The (Highly Uncertain) Future of Higher Education

Some years ago, I was a panelist at the Microsoft Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the topic of the future of higher education. My comments were to the effect that the future for private K-12 schools was bright while the future for most colleges was highly uncertain. Nothing in the intervening years has led me to alter this view.

Private K-12 schools certainly face their share of challenges, among them demographic and financial shifts that necessitate innovative responses. Yet their fundamental paradigm of providing nurturing attention to children in small classroom settings will continue to hold value for parents. Children will always benefit from more and richer individuated interaction with caring adults.

The ongoing value proposition of most colleges is much less clear. Assured placement into professional jobs that provide higher lifetime earnings? That is an increasingly difficult, if not impossible, proposition to demonstrate. The most certain and prestigious certification for professional training? Perhaps for now, yes, but that might soon change.

We have seen tremendous progress in the quality of online education. Ten years ago, the experience of taking a course online was clunky and inconvenient, heavy on textuality and the sheer mechanics of completing assignments and low on the pleasure of interactive learning. Today, online classes are much more intuitive and convivial. What’s more, the ongoing learning curve of educators offering online study, the expansion of number and types of institutions offering such opportunities, the concomitant increase in investment and development of online learning tools, and the ever-accelerating increases in speed and bandwidth of data streaming all give every reason to suppose that the next ten years will see even greater inflection toward organic and intuitive collaborative interfacing between teachers and students in the online learning environment. The implications could be revolutionary—and, for many colleges, disastrous.

Colleges and universities as we know them today, of course, emerged in the Middle Ages as students gathered around the handful of manuscripts and learned professors who began to cluster in centers of learning such as Padua, Bologna, and Paris. In the 19th century, the model of universities as major research institutions similarly emerged out of the need for centrality and ease of access to thinkers and printed texts in those settings. Today, thought leaders and books alike are increasingly accessible via the cloud from even the remotest corners of the planet.

We are already witnessing the emergence of educational credentials that are earned by completing discrete modules of learning and practice through web-based products. Increasingly, it will be possible to earn innumerable “badges” of training and accomplishment offered online by companies and online educational institutions. Some of these will emerge as quite rigorous, competitive, and, significantly, prestigious, with virtual “student bodies” spanning the globe.

Let’s jump ahead, then, to a scenario some years hence, in which all these elements come together—when a college-aged student can earn prestigious certification via online learning and training programs that are highly interactive, engaging, and intuitive. They also cost far less than traditional college classes, because the institutions offering them don’t have the high overhead costs of brick-and-mortar infrastructure or of tenured professors. When these online offerings begin to carry social and economic cachet among the general public and employers that is comparable to education at typical colleges, middle-class families will opt for them in droves.

Compare a middle-class family that pays for an adult student to go off to four years of college to earn a degree and becomes saddled with debt to a family whose adult student lives at home, works at least part-time to earn an income and gain professional experience during those same four years, and takes on-line courses that provide credentials that are as well regarded by employers as college classes but that cost pennies on the dollar. Most middle-class families would balk at purchasing a traditional college education just so their daughter or son can have an extended adolescence when the tangible benefits are comparable and the costs are so divergent between these two scenarios.

This is not to say that all universities will disappear. I once shared this analysis over a dinner with the Chancellor of Oxford University, Chris Patten, who retorted, “Well, you’re probably right about eighty or ninety percent of colleges, but people will always want to come to Oxford to chat!” Lord Patten was right, of course, and the highly resourced schools such as Oxford can probably continue to exist on their endowments and reputation virtually regardless of the demand curve. But I would not want to be a president today of any college outside that top, empyrean circle of elite institutions.

What this means for pedagogy must be the subject of a future blog, but I am confident that the value of private K-12 education is insulated from these vortices that threaten to shake our centuries-old college paradigm to its core. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, private schools will still be providing personalized, child-centered teaching in small classroom settings led by nurturing educators in a way that no alternative can match for children at younger ages.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

School Athletics: A Parable

Imagine a presenter before a group of educators who announces that she has developed a program that will motivate children to strive their utmost for many hours every week and keep their passion and attention levels high; that it will teach them leadership skills as well as how to work effectively in teams; that they will learn how to discipline themselves and motivate others; that, through an iterative process, the program will teach students how to turn failure into a motivator to reflect on and pursue continual improvement; that the students will gain a deeper understanding of strategy, civility in competition, cooperation, psychology, and improvisation amidst rapidly shifting circumstances; and, what is more, the children will consider all of this fun, a part of every school day many of them most look forward to.

Our hypothetical presenter might be hailed as an educational genius who has found a profound means to instill many key 21st-century learning and leadership skills while inculcating student satisfaction and motivation.

Imagine, though, that our presenter then reveals that she has, all this time, been talking about a good school sports program.

All of these benefits, and more, accrue to students every day through well-run, value-informed athletics, which is why sports must continue to be funded in our schools and seen as core contributors to student success in today’s world.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Rocky Hill School’s First Innovator-In-Residence

Susan Fonseca Lanham

I am thrilled to announce that Rocky Hill School’s first-ever Innovator-in-Residence will be Susan Fonseca Lanham, a Founder and CEO of organizations that have had a global impact.

I’m also delighted that the first RHS Innovator-in-Residence will be a woman who has been highly successful in the tech world and who has done so much to empower women around the world.

An anthropologist and lawyer, Susan grew up in Honduras, was a Founding Member of Singularity University (a joint venture of Google and NASA whose alumni/ae are now leading organizations in over 60 countries), Founder and CEO of Women@TheFrontier (“highlighting female change agents that are leveraging exponential technologies and innovative platforms to address global grand challenges”), and, most recently, Co-Founder of SheWorks! (connecting “vetted professional women from around the world with employment opportunities via cloud technology”)

The exact dates and details of Susan’s residency for the coming Fall are still to be announced.

Please see below for an interview I conducted with Susan a few months ago.

A Conversation With Susan Fonseca

Originally posted on November 12, 2016

Susan Fonseca has been instrumental in launching Singularity University (based at NASA), Women@TheFrontier, and most recently “SheWorks!” She is one of the most brilliant and dynamic thinkers I have ever had the privilege to know. Susan is a founder, convener, and leader on a global scale. As you read this brief interview, I’m sure you will enjoy her passion and vision, as well as her remarkable capacity to celebrate and empower others—and be inspired by her vision for our children’s education.

Most recently, I came across a clip of you on stage with Bill Clinton at a Clinton Foundation event describing Singularity University. Can you tell me about that and about your role in the founding of Singularity University?

Susan: Yes, it was the Clinton Foundation’s “Future of the Americas” Summit, and President Clinton asked me two questions: First, What is Singularity University? (Which is the clip I believe you are referring to.) And second, Where do I see the future going for Latin America and what will be the biggest disruption in the next 20 years? And my answer to that question was: Women!

Women are 50% of the world’s population and account for over 80% of consumer decisions. As a market bloc, our impact is greater than the economies of China and India combined, with a global estimate of reaching $40 trillion by 2018. And yet, women are not equally represented at the decision-making tables or given equal recognition for inventions or innovations that have transformed the world. In the next decade, women and girls from regions like Latin America will be more empowered, digitally connected, and financially independent than ever. Their collective voices and their ability to generate exponential companies is about to reach a tipping point. So for me, the biggest disruption coming is women!

Susan, you were born in Honduras, correct?

Susan: I grew up in Honduras, but I was actually born in New York. My parents were in the Peace Corps and stationed in Honduras. So I’m a product of two worlds, two languages, two cultures. The Clinton Foundation wanted a speaker that could represent Honduras and Latin America, someone involved in exponential startups and socially good impact initiatives related to gender diversity. It was an incredible honor to be asked to join the conversation and to represent the country and region that gave me my start.

But I have to tell you, I received this honor partly because my friend and colleague Rebeca Hwang was supposed to keynote at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) a week before the event, but she had a conflict and submitted my name, instead. The Clinton Foundation saw me speak at the IDB and that’s how my name was added to the short list of candidates being vetted to join President Clinton, President Moreno (President of Colombia), and Carlos Slim (a Mexican billionaire) on stage for the Future of the Americas Summit. So I am truly grateful to Rebeca for “passing the mic” to me. The IDB event is also where I met Silvina Moschini, my Co-Founder at SheWorks! Women do pay it forward and support each other. Their sisterhood inspires me.

As to your question of my role in the founding of Singularity University (SU), it was a journey that I could not have scripted or thought about while growing up. When I met Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamonds, I was a Washington, DC attorney helping to negotiate an international free trade agreement called CAFTA-DR (between the United States and Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and The Dominican Republic). The presidents of Central America had formed a coalition and the Honduran president was its Chair. He asked me to lead their diplomatic agenda and organize their formal visit to the United States.

While in DC, and because of my background in law, I met Ray Kurzweil at a Colloquium event hosted by friends Martine and Bina Rothblatt. The event centered around a mock trial, and I was asked to defend the Constitutional rights of an Artificial Intelligence. Martine Rothblatt, who also started United Therapeutics, Geostar, and Sirius Radio, would represent the rights of the corporation wanting to “shut down” the AI. Ray was part of the panel of subject matter experts. It was a wonderful experience! Martine and Bina are amazing at bringing together incredibly diverse thinkers and innovators for open and creative discussions on future trends and topics of great impact and significance. And thanks to them, I met Ray. When Singularity University was being conceived, Ray Kurzweil (and Peter Diamandis) called me to ask if I would help them launch and establish the organization.

I am considered “SU’s Founding Architect” for putting together the initial pieces that would eventually become the DNA of Singularity University. Our goal for SU was to engage the world’s next generation leaders and design solutions to impact one billion people! Google was a supporter from the get-go. That was in September of 2008, and at that point we only had three months to get ready, because we decided to unveil our company at TED 2009.

It is a testament to these men (Ray and Peter) that they asked a young Latina woman to help shape the initiative. And I had to also step up and have the courage to say “yes” to something unknown. Even the students/participants would be taking risks because they had to collaborate, and in 10-weeks, launch team projects that would make a difference in the world.

Our first program started in 2009. My goal was to bring together the founding individuals, because something that I have always enjoyed doing is bringing different perspectives, backgrounds and cultures together. It was also important to me that the participants were from different parts of the world, had different experiences, economic backgrounds, and gender. Central was to include women as part of this exponential conversation. Technology, science, and high level leadership are key to SU, but also team spirit, collegiality, and building solutions while maintaining respect for different opinions.

How did Women@TheFrontier come about?

Susan: I was always asking myself: Where are the women presidents? Where are the women leaders in technology? Who are the Einsteins that are women? Why so few female voices at the decision-making tables? This led me to launch Woman@TheFrontier. I wanted to identify the trailblazers and disrupters who were inventing the future. Originally the idea was just to find them and convene them as a pipeline for Singularity University and NASA. But, because of the demand, it quickly became its own thing. We were creating a pipeline around the world. The goal is to find, fuel, and fund these women. We wanted to create visibility in order to show the variety of women and voices as science and tech role models in the world.

You also recently launched your latest venture, SheWorks! Can you share a bit about that?

Susan: SheWorks! is a cloud-based platform that matches talented professional women with job opportunities. I helped launch it because models of employment are rigid and the world of work today doesn’t effectively support or include women who are mothers and caretakers. That’s why almost half of all mothers leave their professional career! (43% of women in the US leave the workforce because they cannot balance their job with caring for their family.) Closing the gender employment gap could add between $2-4 trillion in US GDP and $12 trillion back into the global economy.

And the trend is not rigid office hours; it’s mobile, remote, flexible work with contingent workers projected to reach 50% by 2020. Reward systems and promotions based on how long you spend at the office—or how late you can stay at an after-hours networking event—do not support diversity and inclusion or the way women and moms do business. So for SheWorks!, we decided to help accelerate the shift by building the talent pipeline and helping them and companies re-engage a new world of work that is more transparent, rewards excellence, and allows for win-win scenarios both professionally and personally.

Reflecting on your journey, what connects it all?

Susan: When I look back, I think the one unifying theme across my career is to provide access and opportunity for individuals whose voices are not heard. And women are the ones who’ve usually been left out. Maybe not actively discriminated against, but the model hasn’t really been opportune for us either. We need to recreate the model, build new structures, change policy, and increase the pipeline of women leaders so we all have an opportunity to access resources, capital, and networks. As women, we’re also accountable to remove barriers by sharing knowledge, money, experiences.

After your launch from that founding meeting at Singularity University, you had hundreds of articles written about you. Financial Times, Business News, you name it. I reached out to connect but you were getting so inundated with inquiries that I couldn’t get through to you, so I contacted the Jim Martin institute at Oxford on a Sunday morning in February of 2009. Within 15 minutes, they sent me your private email. Once I reached out to you, within 15 minutes you asked, “Can you meet here in California at noon tomorrow?” I thought, wow, they move fast! I caught a red-eye, met with you and a few others, and I thought, “these are some of the most extraordinary people I have ever met.”

Susan: If you remember, we did not plan to have high school students our first year. Really, because we were not even prepared for the volume of adults who would apply. Our website crashed within hours of Ray’s TED Talk. We didn’t even have dorm rooms, meal plans, or classrooms ready. The idea of bringing in young high school students was not in our scope. But you really presented a great reason why we should include young kids. Because of you, we said yes to including Cushing Academy students our very first summer. And they were not just setting up tables and building part of the infrastructure, they were witnessing the collaborative process of a startup. It was great for them to see that what was important was the conversations that would happen, not if our AV was working. Thank you for that red-eye to California, making a great argument for why we should include these kids, and believing in us. There wasn’t even proof of concept yet!

When these kids came from my school, you imbedded them fully with you and with the people who were the first cohort of Singularity University. They got to see both the behind the scenes start up and the perspective of the cohort. I remember you were wondering if you would get enough people to fill a 40-person cohort and then you got 1,200 qualified applicants. When our students came back to Cushing, they were fully energized and were powerful change agents at Cushing. They wanted to transform the school so that it looked like Singularity University. What has been paradigmatic for me since that time has been, “What would a school look like if it were more like Singularity University?”

Susan: Jim, you’ve been the biggest champion in creating an ecosystem and educational environment that allows for exploration; a place kids don’t just dream big but also mold themselves into change agents.

What does the first step look like? For the school, the parents, the faculty, the board members, the kids: surround yourself with people who are not constrained in a single mindset, but where the group welcomes trying new things, taking time to practice and vet ideas. It’s about conversations that are inspirational and where teachers and mentors act as guides in the process and say, “let’s follow through on that thought.” That is what education can be and should be.

It would be an active place, forward looking and thinking about the future, especially for these kids. Singularity University was conceived not by looking at other institutions of learning. None of us were academics. We had a blank canvas mindset. The core team hadn’t built something like this, so in a way there were no constraints. So with SU we built the initial curriculum by asking ourselves: What would we like to hear today? What would transform our minds? Who would we want to talk to? If this were a peer-to-peer horizontal framework, not a hierarchy defined by age, pedigree, or background, what would we want to learn, and from whom?

To some extent, we need to let our kids also guide us when creating curriculum. They have a voice and they can help us re-engineer better educational systems if we give them a chance to participate in the framework.

How can we foster and encourage curiosity and freedom of structure for all education? How can we create an experience where participants are not just being talked down to or told information, but are presented with tools like Google Glass, or a 3D printer and allowed to experiment with the parts, to assemble them into something else? Because technology is just a tool. The value is to unlock ideas and fresh perspectives. So we should have confidence in these young minds, let them bring us ideas. As adults we should try to defer more to our students and “pass the mic,” to be guides to help them secure the resources they need to launch initiatives and design solutions.

With the Cushing kids at SU, we presented the same grand challenge that we posed to our adult students: we asked them, “If you could impact one billion people across nations, cultures, or different languages, what would you do?” We also asked them to provide us with their needs, including experts they wanted to talk to or technology or tools. Their solution was to invent a type of paint with nanotechnology that could use be used inside and outside a home, to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter, free of lead or poison or toxic materials. It could change per day to take care of you. And the wonderful thing about their idea is that it can be done! It is just an engineering problem. It was a very clever idea presented in 2009.

I think as adults we should also be open to learning with our students. Even if we haven’t used the technology or platforms or software, that’s okay. It’s not about being embarrassed; it is about a shared opportunity to learn and be together. We should at times be the students ourselves. That is where I see the future of education.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Raising Ethical Children

For some years, I had the pleasure and privilege of serving on the Advisory Board of the Institute for Character Education at Boston University’s School of Education, which gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with a wide array of theories about children’s ethical development.

I would like to humbly submit my own taxonomy of ethical formation for educators that I think is at once simple and clear.

The key to ethical growth, I believe, is one’s relationship to the needs and rights of others.

Infants are, of course, adorable for their innocence, but they are not yet ethically realized beings. In fact, neonates are narcissists, perhaps even properly considered solipsists: They consider themselves a universe unto themselves; they even have difficulty experiencing anything or anyone around as other than extensions of themselves. Innocent and adorable, yes, but also supremely selfish. This, of course, is cute when age-appropriate in an infant but unseemly in an older child, let alone an adult.

The path from ethical infancy to adulthood, I would submit, is precisely the journey, sequentially, (1) from solipsism to recognizing the existence of others; (2) to recognizing that others can impinge upon one’s wants and desires, whether one wills or no; (3) to recognizing that others have moral claims that are independent of one’s own, followed by (4) to an eventual acceptance that the moral claims of one’s fellows are of equal weight to one’s own; and, finally, (5) to a state attained in some measure by every good parent but perhaps only fully realized in the few who achieve sainthood or display true heroism, the highest stage of ethical actualization, that of recognizing and acting upon a capacity in oneself to privilege the moral claims of others even over one’s own needs – i.e., to be self-sacrificial on behalf of others.

This journey can and must be taught. And schools play a critical contributory role in that endeavor.

At a minimum, every adult should live and operate on level 3; moreover, I believe every adult is capable of living on level 4, and society is well served, indeed, if our schools help all to achieve that. Level 5 may be unattainable for most people as a comprehensive modus operandi, but, as I suggest, all good parents and spouses must achieve the self-sacrificial ideal, in many circumstances, with regularity.

I propose that schools would do well to focus their character education programs specifically on getting every child to level 4 in preparation for adulthood as an ethical participant in the social fabric. Perhaps there could be no greater service for educators.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

A Panegyric to Our Prophets – Past, Present, and Future

“For instruments of navigation can be made without men as rowers, so that the largest ships, river and ocean, may be borne on, with the guidance of one man, with greater speed than if full of men. Also carriages can be made so that without an animal they may be moved with incalculable speed…. Also instruments for flying can be made so that a man may sit in the middle of the instrument, revolving some contrivance by which wings artificially constructed may beat the air, in the manner of a bird flying. Instruments can also be made for walking in the sea or rivers, down to the bottom, without bodily peril.”

Remarkably, this prophetic utterance “on wonderful artificial instruments” was enunciated by the Franciscan friar and Aristotelian (Scholastic) philosopher Roger Bacon in the 13th century.

Thank you to the visionaries and prophets who have always, in every generation, moved humanity forward.

I often wonder who will stand out, eight centuries hence, as the Roger Bacon of our age.

The privilege of being an educator is that we can see that potential, real and present, in each child we encounter every day.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

On the Importance of Humanities in Our Schools Today

The technology-driven disruption through which we are living certainly highlights the importance of educating every student into numeric and scientific literacy. What is less often recognized is that the disruption also underscores the crucial value of providing students with a rich grounding in the humanities. The humanities must retain a key role in our educational models, because it is precisely through the humanities that students are given the best tools for understanding the impacts and implications of technology, and equipped with the skills and insights to achieve success and become leaders in the world those technologies are reshaping with such rapidity.

Humanity has, broadly, lived through three technology-driven revolutions, and each has seen its greatest impact in the social, economic, political, and cultural spheres. Starting with the historical—rather than archeological—record, the first great tech revolution was the Neolithic, marked by the monumental innovation of settled agriculture. This made possible, for the first time, the rise of sufficient aggregations of people in one locus for cities to rise as well as sufficient productive surplus to allow for leisure classes to emerge. The results included unprecedented social hierarchies and political structures—including highly organized warfare and religio-political systems—from Mesopotamia and Egypt to the Indus River and China. Cities also fostered the first emergence of urbanity or civilization as we know it, including the invention of writing, ushering in the historical epoch itself—as compared to all of pre-history before a written record.

The next great tech revolution was the Industrial Revolution, which was perhaps most saliently the result of radical new tools for harnessing power, particularly via the steam engine. This tech revolution, too, played out most profoundly in non-technical realms. Just a short list of the social implications of the industrial era must include several political revolutions (the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, and many others), the global hegemony of European colonialism, democratic movements, communism, global environmental threats, two world wars, and many others. The list could obviously be quite long, and still not be exhaustive.

Today, we are living through an extraordinary convergence of at least three simultaneous tech revolutions: nano, information, and genomic. These are mutually reinforcing and are unleashing forces, both within science and outside of it, of perhaps greater scale than either of the Neolithic or Industrial. We are witnessing a steady acceleration of technology introduction that changes the ways in which we relate to information, to work, to learning, and to each other in fundamental ways. Just reflecting on the impact smartphones have on almost everything we do, it is hard to fathom that the iPhone only turned ten years old last month. Consider another example: It took a decade and over a billion dollars to map the first human genome in 2000; today, that can be done for anyone at a cost below $1,000. Humans are coming to understand the underlying plasticity of—and our capacity for redesigning—life itself.

What is also important to note is the quickening of pace marked by each successive technology revolution. The Neolithic Revolution took millennia to unfold; the Industrial Revolution transpired over a mere 150 years. We, however, are living through the critical stage of the nano-info-genomic revolution in perhaps a 50-year timeframe. It is no wonder that people find this a disorienting and confusing time. So many received paradigms are shifting.

So why are history, literature, and other subjects in the humanities relevant to this age of unprecedented disruption?

Precisely because the impact of technological changes will be felt most powerfully on the human level—in the ethical, social, and cultural spheres that are the very subject of humanistic study. Today’s students need to understand prior human history in order to contextualize today’s historical moment. They need to have facility with the great ethical systems of philosophy and religion in order to bring tools to bear in weighing wholly new ethical questions. They also need the creativity, compassion, and leadership qualities that a humanist education inculcates, as much as any students ever have before.

The best schools of today and tomorrow will reimagine, but not eliminate, their students’ educational grounding in the humanities, even while further enhancing their offerings in science and math.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Rocky Hill School Students and Teachers Attend LearnLaunch/MIT Conference

Last week, five Rocky Hill School students and two faculty members attended the Across Boundaries edtech conference in Boston. The conference, jointly sponsored by LearnLaunch and MIT, included 1,100 participants from 13 countries and 30 states, and hundreds of exhibitors and presenters. Our student attendees watched students from 25 New England schools present remarkable programs, activities, and accomplishments in the field of edtech. I invited our five students to share their reflections of the conference and serve as my first guest bloggers. I think I made a wise choice!

Elsa Block ‘20

Elsa Block

I recently had the opportunity to attend a LearnLaunch innovation event in Boston to represent Rocky Hill School. I feel incredibly lucky to be one of five who were a part of this experience. Once in Boston, we headed to the Hynes Auditorium and walked down a hall full of tables and booths presenting new technology and ideas to better learning experiences in the 21st century. The room full of students was probably my favorite part of the trip, because I was able to learn about the advances not only entrepreneurs are making in the educational field, but what students have created themselves. From self-guided high school and college courses to controlled aquaponic plant growing systems, the room was filled with so many young innovators. I felt lucky to have been able to ask questions and receive valuable information about so many new, useful, and interesting ideas for students, teachers, and educators. Walking around we were showed virtual reality headsets for classrooms, math music videos, organizational websites, and presentation software that all could be used to positively change the way so many students with so many learning differences could be taught. I very much enjoyed this workshop and it helped spark many new ideas about future projects and technology for our school, as well as exciting me for what will be our very own LearnLaunch facility.

Charlotte Boss ‘22

Charlotte Boss

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend one of the most educational events I have taken part in. Some of my peers and I traveled to a LearnLaunch/MIT conference in Boston where we were inspired from ideas and innovations that create a better learning environment for children and adults. During the conference, we talked about how we could bring an idea such as the prosthetic hands, which was part of something the RHS Interact Club started. One of the most interesting projects I saw was about making videos that encourage children to learn math while making it fun. This really connected to what some of my classmates and I are currently doing in math class which is making videos similar to their idea. Another area included clear whiteboard paper in which you put on desks and tables for kids to write on. These were just two of the many ideas I feel as though sparked my imagination to improve the already amazing learning environment we have at Rocky Hill School. I am so glad I got to attend this amazing opportunity and be able to share the wonderful experience I had. I would like to thank Dr. Tracy, our Head of School, for making the trip to the conference possible and sparking my imagination to make a difference.

Ben Liebermensch ‘22

Ben Liebermensch

On Friday, February 3, I had the opportunity to attend the LearnLaunch conference with four fellow Rocky Hill School students as well as  Mr. Jedrey, Head of Middle School, and Mr. Laurent, 3rd and 4th grade teacher.

At LearnLaunch, 24 teams representing grades six through college presented different innovations from a variety of fields. Most of the innovations were in teaching and engineering. My favorite booth was from MIT, where they built a tread wall, called “Gravity.” The goal was to climb for as long as you could. The wall mixes gaming with rock climbing while incorporating learning, coordination and competition, all in an active environment. They plan to market the wall to arcades or gyms; I thought the idea was really cool. The LearnLaunch conference also inspired me to try and create my own innovation based on a concept that I had worked on with Rocky Hill School’s FIRST LEGO League team when I was in fifth grade.

I think the LearnLaunch conference was an excellent learning experience, and also provided inspiration with the variety of teaching methods that were presented.

Lily Kerachsky ‘22

Lily Kerachsky

On Friday, I got the amazing opportunity to attend the LearnLaunch/MIT conference in Boston. When we arrived we got to see 24 schools and their innovations and ideas to improve school life for the future. I immediately thought that we should be one of the schools represented there. But this wasn’t the only chance we could get. All of us who got the opportunity to go are already thinking of ideas for next year! Next, we saw adults with their business ideas that could impact the way we learn and live in many, many ways. We saw every idea from whiteboard stickers to electronic learning tables for pre-schoolers. We got to interact with all these business people, and truly get inspired. I found that it was a once in a life time experience to understand the process of entrepreneurship and how we as a school, can have our very own idea that we can take to this conference next year. Overall, I am extremely lucky to have been able to attend this conference, and this was only possible because of Dr. Tracy as our new amazing Head of School. I can’t wait to see where this goes over the next year, and how we as a school can make a difference.

Jacob Pogacar ‘19

Jacob Pogacar

Last Friday a group of fellow students and I, along with a couple of teachers, traveled to Boston in order to visit and sit in on the LearnLaunch conference. Upwards of two dozen student presenters gave speeches explaining their thoughts and ideas on how to improve the world of education. They spoke about many different topics such as producing informational math music videos and using virtual reality gear to simulate field trips. They all wanted the same thing: to change the education system for the better. Seeing all of the dedication and effort they put forward was very inspiring. Personally, I think it is our job as a private school to be a catalyst in the world of education and pioneer some of these ideas, for we are not chained to a set curriculum. Surely, next year Rocky Hill School will be able to secure a booth to present an idea of our own. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend the conference and look hopefully towards what is on our horizon.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Education Is Love

In The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote that, in the end, “love is the process of my gently leading you back to yourself.”

While Saint-Exupéry didn’t have schools in mind, per se, I have always embraced his comment as my educational motto.

Our mission as educators is not to force students into a pre-determined, Procrustean uniformity.

Each child is a unique contribution to the universe, a sui generis being who has never appeared before and never shall again.

Education, then, is the process of gently leading each child to realize her or his unique quintessence and of nurturing that to the fullest possible actualization.

Education is an act of love.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.

Exciting Announcement

I am delighted to share this exciting contribution to the cutting edge of education innovation announced this week by Rocky Hill School and LearnLaunch:

Rocky Hill School Provides New Level of Innovation for Students; Announces Partnership With LearnLaunch, Premier Edtech Organization and Start-up Accelerator

EAST GREENWICH, R.I.– Rocky Hill School, an independent preschool to grade 12 college- preparatory school in East Greenwich, RI, and LearnLaunch, a nationally-recognized organization in Boston dedicated to connecting, supporting, and investing in the education technology ecosystem, have forged a first-of-its-kind partnership.

“From its start, LearnLaunch has been at the cutting edge of driving edtech innovation, and our partnership with Rocky Hill School furthers that goal,” explained Liam Pisano, LearnLaunch Managing Director and Partner. “By bringing the companies that are developing the latest education innovations directly into a school, we are creating a collaborative platform where entrepreneurs, educators, and students can work together to develop and test edtech in a real- world environment.”

Rocky Hill School is designing an Innovation Center on its campus where selected education technology companies that are part of LearnLaunch’s co-working space/accelerator cohort will test and develop new educational technology with students and faculty. This is an entirely new paradigm that will be unique in the nation: entrepreneurs developing educational products while embedded within a preschool to grade 12 test bed. Both organizations are excited to bring this new and innovative approach to developing educational innovation to Rhode Island.

“This exciting partnership will afford students and faculty at Rocky Hill School the opportunity, unique in the nation, to collaborate in creating and refining the next generation of digital classroom tools,” said Dr. James Tracy, Head of School at Rocky Hill School. “Our students will have the opportunity to intern directly with the visionary entrepreneurs who are creating the very breakthrough technologies that will shape our educational future.”

Rocky Hill School students and faculty will collaborate with the LearnLaunch team, intern with start-up companies on-site, and help shape the next generation of classroom innovation. The Innovation Center will also house artists and teachers-in-residence, and offer student enrichment opportunities focused on innovation, design thinking, and entrepreneurism. The Center is targeted to open in September 2017.

Learn More

Rocky Hill School invites you to learn more about this path-breaking initiative
by visiting or by visiting us at our Open House on Sunday, January 22nd from 1-3 PM.

About LearnLaunch

LearnLaunch is dedicated to connecting, supporting, and investing in the education technology ecosystem to drive innovation and transform learning. They offer a vibrant community, educational events, a collaborative co-working space, and a selective accelerator program to promote the growth of the edtech sector. LearnLaunch is based in Boston, a world education hub. Learn more about LearnLaunch Accelerator, Campus, and Institute at and follow LearnLaunch on Twitter at @learnlaunch.

About Rocky Hill School

Founded in 1934, Rocky Hill School is an independent, day school for preschool through grade 12. Located on 84 acres along Narragansett Bay, Rocky Hill School provides a college- preparatory foundation and diverse opportunities for students to explore and pursue their intellectual, athletic, and artistic passions. Dr. James Tracy is Rocky Hill’s 10th Head of School.

Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.