Fiona Imboden, Director of Extracurricular Programs, Ignites Sparks of Genius Beyond the Classroom

Fiona Imboden has her finger on the pulse of all-things extracurricular at Dwight!

A familiar face within our community for 14 years, Fiona has spearheaded the planning of a wide range of programs that have become part of the 360-degree Dwight School experience. We sat down with Fiona to find out about her own journey at Dwight — and to move her from behind-the-scenes into the spotlight! 

Please tell us about your path to Dwight.
It started in 2005, when we chose Dwight for our son, Race ’11, who was entering the seventh grade. I had been teaching preschool and also took part in parent groups previously, so I wanted to become involved in the Dwight community right away. Joining the Parents Association was — and is — a great way to get to know the school, participate in programs, and meet other families, so I jumped right in!

My first job was helping to sell wrapping paper at a PA book fair and it wasn’t long before I joined the Board as President for two terms. I really enjoyed working with fellow parents, which remains a significant part of my job today. Serving on the PA was a great foundation for what I do, and knowing what it’s like to be a Dwight parent and see things from that perspective is so incredibly helpful. 
    
As my PA service was ending, I wanted to continue contributing in some fashion. The timing was right because a position opened up as Director of After-school Programs for Grades 1-5. When Chancellor Spahn asked me to consider it, “yes” was the clear answer because I genuinely loved the Dwight community. I had already collaborated with staff on PA events and communications, so coming on board didn’t feel like work to me — I was already home.

What after-school programs did you initiate?
I had a wonderful predecessor, who had already developed quite a bit of programming for Timothy House, so I built on that and enjoyed watching students explore new pursuits and develop their sparks of genius beyond the classroom. We added programs like dodgeball and cooking, which are among our most popular today. We also started Club House, which provides a structured alternative to after-school activities; students can read, do homework, play with friends, etc. This drop-in program has been a big plus for parents who need extended-day options. 

When Neil Brier, who was in charge of after-school for grades 6-12, stepped down, Agata Medic, who had been working with me for a few years took on the day-to-day management of after-school for 1-12, enabling me to focus more on the ever-growing number of Dwight trips.

Please tell about those trips. 
Dwight had a long-standing fifth-grade exchange program with Dwight School London, which Elaine Natalicchi, former Head of Lower School, initiated 21 years ago. We recently returned from this journey across the pond with three times more students! As the first overseas trip Dwight students take, this represents a big leap for them. It’s the first time that they’re away from home for a whole week, the first time they travel to another country with the School, and the first time they connect with Dwight peers abroad. Their growth is quite notable, and while some students have an easier time than others at the beginning, they all return home proud of trying new things and stretching themselves, plus looking forward to welcoming their London buddies in New York just a few weeks later for the reciprocal leg of this exchange.

To pave the way for the London journey, we decided to add a fourth grade trip to Washington, DC, introducing students to an overnight experience earlier. We also introduced three grade-wide domestic trips for Bentley House, connecting to what Middle Schoolers are learning in the classroom. During these journeys, students forge deeper bonds and become more independent while away from home. 

Dwight also had a history of running other international trips; some annually, such as the GIN Conference in Luxembourg, where students in grades 8-12 from around the world gather to propose solutions to global problems; while others were more of a one-off. Over the last ten years or so, we added the trip to the WISER school for girls in rural Kenya, which grew out of a GIN connection; service trips to Costa Rica and rural China; and more. 

Of course, additional campus exchange programs have been made possible by the expansion of Dwight’s global network since 2012. We began with one at Dwight School Seoul for seventh graders and another at our school in Shanghai for ninth graders. We look forward to introducing an exchange with Dwight School Dubai next year and to working with Dwight School London to plan a service trip to Nepal for students from every campus in 2020. In preparation, I traveled to Nepal to survey the site last summer.

These opportunities are really unique to Dwight, offering students so much in terms of exposure to other countries and cultures, and expanding their worldview, which are extraordinary benefits of being part of a global network. When they go on adventures with the school and friends, students have a completely different experience than they have when traveling with family. They’re always so excited to meet peers on other campuses. This is one of the things I love to see, especially when students get older, crisscross the globe, and reconnect. 

We also work with faculty, who are passionate about developing new trips that tie into the curriculum, the arts, and our athletic programs. Examples include the eighth grade visit to NASA Space Camp, the Choral Extravaganza at Dwight School London, the Varsity Rugby team’s trip to Ireland, and the Shanghai Music Festival hosted by our campus in China this year. 

As if this isn’t enough, you also have oversight of DSAC and Dwight Summer Camp!
Yes, extracurricular programs extend to DSAC and camp. I’m a behind-the-scenes person and we have such a great team of people working there, making it easier for me to juggle so much. Bruce Warshaw ’74 is the Manager of our Athletic Center and Co-director of Dwight Summer Camp with Mercedes Knibbs, and Miguel Rodriguez is the Aquatics Manager. Bruce is an alum, parent of an alum (Olivia ’17), and has remained so involved with Dwight over the years — he loves athletics and brings Dwight to the Athletic Center! Mercedes has been an integral part of camp as a counselor for the last five years — since the very beginning — so she really knows what makes our camp special. Together, they’re launching new programming this year, including Museum Mondays, a Dodgeball Spark Camp, and a basketball day at Barclays Center.

What’s your personal spark of genius?
I’m a practical problem-solver and bring a strong dose of good old common sense to whatever task is at hand. I’m also quite detail-oriented, which is a critical skill for trips especially. This year, Meredith Nuber joined me as Coordinator of Domestic/Global Programming and together we plan every aspect, from mapping the itinerary, obtaining visas, and scheduling transportation to orienting students, parents, and chaperones, running the trips themselves, and getting everyone home safe and sound. There is no logistic too small — and there are literally hundreds of them!

What motivates you every day?
The students do — and providing them with opportunities to spark their growth as global citizens just like Dwight did for Race. When he was a student, he traveled quite a bit to compete on the world stage as a foil fencer and Dwight supported him and his spark of genius. [Race is a two-time Olympian and Bronze medalist.]

No matter the trip or destination, students return home changed in some fashion; everyone comes back with something — an insight into themselves, into the world … more confidence … a new spark of genius, a new friend. This is true for faculty and chaperones, too; they see students and each other in a different light and it becomes a bonding experience for everyone involved. I enjoy being a part of this, collaborating with all the different teams on each campus, getting to know so many students, and watching them spread their wings!  

What’s a little-known fact about you?
While born and raised in a small village in Yorkshire — the North of England — deep down, I’m an island girl! I love the beach and have a house in the Dominican Republic, which offers me a chance to escape and unplug.

After planning so many journeys for others, we’re glad that Fiona takes some time to enjoy her favorite island hideaway!