Category Archives: Graduation

What’s Simple Is True

The middle school recently celebrated Founders’ Day, a tradition initiated (logically enough) by the 10 founding students. Seven years ago this month, they asked if future middle school students could have a special day off just for the middle school, to have fun and feel special and to remember the Founders. Since then, traditions have built up and although MOCA (middle school student government) technically plans the day from scratch each year, the schedule generally comes down to breakfast and a movie, tie-dying t-shirts, a barbeque and an afternoon of fun and games. Each year puts their own stamp on those traditions, but the general outline stays pretty much the same.

Six year seniors.

This year, the students asked if they could invite the Seniors who were former middle school students to join them for Founders’ Day. We agreed to ask them to join us for lunch, and they joyfully accepted. So it was that I left the Garden Cinema early to zip back to school and ensure the barbeque was lit and food was ready to go. The six-year Seniors arrived at Bonnie’s House about the same time as I did with these huge smiles on their faces, and shortly later they were enthusiastically playing softball down on the diamond despite having neither bat nor ball.

Before too long, the first wave of middle schoolers also arrived, with Hank helping out at the grill while Andrea returned with the WAV to bring back another couple of groups of students as Ellen, Karen, and Tony helped keep track of everyone. It takes a while to feed four dozen students and their teachers, and as some students patiently waited for burgers (beef or veggie) to come off the grill, others who had already finished formed an impromptu band in Bonnie’s House, ran around on the field, posed for pictures with six-year Senior Big Sisters, and generally found ways to make their own fun.

Founders’ Day this year followed close on the heels of another day off, the all-school celebration of spring and the Earth that has come to be called Spearth Day. As that is the day when yearbooks get passed out, the realization that the end is coming all too fast settles in uncomfortably. For all we say time flies, the fact is there is a kind of timelessness to a school year and it seems, for better and for worse depending on the day (mostly for better), as though it will last forever. But of course it doesn’t, and signatures captured in yearbooks – and drawn in Sharpie on Founders’ Day t-shirts – are in a way an attempt to capture and freeze time itself.

Stoneleigh-Burnham School 7th and 8th grade students.

This year, the middle schoolers are somewhat more jittery than usual about the approaching summer vacation. All of the kids – this year’s 7th graders, the returning 8th graders, and new 8th graders have forged deep and lasting friendships, and the idea of giving up 24/7 contact can be really scary. One current 8th grader periodically looks at me with achingly haunted eyes and says she does. not. want. vacation. to. start.

I’m no different, really. As I was exercising this evening, I suddenly stopped in the middle of a jumping jack and ran upstairs to pull out a ten-year-old CD, recorded by the upper school rock band then known as PW Rock. I alternated between prepping and listening as the voices of Mary Dooley, Nancy Ko, and Katie McClary filled my living room. And then my eyes filled as they reached the chorus of Jewel Kilcher’s beautiful song, “What’s Simple Is True“:

The more I live
The more I know
What’s simple is true
I love you

Of course, these kids do love each other, and we love them as well. Rituals between now and the end of the year will help give expression to that love as well as providing plenty of opportunities to kick back and have fun. And of course, students are still actively involved in learning, with greater insight and sophistication than in the fall but no less energy and passion. Still, 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of June 8 will inevitably come. The campus will fall silent. And as I pick up the last few programs from the 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony, I will start the process of moving forward, reviewing the year with the team and examining what we can learn from it, planning for next year and getting summer mailings ready to go. But first, I will read every name on the program one more time. I will look over to the corner where my Humanities 7 students started every class. I will pause and blow my nose and stare out into space. Then, and only then, I will turn and walk down the stairs and out the building.

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Filed under Alumnae, Graduation, In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Room For Change

I glance up and notice the little plastic clasp screwed into the underside of the shelf of our TV stand. The pointy part, that stuck into the clasp and prevented the door from being opened without extreme intellectual and physical effort, has long since been removed. Not so the memories of putting it on in the first place, which my wife and I did around the same time we added the gadgets to every cabinet door in our apartment above the library, plugged plastic shields into all the outlets, stuck soft protectors on every furniture corner we owned, and generally ensured everything was as safe as possible for the imminent arrival of the child that turned out to be our son. Long before he thought or even knew about crawling, we had done everything we could think of to protect him from any dangers we could imagine.

As our children grow up, of course, we continually and deliberately work to ensure they can eventually take care of themselves. It may be bittersweet at times, but if our true goal is that our kids grow up to be happy and confident, balancing self-reliance and connectedness, we really have no choice. Yet, the same instinct that leads us to prepare our apartments months ahead of when we really need to is never far from the surface, as my parents periodically remind me whenever my brothers, my sisters, or I are going through hard times in one way or another.

As parents of Seniors are all too well aware, this is the week when all colleges that have not already announced their decision send out notifications. Peter Gow, the college counselor at Beaver Country Day School, captures the feeling perfectly in a blog entry entitled “College Admissions: Agony, Ecstasy, Reality” when he writes, “For the students… the moment of opening the letter, popping open the email, or logging into the decision site is probably as charged an event as they have experienced: a moment of truth. (…) Many see their entire futures, as well as their self-concepts, riding on the decision made by the admission committee at some beloved college, and some will take “bad news”—denial or waitlist or even January admission—as a personal blow.” You see your kids grow up into these amazing people, and suddenly a decision taken by total strangers hundreds of miles away, often made of necessity on the basis of about five minutes’ worth of discussion, has the potential to devastate them with just a single word. As we envision such a moment, little plastic clasps, shields, and corner protectors are utterly pointless. All we have is our intense love for and faith in our kids to try and help them pull through the week. Peter keeps tissue boxes close at hand during this week, and no doubt day parents do too. But as boarding parents, you can’t even offer a Kleenex, never mind wrap your kid in a hug.

On the other hand, what stronger ally than our love for and faith in our kids? Whether communicated in a glance, a quick squeeze of the shoulder, a back rub, or via words spoken softly between longer pauses or thumbed with a sort of desperate urgency into a text window, our ability to reaffirm all those wonderful qualities we see in our kids and to let them know we love them can at least lay the groundwork for the decisions that will eventually settle out. Peter captures this well, too, when he notes that “college counselors, like teachers, administrators, parents, friends, and the world at large spend this week above all other weeks in the year helping kids understand that it’s not about rejection or acceptance but about making the most of the opportunities life gives us.”

In talking to students and parents, to Andy Patt in years past, to Lauren in more recent years, as well as to my brother-in-law who is a college counselor at Thayer, I knowhow deeply important the role of a school is in providing their own support. As a seventh grader once said, “Tell me what you really think about my story. My parents liked it… but they have to!” In our own knowledge of kids, with that peculiar blend of love and objectivity that a teacher brings a student, we can and do perform our part in helping kids work through the agony and the ecstasy of this week. Here, too, I feel lucky as my son’s house counselor (his school’s word for “houseparent”) wrote all of us parents early in the week to gently prepare us for what we thought we knew was coming, and to tell us she would be always open to the kids telling whatever news they chose to share and seeking whatever support they felt they needed but that she would not be forcing the issue. And though he may not have written us, I trust my son’s college counselor to do the same.

I know my son well. He has a long history of making the most of the opportunities that life has brought him – and our family has been extraordinarily blessed with opportunities. We will get through this week together, he, my wife, and I. He will find the college where he was meant to be, work hard, learn, and be subtly shaped as he continues to set the direction of his life. And then one day, perhaps, his own child will await the decisions of colleges. He may talk through his feelings with us, whatever he chooses to share. And a brief glance of understanding will pass between us as we remember this week and draw on lessons learned. “The point is that the lives of eighteen-year-olds have plenty of room for change, a lesson that only experience can teach us and that I have been surprised and generally pleased to discover is taught to us recurringly over many decades.” (Gow) The same, of course, is true of twelve-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds – and yes, even fifty-two-year-olds.

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Filed under Admissions, College Prep, Graduation, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective

Moving Forward After Tremendous Growth: 8th Graders Move Up

“Is it just me, or was that an especially emotional Moving Up Ceremony this morning?” I looked at my colleague Pete, who was himself moving on, to a school in New Jersey. I knew what he meant. Our 8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt of the many rites and routines the school has developed to aid all of us in transitioning out of the year. The ceremony centers on tributes read to each 8th grader by her advisor, and they are all unique to each individual student, beautifully written and delivered as the soon-to-be high schooler stands beaming next to her advisor. Only this year, more students than ever before began to cry while they were up there. My voice usually catches a few times as I am reading, but I nearly lost it completely when I looked over and noticed twin streams trickling down one of my advisee’s cheeks.

Part of it was the tremendous growth these kids had shown while they were here. Part of it was the close relationships so unabashedly visible to all. Part of it was backstories about particular kids who had been or were still facing a tough road one way or another. But those elements are always there. No, I strongly suspect much of it was that four dearly beloved members of the middle school team were moving on, three of whom had been with us for five years (and who were in fact primarily responsible for my deciding to change the subject header for our minutes from “MS Faculty Meeting…” to “MS Team Meeting…”). Some of the kids had asked to have a chance to say goodbyes as part of the ceremony, and as they choked up one by one, taking turns relieving each other until everyone had said what she needed to, I can’t believe there were many dry eyes in the room.

Every year at this time, as I take stock of the year and look at my students’ learning, I also take stock of what I have learned. That we really need to cut back Humanities 7 to six units in order to be able to go as deep as the kids want to. That we really need three advisory periods per week. That the Class of 2016 is an extraordinary community of amazing writers and we need to nurture that going forward. That the Class of 2015 is going to have an instant and major impact on our Upper School’s music program. And that my toes look horrible with pink nail polish.

That last bit, of course, comes from Pink Toenail Day organized by the faculty and staff in support of breaking free of gender stereotypes and particularly of those of our students who most actively and deliberately broke them. Those students have graduated now and moved on, but just as they felt safe and comfortable to express their inner selves at our school, so too will there be future students who will need and appreciate the same atmosphere of support. Indeed, they may already be out there.

Pink Toenail Day was always about symbolic expression of a support that was already there, and I for one will be able to find other symbolic ways of expressing that support that don’t clash with my skin tone. First and foremost, though, the deep down support must be clear and unequivocal, for returning students and faculty and for new students and faculty. We are a team, individual voices rising in community. So we pause, take stock, honor where we’ve been. We say a heartfelt good-bye, hoping those moving on stay in touch. And we hunch our shoulders, look to the future, and begin the exciting work of creating next year’s community.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean


Filed under Graduation, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

On the occasion of your graduation.

June 4, 2010 marked exactly six years since the day I walked across the platform at Stoneleigh-Burnham School and received my diploma. Since that day I have (in no particular order), graduated from college, become Associate Director of Admissions, Student Activities Coordinator and big sister/mentor/pseudo-mom to 18 pre-teen girls at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, learned the hard way that you can’t make ice cream sandwiches if the cookies haven’t cooled for AT LEAST a day, figured out that you should always take a change of clothes when visiting old friends and that Boston really isn’t far from Greenfield (even though everyone from Western MA thinks it is). I’ve discovered that if you make funfetti anything everyone will love it and that if your cookies vary from the standard chocolate chip/peanut butter/sugar (or some variation on these three flavors) pre-teen girls won’t like them.

I recognize that these experiences do not make me wise…I still have a WHOLE lot to learn, but I have learned every step of the way and on the occasion of your graduation I would like to share some of what I have learned with you.

First, and foremost, this is not an ending but a beginning. Stoneleigh-Burnham will always be a part of your life and as you leave it behind to begin the next chapter of your life rejoice in the experiences you have had here. You are part of something wonderful and you are prepared to take on the world. Leave with the knowledge that you have made a difference in the lives of your teachers, classmates and friends. Stoneleigh-Burnham will never forget you.

Second, remember to have fun. Often throughout the next few years you may find yourself consumed with schoolwork. No matter how busy you are or how many projects you have, remember to take a few minutes each day to enjoy life. Though it may be a cliche, you are only young once…enjoy the next few years, they won’t be like any others.

Third, remember where you came from. It is easy to get caught up in things as a young adult. Sometimes it can be difficult to know which path is the right one. Remember your roots and where life has already taken you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in or to take the path less traveled. You’ll be amazed at the experiences you might have otherwise missed.

Fourth, invite others to be a part of your life. It is easy to get caught up in the college experience. Remember that it is important to include those you care about in your life even when they are far away (whether that’s Greenfield or Korea). It’s easy to forget to call old friends or to send notes to teachers who influenced you, but remember that you wouldn’t be where you are today without their help. Emails and letters remind those you care about that they still matter.

Finally, remember that even you can make a difference. Sometimes it really does take just one person…

Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore and as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day. He began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching  down to the shore, picking something up and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, “Good morning! What are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.” “Why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?” “The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.” “But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and  miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean, past the breaking waves and said – “It made a difference for that one.”

-Author Unknown


Congratulations and best wishes to all the 2010 graduates. Go out into the world and make us proud!

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Filed under Graduation, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School