Tag Archives: Family Weekend

The Center of It All

It’s all about the beanbags. The nine students in my Humanities 7 class had been adamant that we would able to fit the 22-27 relatives they were expecting for Family Weekend into our relatively small classroom, and when I demurred, they insisted that wherever we go, their beloved beanbag chairs should follow “because our parents should see what our class really looks like.” So it was that I greeted Barbara, who was responsible this morning both for cleaning my regular classroom and for cleaning the Meeting Room where we would be moving for the day, at a bright and early 6:15 A.M. I had my temporary classroom set up, and chairs set out for visitors in the Jesser 3 classrooms, by 7:00, and zipped to the dining room to fill my travel mug with decaf (a special treat for a special day) and soy milk.

Students, parents, and other visiting family members began filtering in by 7:45, cries of, “You brought the beanbags!” filling the air accompanied by knowing parental smiles. We began class by continuing a previous lesson on lying, the better to inaugurate our newest student-designed unit developed from the seed question “Does the media lie?” around the eventual theme question,”How does the media alter perspectives of the truth to change what you think and feel?” Students did a think-pair-share activity around different kinds of lies, thinking on their own, in groups of two or three, and then in the full class about their thoughts and reactions. They eventually combined to write their own definition of lying, “Lying is an untruth, possibly ongoing, being told that brings a consequence that may or may not be desired, yet is always bad.” That will serve as a working definition as we go through the unit, both with group activities on topics like news coverage of the elections and photoshopping of models, and with individual research on personally-chosen questions.

Housemeeting was impressive, all the more so because it wasn’t really any different from how it would normally be. Certainly a highlight, however, was the introduction of the brand new Middle School Interscholastic Equestrian Team, complete with a visit from the school mascot Athena the Owl, with Academic Dean Alex Bogel’s booming voice announcing each student as she strode down the center aisle waving her hand much as Queen Elizabeth II does.

Sometimes, a class can get disturbingly quiet on Family Weekend, but if anything, the presence of parents and siblings brought out the best in my French II class as they worked to understand the ins and outs of the just-introduced tense, the passé composé. They all raised their hands and tested out their new knowledge, never hesitated to ask questions, and achieved a much deeper understanding of the tense in our short 20-minute class.

I was about the third person to go through the lunch line, the better to scoot to the gym and prepare for the performing arts show. I tuned up the girls’ bass and guitars, checked the sound for the keyboards, played a quick fill on the drums just for the fun of it, and did mic checks. All seemed ready, and after an eternity of waiting, the rock bands took the stage. Judging from the tone of respect in the congratulations I received after the show, the bands succeeded in connecting with their audience and imparting a spirit of fun. Certainly Heather’s decision to grab her mic and abandon the stage, striding around the gym as she belted out the vocals to “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” helped set the tone, and the explosion of applause complete with shouts and whooping showed how much the audience loved it. That noted, all three groups got sincere and heartfelt, and well-deserved, compliments.

Immediately following the show, we had a Middle School parents’ meeting to discuss the institution of what we expect will be a new tradition, the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., go over the developmental stages and needs of young adolescent girls and how our program is explicitly designed around research to meet those needs, and determine parental goals for the year. Partway through, I asked for questions, thoughts, and concerns, and wasn’t quite sure what to think when a long silence ensued. Years of practice leaving space for my students to talk caused me to wait patiently, and then one mother raised her hand and commented, “I’m overwhelmed, and I just feel so lucky that my daughter is here with all you are doing for her, the knowledge and passion you bring to your work.” A number of other parents nodded and murmured their agreement. The parents (and a few grandparents – as I commented, “If you care enough about the kids to attend this meeting, you get to have a say here.”) then came up with a solid list of goals for the year, and used a system of placing stickers to set priorities.

My advisees did a wonderful job with their student-led conferences, speaking about their work thus far with touching honesty, pride, and a willingness to identify areas where they need to grow and develop genuinely practical plans to bring about that growth. Several parents commented on how much they preferred the format, as students became agents of their own destiny, not the passive subjects of adult discussions and judgments.

Saturday afternoon, as my part in the weekend was winding down (being neither a houseparent nor an on-duty chaperone), I found myself standing at the soccer game with Academic Dean Alex Bogel. I filled him in on my experiences of the weekend, and he jumped in to let me know how delighted he was to have been asked the question of how our institution of the IB program has affected the middle school and other younger grades. Pointing to the hexagon that symbolizes the IB program, he noted the student at the center of it all. “And that,” he said, “is why we didn’t have to change a thing about the rest of our program.”

Student voice. Her best self. This is the mission of the school, and when you stay aware of and true to it, amazing things can happen. You couldn’t have asked for a better Family Weekend. I wrote the Middle School faculty earlier today, “As Middle School Dean, in particular at the Friday Parents’ Meeting, I get the heartwarming experience on Family Weekend of watching parents come in curious about why their kids are so happy here, and becoming increasingly, almost overwhelmingly for some, touched to see all we do and all that goes into it. So thank you all for making that happen, both over the last five weeks and then in particular the last two days. It’s a ton of work, I know, and it brings amazing results.” So it is, and so it does.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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Filed under Equestrian Program, In the Classroom, International Baccalaureate, On Education, On Parenting, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Small School, Big World – One Mission

Family Weekend this year was inspiring in many ways. Developing student voice is a fundamentally important aspect of the core mission of our school, and there was evidence of that everywhere you looked. My Humanities 7 students took turns standing up and reading their poetry to probably the largest assembled group of parents and family members seen in any classroom over the weekend, perhaps a little softly on the first poem, but always more loudly and clearly on all the rest once the warm supportive applause of their peers and families washed over them. Each poem was absolutely unique to that student and yet, taken as a whole, they revealed truths about who the class is as a whole and for that matter what it is like to be a 7th grader in today’s world.

My French 2 class had asked to do “something fun” and so they played a game of Family Feud to practice the vocabulary in their newest unit. My Life Skills class had asked if they could cook for their families, and so they made crêpes. My Rock Band classes, well, rocked at the performing arts presentation. And my advisees…my advisees! We do student-led conferences in the middle school, and each conference was unique to that child. I saw courage, I saw honesty, I saw incredible self-awareness, I saw complex and insightful thinking, I saw a willingness to acknowledge and face sometimes painful challenges and I saw pride. And of course, I also saw the love parents feel for their children as they search for, find, and develop who they are. Knowing when to let go and when to support our children as they grow up is one of the toughest jobs in parenting, and for better or for worse, student-led conferences provide many opportunities to practice balancing those twin methods of expressing parental love.

My son, now a high school senior, was recently invited to a formal dance at my wife’s school. As it happened, this was for a weekend when she had to be off campus, which meant he would be down there on his own. With a brand new driver’s license. It was one of those crucible moments that tests your faith in your child’s judgment. We decided – and it was actually an easy decision – to trust him, and he had such an enjoyable evening with his date and other friends he made down through the years that he decided to attend his own school’s prom after all. We still share an iTunes account; yesterday, iCloud delivered three apps for buying flowers to my phone.

My own prom experience fit virtually every stereotype of more innocent times (three friends and I piled into an old VW Beetle, the girls wearing dresses they had sewn on their own, and I danced the night away in my date’s arms before dropping her off by midnight), and my son’s experiences, while different than mine of course, also seem to belong to a bygone era. For many, however, proms have become an elaborate evening of excess, sometimes costing over $2,000 per couple.

Nancy Flanagan recently wrote, in “Prom Queens and Ed Reform,” about how the changing nature of proms through the years reflects changing values of our society. Historically, she notes, education has been about building democratic equality, training for economic utility, and enabling social mobility. The first two goals serve the public good, while the third is more of a private good. Social mobility and credentialing, she argues, have become prioritized in order to preserve advantage for those who already have it. Prom, with its excessive costs – and its occasional and despicable exclusion of people of specific races, sexualities, and/or gender – reflects this preservation of privilege.

In our middle school parent meeting, one father pointed out that our mission statement includes the phrase “… confident that their voices will be heard.” He felt that society is not currently open to hearing girls’ and women’s voices, and wondered how we could work to meet that aspect of our mission. I spoke about the need to honor student voices even and especially when they are expressing uncomfortable truths, to build up a sense of expectation that they deserve to and will be taken seriously. If a girls school doesn’t honor girls’ voices, who will? I also talked about how I had spent two years coming to terms with the word “will” given the realities of today’s society and had decided the only way to truly honor the mission of our school as written was not just to work within the school in support of our students but also to work out in the world to fight gender-based prejudice and build a society that will genuinely honor all voices – in essence, to work for democratic equality. The room was quiet, but all around, heads were quietly and slowly nodding.

Working for social justice, I sometimes feel like I’m on “The Road Not Taken.” And then there are moments like this and I renew my hope. Family Weekend this year was inspiring indeed.

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Filed under Admissions, Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, On Parenting, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized