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A Mindful Moment from the Middle

Welcome to A Mindful Moment from the Middle, a blog featuring interesting educational commentary, by Jennifer Rose, Head of Middle School.  

Middle School Embracing Joyful Connection, Tradition
Jennifer Rose

As I was preparing for this year, my second as Head of Middle School at Wardlaw+Hartridge, I wanted to have an overarching theme for our division in approaching our daily work.  After much reflection, I settled on the themes of Joy, Community, and Connection.  With that in mind, I spent the summer doing research, collaborating with colleagues, and reading and listening to books on happiness, climate activism, adolescent development, and the power of regret.  With a clear focus and renewed energy, I spent the summer revamping the advisory curriculum at each grade level, planning community service events, and setting up the launch of a House system in the Middle School. To support that new initiative, Mr. Nicholls, our Health and PE teacher, suggested the book “Strength from Our Roots” to help me with some school history. 

What is a House system?  Traditionally, Houses are groups of students who are “sorted” into a smaller community within a school.  The Wardlaw+Hartridge Middle School House system incorporates our school’s historical character in three Houses: Leal, Scribner, and Hayward.  From the book “Strength from Our Roots,” I learned that before it was The Hartridge School, in the early 1880s, Miss Julia Scribner, along with a friend, Miss Newton, started the Misses Scribner and Newton’s School for young ladies. In 1903, it became The Hartridge School after name changes and changes in Heads of School.  Similarly, before Wardlaw Country Day School existed there was Mr. Leal’s School, founded in 1882. In 1911, Mr. Charles Wardlaw joined the school and subsequently purchased the interest in the school, renaming it the Wardlaw Country Day School. Finally, the third root of our historical tree is Misses Hayward’s English and French School, founded in 1869, which soon became The Vail-Deane School in 1886.  In 1976, The Hartridge School and the Wardlaw Country Day schools merged, and in 1991, The Vail-Deane School became part of Wardlaw-Hartridge. 

Our House system is new, it is a cultural shift, it is forward-looking, and simultaneously, we are carrying on the history of our school.  We are building new traditions and engaging with our community by honoring our past, designing our present, and creating a new future.    Houses include students in grades six, seven, and eight who work together as they live our mission of a familial sense of community through friendly competition, collaboration, and displays of respect, responsibility, and community spirit.

Our Middle School students are taking ownership and creating a legacy, so when they are alumni of Wardlaw+Hartridge, they can also say they are members of Leal or Scribner or Hayward House, giving a quiet nod to our roots, our foundation, and our history.  This year we are not only embracing but also creating joy, community, and connection, and we are all excited to build traditions and create history for the next chapter, the next bloom of the Wardlaw+Hartridge story.  We are “Three Houses, One Family.”

And Away We Go
Jennifer Rose

As I write this, it is National Poetry Month, members of our community are honoring the month of Ramadan, others are preparing for Easter or Passover, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom all around us.  We are preparing for a myriad of events in the Middle School in arts, sports, and academics. Spring is indeed in the air.  

Typically, all over the country, at this time of year, class trips head out.  I remember my middle school class trips with so much fondness. For the past two years, those signature pieces of our program have been on a hiatus; however, with cautious optimism, we planned. In the fall, we were able to take all of our middle schoolers out on one day trips to local outdoor education centers: Duke Farms with the sixth grade, Jockey Hollow with the seventh grade and Grounds for Sculpture with the eighth grade. I hoped that we would be able to return to our overnight trips, and with that hope, we planned.

Travel allows us to see the world from a new lens, a new perspective.  It offers us a window into a different community and gives us the opportunity to learn and grow.  It reminds me of the quote by author Mary Anne Radmacher: “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”  Travel is an open door to so many new experiences.  Many of our students have not spent the night away from home, and most have not had the chance to engage in a school sponsored overnight trip.  When I interviewed for this position, the school trips were a part of the school experience that the student panel spoke about the most.  Although we are not going to the other side of the world, we are leaving our own backyards.

I am so excited, and still cautiously optimistic that next week, all of our Middle School students will head out to explore, question, engage their curiosity, and learn.  Our sixth graders will explore environmental education, learn more about cooperation, and have the chance to challenge themselves.  Frost Valley designs programs that, “develop confident, socially responsible, actively engaged life-long learners.”  Our seventh grade will be in Philadelphia, PA.  This change from prior trips to Williamsburg, gives our seventh graders more time to explore history while adding in experiences in art, science, and civics.  Finally, the eighth grade will return to Washington, D.C. and spend their time in the seat of our government with a tour that allows them to dive deeply into learning more about who we are as a nation.  

These trips offer students time to engage in a collective experience that they can reflect upon, a time to recall fondly when they think about their middle school years.  I look forward to hearing their stories, sharing in their joy, and curating experiences that they will remember. Maybe these trips will spark an interest in learning more about the places they’ve been or a curiosity to travel to places unknown. 

As it is National Poetry Month, it seems fitting to close with a poem.

Travel by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

The railroad track is miles away, 
    And the day is loud with voices speaking, 
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day 
    But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn't a train goes by, 
    Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming, 
But I see its cinders red on the sky, 
    And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make, 
    And better friends I'll not be knowing; 
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take, 
    No matter where it's going.

Inspiring Our Pioneering Thinkers
Jennifer Rose

When I accepted the position as Head of the Middle School at Wardlaw+Hartridge, I recalled the time when I was joining the International School at SHAPE in Belgium as a middle school student, remembering that there are traditions to be honored and opportunities for growth.  As a school that values global interconnectedness, in fact it is part of our mission, Wardlaw+Hartridge is positioned in a unique way to other independent schools in our area.  Our new partnership with Global Online Academy (GOA) is an opportunity for our students to truly collaborate and connect with students from all over the world, learn from a diverse group of educators, and see through a variety of cultural lenses.

Students at Wardlaw+Hartridge have swung the doors wide open to a myriad of course offerings, too many to name here, yet a few come to mind from discussions with some of our high schoolers: Climate Change and Global Inequality, Cyber Security, Architecture, Psychology, and Bioethics. Each of these courses speaks to our mission of rigorous inquiry and offers the learner a variety of cultural perspectives.  How is design a function of geography when studying architecture?  How does GDP play a role in a country’s push for sustainable energy practices?  Where does personal privacy end in a digital world and public safety begin?  These are questions that have cultural lenses through which our students can learn from a cohort of global citizens. 

Traditionally, a four-year high school preparatory program includes general education courses, honors courses, and AP courses.  Students follow a path of study that is largely predetermined. 

Our ability to offer courses through GOA, courses that allow students to explore passions, experience different cultural perspectives, and engage in meaningful cross-disciplinary dialogue, opens the doors for our students to pursue passions that may become new pathways during their years in College and University settings.  Rick Shaw, Dean of Stanford Undergraduate Admissions, writes,  “When a student chooses to take a course like what GOA offers they’re taking advantage of an incredible resource their school has made available to them. They’ve demonstrated that when they get to college they will avail themselves of the great resources – the courses, professors, programs, activities, and facilities available to them, and that they will pursue their passions in myriad ways.”

We, as a community, pride ourselves on the fact that our students achieve at a high level and that they are competitive in the collegiate field, and we want to provide them avenues for curiosity, diversity of thought and perspective, and the opportunities that a truly global education can bring. In our Middle School, students will have the opportunity to take Flex Courses designed by GOA that tie into our curricular studies.  As our 8th grade students begin research for their Capstone, they will be enrolled in the course, “Designing Excellent Questions,”  truly engaging with their passion project to research and study a personally relevant essential question.  

Curiosity, academic challenge, rigorous inquiry, support for individual excellence, diversity, and a familial sense of community.  With this new partnership, we at Wardlaw+Hartridge can continue to lead the way for all of our Pioneering Thinkers to pursue their passions.

Rebuilding with Resilience
Jennifer Rose

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

― Confucius

Grit, growth mindset, persistence, resilience.  We may be tired of hearing those adjectives this year, especially as we face more challenges in our daily lives; however, we still can embrace them.  Now, more than ever, we are all being asked to be a little more patient, dig a little deeper, and try a little harder.  Students are re-learning how to “do school.”  They are learning to navigate new and changing friendships and new ways of sharing space.  The more controlled world they were experiencing during the last school year has given way to a less structured, yet still somewhat confined one.  There are indeed more choices, and seemingly less freedom of choice. 

A recent article in the New York Times titled, “Why Kids May be Melting Down at School,” interviewed both students and teachers, and found that it seems that across the board, students and teachers are struggling this year, which was unexpected given the loosening up of restrictions.  All of our constituents, parents, students, faculty and staff may have expected everything to be back to “normal,” meaning how school felt in the fall of 2019, but that isn’t the case right now, and many of us are just wondering what happened, and what we should do. 

Something concrete that we all can do is empower students to readjust, make mistakes and learn from those teachable moments.  This is also where, as parents, we can take a back seat, which can seem frightening after a year and a half of doing everything we can to keep our kids safe.  According to WebMD, “letting them [our children] fail and experience disappointment can be a real challenge. But failure is important. And when a child isn’t allowed to experience disappointment and failure, they aren’t able to develop the necessary skills to live their own life. They need to learn how to pick themselves up after failure and find another way to succeed.”

Navigating these challenges allows students to develop critical skills in stress management, healthy decision making, ethics, and communication.  As educators, our goal is to help students develop and practice those resilience and character skills in a nurturing and supportive environment, treating mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning.  Our Middle School Advisory program supports skill development in the areas of ethics, resilience, and time management where those daily challenges allow students to learn how to communicate and problem solve more independently.

We want to hold our students capable of being successful and of being able to make appropriate choices. We want them to learn that not everything will go the way they want, and how to deal with challenges and disappointment.  Additionally, we want to continue to instill a growth mindset not only for academic success but also personal growth.  We have the opportunity to take a mindful approach to developing and practicing resilience.  Let’s continue to rebuild together, resilient each and every day.

Reflections and Intentions
Jennifer Rose

"Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.” ~ 14th Dalai Lama

This time of year is always a time to reframe, set intentions and reset.  As an educator, following the rhythms of the school year allows for that fresh start each school year in a natural way.  I remember being young and getting excited about back-to-school shopping, and the smell of the pencils and notebooks on the shelves at the store.  I still enjoy that visceral feeling, which for me is a signal that something good is about to start.  It’s also fortunate that as a member of the Jewish community, often at the same time, I’m reflecting on my past year and setting intentions for the new one during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Holy Days.  

There have been years where my reflections and intentions were focused on my family and our goals for our well-being and interpersonal relationships.  Some years have been focused on  community service and others about very individual growth.  This year, I have been reflecting on the Power of And, as I mentioned in my welcome letter in the beginning of the summer.

I feel that there is an opportunity to use the Power of And in sustaining a safe and welcoming community of belonging.  I have been working with students for many years on setting appropriate boundaries so that everyone in a community feels safe and welcome each day they walk through our doors.  This is an opportunity for  positive, “Yes, and” thinking.  Yes, we create boundaries, and boundaries can open up an environment to cultivate growth and learning.

Brené Brown writes that “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”  I imagine that this is true of boundaries as well, when we are able to intentionally set reasonable and clear boundaries, we are being clear about what we feel is important to our safety and well-being and the safety and well-being of our community members.  Articulating our boundaries in an honest and compassionate manner is equally as important for clarity, and accepting boundaries is vital.  We’ve heard the phrase “Be Kind,” I’d like to amend that to, “Be Clear AND Be Kind.”