Campus Seminars, Conferences, Speakers and Concerts Draw Thousands
By: Steven M. Boyle ’06 and William Cracraft
This article originally appeared in the winter 2011 Harker Quarterly and was reprinted in Harker News Online.
Harker, like most schools, hosts visitors at athletic events, student-run events like Junior States of America, performances of all types and debate and math invitationals. But as the school has matured, bringing people to the campus has taken on a new dimension.
A dozen years after the upper school came into being, Harker now hosts a myriad of events each year in addition to its student events, which bring to its Silicon Valley campuses visitors not only drawn from Harker families, but local and global intellectuals and art-seekers. The growth in visitors has been bolstered by a thriving academic environment across three campuses and the addition of the auditorium in Nichols Hall, which provides an acoustically appropriate space for small gatherings.
As the upper school found its groove, students began going off campus, representing Harker around the country, and, eventually, the globe. Administrators knew the value of bringing the world to Harker, too, and the doors were open to a variety of visitors from outside the Harker community of students, alumni, parents and relatives.
The Harker Invitational Debate Tournament, the first Harker-sponsored event to draw upper school students from other schools, started in 1999 and continues to this day. By its fifth year, the event drew teams from 20 schools from California, Oregon and Nevada. Another early event is the middle school’s Harker Math Invitational, which started in 2001.
The upper school performing arts events have always drawn crowds; in the fall of 2001, as the student body grew in size and maturity, the upper school play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” drew an estimated 1,000 audience members, and the following May more than 1,300 attended “Oklahoma!” Though audiences were no doubt mostly Harker community members, the shows have always been open to the public, and there were plenty of seats for friends, neighbors, and Shakespeare and musical aficionados.
Through the early 2000s, plays, concerts and dance productions involved more students, bringing more visitors to the campuses. Athletic events also grew in size and number as the upper school athletic program began to flower, and the debate tourney, now renamed the Howard and Diana Nichols Invitational Debate Tournament, and math invitational continued to draw middle school participants.
In 2004, events took on a new dimension and Harker began to bring people to campus to strengthen the school’s bonds with the greater community, inform parents and expose students to ever more sophisticated events. To that end, Harker joined Common Ground, a coalition of Bay Area schools working together to provide parent education to their communities.
As a member school, Harker began hosting speakers and, for the first time, parents from other schools began coming to campus regularly, other than for athletic events. In 2006, a Common Ground speaker at Harker drew 231 parents; 153 were from other schools, a full two-thirds of the audience.
In 2005, a wider variety of visitors started coming to Harker. The Junior State of America (JSA) club hosted a “Pizza and Politics” event to watch a presidential debate and more than 80 students and faculty, including JSA students from Independence High, San Jose High Academy and Monte Vista, attended and participated in the debate.
Capping off 2005, audiences were treated to Harker’s new performing arts venue in the middle school’s “cafetorium,” renamed the Blackford Theater by the performing arts department. The refurbished space is the primary performance venue for the school, with tons of parking, easy access through gates to the venue and a raised sound and light booth. Each year thousands attend events at the space, and the temporary digs have served a valuable function in keeping the performing arts department housed while funds are raised for the much-needed new performing arts center on the Saratoga campus.
In April 2006, a bright star, the Harker Research Symposium, appeared in the constellation of visitor-friendly events. Organized by Anita Chetty, science department chair, and the WiSTEM student organization (Women in Science Technology, Electronics and Mathematics), the symposium features talks by Siemens/Intel competitors and finalists; video conferences with Harker alumni at research labs across the United States; and workshops on technical writing, research internships and research competitions. The event has grown year by year and Chetty has been extremely successful in drawing progressively more high- profile speakers, who in turn draw avid adult listeners to the event.
The 2011 symposium, themed “A Call to Innovation,” drew 500 visitors, a 50 percent increase over 2010, and there were standing- room only audiences for world class keynote speakers Scott McNealy, co-founder and former CEO and chairman of the board of Sun Microsystems (and a Harker parent), and Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering at Facebook.
While science marched on, performing arts added new shows open to the public. The first all-jazz concert was held early in 2007 and in 2010 groups from all three campuses were participating. Upper school plays drew packed houses for their single-weekend performance runs and two musicals were selected to travel to the prestigious Festival Fringe in Scotland in the summers of 2007 and 2011.
In May 2007, ground was broken for a new science and technology building, Nichols Hall, including an auditorium with 192 stepped seats, a perfect venue for medium-sized audiences for lectures, small concerts and meetings.
At the other end of the campus, at the start of the 2007-08 school year, Davis Field opened. This emerald of a football field has it all, from a top notch artificial surface to ensure year-round games, to lights and seating for more than 500 spectators. Over this past summer seating was augmented, bringing the total capacity to 780. Besides spectators, last year Davis Field shook to the tramp of the 250-person UCLA Bruin Marching Band, which has four former members on faculty at Harker. The storied band borrowed Davis Field for practice before a game with University of California, Berkeley, to the delight of students and faculty.
A month after Davis Field opened, the adjacent, spacious Singh Aquatic Center was christened, providing a great competitive venue with bleachers for swimming and water polo competitions. To round out the athletic facilities, a new gym is planned on the same schedule as the performing arts center.
In March of 2008, Harker added a new dimension to its activities with the Harker Speaker Series (HSS), intended to bring leaders and visionaries from a wide variety of fields to share their expertise or unique experiences with both Harker and the greater community. Using the Nichols Hall auditorium, the gymnasium, or both, Harker has brought in nearly a dozen speakers of national acclaim.
“The addition of Nichols Hall – and the auditorium – provided the school with the perfect space to share even more with the K-12 community and the general public,” said Pam Dickinson, director of the Office of Communication. “We’ve always believed in fostering an inspiring and motivating community, and the expanded space gave us new opportunities to do that.”
From the start, HSS benefited from a serendipitous connection. “John Jerney helped us launch the HSS, and it was his brainchild,” said Dickinson. Jerney, a writer and Harker parent (Cristina, grade 11; John Nicolas, grade 8), brought the first speaker, Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, to Harker for the series, and followed up with many other connections.
HSS speakers in 2011 include decorated “Endeavour” astronaut Dr. Gregory Chamitoff, who spoke on achieving his lifelong dream of going into space, and Dr. Jill Tarter, director of SETI’s Center for SETI Research in Mountain View.
In January 2011, ragtime pianist Bob Milne, hired by the Library of Congress to create reference recordings of famous ragtime works, came to speak and perform as part of the HSS. His visit was the seed for the Harker Concert Series (HCS), which officially started two months later with a concert by the MarcOlivia Duo, two well-traveled, Fulbright-winning violinists who played stirring European folk songs. On December 2 of this year, Opera San Jose performed, and the spring semester 2012 will see visits from the Gerald Clayton Trio, pianist Adam Golka and Afiara String Quartet, all open to the public.
Two other important programs bring educators from around the Bay Area and beyond to Harker. Each year in late winter, Harker hosts the Silicon Valley Computer-Using Educators conference on the upper school campus. More than 200 teachers and administrators from all over Silicon Valley attended the conference in February 2010. In addition, each summer for the last five years, Harker’s technology department hosts teachers from around the Bay Area at the Harker Teacher Institute to hear speakers and attend workshops on classroom technology and other topics.
Harker librarians brought a stack of colleagues to Harker when they hosted a meeting of the Bay Area Independent School Librarians (BAISL) in 2010 on the Blackford campus. About 80 librarians, from Marin to Monterey, met in, of course, the library and in the multipurpose room.
Another unique event brought dozens of young Broadway hopefuls to Harker when the Broadway revival of “Annie” held its West Coast auditions at Blackford. For the full “Annie” story see page 36.
This year brought another first – a TEDx conference at Harker. This was the first student-organized and promoted conference and it was a resounding success, with speakers of world class caliber. For the full TEDx story, see page 6.
The launching of the Harker Speaker Series and the Harker Concert Series, combined with a focused performing arts program, events like the Harker Debate Invitational, the Harker Research Symposium and the Harker Math Invitational, have transformed Harker into a nexus for important ideas, events and gatherings, drawing more visitors and community members in 2010-11 than ever before. The benefit is that through these events, Harker families meet people who write, sing, play, travel in space, go to war zones, help the poor, develop new industries and entertain – truly illustrating Harker’s mission to raise global citizens and engage our local community.
Full reports on each of our events can be found at Harker News Online. Visit the News & Events tab at www.harker.org for upcoming Harker Speaker Series and Harker Concert Series events.
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