We pay a great deal of attention to our intellectual, artistic, and athletic culture at St. Albans, and that was true again this year, yet we tilted our energies in other new ways. Building a stronger community, one that both came to know each member of it better and also itself collectively more strongly, marked the Lower School year. I asked us to emphasize three themes: Reach out for help and to help; be your best self; and pay attention to the gaps, the seams in our days that are in-between and too easily forgotten. The themes I referenced at the opening assembly with the boys and faculty, throughout the year at each parent meeting, and monthly at my visits to each form’s Town Hall gatherings focused us and became the backbone for much of our thinking and programming.
Chapels this year, in the amazing hands of our new chaplain, the Rev. Leslie Chadwick, were the inspiration for so much of our collective efforts. Talks ranged widely. On any given gathering in the Little Sanctuary, one would hear ruminations on God’s plan for us, why faith compels, Bat Mitzvahs, the importance of mentors, the need to be still, the role of regret and the potency of an apology, the power of delight and wonder, the gift of sharing a load, or the story of Alban and his life before sainthood. Form II boys delivered chapel talks about recognizing the present, the gift or redemption, the value of perspective, and the energy behind music, dance, and finding one’s passion. Threaded throughout our chapel services was the idea of one’s story; each of us has a story, and in the Little Sanctuary, those distinct tales—often personal, powerful, and poignant—were shared.
Our year in diversity, equity, and inclusion work, anchored itself to that very idea: Everyone has a Story to Tell. Stand-alone chapels radiated this message and informed our work as faculty and in our conversations with the boys. As a whole school, the faculty developed greater perspectives around race through meetings with Harvard Law School’s (and St. Albans’ own) Professor Randall Kennedy ’72; a wide-ranging forum among faculty over community concerns, and two sessions with Teach 2 Learn, a diversity and inclusion group. Their facilitator, Shayna Hammond, addressed issues around achieving better comfort with difficult conversations and in recognizing micro-aggressions. As a Lower School faculty, in addition to nearly two handfuls of faculty meetings organized around readings and case studies, we heard from Dr. Sarah Hedlund, a psychology professor at George Washington University, who spoke with the faculty about engaging with boys around charged topics and language. Faculty attended the People of Color Conference and SEED workshops, and faculty and boys together partook in two diversity conferences, one at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and the other at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. Boys themselves participated in theme-pertinent library-sponsored book clubs. The Form I advisories themselves provided Book Clubs during Black History month. This substantial work culminated with Diversity Day in the spring. Mrs. Kristin Elliott, our C Form teacher and the newly (and the school’s first) appointed director of diversity, provided a chapel talk to start the day, and the central programming centered on the stories of refugees. The work in this vital area is ongoing, of course, but we started the year in earnest, and the momentum never flagged.
Our Life Skills curriculum complemented our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and it too took its cues from chapel. Life Skills classes in various Forms, in Decisions, Ethics, and Omnibus classes, and in Mrs. Dawn Berkeley’s digital citizenship sessions informed and challenged the boys to continue thinking on sundry “seam” issues, often concerns contemporary, timely, and current in the culture—both in the boys’ and the larger, surrounding one. Dr. Viola followed up with three seasonal letters home to families delineating the collective, substantial effort.
Helping us pay attention to the “gaps,” to model reaching out in all ways, and trying to be our best selves were our student leaders. We enjoyed an exceptional group of vestrymen and prefects, elected Form II leaders. Collectively this group initiated amazing events, ones designed to support and build community. Pizza-and-play gatherings with C Formers, hot cider during a December handshake line, group-initiated chapels, a coordinate Chapel with National Cathedral School for Forms I and II and seventh and eighth grades, participation at diversity conferences, and the establishment of a kindness box were some of the means of fomenting spirit among the Lower School. We even established library interns and chapel “associates” among the boys in the lower forms. We adults often took our cues from these young men. How wonderful for us.
The work this year for us, as one can see, was rich. Our community, while seeking ongoing growth in all ways, is strong. The foundation is solid. I’m proud that we—boys and adults alike—paid such concerted attention to who we are this year and who we can be. That last idea is key. What will be do with the force generated this year? How can we grow? In what ways can we even be better selves? Such growth is never easy for us, especially for adolescent boys. This is our joyful and challenging work.