Hill initiative to promote literacy, encourage lifelong learning, and develop a sense of community. Students, staff, and parents read I Am Malala and engaged in online and face-to-face discussion of the memoir. As we close out the school year, she and the English department are continuing those efforts with a new approach to summer reading–a Bingo game!

Typically, students receive a summer reading list before the last day of school and the choice of books is dictated by the English course they are enrolled in for the following year. As a former English teacher, I used to do this too. It was always nice to hit the ground running by starting off discussing the work students had read over the summer. The problem was (yes, you know where this is going) not everybody read the book.

Some students diligently set about reading the assigned text once they got the reading list. They not only read all of the books the teacher suggested, but additional ones by authors they fell in love with after reading other works. Most students had the best intentions to read the book, but the vacation to the beach got in the way and then one thing led to another and there they were the weekend before school starts scrambling to skim over the book, find a Sparknotes version, or asking their friends for a quick synopsis of the novel and any themes or symbolism that stood out. And, of course, there are those students who never had any plans to do the reading and flat out refused to do the assignment.

The beauty of the summer reading bingo game is that it gives students (and all participants–staff and parents are welcome to join in too!) complete control over what they choose to read. So Pride and Prejudice isn’t really your cup of tea (I’m not a fan either), so what is?  Are you into Fantasy? Check that off on your bingo board. Need to occupy your time on the car ride to Myrtle Beach? You can choose the audiobook square. There are some challenging choices, but enough options to allow every reader an opportunity to complete their Bingo board.

English teachers will be offering extra credit for students who complete and submit their bingo boards at the beginning of next year. In addition, there will be drawings for prizes in the 2014-2015 school year. As I mentioned before, it’s not just for students. Staff and parents are encouraged to participate. It’s a fun way to approach what you’re going to read this summer and you might just find a book you never would have read otherwise. I’m already contemplating books by an author who shares my first name. I don’t want to read anything by Nicholas Sparks–too sappy! Feel free to use the bingo cards below (they come from a random generator website done by Frank Ledo), get one from your English teacher, or find one online. Happy Reading!!!


Graduation 2014

We made it! Our seniors have graduated and they are off to bigger and better things in the years to come. Graduation was a blast–in case you missed it, here’s my speech and the graduation selfie!

Good evening students and staff and tonight we add family, friends, and distinguished guests. Today is Wednesday May 28th-it’s graduation day and for the last time in your high school career, it’s a great day to be a Hawk and an even greater day to be a senior because today you leave the hallowed halls of River Hill behind and enter the “real world” we’ve been preparing you for all these years. It’s time to show that you are college and career ready students who can achieve 21st century success by thinking critically, fostering leadership, responsibility, and diversity and promoting integrity, humility, and balance. (You’re going to miss those morning announcements, huh?)

Class of 2014-this was a big year for you. You excelled in the classroom. ¾ of the senior class graduates with a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA and 12 of you graduate with straight A’s for all of high school.  Your average SAT score of 1820 was well above the Maryland mean score and the National mean score. 98.4% of you are attending a 2 or 4 year college with more than $8 million offered in scholarships and more than $2 million accepted.

You excelled in the athletic arena. The class of 2014 helped add a state championship for Girl’s Soccer as well as three individual champions in Wrestling and one in Outdoor Track. And that was just this year. In the four years you’ve been at River Hill, you have been a part of 18 county championship teams, 19 regional championship teams, and 6 state championship teams.

You also excelled in your extracurricular endeavors. FBLA earned its 11th consecutive state championship. NHS grew in size becoming the largest student organization at River Hill.  Audiences were treated to stellar performances by the cast of Peter Pan and the Drowsy Chaperone. Many of our seniors were selected to All-State ensembles in band, orchestra, and choir. New clubs like Delta Scholars and Active Minds were formed and the class of 2014 participated in fundraising thousands of dollars for charity. You continued to impress us with your achievements and we know you’re not done yet. In fact, the best is yet to come.

You are definitely an exceptional class, but you’ll always be special to me because you were the first class I saw through as principal from your freshman year to graduation. As you may know, I have a four-year old son named Justin. When people ask me if I have any kids, I tell them I have one of my own and almost 1400 more at River Hill. In a lot of ways, it often feels like you are my kids. I worry about you when you leave school dances or other events and hope that you’ll make good decisions over the weekend. When you don’t always make good decisions, you get grounded (or in my case detention, Saturday School, or suspension). But most of all, I work hard to support your efforts and beam with pride at all your accolades and achievements.

My facebook account may be filled with pics of my son, but my twitter account highlights my “other kids”—you. This was my first year on Twitter and I started an account so I could send out news about the school and celebrate the various accomplishments of our students and staff. What I discovered was it was another way to engage with the student body. I would be at a sporting event and take a picture of the fans and hear the chant “Tweet it, tweet it.” I would be getting ready for bed and I would get a tweet asking if I thought we would have school the next day because snow was in the forecast. Some of you even lobbied me to add an extra Hawktime to the week or let you drop a class you didn’t want to be in.

I’ve been tweeting all year and I’m at 999 tweets (yeah, I don’t tweet like you guys do—a thousand tweets is a week or even a day for some of you). I’ve been planning something big for the thousandth tweet, so I hope you’ll indulge me here for a minute.  After watching Ellen’s selfie at the Oscars and thinking about doing something special with the class of 2014, I got the idea of a graduation selfie. So we may not get millions of retweets, but it will still be fun. Dr. Foose, want to join me here?

[Go to front row and take selfie with students. Return to stage and tweet pic.]


(And if you’re wondering—no, there won’t be any pizza delivery during the ceremony.)

Class of 2014—keep up your “Twitter-worthy” activities as you take the next step in your lives. Keep achieving, keep succeeding, keep striving to be the best you possibly can. We want to stay connected with you as you become proud and distinguished alumni of River Hill and continue the success you have shown thus far, so stay in touch and never lose your #hawkpride. Congratulations and good luck!

Give a Man a Fish

Chinese Proverb

This past weekend I actually had the chance to go fishing (for real, not just in the metaphorical sense). For the 2nd year in a row, a group of RHHS staff members got together to go rock fishing out on the Chesapeake Bay.  Some pics from our trip appear at the bottom of the post, but first, let me tell you a bit about fishing and teaching.

Being on a boat with six other educators, I couldn’t help but think of the quote above. Someone definitely taught these guys to teach because they were reeling in some monster rockfish (I ended up pulling up two fish on one line, but that’s another story).  Anyway, in that metaphor of teaching and fishing, there is a basic truth that forms the foundation of what we strive to do every day at River Hill.  We aim not just to fill students’ minds with knowledge, but to help them develop the desire and ability to do so for themselves.  We strive to instill in students the value of being a lifelong learner.

As we celebrate teacher appreciation week this week, I praise and celebrate all of the outstanding and dedicated educators at River Hill who help students realize their potential, achieve their dreams, and inspire students to find their potential and dreams when they don’t think they have any.  Since it’s not really appropriate to mention any specific RHHS teachers by name (wouldn’t want to play favorites), I’ll give a few shout outs to teachers from my own educational journey–the folks who taught me how to “fish:”

* Thanks to my parents, my first teachers, who taught me more than I realized at the time. It’s only now that I have a son of my own the foundation they gave me in speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

* Thanks to Mrs. Rick at Fort Washington Forest Elementary School for being my first teacher in the United States.  Although I went to school for a year or two in England, I have to admit I don’t remember it much. Mrs. Rick made me feel so welcome as the new kid (it didn’t hurt that everyone loved hearing my English accent–where did I go? Yes, I, too, wish I still had it).

* Thanks to Ms. Smalls, perhaps the hardest social studies teacher at G. Gardner Shugart Middle School. She made me realize how important it was to study for tests and quizzes and just when you think you know it—study some more!

* Thanks to all of my science teachers at Oxon Hill High School–Mr. Tschirhart who taught me AP Chemistry, Mr. Belanger who taught me AP Biology, Mrs. Jones who instructed my Research Practicum in Biology course, and Mr. Creveling who taught Anatomy and Physiology. They all did an excellent job preparing me to do pre-med at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

* Thanks to all the English and History teachers at St. Mary’s who gave me such a warm welcome when I realized that I didn’t want to major in biology/pre-med.  As I stood in the lab pipetting chemicals into beakers, I couldn’t help but be jealous of all the students playing frisbee and having fun outside.  Those folks, I learned were the English and History majors. I ended up double majoring and benefitted from the great instruction of Professors Jing Li, Herb Winnick, and Christine Adams in history and Robin Bates, Michael Glaser, Donna Richardson, Jeff Hammond, and Andrea Hammer in English.

* Finally, thanks to the great professors at UMCP where I earned my Masters in Education. They were all outstanding, but the two that stand out are Dr. Joseph McCaleb and Dr. Jeremy Price. Through that program, I student taught at River Hill High School and the rest is history.

So who are the teachers that made a difference in your life? Let me know in the comments (and enjoy the slideshow)!

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A Teacher Affects Eternity

Adams Quote

Sometimes my blog posts are about things happening at school like the school play, our BYOD initiative, foreign exchange students, etc.  Other times I get a little introspective and focus a bit more on myself and how I’m feeling.  This post is little of the latter, but it’s not so much about me as it is about Jack Dibler.

For those of you who don’t know, Jack Dibler was a chemistry teacher at River Hill from 2006 until 2012 when he had to retire after being diagnosed with cancer. His battle (and the incredible outpouring support he received from friends and family) are well-documented on the Facebook page his family set up shortly after the diagnosis.  Unfortunately, that battle ended last night when Jack succumbed to the illness he had fought off for so long.

With a heavy heart, I shared the news with the staff at a meeting this morning, having just heard it last night myself.  I choked back the tears that the moment compelled and pulled myself together enough to give the speech I’ve either delivered or heard too many times at River Hill after the passing of a student or staff member.  Only minutes before the meeting I read the latest post by Jack’s family that gave me the lump in the throat that made speaking forced and painful. However, it was the response from friends, family, and loved ones that lifted me up throughout the day and reminded me that as we mourn the loss of a life ended too soon, we also celebrate the amazing gift that Jack was to all those who knew him.

I encourage you to explore the comments on the Facebook page or do a Twitter search for “Mr. Dibler.” You will see for yourself just what kind of an influence Jack Dibler had on his students, their parents, and the colleagues who he worked with every day. Here’s a sampling of what folks had to say:

- “I will always remember Mr. Dibler for showing me the kind of person that I want to be, and for instilling in me a love of chemistry that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

- “A good heart and kind spirit make a true difference in this world. Mr. Dibler was such a man.”

- “ Mr. Dibler was a fantastic teacher that always had a smile on his face that was contagious to others.”

- “To me, he embodied the phrase ‘Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”

-“The world would be a better place if each of us had the love, passion, kindness, and generosity that Mr. Dibler shared with everyone he met.”

-“He was a role model to all he encountered. Oh to be in a world where we are all more like Jack.”


Mr. Dibler affected eternity and it is clear that his inspiration will be eternal.  For as long as we remember the gifts he gave us every day with his smile, his kind words, his positivity, and his immense love of teaching, he will not be forgotten.  Be like Jack Dibler.  Teach like Jack Dibler.  Live your life like Jack Dibler. As we celebrate River Hill staff this week and next, we celebrate Mr. Dibler and the impact he has had on all of us. He will be missed!


Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!


Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden


When I was an English teacher, I always enjoyed teaching the unit on Transcendentalism and especially the works of Henry David Thoreau.  I pretty much idolized him when I was a teenager, but, admittedly, he kind of lost his appeal the older I got and the more I found out about the truth of his sojourn in the woods.  Nevertheless, his words were always amazing to me and still today seem to capture the essence of how I often seem to feel.

For whatever reason, today led me to think of this excerpt.  I never quoted it in my conversations with people, but I do recall saying something to the extent of “we need to eliminate all of the noise and just focus on what’s important.”  There’s a lot happening in education right now with changes to curriculum, new assessments being piloted, teachers being evaluated using a new system, and the list goes on and on.  Everyone connected with schools–students, teachers, parents, administrators–get caught up in the need to “export ice, talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour” and we sometimes forget about why we are here–teaching and learning.

Everything really comes down to those two things.  It may seem more complex and that new initiatives or changes are just one more thing, but they are all just layers of the same cake so to speak.  What all of us need to do is filter out the distractions and focus on good teaching and learning for all students.  If you agree or disagree, let me know.  If you have any ideas on how we can simplify, let me know.  How can we calm the “chopping sea of civilized life?” Keep the boundaries of this “German Confederacy” from fluctuating?  As always, I appreciate your feedback and comments.


I’m sure it’s kind of a running joke among the student body since I say it every morning during the 7:15am announcements, but it is absolutely true–it is a great day to be a Hawk.  It may seem funny, it may sound a little cliche, but when you consider all the amazing things happening at River Hill, you start to realize that every day is a great day to be a Hawk.

I’m always amused when I hear students say that there’s nothing to do in Clarksville/Howard County.  Man, you don’t know how good you have it.  High school and college are pretty much the only times in your life where you have a vast array of social, cultural, and academic events happening pretty much all the time and there are a boatload of people to enjoy them with.  Things aren’t so easy when you get older.  Let me show you what I mean:

I was having a conversation with someone recently about how it’s tough to make friends as an adult and he told me that what many people do now is get on an online site called  So if I want to meet people in Howard County who share my interest in Doctor Who, I can find a group, join it, and then show up at their event and maybe hit it off with some folks who agree that Tom Baker is the best Doctor ever.  We could even bond over Jelly Babies (watch an episode, you’ll know what I’m talking about).


If you want to hang out with people and watch Doctor Who at River Hill, just go to Mr. McCready’s room on Friday after school and you can meet likeminded people who share your love of Daleks and Cybermen and the Tardis.  Maybe you enjoy singing?  Well, in addition to courses offered during the school day, you can be a part of the Leading Ladies or the Talon Tones.  You can play pong with the ping pong club, chess with the chess club, solve the Rubik’s cube with the Rubik’s cube club, build a robot with the FIRST Robotics club.  The list goes on and on and if you don’t see a club you like, create one of your own.

The incredible opportunities that students have to get involved in extracurricular activities is just one of the many reasons why it’s a #greatdaytobeahawk.  There are probably thousands of reasons out there.  What’s yours?  Post it in the comments section or tweet me @RHHSPrincipal, use the hashtag #greatdaytobeahawk!

So What Would Your School Be Like?

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Either I was driving by the Board of Education and saw a sign for a hearing about high school #13 or I was watching Zoolander and thinking about the school that model Derek Zoolander founded (worth watching if you haven’t seen it–totally ridiculous), but somehow I was inspired this week to explore the idea of what school would be like if you created it.

Over the years, the Board of Education has established an extremely successful school system and, since it was established in 1996, River Hill has been a model school in many ways.  But that doesn’t mean that it always meets the needs of students, staff, or parents and it doesn’t mean that there’s not room for improvement.  So I’m curious–what would you change about River Hill or, if you prefer to think of it another way, if you started a school, what would you want to see?

You might want to consider the following questions:

* How long would the school year last?  How about the school day?

* How many classes would students study at any given time?

* How many students would be in the school?  In each class?

* Would there be any graduation requirements?  If so, what?

* What role would technology play in instruction?

* What facilities would you add/remove form the campus?

* What type of teachers would you want at the school?  How about administrators?

* What would the basic mission or purpose of the school be?

So what do you think?  Let me know by adding a comment in the section below!  Some ideas may not be possible, but others could be a definite possibility!

Managing Your Online Presence

NOTE- My intended audience is students, but parents, feel free to discuss this with your kids as well!

Ten years ago when I was teaching English, I used to stress to my students the need to change their email addresses from something silly and/or profane ( to a more professional representation of who they are (maybe something that actually included their name).  Back then your email address and perhaps your IM (Instant Messenger, remember that?) account were pretty much the extent of what we might call social media. These were the days before Facebook, when tweeting is what birds did, and you felt pretty lucky if you had a Motorola Razr or some other comparable flip phone.

Times have definitely changed, but the importance of how you present yourself online still remains as important as ever.  In fact, it’s probably more important than it used to be.  The proliferation of websites, apps, programs, etc that connect you online to your friends (not to mention the millions of strangers that can also see your so-called private thoughts) makes it an even bigger task than just selecting an appropriate email address.  I’ve only been on Twitter since August, but these past few months have really opened my eyes to just how much we need to continue to emphasize digital citizenship.  Here are my top five tips to students for managing your online presence (followed by some other thought provoking images and videos):

1) Like an email address, your Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat account should be something that relates to your name and doesn’t make people uncomfortable when they follow or mention you.  I’d love to give you a shout out, but what would people think if they saw your obscene Twitter name in my feed?

2) Help your grandma set up a Twitter account and have her follow you.  If you feel awkward having your grandma read your posts or view your photos, maybe you shouldn’t be sharing it?

3) Treat social media like a classroom presentation.  Would you want your teachers seeing those pictures of you and your friends with red Solo cups?  Forget the fact that you probably shouldn’t be drinking what’s in the cup (that’s the topic for another top 5 tips list)–don’t think that the people seeing your posts are stupid and don’t know what you’re talking about or doing.

4) You can’t erase in cyberspace. Think about the permanence of your actions before you put it online.  Yes, you can delete posts, but what about the people who saw it before it was deleted and saved it or took a screen shot? Think hard about whether you want a statement or photo out there forever.

5) Don’t say things via social media that you wouldn’t say if the person was there in the room with you.  It’s easy to feel anonymous online and empowered to be bolder than we really are.  If the superintendent visited our school, would you stand up in the cafeteria and challenge her decision to close or not close schools?  This also applies to how we treat one another.  Messages can get pretty mean and, in some cases, be cyberbullying.  Check out the video below for an example of what I’m talking about.


Thanks to Brian Bassett from the Department of Communications for bringing these resources to my attention (click to see full size):

The Ultimate Fan

School spirit always seems to be an issue at River Hill.  Don’t get me wrong-I think students have a lot of pride for the activities they are involved in, but when it comes to showing up and supporting our teams, we haven’t always had a great track record for coming en masse to sporting events.  In many ways, we are our own worst enemies.  Because our student body is so actively involved in so many school-related activities, students often struggle to make it out to athletic events (with the exception of playoffs, which always attract a large crowd).

This year has been somewhat of an exception. Whether by a coordinated effort or by multiple movements by various individuals, the student section has represented quite well at athletic contests this year. Many fans out there have inspired and motivated their peers to show their #hawkpride as we battle teams from around the county as well as the State. But who is the ultimate fan at River Hill?  I asked for nominees via Twitter.  I received 6 names.  One student was absent today, so I couldn’t include (sorry, first rule of being an Ultimate Fan?  Ya’ gotta’ show up to school!).  Another student withdrew from the competition and put his support behind another candidate.  So here are your four finalists:


A member of the Boys’ Varsity Basketball team, Gary recognizes that it’s tough during the Winter season to get out to a lot of games since he has practices and games of his own. However, he did have an active Fall season as a fan and says that he didn’t get out to as many girls’ games as he would have liked to, but definitely enjoyed the volleyball games he attended.  Gary loves playing in front of a huge crowd and encourages students to stay active, stay involved, and get loud.


Terry has been a member of both the cross country and track teams.  When he’s not running, he’s cheering at games for both girls and boys.  As he says, they deserve equal respect since they are both part of the school.  He wishes more people supported cross country and track since he sees how other sports respond to all the positive energy.  Terry believes a fan is someone who just sits there, but a fanatic knows everyone on the team, the strategy, and cheers loud enough to hear him/her. Terry’s words of wisdom for fans: “Don’t use profanity and coordinate your chants and outfits!”


A former football player, Brandon has been compelled to be a super fan since concussions prevented him from playing football (he still plays baseball though).  He felt that if he couldn’t rally the team from the field or the sidelines, he could at least do it from the bleachers. To Brandon, a fan is a guy waving a foam finger while a fanatic is a guy in a morph suit yelling until he almost blacks out.  He encourages the student body to enjoy it while you can and cheer on kids you know and have a personal connection with because in college you aren’t necessarily friends with the players you go support.


Like the other candidates, Bauer is not just a fan, he’s an athlete too, playing on the boys’ tennis team.  He enjoys showing friends he cares about what they do by coming to their events and feels it’s important to go to both girls’ and boys’ events to show your support.  Bauer shared that students don’t always come to tennis matches, but it means a lot when people come out.  His advice for students to show their spirit: “Show it on game days by wearing your jerseys, sports shirts, and school colors.”

So who is the ultimate fan? Use the comments section below or tweet me your vote using #RHHSUltimateFan. You might also consider these qualities that our AAMs and some coaches felt were important to being the ultimate fan:

* Being positive and not jeering.

* Going to away games and not just home games.

* Supporting all teams, not just a few.

* Enhancing the experience of those around them.

* Tweeting and promoting the program in the community.

* Following the rules and not causing problems.

River Hill Goes Global

As I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics last week and saw country after country parade in, smiling and waving, and carrying their flags, it struck me that unless there was a sign announcing what nation the athletes represented, viewers wouldn’t necessarily know where they were from.  I mean, someone from the United States team looked pretty much like someone from the Australian team or the Russian team (with the exception of those tacky sweaters our Olympians wore).

We are more alike than we are different.  We may be separated by miles of oceans and various land masses, we may speak different languages, but, as research has shown, between any two humans their genome is 99.9% similar.  I guess that’s why you might look at the young ladies above and not see much difference from the typical River Hill student.  However, both Francesca Varesse and Rikka Reponen are International Exchange students spending the year at RHHS.  I sat down with them this week to find out how  they were enjoying their year abroad and here’s what they shared:

1)  Where are you from?

Rikka hails from Oulu, Finland Ooul which is the 5th biggest city in Finland.  There are about 5 million people in the country and approximately 193,000 live in Oulu.  She lives in the northern part of Finland near the Arctic Circle.

Francesca is from Bologna, Italy which is situated in the northern part of the country near Florence.  With 1 million inhabitants, Bologna is roughly as big as Florence.  It is also home to the oldest University in the world, the University of Bologna, established in 1088.

2)  How does it compare with Howard County?

Being a city girl, Francesca has been a bit taken aback by living, what she sometimes feels, in the middle of nowhere.  She is used to getting places rather quickly, so the lack of public transportation has been a challenge for her.

Although Rikka lives in the countryside in Oulu, she is used to having buses run practically everywhere.  Like Francesca, she has struggled with feeling a bit isolated or relying on people for rides.

3)  What made you want to study in the United States?

Rikka picked the United States because she wanted to experience something very different from Finland and felt that the U.S. could give her a good experience of what high school spirit felt like.

I found out from talking with Francesca that the U.S. was actually her 2nd choice.  She picked a bunch of countries (including top choice Canada), but was pleased with where she ended up.

4)  What do you like about the United States?

Francesca was quick to share that she likes that the clothes are way cheaper. Shopping is definitely a favorite activity for her.  Since Bologna is filled mostly with historic buildings, she has loved seeing the skyscrapers, especially when she went to New York and saw Times Square.

Rikka agreed that the shopping malls have been awesome and enjoys the fact that Howard County is close enough to go visit great cities like Baltimore, DC, and New York.  She has also been impressed with how open and social the people— something quite different than back in Finland.

5)  What do you miss most about home?

Rikka expressed a longing for the natural landscapes of Finland, being able to go out hiking, and go snowboarding every weekend.  Although she has tried various cuisines here, she definitely misses the food of Finland-a diet filled with lots of fish.

Francesca agreed that food is not the same here and has been disappointed with what passes as Italian.  She misses the people (family and friends) and being able to walk everywhere.

6)  What is school like in your country?

According to Francesca, schol is completely different in Bologna.  There are three levels of high school and you choose which one you attend based on whether you plan to attend college, train for a skilled job, or be preared for a manual job. Students stay in one classroom for the day while the teachers move from room to room and students stay together in the same class of students for 5 years.  School hours are 8-1pm, Monday through Saturday.

Rikka shared that, in Finland, mandatary education ends when you are 16 and that students pick which high school they want to attend. There are no AP classes or Honors classes, except in higher level math classes.  You only spend 3 years in high school and hours are either 9-2 or 11-4 depending on which courses you choose to take.

8)  What is one thing River Hill could learn from your school?

Both Francesca and Rikka agreed that there seems to be a lot of homework at RHHS.  Rikka shared that she had never done a worksheet in her life until coming to River Hill and worries that these handouts are too prescriptive and based on only one way of learning.  In Finland, students are able to have more choice about studying the way that works best for them.  Francesca added that students should be given more independence about finding their own way.  Teachers here go out of their way to help students to pass; in Italy, teachers share their expectations but will let you fail if you want to.  She believes the Italian way is better because it motivates students to work hard.

9)  What are your plans after finishing this year at River Hill?

Francesca plans to stay in Europe (she still has another year of high school left).  She plans to attend high school, but is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life.  Rikka also plans to stay in her home country (and she has a great incentive).  College is free in Finland as long as you get in, so she plans to study for entrance exams and attend university to become a lawyer.

10) Do you watch the Olympics at all?

Both Francesca and Rikka have been watching the Olympics and rooting on the athleted from their respective countries.  Rikka is a huge snowboarding fan and actually knows the girl who won the silver medal for Finland.  Francesca prefers the Summer Olympics, but still likes the opportunity to show her patriotism as she cheers for her countrymen.

It’s so awesome talking to these young ladies and getting a view of what life is like outside of our little world here at River Hill.  Talking to them for only about half an hour makes me want to pack my bags and discover what Finland and Italy have to offer.  If I’m not here next year, you know I’ve found a principal exchange program!