This fall, Avon welcomed four new faculty members, each with an impressive background and list of experiences leading them to Avon Old Farms. From a new head soccer coach and a new head lacrosse coach to a long-time Miss Porter’s teacher and a young woman with tons to share when it comes to the world of engineering and robotics, we invite you to get to know each of our new faculty members:
Carl Stensland is a Connecticut native. Growing up in Mansfield, he attended E.O. Smith High School in Storrs. A soccer player since the age of four, he developed a deep passion for the sport. He was a competitive member of the Oakwood Soccer Club for a decade until it was time for him to move on to the collegiate level.
As a freshman, Carl attended Quinnipiac and played Division 1 soccer before transferring to Eastern Connecticut State University for his remaining three years. He studied biology and graduated with his Bachelor’s. After college, Carl found himself pursuing each of his loves separately: he was an assistant men’s soccer coach at Eastern; he was a math and science tutor at E.O. Smith; and he was a youth soccer coach as well. One day, he got some advice from a friend:
“He said to me, ‘You know, if you like teaching and coaching, you might want to look into boarding schools. That way, you can do both but work with the same group of people in the same place. You won’t have to be commuting all over to do what you love,’” Carl shared. “I thought it made a lot of sense, and began to pursue that path.”
In 2016, Carl began teaching and coaching at Mercersburg Academy, an independent coed college-preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9-12 and postgraduates in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. He taught math and science, coached soccer, and was a dormitory dean. After four years, Carl knew he liked the boarding school experience, but wanted to be back in New England where he could be closer to family and friends.
“I originally thought I wanted to be a collegiate coach, but I began to realize that I didn’t want soccer to be all-consuming,” he said. “I really enjoy teaching and inspiring a passion for math and science in my students … Seeing a student wrestle with a subject and being able to help him approach it from different angles until he gets it is very rewarding. I love being able to develop relationships on and off the field with my players by getting to know them in the classroom and around campus.”
In the fall of 2020, Carl joined the Avon Old Farms School faculty. He is the head varsity soccer coach and teaches math and science. On the field, his goal is to ensure that each practice is fun and exciting for his players. He said that while every practice should be competitive, he also wants to ensure that his players continue to love the game as much as he does.
“After teaching one class during my interview process, I could really sense the Avon Brotherhood that permeates the school,” he said. “I have experienced that feeling with a soccer team of 20, but I was really excited to see that connection energize an entire school of 400 boys. The campus really has a ‘one team’ atmosphere that I was excited to become a part of.”
- In the summer of 2018, Carl led a group of students on a three-week tour of China.
- He hiked Massachusetts to Connecticut on the Appalachian Trail.
- Averaged playing 93 minutes a game his senior year at Eastern, a program record.
- He holds the unofficial world record for most gelatos eaten in Rome in one day (seven).
Born and raised in Connecticut, Melanie Dexter grew up attending both public and private schools. After experiencing the lifestyle at a boarding school during her high school years, she returned to the lifestyle upon finishing her college degree and has remained ever since.
“I grew up in Eastford and Bolton, Connecticut, and when my parents and I attended an open house for the public high school, we learned that there was a lottery system for many courses including language and art,” she shared. “To say we were unimpressed was an understatement. Then, about a week before applications were due, my parents suggested I attend my father’s high school alma mater: Loomis Chaffee.”
For four years, Melanie was a day student at Loomis, where she began to build strong relationships with her teachers. Even though she was not living on campus, she often babysat for teachers and formed strong bonds which still exist today. It was that experience that led her to teaching.
“I attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and earned my undergraduate degree in industrial engineering,” she shared. “But, when I realized that becoming an industrial engineer was not what I wanted to do professionally, my time at Loomis came back to me. I reflected on my time there and how positive the culture was and thought that it was something I would enjoy doing from the other side, as a teacher.”
Melanie found her first teaching position down the street from Avon Old Farms at Miss Porter’s School. There, she was not only able to teach math, science, and computer science, but was also able to take advantage of a new program: the Penn Residency Masters in Teaching (PRMT). Miss Porter’s had a spot within the new program, which paired the University of Pennsylvania with a consortium of private schools to create a program specifically for new and aspiring teachers who are interested in furthering their education and pursuing a career with the nation’s leading boarding schools.
“It was a perfect fit, because they needed someone to take the spot in the new program who could also fill a lot of the openings they had at the time,” Melanie explained.
After completing the program, Melanie began to explore teaching opportunities where she could take advantage of her newly acquired skills. She took a position with Lawrence Academy teaching math for two years, during which she wrote her own textbooks and curriculum. She also began co-teaching her course with another math teacher, a practice which was embraced and expanded to the entire department after her early success.
In addition to teaching at Lawrence Academy, Melanie also spent time at the Talcott Mountain Academy and Cheshire Academy before finding her way to Avon Old Farms School in the fall of 2020.
“To find a small school with as extensive of a STEM program as Avon’s is very unusual,” she explained. “Normally, there is not enough interest or enough resources to fill courses, but Avon is one of the few that offers year-long engineering courses, and electives, and has a club full of students who still want more of it outside of the classroom. That’s what made me most excited to join Avon’s faculty.”
In the classroom, Melanie teaches the curriculum in a way that is practical and applicable to life: she favors group work and projects over tests and quizzes, because that type of collaboration is needed in college and beyond. When the curriculum is not speaking to the students, she is not afraid to blaze a new trail that engages her audience.
“In a previous school, I had one class of 16 who all were disinterested in the curriculum I had inherited from a previous teacher,” she said. “I had to find out what the kids were interested in, and rewrote the class based on that. I employed math puzzles, projects, and a finance assignment. At the end of the year, their assignment was to watch sports, and conduct an analysis of who the best player was on the field. They thought their homework was to watch football, but it included a lot of calculations and statistics. It was applicable to their interests and to real life.”
Melanie and her husband, Rob, live on campus with their two dogs, two cats, and two foster children.
- Melanie taught abroad in China during one summer, at the end of which her boyfriend visited and proposed while visiting a palace. She said yes, of course.
- Melanie grew up riding horses in her rural town and still owns a horse. But, it does not live with her on Avon’s campus.
- She has visited 37 states so far and aims to visit all 50!
Eric Fekete is originally from Duxbury, Massachusetts, and has lived in Connecticut since 1996. He played both ice hockey and lacrosse at Skidmore College, where he studied history and business.
Eric began teaching when he was just three years out of college.
“Teaching and coaching fall into the same category for me. I started in 1994, and have loved the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of young people ever since,” Eric shared. “I was attracted to the world of independent schools for the focus they put on developing so many areas of growth, in and out of the classroom. The opportunity to be exposed to a global community played a big part in the choice as well.”
His resume also includes a 25-year career as a Division I college lacrosse coach. Previously at Suffield Academy, Eric joined Avon’s History Department in the fall of 2020 and is the head varsity lacrosse coach. After witnessing the effect an Avon education had on his three sons: Sam ’20, Charlie ’21, and Will ’22, he is excited to be a part of the Avon community.
“The brotherhood at AOF played the biggest part in developing my sons’ characters. Terrific young men in the student body and outstanding leadership from faculty were characteristics our entire family recognized.”
Eric is an educator who loves making a difference in young students’ lives. He believes passion is an essential part of life, and lives by the credo ‘say what you mean, and mean what you say.’
He lives off campus with his wife, four children, and four rescued Labrador Retrievers.
- Eric was a harbormaster and marine patrol officer for six years, working through the Perfect Storm in October 1991.
- He is a die-hard Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics fan.
- He has gone sky-diving twice, and loved it!
Kate Doemland joined the Avon Old Farms School community in the fall of 2020 after teaching at our neighboring Miss Porter’s School for 24 years. Kate came to AOF for the opportunity to work in another single-sex school and engage in a living and learning community focusing on boys as they explore, investigate, interrogate, and navigate their path to adulthood.
At Porter’s, she taught English and chaired the department for ten years, served as a House Director, coached cross country, lacrosse, tennis, and skiing. She also served as the faculty advisor to the school newspaper and the literary journal. Kate’s passion for literature, poetry, and working with students and families was celebrated by the Class of 2020 as they dedicated their commencement exercises to her.
Given her experience as a teacher and student of literature, Kate’s life and practice is guided by a few poetic principles.
“I live by a few quotes that feel like lifelines to me. I rely on these quotes when I walk into my classroom each day. The first is by the Sufi mystic poet, Rumi: ‘Let the beauty we love be what we do.’ And that speaks to me because if we don’t love what we do, how can we be effective in our teaching and communicating our love of teaching to our students? The second quote is also from Rumi: ‘Be with those who help your being.’ My students help my being; my colleagues help my being. My family helps my being. Lastly: this is from Robert Frost’s poem, “Hyla Brook,” which I recommend for its elegance, clarity, and imagery--as well as what it suggests to me in the cycle of a teaching life. His final line in this deceptively simple poem is this: ‘We love the things we love for what they are.’ How can this experience be otherwise?”
Kate loves being in the classroom and working with students for their energy and humor.
“They keep me on my toes and they remind me always that our first responsibility to one another--both here and in the larger world—is to be kind and good to each other; to treat all with the dignity and respect they deserve, and that learning never stops. We are all students of the world.”
Kate lives in Farmington and has four children and two needy dogs. The children are not needy.
- Kate is a huge fan of almost all types and genres of music. (Lately she’s on a Johnny Cash and The Highwaymen kick in addition to the greatest operatic arias. GOAT is The Boss.)
- She likes to be outdoors and loves to ski. She’s working to get more comfortable skiing in the trees.