Regardless of who your candidate for the president of the United States might be, the last 72 hours have been a rollercoaster ride. We were told weeks ago that it wasn’t likely that a winner would be declared on election night. And we wait. As we wait, I think about the lessons we are learning about patience and process.
“There is always hope in the darkest of times if one remembers to turn on the light." - Professor Albus Dumbledore
The highlight of my elementary school experience was going to Meeting for Worship every Wednesday at the Westfield Friends Meeting. Our classes would walk from our school building to the Meeting House and settle into silence.
As is the custom at FCS, each year the faculty and staff explore one of the five Quaker Testimonies, otherwise known as the SPICES. The Quaker Life Committee, a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees, engages us in a worship experience and this year we focused on the Testimony of Simplicity.
A few weeks ago, a friend surprised me with the book,Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happinessby Dr. Qing Li. I didn’t know what to make of the book when I opened the package and stared at the cover. My friend, a fellow independent school administrator and a self-anointed city girl, wrote in the accompanying note that the book was transformative for her. She never imagined that she would find herself barefoot, and touching tree trunks. “Alas, it is what keeps me sane.”
The year 2020 has been emotionally taxing. We have spent months grieving the passing of iconic national figures. Last Friday marked the transition of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The news of her death saddened me as much as Congressman John R. Lewis’ two months earlier. One might think from the tears I shed that I had known them intimately. I did not. But I am fully aware that the opportunities afforded to me as a black and a woman were made possible by their efforts.
About five years ago, I read the book,21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Timesby Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel. Written in the early 2000s, the authors advocate for changes in teaching and learning to prepare today’s students for a 21st-century workforce dominated by artificial intelligence, globalization, and technology. Over the past few months, I have returned to this book with the realization that change in education isn’t in the distant future. It is here and now.
In my office sits a framed note from my mentor, Dave, a former head of school and my former boss. He gave it to me on the last day we worked together. In his note, he implores me to “Be relentlessly positive!” Throughout our work relationship, Dave would state those three words regardless if we were faced with a growth opportunity that would evoke change or grappling with a crisis.
In a few days, we will bring the 2019-2020 school year to an end. A few weeks ago, I imagined that today, the last formal day of instruction, all of us would let out a collective sigh of relief. However, the killing of Gregory Floyd on Monday has left many of us reeling, heavy in heart. The unfolding of events in Minneapolis this week, in the midst of 100,000 American lives lost to the pandemic, painfully reminds us how precious and fleeting life is.
Last Saturday, we celebrated the spirit of FCS with A Celebration of Community. The 45-minute program was hosted by FCS parents Bruce Lancaster and Marty FitzPatrick. The program videos from students and the board of trustees were shown as well as musical selections by Julian, Leo, and Eric Maring.
“...School has not reopened because the trustees are convinced from the best advice obtainable that the risk involved in the assembling of the children outweighs the value of the regular school instruction.”
As a school with a deep, long-standing commitment to diversity, FCS has welcomed families of various races, ethnicities, faiths, family structures, and socio-economic backgrounds. At the start of this school year, the Quaker Life Committee of the Board of Trustees introduced the faculty and staff to the testimony of Equality. In our reflections, we pondered, “Do all in our community feel included, valued, and seen? Where in our curriculum, program, policies, and practices does equity exist? How does seeing “that of God” in all live at FCS?”
The theologian Henri Nouwen wrote in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life that the word “community” usually refers to a way of being together that gives us a sense of belonging. Belonging is a basic human need. In the midst of a pandemic, shuttered in our homes, it is hard to feel like we are connected to others. But every Wednesday at Meeting for Worship, our students speak to the need and importance of belonging.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, , MTV ran a program called MTV Unplugged. It featured major recording artists, such as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Jay-Z, REM, and a host of other performers, singing their notable hits, but with their electric guitars and synthesizers unplugged. You could hear the purity of singers’ voices, gain a different appreciation of the lyrics, and discover that you had been singing the wrong words. Without all the noise and enhancements, a raucous rock song or a techno dance tune transformed into a poignant ballad. An old familiar song became something intriguing and beautiful.
There is much being written about the sense of loss that we are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently read an interview in the Harvard Business Review with David Kessler, who is an expert on grief. Kessler explores the sense of grief we are all feeling at this time:
The month of April is filled with holy holidays celebrated in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. This week, some members of our community celebrate Passover and Easter. While these are two very different holidays, they both recognize and celebrate hope. For all of humankind, hope has arisen from times of hardship.
Many of us are accustomed to living our lives with purpose, confidence, and certainty. Simple things like going to work, hugging a friend, and going out to dinner are suddenly not part of our daily existence. In three weeks, our lives have morphed into a reality that is unfamiliar and unrecognizable. And in the midst of this pandemic, we are navigating new realities of parenting and educating.
We are in a moment of time that is unfamiliar and unrecognizable. Last week, in the days leading up to our decision to close, the senior administrative team and I met in the library. During our moment of silence, we could hear children laughing in a Kindergarten class next door and birds chirping outside. The theologian, Howard Thurman, wrote, “There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.” Even though the manner in which we live our lives, work, and learn has changed in a matter of days, children still laugh, and birds still sing a spring tune.
When I was younger, I always knew when my mother was worried. She was a reserved woman, and it was hard to gauge what she was thinking from her words or facial expressions. It was my mother’s piano playing that gave away her state of mind. Often, she would play the gospel song, “Peace! Be Still.” The song is based on the story of Jesus commanding a wind storm and breaking waves to cease. “They shall sweetly obey my will. Peace! Be still. Peace, be still.”
Now and then, we receive messages from our Advancement Office entitled “Philanthropy Matters.” Last Friday evening, FCS was reminded that philanthropy matters a great deal to the school. We celebrated the successful completion of our Light the Way Endowment Fund. The fund will allow FCS to provide financial aid, increase faculty compensation, and provide additional professional development and resources to our families and faculty in the years ahead. The campaign, which kicked off in 2017 with a goal of $1.5 million, concluded with over $1.6 million. Over 225 people gave gifts, exceeding our aspirations and goals with profound generosity.
Children aren’t the only people learning and mastering their skills at FCS. This year, FCS faculty has been engaged in conversations about progressive education. Working in Learning Communities, which are small groups of Lower School and Middle School teachers, our faculty have been reflecting on the writings of John Dewey, the preeminent progressive education philosopher, and Alfie Kohn, a proponent of progressive education. In our Wednesday faculty meetings, we have explored queries on how our school’s physical environment, our curriculum, and our instructional practices uphold the tenets of progressive education. This work has required us to dig deep, ask ourselves questions, and enhance our understanding of the pedagogy that FCS values and celebrates.
When I was growing up, the only places I can recall wholehearted celebration of Black History Month were at home and at church. In both places, I learned the Black National Anthem (formerly the Negro National Anthem), “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” and heard or read poems and stories about people who looked like me. These were the two places that my racial identity was reinforced and celebrated.
Stewardship is one of the many Quaker testimonies that serve as a statement of belief and a goal for one’s actions. As a Quaker school, we strive to be good stewards of our resources. “All that we have, in ourselves and our possessions, are gifts from God, entrusted to us for our responsible use.”
We know that taking the time to step back and reflect is key to vitality and growth, for both children and adults. It’s also true for organizations. Over the next four weeks, we are making time to step back and reflect on our school. In six different focus groups with FCS parents, I will hear, first-hand, why our families have chosen to partner with FCS in the important decision of educating their children. (There are spaces remaining in some sessions; if you’d like to participate, please sign up here.)
I look forward to seeing you at the FCS State of the School address next Tuesday. This annual meeting is an opportunity for the Head of School and Clerk of the Board’s Finance Committee to report on the school’s progress and institutional and financial well-being.
Located in College Park, MD, Friends Community School is a progressive Quaker K-8 day school, founded on the belief that every child is a valued member of our community. We offer a challenging curriculum imbued with strong values of equality, integrity, community, environmental stewardship, simplicity and peaceful conflict resolution, rooted in our Quaker heritage.
Friends Community School 5901 Westchester Park Drive College Park, Maryland 20740 301-441-2100