Sixth Grade Students Honor 9/11

Speaking in front of the entire Middle School and offering a thoughtful reflection are regular occurrences during Wednesday’s Middle School Assembly.  What is unique about our assemblies is that the students, not the teachers, are the ones responsible for designing and leading Wednesday’s 30-minute program.

This past Wednesday was September 11th, Patriot Day and the National Day of Service and Remembrance.   Mr. Forshey and Mrs. Ragan’s sixth grade advisory were given this assembly as their own, and the students and teachers collaborated beforehand to mark this important occasion.  Sixth graders Emma Camp, Ivy Cole, Will Fink, Ruth Mulroy, Cam Baker, Brecca Stoll, Jessica Moore, and Aayush Kaushal each played a role in their advisory’s presentation.  In front of the entire Middle School, they led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence, and a reading of former First Lady Laura Bush’s letter to Middle School and Upper School students shortly after 9/11.  The students then chose to show the following clip to commemorate and celebrate the strength of spirit exhibited in New York City twelve years ago:

As I sat there, marveling at these sixth graders who were timid and unsure a few weeks ago during their first week of Middle School, I could not help but pause, admire, and reflect.  Twelve years ago, I was still near the beginning my career in education, teaching at a boarding school in Connecticut just outside of New York.  I was teaching sophomore English when my class was stopped shortly after it began, so we could assemble and learn as a school what was happening just south of us.  Needless to say, over the next few days I stayed in the dormitory with my students, many of whom had close family working near or at the World Trade Center.

Now, twelve years later, I watched as these twelve-year-olds, who entered the world so close to 9/11, promoted resilience and service to others while stepping outside their comfort zones, speaking to an entire auditorium, and showing maturity well beyond their years.  I found great hope, both as an educator and an American, watching these young men and women lead an assembly, and I felt such pride in the students and teachers at Walker whose daily interaction can be so simple, so meaningful, and so inspiring.

Middle School Marvels

Looking back on the past four months, I cannot help but marvel at all that has transpired in such a short period of time.  Thinking of the start of school in August, I remember the excitement and anxiousness of those first few weeks. Like our sixth graders, I was new to Walker’s Middle School; the sixth graders and I had to figure out the rotating schedule, maneuver through the packed hallways, and adjust to a new routine.  The teachers and returning Middle School students welcomed us at Laurel Park, and we quickly found ourselves immersed in the world of Walker.  From standardized testing to the Wax Museum, through Space Camp and the Science Fair, we have tackled new challenges and grown comfortable in the Middle School, working hard and playing hard along the way.

Moving up to the seventh and eighth grade, I can see so much more clearly the transformative learning that takes place at Walker.  From reenacting their own scenes from Romeo & Juliet to capturing their own stories through writing, from taking the lead in W.Arts productions to setting the example on the field and the court, the seventh and eighth graders increasingly take over the management of their own lives and advocate for themselves.  They are more than just comfortable and confident in the Middle School; they are self-directed, self-motivated, and selfless in giving their time and talent.  They seek out teachers for extra help on their own and engage in an academic discussion with a healthy mix of banter and gratitude.   They post their thoughts on class blogs, and, by eighth grade, they begin to take responsibility for the success of the whole class, posting homework assignments and sharing notes with their classmates.

This time of year, amidst running assemblies and collecting canned goods and toys, students still find time to work on their own 20% projects, compose holiday math songs, and decorate the classroom doors with lights and wrapping papers.  From sixth grade to eighth grade, not only do students individually take off, but their combined talents brighten the atmosphere of the Middle School.

This transformation does not take place on its own.  Without the meaningful relationships in their lives—teachers and peers at Walker, supportive parents at home—wide-eyed sixth graders would not hold onto their love of learning, develop the resilience necessary to pursue their  passions, and the desire to collaborate with others.  As the new principal, my limited time at Walker has profoundly impacted me both professionally and personally.  Even in the wake of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, I found solace, as both an educator and a young father, in the strength and resolve of the Walker family, a community I have come to consider home in an amazingly short time.   I am grateful to you and my colleagues for your support during this first half of the year.   I hope you have a happy holiday, and I wish you all the best in 2013!