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A Year in the Life

A Year in the Life
Bob Bowman

The end of the 140th year of Wardlaw+Hartridge is almost upon us, and like all schools, the last week will be filled with numerous joyous celebrations across the divisions.  The conclusion of school is always a combination of equal parts anticipation and relief.  In a little more than a week, it will all be over, and the classrooms will be empty until the start of summer school and day camps.  Teachers will start their much deserved break; students and families will begin their summer adventures; and planning and preparing for next fall begins in earnest.  We are left with photos and memories and stories and the fading echoes in the hallways.  I am reminded of a line in the song "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent - "How do we measure a year in the life?"

This is an elusory question.  On the one hand, there are metrics for our students including grades, sports, aesthetic achievements in visual and performing arts, and the ultimate aim - senior college admissions - to name a few.  These are all hugely important and students earn them through hard work, perseverance and a great deal of support from their families and the entire W+H community.  But are there other ways for students to assess their years?  What does personal success look like apart from the external evaluations that occur in classes, in athletic competitions, in artistic performances, etc...?  This is a much more challenging undertaking for our teenagers.  How do they look back on their year through a lens of personal growth?  Helping our students understand the importance of self-worth and self-esteem is as important a goal as any we can instill in our children.  

I do have a suggestion to share that was recommended to me by one of my high school teachers.  It is not original, nor earth-shattering, and in the age of sharing your best life on social media and immediate gratification, it will seem prehistoric.  It involves personal reflection and privacy; it is simple, but also quite powerful.  Mr. Phalen, my 9th grade English teacher, gave us a list of questions to answer, and encouraged us to answer them faithfully at the end of each school year.  We kept our answers to ourselves - they were for us.  He also suggested we add questions or change them to address issues that we felt were important as we matured.  I would love to tell you I did this and recently ran across it.  I did not, but how I wish I had.  For those who are avid journalers, think of this as journaling for dummies.  There is ample evidence that regular journaling has great benefits for wellness and mental health.  Asking teenagers to give it a try once a year should not be overwhelming.

While the questions certainly matter, the act of reflecting and processing is the ultimate goal.  The internet provides hundreds of possible questions, but as a big fan of StoryCorps (take a look here -, I recommend this link to access hundreds of questions students can use to start their own record of their year:  Here are a few I believe make for a good place to start.  

1.  What are you most proud of this year?

2.  Who are the most important people in your life?

3.  What surprised you most this year?

4.  How do you hope your classmates and friends view you?

5.  What do you need to work on next year?

6.  Do you have any regrets this year?

7.  Do you remember being there for someone when they most needed you?

8.  What is the one thing you most want to accomplish next year?

A great journaling app (the free version is quite robust) is Day One (available on phones and for the computer at that will work daily or once a year.  

So as the year comes to a close, regardless of whether our students embrace the concept of self-reflection, I hope you have seen the growth in your children that our W+H community has.  And as the aforementioned song says, I hope you measure this year in your life with love.