Oh, The Places They’ll Go!

She looked perplexed.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I am so sad that Bob Murphy and Kitty Drew are retiring; that Ira Dawson is leaving to be the principal of Atlanta Youth Academy; and when I look at Brad Brown, I start crying,” she shared.

“I know just how you feel.  I am going to miss them terribly,” I replied.

As I reflected on this brief conversation with a Walker faculty member, it was retiring Upper School Principal Bob Murphy, appropriately, who provided the most poignant observation:

“Walker excels at preparing people for the next level, the next opportunity.  That is, in fact, what we do best.  We prepare our students to flourish when they leave us; interestingly, we do that with adults as well.”

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The Class of 2015

As the Class of 2016 prepares to graduate this week, there is no more public example of Bob’s comment.  Our Promise Statement captures this major transition so well:

At the culmination of this carefully guided, increasingly independent journey, Walker graduates have evolved from curious young learners into critically thinking, individually expressive, confidently collaborative, and admirably honest young adults thoroughly prepared for the intellectual and relational challenges of college and life.

The fact that we excel at preparing young people for the next step is one of the two main reasons why families invest in a Walker education. The other is the quality of our faculty and staff. Walker has always been a place characterized by incredibly talented faculty and staff. I often comment that the most important responsibility I have as Head of School is to hire great people and let them soar as professionals.  Ironically, that speaks to the heart of why I find myself sad at this time of every year. When we hire great people like Sherry Walker-Taylor, Sue Rittenberg or Susie Schlich, they may end up staying at Walker until they retire; but in other cases, talented professionals will have opportunities to go on to great things somewhere else…just like our graduates. Regardless, it is hard to let go.

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Sherry Walker-Taylor, Sue Rittenberg, Bob Murphy, Kitty Drew, and Susie Schlich

As we celebrate both the Class of 2016 and departing faculty and staff for their amazing contributions to our school community, we do so with a mixture of joy and sadness. Be encouraged by yet another insightful word of wisdom from Bob Murphy: “If I have to leave somewhere, this is a fabulous place from which to be leaving.”

The Lower School Unveils Honor Code

How do elementary aged student understand the concept of honor?  This intangible word may be difficult even for adults to comprehend and practice on a daily basis, so how do we walk alongside our students and children, teaching and guiding them to lead a life of honor?

unnamedOn Friday, April 29th, during the assembly, the Lower School Student Council delivered an announcement to the student body regarding the new Lower School Honor Code. The honor statements were developed by a teacher-led committee in hopes to align with the Middle/Upper School honor expectations, and to also give our younger students guide of how to make personal decisions of honor. The Lower School Honor Code presents these four important statements:

  1. Honesty: I will tell the truth (even when it is hard).
  2. Respect: I will respect myself, others, and all things around me.
  3. My ideas, words, and work will be my own.
  4. I will encourage others to be honest, respectful, and to do their own work.

Before the honor code was unveiled in the assembly, the Lower School students and faculty heard from two amazing students: Ally Carey, a seventh grader, and Barrett Kulik, a senior who is currently serving as student body president, offered their thoughts about what honor means to them. These presentations were powerful, bringing faculty to tears and engaging the student body in such a way that one could hear a pin drop in the often noisy Gatti Hall.

20160429_081511Barrett spoke about how our actions deliver the message of honor to others – classmates, teachers, parents, our community. When Barrett’s father asks him to mow the grass, he does so out of honor. When he completes an assignment for his teachers, he does so out of honor. Barrett reminded our students/teachers about how our behavior and our words are the truest representations of honor.

Ally spoke about honor, saying to our student/faculty body:

“What is honor?  To me, honor is many things.  It is an abstract word, associated with truth, integrity, morals, self-esteem, and living a life that values right from wrong….

20160429_081305Don’t let the temptation of winning a game, being more popular or getting a 100% on a test get in the way of your honor.  While it is OK to win the game, be popular, or get a 100% on the test, it should not compromise your honorability.  When someone falls, give them a hand.  When someone feels less than popular, give them your friendship.  When someone is struggling, give them your efforts. Although it may be hard at times, do what’s right, do the best you can, and mold yourself into the kind of person you want to be.”

Wow.

As Lower School Counselor, it is MY honor to be surrounded by students with such integrity, kindness, leadership, and truth. As we unveiled these guidelines for our student body, I continued to be amazed by the level of honor that our students already embody, and the actions of honor that are already displayed inside our school walls on a daily basis. Thank you, parents, for sharing your amazing children with Walker, as we are privileged each day to teach and guide these growing people to be honorable adults.

Lessons in Character: Self-Control and Resilience

Do we ever stop growing, in terms of character?  Over the last three weeks, I have been reminded that character development is a lifelong pursuit.

mastersIt has been said that “sports reveals character.” Certainly this was true at this year’s Masters Tournament.  I was privileged to be invited to attend the tournament this year.  It was a very windy Saturday, and I felt for the players as they tried to battle both a challenging course and extremely windy conditions. As I stood near the 7th green, it was hard to watch Justin Thomas’ ten-foot par putt get blown forty feet away from the hole. Billy Horschel had the worst luck, as the ball he marked on the 15th green proceeded to get blown into the water as he watched in disbelief (click here to watch). Of course, many of us ached for Jordan Spieth as he hit two balls into Rae’s Creek on Sunday.  Driving home, I reflected on each golfer’s reaction to the hardship.  None threw a club, cursed out loud, or yelled at their caddie. While each was understandably distraught, each maintained his composure, persevered, and played on.

This week at Walker, two student-athletes exhibited self-control and resilience in a way that made me exceedingly proud.  The varsity girls tennis team, competing for the region katiechampionship, was locked in a very competitive battle with St. Francis.  Needing to win three of the five matches, Walker was leading 2-1, with senior Katie Busch (left) and junior Alice Jiang (below) each trying to capture that final victory for the team.  Unfortunately, both Wolverines were battling physical hurdles. Katie’s right leg was wrapped because of a strained quad; Alice was in severe pain dealing with a blister that covered the length of her left foot.  Both girls had split the first two sets with their opponent and needed to persevere to win the final set.  Wincing often and moving slowly, Katie, urged on by lots of Wolverine fans and heralice teammates, managed to take an early lead in the final set.  Alice, having just lost the second set 6-1, gathered herself and likewise jumped out to an early lead. As I raced back and forth to watch each match, I was inspired by Katie’s and Alice’s determination, resilience, and stamina.  Unfortunately, I had to leave the match before its conclusion to participate in Senior Day activities for the soccer team.  Not long after those activities concluded, I saw Katie headed for the soccer game carrying the region championship trophy (pictured with Holland Martin).  While I was certainly elated that the team FullSizeRender (33)had won, I was even more impressed with the character Katie and Alice had displayed in the midst of a challenging situation.

Life has a way of mixing hardship and joy that is often unpredictable.  As parents and educators, we have an important responsibility to teach our children/students this truth from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  Facing hardship with self-discipline, resilience and courage will enable each of us to find long-term success.

Walker’s Core Strengths: Nurturing Atmosphere

This is truly my favorite part of the year …the warmth, kindness, excitement, and generosity fills the air and nurtures my spirit. It’s the time of the year where somewhere among the hustle and bustle, we get to take a breath and remember all that is truly important – our people.

At Walker, we often hear our school described as a place with a nurturing environment, and as Lower School Counselor, each day I see the work that happens so that our students are nurtured to grow and evolve into the version of their best selves. I watch the hands-on instruction; I watch the daily hugs, high-fives, and occasional tear-wiping from our teachers; I witness the behinds the scenes genuine LOVE, sweat, and tears of our faculty; and I hear the constant encouragement, reassurance, and inspiration specified for each and every student. These actions are heartfelt, as these precious students are “our people.”

Yet, in order to help our students transform into productive and positive citizens of the world, we have to show them what it is like to be nurtured, and also how to nurture others – how to step aside and put others’ needs as a priority. On Friday, December 18th, the Lower School celebrates its second annual Day of Giving, and we are continuing a tradition with our students in serving others. Each grade level chooses a way to give, whether it is making sure homeless animals have homemade treats to eat or hospitalized children have warm blankets, or sharing the love of reading with nearby preschool children, we must show our little ones what it means to nurture others, and by doing so, we in turn nurture them. Those in need of our service are “our people” too.

Yes, Walker provides an amazing place where are students are known, nurtured, and cared for in every way, and what I love about Walker is the fact that we also give our kids the opportunity to nurture others. May you all have a fabulous winter break and take a moment to nurture your people – those who may be unknown to you and those who you hold most dear.

Walker: It Just Feels Different

Molly M. is a new fifth grader in the Lower School at The Walker School. She is a guest blogger and a Lower School expert author for our Discovering Walker Wonders blog series. She writes about how Walker just…feels different: 

mollymComing to a new school was hard for me. I had lots of friends. But coming to Walker was different.  When I came, everyone I met was so nice and helped me with what ever it was I needed. The teachers were always so welcoming; it was like I knew them all my life.

Everyone I met knew I was new, but it didn’t matter to them. To them, I was the same as all their other friends they had before I came. Walker is one of the best schools I will ever go to.

Opportunities Abound – For Students and Adults

Gustavo W. is a new fifth grader in the Lower School at The Walker School. He is a guest blogger and a Lower School expert author for our Discovering Walker Wonders blog series. He writes about the opportunities that abound at Walker – for students and adults! 

gustavoI am a new student at Walker. I am loving Walker so far. The environment overall is stupendous and everyone is amazing! The teachers and my friends have been super kind. The campus has been outstanding since I know kids of all grade levels. Another quick thing is that the lockers are pretty cool, I haven’t used lockers in 5 years!  I signed up for football, so I met friends before school even started!!

So far, I have met so many nice people and I continue to meet nice people. I am not the only new student at Walker in fifth grade, but I think everyone has adapted very well. One thing I notice is that everyone is trying to do more than one thing: for example my football coach Coach Farrington helps with football, wrestling, and in the cafeteria. I think everyone at Walker is very determined to complete a task.

Walker: A Place to Perform

Madeline M. is a new seventh grader in the Middle School at The Walker School. She is a guest blogger and our Middle School expert author for our Discovering Walker Wonders blog series. She writes about her love of performing and the opportunities that abound at Walker:

performingLast weekend, I was inspired by the actors, singers, dancers, and musicians in The Addams Family Musical. I love to perform! Walker gave me several opportunities to perform this fall. I was a tomboy, girly teenager, and professional intern in the Middle school comedy in September. I can’t wait to perform in an Upper School musical!

I also performed in the fall orchestra concert. Did I mention that I love to perform? I play violin for Mrs. Kyna Elliott.

She inspires me every day to improve my technique and to perform with my violin.

Mrs. Elliot played along with the student orchestra pit during The Addams Family Musical. The student musicians were amazing, including a violinist from Camerata. At the fall concert, Camerata – an Upper School Quartet – was breath-taking to hear and inspiring to watch the movement of their bows.

I also perform in the classroom at Walker. Last week, I performed a thirty-minute presentation teaching my Spanish class about dance in the Spanish culture. Whether in Life Science, Early American History, or English, I perform as a writer every week and see my progress in expression.

I am grateful for the inspiration I have received at The Walker School! Did I mention I had a performance coming up? Come hear the Middle School orchestras, bands, and choruses on December 8th for our Holiday Concert.