A word from the Head of School
Why I Sing
I often have the pleasure of putting my daughter, Anna,to bed. We have a routine that consists of snack, reading, conversation and, sometimes, singing. Besides my original songs of dubious quality, I serenade her with songs such as Welcome Table, Back of the Bus and Oh Freedom. I love the fact that my daughter knows and enjoys these songs and that they will become part of her childhood memories. Although I take some credit for the singing,I know that Friends School is mostly responsible for the exposure to these meaningful songs. Our commitment to sharing these songs with our students is rooted in the school’s Quaker-based values of equality, community and integrity. It is just one quality that makes our school, and its commitment to Friends education, so special.
Besides the significance of actual singing at Friends School, there are other aspects of the school that I would like to “sing” about. One is the school’s nurturing environment. While we do not own the license on nurturing, it is an essential aspect of our school and mission. Friends education is grounded in the belief that the whole child must be encouraged to develop. In addition to academics, we seek to nurture each child’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual development. We do this through positive adult/student interactions, strong role models, inquiry based learning, and the active teaching of Quaker values. We encourage all of our students to work through their differences, seek the truth, value diversity, and respect all life. We also work hard to establish and maintain a school community that encourages exploration and celebrates differences in a safe environment. We hope this foundation in the Friends testimonies will help our students to find their voices, open their hearts and become responsible members of society.
To help foster an open and nurturing environment, our school utilizes multi-age classrooms (more than one grade). Research points to numerous advantages for this arrangement. Having students for more than a year gives teachers the opportunity to nurture and enjoy a personal relationship with each student. Multi-age classrooms also generate educational benefits for all students. Students experience a more natural learning situation when the pace and program can be adjusted to meet the needs of all students. Younger students are motivated by the opportunity to learn from older students through example and peer tutoring. Older students also benefit when teaching information and skills to their younger classmates. Research shows that their academic performance and IQ scores increase dramatically. Additionally, each year our teachers have a nucleus of older children, who can help the new students adjust to the classroom environment. This minimizes the time spent on learning routines and enables all students and teachers to get to the academic program more quickly.
I would also like to sing about the benefits of Friends School’s small class sizes. Smaller classes have a lower student to teacher ratio that enables our teachers to spend more time with each student. Smaller class size also reduces distractions and conflicts for children. A comprehensive study on class size was performed in 1995. This study randomly placed students into small (13-17) and regular size (22-26) classrooms. Not only did students from small classes outperform their peers from the regular size classroom but they also continued to outperform their peers when they returned to a regular size class. The study found that small class size, especially during the elementary years, provides a lasting benefit for children.
Our school’s independent status is another reason to sing. Our teachers enjoy a freedom to develop and teach a curriculum that is relevant and motivating for students. While our curriculum is coordinated throughout the school in subject areas, teachers are free to enrich the curriculum with topics, themes or current events that are of interest to their students. This flexibility enables our teachers to change and adapt their methods when they learn of a more effective way to teach a subject. For example, about four years ago our elementary teachers realized that the math program at the time could be improved to better meet the needs of our students. Several teachers and administrators researched the available programs and based on their findings the school decided to adopt the University of Chicago’s Everyday Mathematics Program for the elementary grades. This program has been highly effective for our students and well accepted by our parent community. We would not have been able to switch our program as quickly as we did if we did not posses our independent nature.
I firmly believe that our school provides an educational experience that is vigorous, enriching and unique. It is a special place where all the components of a child’s development are recognized and honored. Advantages such as small class size, multiage classrooms, Quaker values, an involved and caring community and flexible curriculum enable us to encourage growth and foster a love of learning in each child. As a head of school, it is important for me to know and be able to articulate this information but, as a parent, it is enough to sing Oh Freedom before bed.
Head of School
Read more from Dan in the HEADLINES archive.
What makes a Quaker school different? Why should I send my child to Friends School? These questions often surface at this time of year, with re-enrollment dates right around the corner. Of course, no school is quite like another, but Quaker schools do have strands of commonalities running through the fabric of each school, weaving together strong academics and a values system which hopefully makes a positive difference in the lives of all the young people who pass through our doors. In a nutshell, Friends education challenges the mind and nourishes the spirit.
The Friends Council on Education, the only national organization of Friends Schools, of which State College Friends School is a member, has the following description of Friends education on its website. (www.friendscouncil.org)
"Friends believe that each person has the capacity for goodness and a responsibility to attain that goodness. Friends schools believe that education is the preparation for the whole of life: the lively development of intellectual, physical, and social-emotional capacities as well as those of the spirit. Friends school teachers are facilitators of the learning process, using dialogue, reflection and inquiry as tools for learning in the classroom. The Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship are deeply embedded in the curricula and school culture. Students learn that all of life is sacred and resonates with meaning."
Such an environment, one in which deep thought is given as to what kinds of persons its members are becoming and what goals and motives are effective in their lives, can only be accomplished with the cooperation and facilitation of a dedicated, committed and caring faculty and staff. Teachers who go the extra mile to plan a wide range of curriculum supported field trips along with in and out-of-class adventures. Pursuits which are widely varied and go beyond the basic objective of a broad based education to the development of the whole person.
Our community of learners at State College Friends School emphasizes mutual esteem, encouragement and participation. We support individual excellence, equal rights of all people, and that all people have that of God within them and are worthy of dignity and respect.
What can you expect from a State College Friends School education? --an environment that nurtures wonder--the consideration of the developmental level of each child--unconditional love--trust in our children--the provision of accurate information and relevant skills--listening to our students--giving our students time to marvel, to search, to seek and to think--encouragement--personal affirmations--a system of values in place--strong academics--care, concern, and commitment from our teachers, our administrators and our staff.
These are the things that make a Quaker school different. This is why your child belongs at Friends School.
Recently, I read an excerpt from a Quaker publication, London Yearly Meeting (1946), ".The whole community should live together in friendship, each one recognizing the special position held by the others, and the contribution required from each for the perfection of the common life." While thinking about this quote, I connected it to a statement from the Friends Council on Education website which states that Friends schools hope to create an environment within which students, teachers, parents, and volunteers alike can continue to mature as companions in a wide range of experiences. These views are supported and practiced at State College Friends School. We view learning as a process of exploration and self-discovery, through which children build their skills and knowledge through personal experience and by working with teachers and with fellow students. We not only believe this, we apply this.
Last week allowed me my first opportunity to participate in Friends School's annual Theme Week, with this year's theme of "Reducing our Footprints". Grouped by interests with all ages intermixed, our student groups mapped Friends School trees, created reusable tote bags, perfected their gardening and composting skills, interpreted the story of the universe, counted food miles while learning about the benefits of local foods, built and used solar ovens, became "Green Detectives", and created the
R-TEAM (reduce, reuse, recycle).
All students also had the opportunity to take part in a Literature Group accompanied by their "reading buddy". Students and teachers read books about our planet earth and the environment, completed an activity related to the book, and became well acquainted with students from across the grade levels. I had the great pleasure of reading and discussing Old Turtle, by Douglas Wood, with my new friends, Shant & Paul, Griffen & Seppi, Zoe & Taline, and Aidan & Chris. These reading buddies and I analyzed turtle and tortoise shells, handled replicas of emerging baby box turtles, and compared an alligator skull to a tortoise shell! All this was done within the context of the theme of Old Turtle, understanding our earth and our relationship with all the beings that inhabit it.
Friday's Meeting for Worship took place at the State College Friends Meeting House and our children rode the bus with their reading buddy. Hand-in-hand they silently entered the Meeting House, eyes wide with wonder. They were greeted by a warm fire and the silence of a cold winter day. Meeting was more vocal than usual, with our young friends speaking about the earth and about their appreciation of attending Friends School, and our teachers speaking of caring for the earth, for each other, and for ourselves. Joyful singing of "This Pretty Planet" resonated throughout the Meeting House followed, as always, by "As We Leave this Friendly Place."
Our school community became a bit "greener" throughout the week as our children and adults worked together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, all toward the goal of walking softly upon the earth. As we enter the Holiday Season, I wish you and your families much health, happiness, and peace. I look forward to my work with you in 2008.
Every autumn a professional wonderment occurs in the world of Quaker education. Heads of Friends Schools from across the nation gather together for two days of sharing, reflection, and recommitment. This year, fifty-one enthusiastic and dedicated Quaker educators from twenty-one states, generously shared their experiences, expertise, successes, dreams, and yes, even a few frustrations!
Organized annually by the Friends Council on Education, this year's meeting was held in Manhattan and was jointly hosted by Brooklyn Friends School, the Mary McDowell Center for Learning, and the Friends Seminary. Visits to these three Quaker institutions provided my colleagues and me the opportunity to see Friends education in action in a major metropolitan area and to compare and contrast methods of operations at our own schools. Although Quaker schools vary in locations, populations, and building structures, (the Mary McDowell Center resides in a renovated five-story cheese factory), our shared strength is that for over 350 years Quaker education has continued to excel in providing a unique combination of stimulating academics, spiritual depth, and loving values.
Our featured speaker this year, Father Michael Sheeran, President of Regis University in Denver, Colorado, author of Beyond Majority Rule, and renowned scholar on the Quaker decision-making process, presented a compelling presentation on the relationship and similarities between the Jesuit and Quaker traditions. This thought-provoking presentation and discussion explored group-centered decision making in today's society with reflection upon Quakerism's possible significance for the future of American society. Parallels and similarities to unanimous consent, deliberations of corporate boards, and a need in today's society to have the ability to participate in decision making in a satisfying way were presented through a social theory context.
Meeting sessions grouped Heads of Schools by similar school size and grade levels and
our time was spent in deep, thoughtful conversations. Discussions included common threads of educational concerns, (admissions, tuition, fundraising, curriculum, etc.), the brainstorming of problem-solving techniques, and reaffirmation of our commitment to our individual schools and to the strengths and principles of Quaker education.
The professional development opportunities provided by the Annual Heads Gathering go far beyond that of networking with other Heads; it is a time for the discovery of truth and the emergence of spiritual insight from ongoing reflection within a gathered community.
I am thrilled to embark on my first year as Head of School at State College Friends School, a joyful, vibrant, and nurturing environment where we celebrate the differences and respect the individuality of each child. Woven throughout our strong academic curriculum are the Quaker tenets of Equality, Community, Simplicity and Harmony. Our school is a place where children are encouraged to reach their own potential and we challenge them to be the very best they can be as they develop intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, socially, and aesthetically.
As I walk through the building in the early days of school, our classrooms are already abuzz with community and learning. Peek into our classrooms and you will see students working independently or one-on-one with their teachers or assistant teachers, in small groups, with residents of Foxdale (our neighboring Quaker retirement community), with parent volunteers, or with buddies from other grade levels. In a safe and supportive environment, our students realize their individual gifts while learning to live and work together within a community.
We began our new school year with the installation of our new pond! In the waters dwell koi, native plants, and a few visiting frogs. Our students have already begun to use the area for reading, journaling, and investigating the friendly waters. Our middle school students joined together to create their "own space" adding motivational posters, soft pillows, and even a stuffed wolf mascot. An exciting new development at our school is the emerging Quaker Center. Area Friends have loaned or donated historical Quaker items which will be displayed in the center of our school and accompanied by comments from our students, Quaker sayings, and transcribed oral histories of our neighboring Foxdale residents. Mid-November has been targeted as our opening date.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of my first months has been the privilege of working with our dedicated and truly outstanding faculty. Members of our faculty continually seek to grow professionally and learn, as evidenced by eight workshops having already been attended in the past two months!
I welcome you to visit us and personally explore all we have to offer. Come feel the magic.