From the Desk of Jay Rainey – April 12, 2024

Upon reading last week that approximately a trillion cicadas from two sprawling broods are spoiling to emerge this spring across the Midwest and Southeast—most abundantly in Illinois and Missouri—after 13 and 17 years of underground anticipation, I remembered learning about the unusual life cycles of these insects when a different brood was emerging in the Northeast in 2013. Cicadas with long, prime-numbered life cycles have an evolutionary advantage, the writer Patrick Di Justo reported in The New Yorker that May, “since it is mathematically unlikely for a short-cycled predator to exist on the same cycle.” Whereas a 12-year cicada brood “would be a feast for any predator with a two-, three-, four-, or six-year cycle” every time it emerged (since all these numbers are factors of 12), a 13-year brood would only coincide with two-year predators every 26 years, three-year predators every 39 years, and so forth. Number theory meets natural selection in the cicada. Over generations, species with divisible life cycles have been “gobbled up,” but those with lengthy prime-numbered life spans have survived. I shared this explanation with our students at yesterday’s all-school assembly in the MAC. I’d like to think they were fascinated by such a happy marriage of math and science, but judging by the noises they made, they were probably just grossed out by the thought that so many bugs will be rising out of the earth and swarming so soon.

I always love our April assembly. The principal reason that we gather as a full campus community one final time in the school year is not, of course, to discuss the life cycles of insects, but rather to award and celebrate those members of our faculty and staff who will mark major service milestones upon its completion. This year’s honorees were:

Mr. Chris Barker, Upper School Spanish teacher (10 years)
Mr. Matt Blair, Director of Extended Day (10 years)
Dr. Steven Crumb, Upper School French teacher (10 years)
Ms. Sarah Elliott-Vandiver, Upper School Spanish teacher (10 years)
Mr. Matt Essman, Director of College Counseling (10 years)
Mr. Branson Lawrence, Middle School Maker and Robotics and science teacher (10 years)
Ms. Carmen Sharp, Housekeeping staff (10 years)
Mrs. Sue Weber, Accounts Payable Specialist (10 years)
Ms. Elizabeth Wells, Upper School history teacher (10 years)
Ms. Brooke Williams, Upper School fine arts teacher (10 years)
Mr. Nolan Clarke, Middle School science teacher (15 years)
Mr. Mark Duvall, Sixth-Grade Dean and Middle School history teacher (15 years)
Mr. Dan Sadicario, Upper School English teacher (15 years)
Mr. Julius Glenn, Housekeeping staff (20 years)
Mr. Dana Self, Upper School choir and music theory teacher (20 years)
Mr. Brian Coco, Upper School science teacher (25 years)
Ms. Charlotte Dougherty, Dean of the Class of 2028 and Middle School drama teacher (25 years)
Mr. Paul Imbeaux, Maintenance Technician (25 years)
Mr. Jason Rajchart, Grounds staff (25 years)
Mr. Scott Small, Head of Upper School (25 years)

We were especially proud at Thursday’s assembly to honor two teachers of extraordinary tenure at MICDS: Mr. Chris Rappleye, Upper School English teacher, who is completing his 35th year; and Ms. Sue Orlando, Lower School Physical Education teacher, who is completing her 40th. We are so fortunate for their remarkable commitment to our students across generations.

The April assembly is also where I share the results of the annual “Clash of Classes” trivia contest, in which students at every grade level strive to outperform each other in identifying popular children’s television characters. Congratulations to our current fourth grade, the Class of 2032, for besting their second-, third-, fifth-, and sixth-grade rivals in a very close contest. Fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be their collective reward before the year is out. Thursday’s assembly gave us an opportunity, too, to take in the music of our orchestra, choir, and band students, all of whom performed beautifully, and to welcome the latest installment of our beloved Beasley Broadcast, which focused on supporting the arts, touring St. Louis landmarks, and enjoying the spring season.

So if you are wondering how cicadas fit in, look no further than the rarity of Monday’s eclipse. “Isn’t it amazing that St. Louis was so close to the path of totality twice in eight years?” I asked our students. “For any location on Earth, the average frequency of solar eclipse totality is about one in 375 years. So the difference between how often eclipses have been happening here lately and how often they happen normally is almost like the difference between something that happens once a week, like Thursday, and something that happens once a year, like your birthday. We are very lucky!” That’s how cicadas came into the conversation. “Just as cicadas with prime-numbered life cycles don’t overlap with predators very often,” I said, “they also don’t overlap with each other very often. In fact, the last time these two cicada broods emerged together was 1803. That’s 13 times 17, or 221, years ago! Isn’t it pretty special to be living in a year when so many bugs will be swarming around at once? I certainly think so!”

Gratitude for rarity—rare tenures of committed service to an institution, rare celestial and biological phenomena, rare occasions for effusive community spirit—was the throughline of our assembly program, and I concluded with words of appreciation.

Thank you for being here with each other today. It is always so special to come together as a full community. Not many cities get to witness two solar eclipses in eight years; and not many regions get to experience a trillion cicadas emerging at once; and not many schools can gather junior kindergarteners and seniors and every grade in between, and all the teachers and staff who care for them, into a magnificent space like this one. We are all so very lucky to be part of MICDS.

You are welcome to peruse the assembly program yourself just to see how much joy we packed into our time together. Don’t be disappointed, though, if you recognize far fewer children’s television characters than the average Beasley student. They’re a tough crowd to beat.

Always reason, always compassion, always courage. My very best wishes to you and your families for a happy weekend ahead.

Jay Rainey
Head of School

This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Moonlight Serenade by Ella Fitzgerald (1959), whose melody in my head since Monday’s eclipse (the opposite of moonlight?) I cannot logically explain, but which is nonetheless beautiful (Apple Music / Spotify)