Bessie Speers on developing Tower Hill’s “Tower Term”
As Tower Hill School began preparing to celebrate its centennial in 2019,
Head of School Bessie Speers offered teachers a chance to translate their passions into special programming that would enhance and complement the experiences high school students encounter throughout the year. They developed the “Tower Term,” an interdisciplinary weeklong opportunity that will be offered for the first time this year at the conclusion of the spring semester.
The program is part of an effort to broaden Tower Hill’s community engagement, giving students more opportunities to sharpen their leadership skills through service projects, such as volunteering as mentors to younger children at the area’s Boys and Girls Clubs.
Here, Speers explains how the Tower Term works, and why the school decided to hire a chief innovation officer.
Q: What is the Tower Term?
Bessie Speers: It’s an initiative, developed by our faculty, to teach students in a way that’s focused on relevancy, showing how what they learn in the classroom day to day intersects with the world around them. Faculty and students will come together in a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship to explore cross-disciplinary opportunities. Instead of an hour a day on a subject, you can do a really deep dive.
Q: What are the topics for the classes?
BS: Everything from boatbuilding to jewelry making to the chemistry of cooking on a grill. Two offerings, backpacking and “Girls off the Grid,” will include stays in Shenandoah National Park. Others focus on creating murals and research and planning for a Tower Hill Athletics Hall of Fame. Some new topics will be added next year, and students are already asking if they can help design the next set of classes.
Q: How does the Tower Term enhance Tower Hill’s mission and goals?
BS: This whole area [Delaware] was founded in a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. As we head into our centennial, this is an opportunity to rediscover those roots. We hope this will raise the level of academic excellence while allowing our students to go out and be innovative within the community.
Q: Tower Hill has also created a position of chief innovation officer. Why was the position created, and what is this manager responsible for?
BS: Tower Hill was very fortunate to bring Anthony Pisapia on board from Zip Code Wilmington in 2016, where he was the founding head of school. His role as chief innovation and information officer and assistant head of school for academic life is to oversee the school’s investment in technology and innovation, while also ensuring that all the academic aspects within our strategic plan include rigorous, interdisciplinary opportunities for students to lead amidst a fast-paced and changing world. To date, he has convened a faculty Innovation Team to visit other schools and learn more about innovation in education; spearheaded numerous technology infrastructure advancements; and overseen program enhancements such as the transition to a new Upper School schedule with longer class periods, providing opportunity for deeper learning and collaboration. On the horizon, he is developing a unique entrepreneurship program and forging partnerships within the higher education and business communities. Most importantly, he is continually challenging Tower Hill to ask, “Where is the future headed, and how is what we are doing relevant, exhilarating and meaningful for our students?”