June HEADlines

A seventh grader told me Thursday that he couldn’t believe how fast the year has gone by. I don’t know if there is any connection to the warning, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” but I have long found that the rear view mirror has a way of collapsing time. This will feel particularly true for our pre-K, fifth and eighth grade parents.

The Fam Jam events for our Preschools are fun ways to celebrate the end of the formal curriculum, though many of our children will stay with us for the summer. It is interesting to think about the parents in this process of year end celebrations. We are so much more invested in and part of the daily lives of our preschool children, even as this milestone is early on in their lives. As our children grow, they become increasingly independent of us. That is supposed to happen, yet even as we are less directly connected to their lives, the ceremonies seem to become more momentous. Perhaps that is the reason. We find ourselves recognizing that we are ever closer to our children being completely on their own.

The Fifth Grade Moving Up Ceremony did not originate as a major culminating event but rather as an internal celebration among the Lower School of the leaders of their division. It started as an expanded Common Time, yet how could we possibly prevent parents from attending?! The kindergarten buddies and the fourth grade song, the captains’ reflections and the teachers’ and Ms. Lent’s thoughts all create a beautiful tapestry. Ms. Lent’s slide show adds to the visual tapestry. Having the Upper School students greet the fifth graders as they exit the Stone Family Dining Hall and literally “move up” the steps is a wonderful way to symbolize the growth that these students have made – and how that will continue in exciting ways in the next three years.

Then next Wednesday we get to celebrate our graduating eighth graders. This is particularly poignant because, unlike for most of the fifth graders, we will not remain as much a part of our graduates’ lives going forward, even as we have partnered with their parents in support of these students in such meaningful ways to this point.

For those who have not attended a graduation, each eighth grader has a speaking role, not surprising given our emphasis on public speaking and presentation skills. They describe their reflections of their years at Applewild. They have chosen a song that often the whole class  sings and one for the instrumentalists to play, again not surprising given our emphasis on student choice and on the arts as a form of expression. Often there are eighth graders playing their first ever solos in this song. There will be an art installation of eighth grade work (recently the theme has been to connect a bicycle with something biographical) in the lobby. The “Graduation Band,” made up of sixth and seventh graders (NEXT year’s Symphonic Band!) performs, including the absolute best recessional that I have experienced anywhere (“Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”).

As a parent commented in a questionnaire response back in February:

Over our years at Applewild we came to appreciate how the program and the faculty carefully bring students along, teaching them to take ownership of their learning, their time management skills and their experiences with art and athletics. This was a careful, gradual process which began as early as Kindergarten and continued right through the day of graduation from 8th Grade [my italics].

I appreciate that recognition that we are intentional and focused on healthy growth – and affirming each of our students – up through the graduation ceremony. We actually continue to do that with our alumni!  

Of course, these events bring home “the power of moments” that the Heath brothers discuss. The Sixth Grade Shakespeare play and Famous Artists installation at the Fitchburg Art Museum are two such moments, as is the Second Grade’s now LIVING (!) Wax Museum and the Fourth Grade Heritage Festival. When we pause to reflect, when we come together in community to celebrate student accomplishment, when we choose a special venue, when we invite others to join us – all of this elevates the experience. That enhances the learning.

The faculty will be continuing its work on metacognition over the summer and into the fall. We have begun working with Steven Levy, a former National Teacher of the Year as a fourth grade teacher, whose areas of expertise are project-based learning, assessment, and reflection. I am sure that we will develop more of these powerful moments as we continue to evolve as educators and as a school. What we know is that our Core Values, our Core Competencies, our emphasis on knowing and affirming each student, our focus on the liberal arts and on getting outside, our belief that demanding work can be fun – these are abiding principals that will continue to guide our work.

Enjoy taking a few “moments” to look with wonder at your children’s growth and promise. That is what we are privileged to share – touching the future. Have a wonderful summer!

Jennifer Raterman