Mixing it Up

Tenley Rooney
Learning isn’t a sedentary experience with humanities teacher Harrison Soebroto
Harrison Soebroto doesn’t take humanities sitting down.
 
Passing by his Humanities IV class in Schoolhouse, students look as though they are playing musical chairs, but there is a method to the movement. Instead of remaining seated at the Harkness table for a discussion on Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, students draw names at random from a mug to debrief in pairs. As the students disperse across the room, Soebroto circles the periphery offering discussion prompts or clarifications. The process is repeated throughout the period, allowing students to test thoughts and ideas without the scrutiny of the larger group before they return to the table for a class-wide analysis.
 
    • Soebroto circling the classroom
    • student in class at Harkness table
The movement does more than keep his pupils sharp. It promotes information retention and develops confidence and skills applicable to other parts of students’ lives. “I believe in the classroom first, 100 percent,” says Soebroto. “(Independent) schools attract people who can do lots of different things. So-and-so also coaches this team or also runs the Model United Nations club. That's great, but I think we get away from what is going on in the classroom. Are you doing the work? I take a lot of pride in that. I have a desire to learn more. I think that anything I can do to help myself learn more and to encourage others to as well is helpful. I'm around wonderful teachers, and there's so much to learn. I try to sneak into those rooms as much as possible and see what's going on.”
 
Soebroto’s enthusiasm for learning is evident in his path to SPS. Raised in Philadelphia, Pa., he grew up a mile from the Schuylkill River, home to Boathouse Row. He rowed throughout high school and walked-on to Columbia’s lightweight crew in college. Following graduation, he spent time in Brooklyn, N.Y., teaching for AmeriCorps while earning a master’s in education from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. Soebroto then completed a master’s in human development and psychology at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
 
Outside of the classroom, Soebroto’s experiences as a high school and college rower inform his approach to coaching boys cross country and crew. He views the School's afternoon athletic commitments as time management and character-building tools, whether a student is a serious runner or rower or a casual participant. “It is so helpful for students, either pushing their comfort zone or just getting close to new people,” says Soebroto. The long runs and cold, early spring sessions on the water aren’t for the faint of heart, but they serve an important purpose. “There are students who will row for a season, and that's it. They won't touch it for the rest of their lives,” remarks Soebroto. “But the experience will never go away, and they'll never forget it. It teaches lifelong skills of how to be part of a team.”
 
This methodology helped Third Former Jamie Campbell adjust to life at SPS. Soebroto is both Campbell’s adviser and coach for cross country and crew. “He [Soebroto] always makes sure to check in with his advisees. Although I don’t have him as a teacher, he has given me useful recommendations on how to do well in my classes and create good studying habits,” says Campbell. “He is often helping other students with their writing whenever he is on duty in the dorm.”
 
Just as Soebroto encourages students to leave their comfort zone with a new sport or speaking up in class, he knows the most significant hurdle is often the simplest: asking for help.
 
“I'm insistent during class about office hours. I tell students they should come to them even if they don't think they need to,” he explains. “Encouraging students to ask for help is important. Some students are a little bit prideful and don't want to. Some students don't need to ask for help – at least yet – but they will. Maybe that's when they’re taking physics at MIT, but they’ll get there and should be comfortable asking.”

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