To say Upper School English and humanities educator Amy Parish, Ph.D., has a lot on her plate would be an extreme understatement. The epitome of interdisciplinarity, Dr. Parish is a renowned primatologist who specializes in the social behavior of the bonobo and has been featured on NOVA, the Discovery Channel, and in National Geographic. She is also a faculty member at the University of Southern California (USC), teaching in various departments, including gender studies, anthropology, public health, and arts and letters, and serves as a fellow at the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.
Dr. Parish first joined the LJCDS community as a parent (her son graduated in 2011), so when the administration was looking for a humanities educator, she was a bright spot on their radar. She took the job, which she balances with her teaching at USC and her bonobo research. Dr. Parish teaches English to Grade 9 and Grade 12 students. While the English I curriculum employs various genres to help students explore how shared stories help create and realize their visions to become their best selves, the AP English Language class is largely focused on developing students as writers—for a variety of mediums, purposes and audiences. Readings for the class lean more toward nonfiction and typically explore timely themes under the umbrella of social justice.
“For our social justice theme this year, the students created term papers on an amazing array of topics, from the rise of anti-Asian sentiment to voting rights to women’s reproductive rights,” says Dr. Parish. “The students are so thoughtful, and when you give them the freedom to explore something that they are really interested in, it helps them to produce really high-quality work.”
The ultimate goal for Dr. Parish is to cultivate a life of the mind and a polymathic experience in the classroom that draws from the humanities, the natural and social sciences and the arts to draw connections and create depth and breadth that is then applied in real-world contexts.
Throughout her multifaceted career, she has forged personal relationships and professional connections that she often brings to the classroom to enrich her students. “I definitely feel as though experiential learning provides the richest and most meaningful experience for the students,” she shares.
For a lesson on journalism, her students prepared newspaper articles. Dr. Parish brought in someone from the Los Angeles Review of Books
, a USC journalism expert, and graduates of LJCDS’ AP English Language class to provide editorial advice. “It’s nice for students to be exposed to people who are out in the world, making a living doing the things that are based on what they are learning,” she says.
To hone the students’ expertise in the ubiquitous mode of 21st-Century communication, social media, Dr. Parish created a unit about Twitter. The class read a T.C. Boyle novel and then engaged in an hour-long Twitter dialogue
with the author.
Ever the holistic academic, Dr. Parish also coordinates an on-campus speaker series for which she has recruited artists, writers, zoologists, academics and activists.
Dr. Parish approaches every class with a generosity of spirit and a desire to forge deep connections with her students. “I have a colleague at USC who says people’s greatest desire is to feel known, understood, heard and loved, and that’s really what I try to bring to the classroom,” she explains. “The enduring relationships I’ve had with students after they’ve graduated is a testament to the success of taking that approach. I feel as though I learn as much from the students as they learn from me; it’s just a trusting and respectful give and take. I’m so grateful to Country Day that there is room for that, for everybody to have their individual approach in the classroom and work with their strengths.”