For generations, Oregon Episcopal School (OES) has been a school that the students at Catlin Gabel love to hate. However, has Catlin Gabel ever considered that it may be because the two are so similar? The schools have worked together on Winterim trips, a volleyball tournament this past fall, and faculty book clubs and seminars, and are pushing to continue this relationship into the future.
Lark Palma, head of school at Catlin Gabel, speaks enthusiastically about the “healthy, robust commitment to each other and connection between administrations,” which is desired and necessary when you have two such strong independent private schools in one city.
The students have taken initiative to commit to each other as well. Earlier this year Chris Park ’14 and the senior class president at OES, Michael Brock, planned a volleyball tournament with the help of the seniors in each student government. It was modeled after a similar tournament put on annually by OES. The tournament was widely considered a huge success, filling the OES gym with spectators and eager participants. Brock said that he “had several people come up to [him] with suggestions of other events that we could put on with Catlin Gabel!”
For the past 15 years, faculty, division heads, and administrators have collaborated in book groups, sports teams (including the Evarks, a joint dragon boat team), and seminars with the intention of moving each school in a positive direction. While keeping the values of the schools in mind, and acknowledging that these, though similar, are different for each school, the collaborations have been successful. As Palma put it, “We don’t want to be them, they don’t want to be us.”
In the past four years there have been two trips to Chajul, Guatemala, that both brought together small groups of Catlin Gabel and OES students during Winterim. These trips have been led by Spencer White, a middle school Spanish teacher from Catlin Gabel, and Tina Meyerhoff, the Winterim director at OES and a Catlin Gabel parent.
Meyerhoff noticed that “bringing together athletic ‘enemies’ to work together to do something really positive in the world is a very powerful experience for everyone involved.”
White and Meyerhoff both “felt [they] had a great opportunity to build some very needed bridges, both between OES and CGS and of course between our communities and Chajul.” Their trip acts as a “model program” of collaboration, they added.
Many students will admit that the infamous rivalry has been blown out of proportion and that it is akin to that of a sibling relationship rather than one of bitter enemies. But former OES-turned-Catlin Gabel student Alexandra Crew points out that, “This exaggerated hostility can be beneficial when motivating both schools to advance and ultimately excel in athletics and academics, as long as the students can still have healthy and civil interactions.”
The connection has so much potential because the schools are similar not only in size and academic reputation but also in social dynamics. As they look to the future, both schools plan to build in new opportunities to develop a place where families who prize education can feel confident in sending their children to and can continue to foster, as Brock says, an “awesome and active relationship between both schools for the near and far future.”