Dear AFS Community,
Our school community is always learning, growing and adapting even as we are rooted in enduring Quaker values. This is the secret to our success as a 320-year-old school: a creative vitality grounded in a clear sense of mission and purpose.
The framework for our ongoing growth is our Strategic Plan, one that has been guiding us for the past several years. Under our current plan, we have integrated our Early Childhood and Lower School programs, founded AFS Outside, created a special 5th and 6th grade program in our Middle School, opened the Wilf Learning Resource Center, started the Center for Experiential Learning and added myriad offerings in design, engineering and programming to each division of the school.
We’ve also taken steps to strengthen our school community overall in building enrollment, deepening our culture of philanthropy, creating myriad community partnerships and professionalizing our marketing and communications efforts. We were happy to see a 25 percent increase in new students this past year along with record retention. And this current admission season shows yet a 30 percent growth in new students year-to-date over the past year and a 66 percent increase over two years ago. It feels good to be booming!
To complete our Strategic Plan, we have three major initiatives that are well underway, both in program and facilities, that will continue to move us forward. The three areas of focus include our athletics program, the arts and next steps in experiential education offerings. In this letter, I want to share some thoughts about athletics and will follow in months to come with news and ideas about arts and experiential education.
We know that participation in athletics provides an invaluable experience for our Middle and Upper School students. Teamwork, leadership, the experience of competition and of reaching for potential, both individually and collectively, are essential opportunities on sports teams. We know, too, that athletics teaches lifelong lessons in character, grit, resiliency, loyalty and being part of something larger than oneself. Learning in athletics is direct and powerful.
Our students value athletics at AFS highly. They love the camaraderie, spirit of inclusion and opportunities to test themselves in competition in the Friends Schools League. I hear from alumni that the friendships and experiences they’ve had on teams are among their fondest memories of school. And we’ve had our share of glory in the program as well, including Boys’ Basketball Coach Steve Chadwin’s 626 wins and 16 FSL championships and this year’s FSL championship in Girls’ Basketball.
But we also know that AFS Athletics does not yet take its place as an equal to our outstanding academic and arts programs. And so, in our current planning, we are envisioning what true excellence — consistent with our distinct overall vision for education — should look like in a next generation of AFS athletics.
On April 8, we held a multi-constituent retreat of students, coaches, parents, alumni, administrators and School Committee members to imagine the future of athletics at AFS. The 50 or so participants worked in a fast-paced format to discuss an AFS vision of excellence itself, the student-athlete experience, developing a culture of coaching excellence, connections to our surrounding community, measurable goals and outcomes of our ideal program and how to build a strong brand and culture of spirit around athletics at AFS.
Some key takeaways:
We highly value the opportunity for students to be multi-sport athletes and fully engaged in the whole of the AFS experience in academics, the arts and leadership in the community. We want the program to be distinctive for developing excellence within this well-rounded, whole person context. This means creating a system designed to support and encourage student-athletes with multiple interests within and beyond the program. We also value the inclusion of all student-athletes, at their various levels of ability, with a commitment to helping all students reach their potential as student-athletes.
We recognized the invaluable role that excellent coaches play in the lives of teams and individual students. We talked about developing a culture of continual professional learning and professional community among AFS coaches and encouraging the hiring of teachers who coach, to achieve a comprehensive relationship with students and the AFS community. We talked also about support for coaches as leaders of programs that develop student-athletes at every developmental stage at AFS and as ambassadors and recruiters of student-athletes to the program.
Simultaneous to our developing a plan for the program, we are also excited to be envisioning new facilities for athletics at AFS, including plans for a new athletics center and a track on campus.
Over the course of the past two years, we have created the infrastructure for and have successfully begun the quiet phase of a campaign for new facilities. We’ve designed an athletics center with the Philadelphia architectural firm WRT that would bring our program to the same level of aesthetics and function as the beautiful Faulkner Library and Student Street in the Upper School. A track on campus would be a three-season facility supporting our growing and vital track and field program and would add a wonderful vitality to the campus.
Timing of ground-breaking is linked to our fund-raising success, but we are off to a strong early start in that endeavor and clearly see growing excitement about the possibilities among early donors.
And so, athletics is one of our major strategic focuses for the coming 2-3 years. In addition to the benefits for students, we know that athletics can also powerfully strengthen community and spirit on our campus, attract capable and contributing students and families and provide for wonderful partnerships with our neighbors and the surrounding community.
I look forward to sharing our facilities and program plans as the campaign develops. And I look forward to sharing equally exciting plans for our performing arts facilities and the Center for Experiential Learning in coming letters.
All the best,
Head of School