May 06, 2022
The Unsung Heroes Among Us
If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, the past two years have reinforced the generosity of spirit, a key component of Upper School life at Glenelg Country School (GCS). As COVID-19 swept through Maryland and the school faced the challenge of providing both digital and in-person programs, teachers and staff have consistently demonstrated a willingness to serve and support each other and students, which is critical for success in urgent situations. Two members in the Upper School—Deborah Banker and Christy Cole—have been incredibly generous.
Banker was introduced to GCS by her mother, who alerted her to a middle school art substitute opening in 2006. A part-time professor at Anne Arundel Community College at the time, Banker jumped at the opportunity to work full-time in a newly created 3D art position. Banker’s son, Robert ’10, joined her as a student in the Upper School. Before long, Banker established herself as a go-to teacher for students seeking creativity, warmth, and a deep relationship with a teacher.
The secret? “She allows students to express themselves in ways they can’t in other classes,” says MaryEllen Prantl, former dean of students. “Patience and understanding are her strengths; she is a gentle soul with a helping hand.”
Elisabeth Worthington, visual arts chair, echoes this sentiment, noting that Banker is easy to approach and willing to meet students where they are and work with them to build their skills. “She is always accommodating in unexpected situations,” says Worthington, “and she cares tremendously for her students and colleagues.” Her approach resonates. And the work of art itself helps. Banker notes that “while students work with their hands, they talk,” providing an invaluable opportunity to listen and learn.
Banker has always held a special place in her heart for international students and advisees. As a student at The American University in Paris, she says, “I had an idea of what it was like to be a foreigner,” so supporting students acclimating to the United States became second nature. Working closely with Hong Ding, a Mandarin teacher in the Upper School, Banker has long provided guidance and support to the school’s international students.
In addition, she has always cherished advisory. “Although it was a very new experience for me, I saw its importance right away,” reflects Banker. Defining her approach to advisory as a combination of support, knowledge, and inquiry into students’ experience, Banker recognized that the experience is “above all, building a connection to them as people.”
While Banker works out of the limelight, her work with students is high impact. Likewise, Christy Cole, director of student support services, holds several vital roles in the Upper School. Cole is responsible for daily academic support, coordination of accommodation plans, support planning for students on extended absences, supervision of peer tutors, and yearbook oversight. From her small room adjacent to the library, Cole organizes plans for dozens of students at any one time, communicating with students, parents, teachers, and administrators about hundreds of details and data points every week to help students achieve success.
“What impresses me most is how she goes above and beyond to meet the needs of every student and family,” says Courtney Bell, dean of students. “The personalized plans, the one-on-one meetings, the coordination of it all—it’s such an important stress-reliever for students going through a tough time or in the middle of a difficult challenge. She helps find solutions.”
Prantl agrees. “Attention to details, multi-tasking, foresight, knowing the classes and how best to support the students in those classes—she sets students up for success.”
Meticulous and methodical, Cole knows how to get things done. She understands the critical role that learning how to learn plays in school success. And, she knows that students often need someone outside the classroom to help them learn how to effectively harness their strengths and access resources and opportunities they might otherwise overlook.
This makes her indispensable. Says Bell, “She is what I call an ‘x-factor’—one of those people who do everything behind the scenes to ensure that we can execute our program.”
Cole notes the importance of the multi-faceted education GCS provides as a key part of what makes the school and her role within it so unique. She adds that the sense of community is most important to her about the school—and that is clear because of where you can find her after school. An avid baseball fan, she is a regular spectator at GCS games in the spring and regularly works the clock at athletic contests in all three seasons. Her presence provides insight about how better to support student-athletes. Cole shares that seeing a student grow throughout their time at GCS is what she likes most about her work, especially when it entails “observing their ‘Aha!’ moment.”