Learning, Growing and Thriving

This post was adapted from a letter Mr. Small sent to parents before the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

There is a video that went viral in July of a young man, born without arms, who is trying to conquer a 20-inch box jump. When asked about the seemingly overwhelming challenge of jumping onto a platform without the benefit of limbs to help balance and provide protection, he shared that he had been practicing, but could not shake the fear in the back of his mind about what would happen if he fell. You can see the doubt and fear and frustration on his face as he makes several failed attempts to get himself to the top of the box.

There are three adults present in the video as well, supporting him and, at times, challenging him, to accomplish this daunting jump. When the young man’s feet find purchase on the top of the box, you can see his emotions radiate – the achievement, the determination that brought it to fruition and the love for the mentors who never left his side. Though it was admittedly hard to watch him struggle in the first part of the clip, I was profoundly moved by the shift in the young man that transpired as he leveraged his practice sessions, burgeoning courage and the enablement and encouragement from his trainers to propel himself to the top of that box. I found it to be aspiring and affirming and symbolic of so much of what we want for each of our students as we anticipate the growth opportunities that await us this year.

The 2019-2020 school year holds particular promise for our community, and I am happy to see our hallways once again full of remarkable young people who are eager to attempt more box jumps of their own. I am also excited for the connections that will renew both with and amongst their mentors – teachers and parents – as we come together as a community to support, empower, challenge and rejoice in the weeks and months ahead.

Our faculty has put a lot of thought and planning into this year about how we can best help our students learn, grow and thrive. Much of our focus in this effort over the past eighteen months or so has been on the social and emotional underpinnings of the learning process that promote dynamic engagement for every one of our students. Common sense and empirical evidence from recent educational studies confirm that engagement is a critical contributor to maximizing academic and intellectual gains over the course of a school year and that this transcends any one classroom experience. To this end, our time together in community gatherings beyond the classroom (advisory, quadrant, class meetings and US assemblies) are crucial and allow interconnected opportunities to grow as a community of critical, creative and compassionate thinkers. We are focusing on integrating our collective work around self-awareness and social-awareness in our classrooms, advisory and other community gatherings.

This commitment to wellness – both individual and community – will continue to be a central theme for us in our collective effort to live into our Mission Statement and to embrace celebration of community in the process. This is about more than outcomes for our students; we have to also find similar balance for our caregivers, parents and teachers if we are to fully achieve and thrive in this effort. Mr. Rainey’s introduction into our community is a great catalyst for this work as we begin this year. He brings a remarkable commitment to community and the success and wellbeing of each of our students that sets the course for us in both our work and play. Likewise, the US calendar provides many academic, artistic and athletic activities that bring us together for communal moments as well. Each are such powerful opportunities to engage and enrich both ourselves and those around us.

One more note about that young man and his 20-inch box jump. I have been wondering what those adults supporting him might have been thinking in the days leading up to his successful jump. Did they think about lowering the box or consider holding his shoulders or his waist when he jumped? Tim Elmore, CEO of Growing Leaders, told Forbes.com a few years ago that there are several behaviors that adults exhibit that keep our children from becoming leaders. Among those he listed were that we do not let our children experience risk, that we rescue too quickly and rave too easily and that we often do not practice what we preach. Getting on top of that box was all the more powerful because of how that young man was—and was not—supported by his mentors.

In my reading this summer, I reconnected with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Several things he articulated some 2,000 years ago were clearly present for both that young man and his mentors, and I am holding these ideas close as a reminder for myself in the recognition that the new school year demands unrelenting learning from all of us: “Look well into thyself. There is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.” Also, “dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the starts, and see yourself running with them.”

I am very excited about the possibilities and the promise of the school year that brings us together, and I hope you are, too.