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Learning By Doing
In a celebration of our school mission and education that lasts a lifetime, the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Elizabeth Walbridge ’03, a teacher-turned-digital media producer whose work marries education, technology, and innovation. During the ceremony, Elizabeth told students how she came to love what she calls learning by doing (sometimes also called experiential education) when she was a Middle School student at The Country School. Now a producer of children’s media at WGBH and PBS Kids, she said learning by doing continues to inform her life, both personal and professional.
"For me, learning by doing means having experiences that encourage you to think a new way or to try something that you've never done before," Elizabeth told her audience. "We do a lot of things at TCS that we've never done before.... Certainly for me, the Southwest Trip was one of the most important learning by doing moments in my life."
Elizabeth described feeling hesitant back in June 2003, when she realized she was supposed to climb up and rappel down a rock wall while she was with her classmates and teachers for a full week in Moab, Utah, but she opted to give it a try and learned something huge in the process. "Sometimes it's OK to feel confused or nervous ... because it means that you're trying something new and at the end of the day you may have new skills," she said. "Next time it won't be so scary and it won't be so hard. ... I'm not sure I'll be rappelling down a 50-foot cliff anytime soon, but if someone were to ask me tomorrow if I would, I'd say, 'Sure, I'll try that.' I think it's that attitude of, 'Sure, I'll try that,' has been an important part of my career.”
Elizabeth, who graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall and then Boston University with a BFA in Theatre and a BA in English, began her career as an English teacher, first at Phillips Academy Andover and then at Choate, where she also taught theater and became involved with the school’s growing focus on Design Thinking and effort to foster innovation. As a member of the faculty team charged with imagining new spaces and curricula that could encourage collaboration and innovation on campus, she traveled to Silicon Valley to see how companies and institutions like Google, Facebook, and Stanford’s d School designed their work spaces. Their discoveries helped lead to new Choate’s iD Lab and Lanphier Center. Elizabeth also used her learning to develop and pilot the school’s first Design Thinking class.
Elizabeth’s growing interest in the ways design, technology, and innovation could all come together to support learning inspired her to apply to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where she received her MA in Technology, Innovation, and Education. Experiences in MIT’s Media Lab and at Harvard’s Kennedy School only increased her interest in exploring the ways technology could facilitate learning, and so when she was offered a job in digital children’s media at PBS Kids and WGBH, she jumped at the chance to continue learning by doing. In her role at PBS/WGBH she’s still teaching children; she’s just using a different medium. Current projects include producing interactive content about earth science, phases of the moon, etc., through a grant from NASA for PBS Learning Media and producing Molly of Denali, a program set to launch this summer that will focus on adventures of an Alaska native girl, for PBS Kids. Ultimately, Elizabeth hopes to make children creators of media, not just consumers; improve literacy rates among vulnerable groups; and increase support for girls and women in STEM fields.
"All I've ever really wanted was to help people have experiences that will teach them new things," Elizabeth told her audience, which included Country School students, parents, and teachers, as well as some of her former teachers, Jim Storms, Terrie Hartsoe, and Sarah Barber, who had returned for the occasion. "That is not to say that it always has to be fun. Sometimes it's scary to learn by doing, like rappelling down that 50-foot cliff. But if you say, 'Sure I'll try that,' you'll be able to move forward and maybe learn some new knowledge, gain some new skills. And so I hope next time you have a problem to encounter, you won't think about it sort-of like an insurmountable task but rather as an opportunity to learn by doing."
Watch Elizabeth's entire speech here. Following her speech and the award presentation ceremony, Elizabeth helped welcome members of the Class of 2019 into the Alumni Association and watched as some of them received mission-based awards.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually to an alumnus/a of The Country School whose work and path in life speak to the school’s mission. As Liz Lightfoot ’77 P ’05, ’07,’08, ’12, Alumni Relations director, said when she introduced Elizabeth during the Alumni Award Ceremony, "When we select our Distinguished Alumni recipient, we look for someone who embodies our school’s mission, a person who shows a love of lifelong learning, who possesses and isn’t afraid to share a sense of wonder, intellectual curiosity, and creativity, who works to serve the common good, and who faces the future with confidence and an education that lasts a lifetime. Who does that better than Elizabeth?”
Liz then read an excerpt from a letter Elizabeth had written back in 2003, just before she was about to graduate from Choate. Explaining that she had just read through a Country School publication and that the photos and stories had sparked countless memories for her, Elizabeth wrote:
My teachers gave so much of themselves to me throughout my time at TCS, inspiring me to be the best that I could be. They taught me such incredible lessons that I will take with me forever. I could never forget the kind of passion they devoted to me during my four years. I see myself teaching in the future, and if I could be half the teacher that my TCS teachers were to me, I could change the world.
As I look at the photos of past and present students, I see myself in all of them. There are magical things happening at TCS, and I will always do whatever I can to make sure that these magical things happen forever.
The Country School is proud of Elizabeth for all she does to ensure that magical things happen for children everywhere, and we are grateful to her for returning to campus this spring to share a bit of her magic with us.
For more about the Distinguished Alumni Award at The Country School and previous award recipients, visit https://www.thecountryschool.org/about/alumni/distinguished-alumni-award.