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In Our 325th Year, A Time to Lift Our Eyes, Pause and Reflect

October 14, 2021

Dear AFS Families,

Friday was Field Day at AFS, a longstanding tradition of our school where students from every age group come together in a day of joyful, friendly competition and community. It is a day when our Seniors and Juniors spend the afternoon with the First Grade and Kindergarten classes to bolster a friendship that continues through graduation day when First Graders process into Commencement and sing for their Seniors and those gathered to celebrate them. It was a beautiful October fall day, a chance to pause this many weeks into school and experience the joy of play as a full community.

As one of the oldest schools in the country, we are a school of many traditions, from age-old celebrations like Arbor Day to newer additions like ECOFest, the Nature Playdate and Black Excellence Night. Traditions are punctuation marks in the year that remind us of important values, our connection to the past and future, and of our bonds to each other. They ask us to lift our eyes from the day-to-day, pay attention to each other and steward the great gift of our shared community that allows so much good to happen in the course of a year and over time.

This year, our 325th as a school, is also a time to lift our eyes, pause and reflect. Three-hundred twenty-five years of continuous operation through every era of our nation’s history, in fact predating the founding of our country by nearly a century, is an extraordinary accomplishment for any community. It speaks to sturdy values and commitments that provide ballast through times of change and turbulence. It speaks to continual adaptability to see our Friends school meet the shifting needs of generations, to meet through “continuing revelation” the ascendent and newly salient issues of our time. And it speaks to an incredible legacy, passed down hand to hand through decades and centuries, of the care of Abington Monthly Meeting, school leaders, faculty and staff, students, families and alumni.

Our history too is a history of human imperfection and the harms that come of our incomplete understandings, our mistakes and sometimes wayward sensibilities and priorities. Quakers from their very founding in the 1650s and in the pursuit of William Penn’s Holy Experiment strove to be grounded in an Inner Light that would lead to universal human dignity and respect, peace and well-being for all. But they, like we, were of their time, and the struggle to break free of and make right the profound inequities and cruelties of our world, was and is uneven and imperfect. And yet, we are guided by a profound hope in the Light in each of us, and us collectively, that provides an inexhaustible store of love, resilience, care, compassion, strength and grounding in peace from which we can never be separated. When we return to this inner well of spiritual groundwater, when we find ourselves enmeshed in conflict and momentary loss of direction, when we bring each other back fully into view as fellow human beings, we make progress, a progress essential to the issues that so rightly concern us in the larger world around us.

And so this year, we are making our 325th anniversary the Quaker theme for this school year. Each year, our Quaker theme provides an opportunity for exploration, research, reflection, creative expression and renewal of our deepest values. We will approach this year variably by age group with a spirit of inquiry, wonder and curiosity. Our history is fascinating and provides not only the opportunity to look into the lives of our predecessors but also to look at ourselves through their eyes. As our Quaker theme, this exploration will unfold as an emergent curriculum with students and teachers following their questions and using abundant resources of our archives and that of local Quaker colleges to find answers and perspective. And we look forward to welcoming families into that exploration with guest speakers and other products of our work like this fascinating timeline of the development of the AFS campus since 1697 made by Director of Libraries Toni Vahlsing this summer.

Our history and our current day community is defined by profound hope, commitment to progress and resilience sitting side by side with our own human imperfections. When we pair the grounding of our tremendous collective inner Light with that hope, we continue to grow, however unevenly, into truer, better versions of ourselves. That is what Friends education is all about.

All the best,

Rich Nourie, Head of School

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