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Ben Bakker, Sheryl Koyama Back at Deerfield After Sabbaticals
Alissa Zhang '21 Staff Writer
November 10, 2018

Mr. Bakker:

After a year off to pursue his own personal and professional aspirations, Science Teacher Ben Bakker has returned to campus. His sabbatical were filled with exciting news, including traveling, catching up with family, and even meeting refugees.

Mr. Bakker has taught science and computer science at Deerfield since 1997. During his sabbatical, he did a myriad of activities including spending time with family, traveling to Greece to work with refugees, devoting more time to his Christian faith, and attending an artificial intelligence conference as a representative of Deerfield.

Credit: Jeffery So

Mr. Bakker said that his sons’ graduation from high school and his father’s passing two years ago both influenced his decision to take a sabbatical. Discussing how his sabbatical impacted his life, Mr. Bakker shared, “At Deerfield, we can feel trapped in an accomplish mindset, which can wear us out. Last year, given that both my sons were out of high school, I felt that it was a good time to take a break. Through my sabbatical, I was able to find restoration for my soul by spending time with my mom, visiting friends, and resting.”

Even though he did take time off from his work, he still did some programming for his church and worked on the classes he is teaching this year. With his family, he went to the Canary Islands and hiked in Virginia and Montana. More importantly, he spent time with refugees in Greece, because, as he put it, “the refugee problem… is a growing issue … especially in Greece. I wanted to learn more about the issue on displaced people. By doing so, I hoped to try and find a way to bring real issues, like the refugee crisis in Greece, into the classroom.”

One of the highlights of his sabbatical was representing Deerfield at a conference on spiritual life hosted by Columbia University. The main goal of this conference was to discuss what schools have implemented into their curriculum to help adolescents develop spiritual connections.

Mr. Bakker explained, “Lisa Miller, a leading psychology professor and researcher at Columbia University, brought to light the research she conducted that showed how teenagers who had a better connection to their spiritual life are less likely to suffer from anxiety issues.”

He also went to a conference about artificial intelligence, which discussed what role teachers have in preparing students for a world where artificial intelligence could be a very present reality. There were speakers from schools like Northfield Mount Hermon, Yale, MIT, and others. To him, both conferences focused on people not just living life with their heads, but also with their spirits.

Since coming back, Mr. Bakker has been more ready to dive back into his life as a teacher. He compared his sabbatical to the baseball season— at the end of it, the players are tired of baseball and need the break, but when spring training comes around, the players get excited and are ready to come back.

Ms. Koyama:

Assistant Academic Dean, Study Skills Coordinator, and math teacher Sheryl Koyama has been working at Deerfield since 1989.

She is back on campus after a year-long sabbatical she took last year.

She used her sabbatical to achieve three main goals: looking at academics supported at other schools, improving her skills as a Spanish speaker, and enhancing her skills as a leader of international trips.

Credit: Jeffery So

She traveled in order to reach these goals. She flew to Mexico for six weeks, went to Peru on a professional development trip for about two weeks, attended a conference in Colorado about tripleading, and spent seven weeks in Europe for recreational purposes.

When asked about the highlight of her sabbatical, she mentioned her recent marriage, stating, “Well, I got married. It wasn’t a goal, but it was a nice outcome.”

Koyama elaborated on other personal goals she achieved as well.

She worked on becoming a more confident Spanish speaker and better prepared to take students on international trips and be able to get students to think more deeply about the people they are with and where they are in contexts of the trips.

On her sabbatical, she was able to set her own schedule every day, which was very nice for her.

But when asked if she misses her sabbatical, she said, “We are at a great school. The students are great and I have wonderful colleagues. I am happy to be back at the place I really care about and to be working with students and adults whom I really admire.”

When she was asked if she would take another sabbatical, given the opportunity, she said, “Absolutely, even though I’ll probably retire before that opportunity comes.”