The Gunston School commenced its 112th year on Thursday, September 8, with the annual Embarkation tradition, welcoming a total of 65 new students and five new employees to the community by boat. After exchanging a handshake with the Head of School, newcomers signed the school’s Honor Code, and made their way up the hill to greet fellow students and current staff and faculty. Parents and family members were invited to watch from the shoreline as students arrived. The event, originally scheduled for the first day of classes on September 6, was postponed due to adverse weather conditions. Once all new students and staff arrived by boat, they made their way to the Field House for Convocation. Student Body President Mekonnen Sahle-Selassie ’23 (Easton, Md.) offered three pieces of advice to new students.
“Find out who you are, get out of your comfort zone, and stay in the moment, for I promise you that these four years will go by so fast you won’t even notice it.”
Gunston’s Chair of the Board Patrick Shoemaker ’03 recalled his first day as a 9th grader in 1999. “I was part of a small group of students from Annapolis [...] I arrived on campus to Mr. Dize’s homeroom and was immediately welcomed. What previously seemed like a foreign place on the Eastern Shore started to feel like home on my very first day. In many ways, Gunston is a different place than it was that September 23 years ago, but our strong sense of community persists thanks to the dedicated faculty who make every student feel welcome.”
After ringing an antique bell from Gunston’s days as an all-girls boarding school, Assistant Head of School Christie Grabis declared, “Welcome to the 2022-2023 school year, the bell has sounded, you may now commence the year!”
New students had the opportunity to get to know their peers well before the start of school during Gunston’s orientation and leadership retreats. Ninth grade students went on a two-day retreat at Camp Pecometh, where they spent the day and evening participating in various outdoor challenges and team building activities. They then returned to campus the following day, where they were joined by new upperclass students and current student leaders for informational sessions on central school values, technology, “Important Things You Need to Know,” environmental sustainability, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Running simultaneously, Gunston’s 7th Annual Leadership Institute invited student leaders from various clubs, student government, and athletics to gather and learn about leadership practices, set goals for the year, and to help facilitate activities for 9th graders.
“Our orientation and leadership programs with their peer-to-peer learning and mentorship model are extremely important in creating bonds between students, a strong class spirit, and setting up a strong school year,” explains Head of School John Lewis.
Gunston’s formal orientation is just one of many of the school’s initiatives that reinforce psychological “protective factors” which include “a safe and supportive peer culture and strong relational attachments to teachers and healthy adult mentors,” among others, with the goal of integrating academic, athletic, artistic, and social experiences in a beautiful natural location that promotes adolescent mental wellness and resilience.
Faculty and staff were also busy preparing for the beginning of school with departmental retreats, new employee orientation, and annual CPR, First Aid/AED and various emergency response trainings. Gunston’s Math Department welcomes Linda Jayne, who most recently served as the Math Department Chair and lacrosse coach at Kent Island High School. In addition to her longtime experience teaching Advanced Placement AB & BC Calculus, Jayne has written curriculum at the county and state level, and she’s been an advisor for the Mu Alpha Theta math honor society. She earned her B.S. in Mathematics from Frostburg, and a Masters in Administration and Education from Western Maryland College.
Also joining the Math Department is April Crandall. A recent transplant to the area from the Midwest, Crandall has nine years of high school teaching and tutoring experience, and recently taught a wide range of math courses at a high school in Missouri. She earned her B.S. in Secondary Mathematics from the University of Central Missouri and a M.S. in Math from Northwest Missouri State University.
Simon Kelly ’05 joins the English Department after teaching writing courses at Villanova, Drexel, and Temple University. An avid cyclist who has spent time living abroad in Korea, he earned his B.A. from Guilford University in North Carolina, and a Masters in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.
Melissa (Mel) Skirkanich joined the Science Department as a Chesapeake Watershed Semester Environmental Science teacher in the fall and will continue to teach courses in the spring on campus. Skirkanich most recently taught Biology and Environmental Science at Manassas High School in Virginia, and her experience includes roles at Leesburg Animal Park, Pathfinder Ranch, the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia. She earned her B.S. from Virginia Tech, where she studied abroad in Australia and New Zealand.
Caitlyn Creasy joined Gunston as the Assistant to the Head of School and Alumni Coordinator. She earned her B.A. at Washington College in Business Management and Communications and Media Studies with minors in Dance, and Art Management and Entrepreneurship. In addition to being elected Student Government Vice President, she held positions of responsibility in the school’s admission and alumni offices. Most recently, she worked as the Director of Neighborhood Revitalization at Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity.
Gunston also welcomed five new trustees to their board of directors. Jim Shifrin, P’21 is the Director of Product Development and Innovation at Dixon Valve in Chestertown. He has a BSME in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and also serves on Gunston’s Buildings & Grounds Committee.
Dr. Fernando De Leon, P’22 is a pulmonologist with the University of Maryland Medical Center in Chestertown. Dr. De Leon received his medical degree from Boston University and completed his fellowship, residency and internship at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and critical care. He also serves as a member of Gunston’s Health Advisory Team.
Betsy McCown, P’11 is the Associate Director of Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Md. She earned a B.S. in Community Leadership and Development from Springfield College, Springfield, MA. McCown is a former Gunston board member and a current Chesapeake Watershed Semester Advisory Committee member.
Jeff Frederick, P ’23 ’26 is the General Manager/Vice President of Fred Frederick Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-RAM in Easton, Md. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he is also a member of Gunston’s Development Committee.
Isabel Junkin Hardesty is the Executive Director of ShoreRivers and is a member of the Board of Directors for Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. She received a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University, where she concentrated in coastal environment and management, and a B.S. from Bucknell University with a major in animal behavior. Hardesty has worked closely with Gunston for nearly a decade on various campus grant-funded research projects.