The Head's Vantage
Welcome to The Head's Vantage - a blog examining important educational topics by Andrew Webster, Head of School.
Exploring Our Mission
In my last post, I introduced our new Strategic Plan and indicated I would write about different aspects of the plan over the coming weeks. I will begin with the mission statement. The crux of the statement remains the same as it has been for over a decade, with one additional highlight.
About this time in 2006 at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School, we committed ourselves to a mission that centered on the phrase “lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection.” With a student body that emanates from roots spread worldwide, we set a high priority on global engagement, looking to explore and understand cultures, examine thorny international issues, and build a sense of stewardship toward the world.
Much of the learning related to this theme continues to take place in classrooms, but we have developed many ways to get beyond our walls and even our borders to provide valuable face-to-face learning. We currently have a group of over 20 students and several teacher/chaperones in El Paso for a border immersion program. Our students will see first-hand conditions and processes that are often misportrayed in a range of media, and they will interact with people who have been working for years on immigration issues in a variety of ways. In March, we will send another group to China, more specifically to Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. In Chengdu, students will stay with Chinese families and visit our sister school, the Shishi High School, originally built in 143-141 BC, during the Han dynasty.
Those trips will bring stories for another day. In the last two years, through the efforts of our Director of the Global Scholars Program, we have developed two successful local programs that build empathy and understanding locally. We have a large number of Upper School students who tutor refugee children in those families’ homes through our partnership with Interfaith RISE. Another group provides afterschool activities and tutoring in two Plainfield elementary schools and STEM enrichment activities in a third Plainfield school. The looks in the eyes of the kids our students serve tells you everything you need to know about the value of the programs.
For our students, the sense of purpose that is built in these experiences is of equal value, and I could not be prouder of our students’ efforts. Recently, two of our students found an opportunity to go well beyond the ordinary tasks of tutoring as the father of the family they were serving lost his job and was at risk of losing their housing. Through one of their parents, they were able to find him a job that met his needs and avoided this potential crisis. Not everyone gets to play the hero while still in high school, and these two have not sought acclaim but they’ve done something special. They’ve earned the right to wear the cape, as have their peers in the programs in many other ways.
In a few speeches to students over the last few years, I have quoted Arthur Ashe as advising us to “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” That’s a pretty good mission statement for our service learning programs, which are one vital expression of our school mission.
The one area of change to highlight in our mission statement is the inclusion of the notion of “rigorous inquiry.” Academic excellence is at the core of who we are, but as a phrase it is too broad to capture our distinctive approach. In past generations, the notion of rigor always referred to acquiring more answers and at a faster pace. In this century, we have shifted that notion to the idea of learning to ask series of probing questions, not merely acquiring answers. We want students to learn how knowledge is constructed and to acquire skills that can be applied across multiple disciplines. There are areas of academic content that our students still must learn, but committing them to memory is not the end, but rather a precursor to higher level exploration of ideas. Our graduates need to move forward with a strong basis of knowledge but also with the confidence and mental discipline to ask questions that lead to further knowledge, and then to further questions. In that way, they will generate new knowledge for themselves and for the world.
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