Ask a Fifth Grader!

As the Head of the Lower School, I’m often asked what makes the Lower School a special place. This is difficult to answer in just a few words; there are just so many reasons why I think this is a special place.

We have classrooms and hallways full of joyful children who love to learn. We have families that support and nurture the educational journeys of their children while encouraging them to be good people. Our teachers consider teaching a vocation, and they genuinely respect and enjoy children. We feel strongly about the importance of providing a challenging academic curriculum while supporting the social-emotional growth of all our learners. We recognize that play is an important part of learning and celebrate the growth that occurs in music, art, PE, and foreign language classes. I could go on and on, as I have the benefit of seeing so much of what transpires here on a daily basis.

But really, what do I know? I’m just an observer! For a true test of the pulse of the Lower School, we need to ask the experts. At the start of each new school year, we invite fifth graders to apply to be Lower School Ambassadors. These students complete an application and interview for these coveted positions. Those selected become the faces and voices of the Lower School students at various events on campus. Just last week they escorted our visiting authors and illustrators around the buildings and later in the year, they will speak to prospective parents during our open houses.

During this application and interview process, the ambassador candidates were asked a number of questions. Keep reading to learn more about what these fifth graders had to say about our amazing school!

The Walker School is a special place because…

  • everyone at Walker cares most about the joy that everyone shares.
  • everyone is nice and caring and empathetic and welcoming. Even if you make a mistake the kind people here will accept it and help you learn from it.
  • it makes you feel like you’re a part of one big family. It is also special because the teachers bend over backward to meet each student where they are.
  • everyone who walks in the Walker community walks out a part of it.
  • of the people. The teachers at Walker teach us so much and they commit to teach us to our fullest potential.
  • kids can learn different techniques and strategies in a fun atmosphere. Our teachers encourage us to think outside the box and want us all to have a fantastic elastic brain.
  • you can be yourself and can learn a lot of cool subjects. It is a place that is unique and our students and adults are unique.
  • the teachers genuinely care about my progress and education. I feel safe voicing my opinions. It allows me to focus on subjects I like the best and pushes me on those I don’t.
  • everyone is valued at Walker.

How are you different than before you came to The Walker School?

  • I feel more valued and I’m more confident. I am now able to say ‘I don’t understand’ and I am more outgoing and friendly. Now that I’m at Walker my love of reading has been unleashed!
  • I love to learn especially in math and science. Now I have many more friends who also love to learn.
  • I learned to a be a leader, a good friend, and a role model.
  • I am taller.

If someone is unfamiliar with Walker, what would be the most important thing you’d like them to know about your school?

  • There is something for everyone at Walker. You can do sports, you can create art, or join a club.
  • The teachers meet you where you are as a person to help you be the best you can be.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes. People will help you learn from them.
  • It’s a great place for learning.
  • Everybody matters whether old or new.
  • The Walker community is very diverse, and I am grateful for the chance to experience different cultures, religions, and traditions through the eyes of my peers.
  • The teachers are caring and enjoy teaching. They make learning interactive and fun! They challenge us to be ourselves and make us feel accepted and loved. Walker builds character and helps us take risks.
  • You would be crazy if you didn’t come to The Walker School.

I couldn’t say it better myself! Here’s to another school year filled with the wonders of Walker!

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Wisdom Begins in Wonder

IMG_8092 (1)As I reflect on our community’s first month in the Warren building, I can’t stop smiling.  Walking through these halls everyday and observing kids exploring new and different paths to learning has been inspirational.  There are so many spaces our students and teachers can use both in and outside of the classroom to find the time and space to ponder, collaborate, make thinking visible, and struggle with complex, meaningful problems – these are the spaces where transformative learning happens.  Every classroom now has space for teachers to get their students up and moving, transitioning seamlessly between hands-on activities and discussion.

IMG_8008 (1)Having 6-12 science and technology in the same physical space makes it so easy for our teachers to plan, imagine, implement, and reflect together.  I am tickled pink to watch this building’s first cohorts of our public health and engineering concentration students envision, carry out, and communicate their own novel scientific research in our TWO, not one, but TWO student research suites!  These spaces open the possibilities for new senior projects, to increase the number of students leaning into up and coming science – further strengthening their ability to stand out and succeed with confidence and competence in college and beyond.

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Here are just a few examples of the powerful, and just plain fun, learning that I’ve witnessed since the start of school:

  • 8th grade Physical Science students using every inch of the break-out spaces on the MS floor to design their film pod rockets, and THEN using the front of the building to test and analyze them;
  • 7th grade Life Science students researching on our new Chromebooks and exuberantly debating with each other what it means to be biologically alive;
  • Biology students using microscopes to observe and interpret cellular transport in real time;
  • Physics students building and testing pendulums, deeply immersed in dialogue about the patterns they see emerging from their pooled data;
  • Environmental Science students doing microbial and chemical analysis on water supplies from around campus;
  • Both public health and engineering research students engaged in vigorous peer review and support of their research proposals;
  • And seniors during their free periods pulling up comfy seating next to the collaborate whiteboard spaces to work through challenging ideas together.Image-7

I invite you to visit our new home often, to see the magic happening within.  Whether you sit in on a Life Science class creating their Mars mission packing plans, see the Biology classes track the coming flu season’s genetic evolution, listen to our Chemistry students engage in argument from evidence after a chemical reaction lab, or just spend some time in our halls, I hope that you will know and feel deeply what a difference this space has made in the lives of our students and our faculty.  Our outside now matches the passion and talent on the inside that I believe our science and tech community has always had. I can’t wait to see what comes next, but I know it’s where wonder leads.

 

Great Minds Do Not Think Alike

Walker is a school known for producing “A-ha!” moments. Whether it is Primary School imagestudents watching their “bots” carry out the pattern designed, or Lower School students discovering exactly how the digestive system works in a hands-on lesson (entitled “Making Poop” of all things!) in Mrs. Morris’ class, or Middle School students realizing they can engage in a thoughtful debate on gun control and the Second Amendment without depending on Mr. Surkan to lead the discussion, or Upper School students being able to amplify and analyze the DNA of a plant from the outdoor classroom in our new Warren Science & Technology Building, these moments and many, many more are part of what makes learning so transformational here.

I had an “A-ha!” moment this summer during the SAIS Institute for New Heads, which I have had the privilege of co-leading the last five years. The memorable moment came when one of the new heads walked into a session wearing a school t-shirt. On the front was the name of her school; on the back was a quote that captured the way I look at The Walker School. It read “Great Minds Do NOT Think Alike.” The quote stopped me in my tracks; not because of its novelty, but because it encapsulates the essence of what is so special about Walker.

Imagine a school where:

  • for five consecutive years, no two seniors have had the same academic schedule;
  • the variety of advanced courses exceeds that found in schools five times it size;
  • faculty encourage students to ask questions, to look at a problem or issue from multiple perspectives;
  • students with different learning styles and teachers with different teaching styles thrive and are embraced;
  • families of all faith perspectives, political persuasions, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds are welcomed and valued.

This is The Walker School. It is the quintessential school for the 21st century, a time marked by technological innovation, rapid change, and the need for collaborative diversity and cross-cultural competency. In essence, Walker, a school proud of its rich diversity, is an incubator for nurturing multi-talented young people who are characterized by confidence, integrity, and resilience and who possess strong criticalthinking and problem solving skills. As adults, we can lead the way by modeling civil discourse, respecting perspectives that may differ from our own, and recognizing the reality that great minds do not think alike. Now more than ever, adults and children alike must ensure that Walker is a place where each individual is known, valued, and loved. As Mister (Fred) Rogers once said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

Trailblazers, Pioneers, Mavericks and Troublemakers

When I grow up, I want to be…a troublemaker!” Of course, most parents don’t want to hear their child utter these words, but I want to ask you to consider a different perspective.

Jennie T. Anderson

Miss Jennie, pictured sitting on her father’s lap

Every fall, new members are inducted into the National Honor Society (NHS) at The Walker School.  During the induction ceremony, everyone in attendance is told that Walker’s NHS chapter is named for Jennie Tate Anderson, for whom the nearby Marietta Civic Center is named. As the speaker describes “Miss Jennie” and her accomplishments, the audience learns the four words that best describe her: “Trailblazer, Pioneer, Maverick and Troublemaker.” Most parents would enjoy watching a son or daughter blaze a new trail or be considered a pioneer in his or her field, but a maverick or troublemaker?

Think of all the people in history who were labeled “troublemakers” before they were given credit for changing the world for the better. It’s a “Who’s Who” list of epic proportions: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and Martin Luther King, just to name a few. Each of these people dreamed of a better road to freedom and each was willing to persevere against great obstacles in order to see a dream come true.

From my perspective, many so-called “troublemakers” get that reputation because they ask penetrating questions about why something is the way it is. And when the response to that question is “That’s the way it has always been,” the “troublemaker” is inspired to start a movement to end segregation or apartheid, or work tirelessly so that women have the right to vote or access to an education.  Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, once famously praised the world’s troublemakers, noting that “they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  

At Walker, we encourage our students to ask hard questions, be engaged, and look for ways to make a difference. In essence, we want Walker students and graduates to be “difference makers.”  When I asked her granddaughter, Interim Middle School Division Head Katherine Harrison, why “Miss Jennie” was referred to as a “troublemaker,” she said it was because she was always speaking up for those who would not or could not speak for themselves.  To me, that sounds more like a “difference maker” than a “troublemaker.”  In the spirit of Jennie Tate Anderson, let’s continue to raise up a new generation of “difference makers.”

The Muddy Marsh, Deodorant, and The Journey to Our Best Selves

As our bus driver Mr. Jack pulled into Walker’s parking lot on the evening of Friday, October 27, I immediately began reflecting upon the fifth grade’s trip to Driftwood Education Center and how it so perfectly encapsulated our mission here at Walker. From the wee hours when we departed on a Tuesday morning until stepping off of the bus that Friday evening, our fifth graders were thoroughly engaged in an educational opportunity that contributed to both transformative learning and the building of meaningful relationships. Those four days on the coast of Georgia connect directly to the heart of what we do.

The scientific learning that occurred on this trip will resonate with students in both the upcoming quarters and the years to follow. Over the rest of their academic careers and throughout their lives, they will continue to make connections to the concepts and ideas that were on display in the learning centers, within the forest, out on the river, and even in the muddy marsh. Because student learning is the chief priority of our school, each and every child participated in a meticulously designed program that enriched their minds in a way that classrooms are not fully equipped to do.

Tantamount only to the content-specific knowledge gained on this endeavor are the strides that these children took on the path of their development into independent and empathetic citizens. With guidance from our leaders, students built the confidence and social skills needed to work both independently and collaboratively. Their perspectives expanded in a way that encouraged responsible decisions and to consider others and the world around them. Not only did they grow as scientists, but they also blossomed as thoughtful boys and girls.

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The questions we discussed were varied and purposeful. Whether regarding the environment (How do ecosystems evolve across various terrains?), land structures (What purpose do barrier islands have in relation to the mainland?), sustainability (What are both positive and negative effects of food waste?), teamwork (How can we get our entire team across the hot lava?), responsibility (How exactly do you fold a sleeping bag?), or personal hygiene (How much deodorant is enough deodorant?), each day was spent in exploration of our world and ourselves.

We in the Lower School did some learning as well. Our teachers learned even more about their students, the way they process information, and the systems they use to connect ideas. As with any learning opportunities, we were able to identify areas for growth leading us into a great place where we can provide a challenging environment with high expectations for student achievement as they correlate with individual needs and strengths. As for me, I was able to foster deeper relationships with a wonderful group of students. The time we spent together will empower me to spend the remainder of the school year helping to mold their character, resilience, gratitude, and ethos.

All in all, I want to offer my appreciation to Dr. Holly Martin and the fifth grade team and chaperones for their coordination and execution of this event. As with any successful undertaking, the details were many and the hours were long. I implored Mrs. Jacki Gass to turn off her notifications for the weekend, and I would like to encourage you to have your child pen a quick note of thanks to these teachers for the marvels of the week. Though such is part of the Walker package per se, we never want our students to cease to find the gratitude in every moment.

In addition, thanks is due to Nurse Dana Ferguson for her unwavering commitment to the care of students and leaders alike, as well as our Middle School liaisons Mr. David Gale, Mr. Roberto Llopart, and Mr. Kevin Tilley as they laid the foundation for the bridge between our two divisions. I invite you to join me in thanking them as well.

Walker parents have given the faculty and staff here at Walker the privilege of assisting in the development of their children, and that responsibility is never lost on us. Entrusting us as you did speaks to the partnership we have forged. It is my earnest hope that, for all involved, this trip was filled with wonder, the kind that leads us to new learning, increased empathy, and a deeper understanding of our best selves. Our week at Driftwood has been but a guide map for tomorrow.

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What’s Your Story?

There are two stories that I love to share about The Walker School that I believe capture much of who we are and what we believe.  The first is about the boundless opportunities that exist for students at Walker. It goes like this:

We have purposely maintained an intimately scaled environment at Walker, because it gives a clear alternative for families who want their children to be known, involved, and inspired.  It is not unusual, for example, for students involved in theater, band or orchestra to also be involved on an athletic team.  There have been many band concerts in which student- athletes arrive straight from a game dressed in a baseball uniform.  

9B0121FE-F189-4F35-A9E9-9A47FECF190AMy favorite example of this was when McClain McKinney (pictured), was playing football at the same time he was starring in the fall musical, Little Women.  The football coach and theater director both worked out a mutually beneficial schedule for McClain. On the Friday night that the play was in production and the football team was also playing, the play was moved from an 8pm to 6:30pm start.  DCDB8CB1-C3DD-4DD2-9B3E-60341262B46AMcClain arrived at the football game versus archrival Mt. Paran at halftime and played the entire second half, helping Walker secure a key win during a region championship season.  After the game, I remember walking up to McClain on the field to congratulate him and realizing, when he took his helmet off, that he still had his stage makeup on – only at Walker!

Don’t take my word for it; watch the video below to listen to McClain discuss his diverse Walker experience in his own words:

 

The second story speaks to the reason why faculty are drawn to teach at Walker, a school where teachers are revered and can teach in an environment where learning is the chief priority of the school.  I often share this story with families who are weighing their public or private school options:

Several years ago, I was interviewing a prospective faculty member who taught history at a local public school.  When I asked her to describe her teaching load, she said she had six classes with 35 students in each class – a total teaching load of 215 students.  I was flabbergasted! When I asked her what type of assessments she gave her students, she acknowledged that she could only give multiple choice assessments that could be graded through a machine via Scantron.  As a history teacher, she said one of the main reasons she wanted to teach in a smaller environment like Walker was that she wanted get to know her students better and to teach critical thinking and writing skills to prepare them for life beyond high school.  This teacher is beginning her fourth year at Walker, where she has five classes with an average class size of 15 students, and is now also a proud Walker parent!

Perhaps you have a favorite story you would like to share about your experience at The Walker School.  I encourage you to put it down in writing and share it with me!   I would love to read it and share with prospective families.  

Go Against the Flow

One of the benefits of the summer pace at The Walker School is the opportunity to spend time planning and working ahead. This summer, I worked on titles for several blogs I plan to write this year.  This blog, written in July, speaks to the kind of culture we are working to cultivate at Walker. In light of this past weekend’s disturbing events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this message of who we are and what we believe is all the more pertinent. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.

My wife used to have a sweatshirt with an artist’s rendering of a fish going “against the flow” as other fish were swimming in the opposite direction. I often think about the image and how the symbolism represents the way I see The Walker School. In a sea often filled with enormous and overcrowded public schools or exclusive religious schools with admission policies that forbid religious diversity, The Walker School’s educational philosophy runs counter. As Cobb County’s only non-sectarian, Primary through Grade 12 independent school, Walker seeks to be a school where families of all races, religions, and backgrounds are welcomed, embraced, and treasured in an environment that is intimately scaled and where learning is the chief priority.  

Such an approach to education is admirable. President Ronald Reagan agreed when he said, “America is a melting pot, and education has been a mainspring for our democracy and freedom, a means of providing gifts of knowledge and opportunity to all citizens, no matter how humble their background, so they could climb higher, help build the American dream, and leave a better life for those who follow.” Such an approach is also challenging. In a political and social environment that is increasingly polarized, it is difficult to foster a climate where there is civil disagreement characterized by mutual respect and active listening, and where alternative perspectives are valued and thoughtfully considered. Difficult, yes; but incredibly important.

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Walker alum Josh Zuckerman (right), pictured with Princeton classmate Josh Freeman

Today’s students must be prepared to live in an increasingly diverse world, work with people from many other backgrounds and cultures, and consider other perspectives as they respectfully share their own. Perhaps at no time in our history has such an approach to education been so important. We find a perfect example of this in Walker alum, Josh Zuckerman, pictured at right, who was profiled in the New York Times for his efforts to promote respectful dialogue on the Princeton University campus. When asked for his advice to current Walker students in a recent alumni video profile, Josh urged students to listen to one another.

Ultimately, The Walker School seeks to be a place where people with different backgrounds learn from each other; where our diversity makes us stronger; where, politically speaking, liberals, moderates and conservatives thrive. Our differences and approach to diversity help us create empathetic, culturally competent students who become leaders and well-functioning members of a multi-faceted world. Three of our school’s Core Values form the foundation of this educational approach. We believe that the school:

  • plays an important role in teaching students to value themselves and others.
  • should provide the foundation and framework for giving students the skills and the flexibility that are necessary to thrive in a changing world.
  • should encourage students, faculty, and parents to develop a perspective that embraces diversity and enhances global awareness.

For too many of our nation’s students, this exposure doesn’t happen until college or after, when students have left home. Because The Walker School fosters such a positive but academically challenging learning environment for students still living at home, parents are a vital component in the education process and can give feedback on all that their children learn. It may make for interesting dinner table discussions or even disagreements; but it represents the best in the parent-school partnership as we collaborate to give our children the confidence and experience to navigate complex, difficult, or challenging waters.

This is the climate we strive to create at The Walker School.