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.”

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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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