The school year ended in a celebratory flurry of culminating events from curriculum evenings in Lower and Middle Schools, ExTerm and adventurous travel in the Upper School, performances on the Muller stage, Moving Up ceremonies and Commencement in the Grove of the Meetinghouse. We were blessed with gorgeous late spring weather, adding a special grace to our celebrations and end-of-year gatherings. This year closed with a great deal of joy in lifting up the growth and accomplishment of students and with a deep sense of community connection.
Coming to that sense of deep connection was a journey this year after the separations and missed traditions of the previous two years. We felt the effects of the constraints of the pandemic on children when they returned to school in the fall. We saw it in social reticence to engage and a kind of uncertainty about adults and their expectations at almost every age level. We noticed less resilience in friendships and their conflicts and less awareness of one’s place in the larger community, the collective sense of purpose that is usually such a hallmark of the AFS community.
I am pleased to say that over the course of the school year, I saw life itself breathed into our children by the experience of being at school with incredibly caring and committed adults in their lives. Well-designed classroom experiences, partnership with teachers over meaningful projects, discussions that drew children into conversations that engaged and mattered, nourished a sense of purpose and meaning at school. Participating anew in the traditions of AFS from weekly silence in our beautiful Meetinghouse to Robotics competitions, awarding-winning theater performances, STEAM night, Winterfest and Arbor Day, reestablished a sense of identity as part of a longstanding community rooted in history and deeply shared values. We saw a level of joy, wholeness, growth and friendship in children that was so heartening and so encouraging for where we are headed.
The most valuable resource to this resurgence of growth was sustained relationships, with both adults and peers. We saw again how essential we are to each other’s well-being. Our sustained relationships remind us of who we are. We think things through and figure things out, we complete and extend each other’s gifts in mutual accomplishment and we inspire each other beyond our individual expectations. I think the pandemic period has forever laid to rest the idea that the future of education is online. The full force of community, day to day, richly engaged, is the most powerful context of learning and growth, and indeed, of life itself.
Over our Administrative Council retreat last week, we spent two full days thinking about our students, our families and our professional community and how to plan for a year of deepening connection, collaboration and relationships as we embark on the exciting strategic initiative of imagining together the Fourth Century of Friends education. We know that the future of Friends education is one rooted in spirit, in shared values and in thriving community. After a summer of renewal and time with friends and family, I look forward to welcoming us all back together to create with each other the powerful AFS human and spiritual community that is vital to children and their development, and that of the caregivers and teachers who work with them with such love and devotion.
In the meantime, happy summer, friends! We look forward to a joyful reunion and the wonderful hope that a new school year brings in the fall.