Happy new year! We are excited to welcome you back to campus in a few short days. Along with returning families, we are pleased to welcome 122 new students and their families who will add fresh energy, myriad talents and interests and investment in our community. In this Friends, highly collaborative and participatory community, who is here truly matters and the shared intention and values of families coming to us strengthen the experiences of students immeasurably. I’m happy to share that this number of new families significantly surpasses our enrollment goals for this year. With three full sections of Kindergarten and wait lists in all three divisions of the school, we can all take pride in the resonance and relevance of an AFS education for the times we live in. We also have an incredible group of new faculty and staff members that we are excited to see join us this year.
It’s been a busy summer season on campus! When you return to school, you’ll see beautifully renovated spaces in the Stewart Lobby, Student Street, the Student Commons and throughout the public spaces of Upper School. The additions include new flooring and a wide range of furnishings intended to support the many ways that students study, connect and collaborate with each other. There is also a newly renovated All Gender bathroom in the Upper School Science Wing, the product of a wonderful collaboration of students with administrators and the generous financial support from two AFS families. The cafeteria too is outfitted with all new furniture to create an inviting community space for all three divisions of the school at lunchtime and for community gatherings.
More substantively, the summer has been one of deep research, travel, collaboration and curriculum design and innovation among our faculty. In our Summer Fellowship program, teachers studied at the Summer Institute for Educators at the National Gallery, Paris College of Art, the AP Language Summer Institute, The Race Institute, University of the Arts for music study, traveled to Quebec to explore language immersion opportunities and attended a children’s picture book writing workshop. Faculty studied or read books on resilience for educators, the connection between our physics curriculum and Mind/Brain/Education research, movement and choreography for the drama program, reading like an historian and building “thinking classrooms” for math and science. Curriculum design projects included developing a chimes program for Lower School music, a project-based statistics course and application-based pre-calculus course, building connections between our Small Farms course and the science curriculum, designing an animation curriculum for Middle School arts, reinventing the 5th grade science program, developing a Middle School learning support program, a redesign of the Conscious Communities curriculum in Middle School, reviewing scope and sequence of Middle School English curricula, and work on Early Childhood assessment and the first grade math program.
And this is just a sample of initiatives. I have long held that “great schools are lit from within,” invigorated and inspired by the active learning lives of the faculty and staff. I am so impressed by our faculty culture of ongoing learning, research and innovation. We are a community that is led by learning, by the spirit of “continuing revelation” that is at the heart of an excellent Friends school. Education at its best is fueled by the creativity and vitality of faculty ambition for creating engaging learning environments and being responsive to emergent opportunities of a changing world and the corresponding, evolving needs of our students.
And in this Friends school community, that work is grounded and rooted in a sense of spiritual calling, a fullness of our conception of who our students are as human beings and a hopeful, liberal and expansive view of who they can become as individuals and members of a community. This requires not only excellent curricular and intellectual engagement from faculty, but a deep sense of hospitality, warmth, encouragement, support, ambition and, indeed, love. These qualities of the spirit are nurtured and cherished at AFS. At our closing faculty meeting of the year in June, I shared a paraphrase of a quote by Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Dutch philosopher. He was speaking of the existence of God, for which I substituted the existence of the life of the spirit within each of us. He said that ours is not to speculate about, intellectualize or debate the existence of God or the Spirit; it is ours to reveal it. I believe our teachers continually reveal the gifts of the spirit in their work with students and each other, adding an authentic joy and a peaceful presence to the work of learning and growth at the heart of a great school like AFS. This, to me, is the best of what an education and learning environment can be for our youngest three-year-olds to our young adults in Upper School.
All of this inspires me and gives me great hope for all that we will accomplish together this year as students, families and faculty and staff. Here’s to a wonderful new year, our 327th (!) as Abington Friends School.