By Mr. Fredric Chandler, Head of Lower School
This year, one of “restoration,” as Headmaster Robinson named it, is a vital moment in the school’s history. How would it be for us as we moved back into our normal routines and spaces? What would re-engaging the school’s “customs and ceremonies,” as Upper School Head Dr. Schaffer has framed it, be like after the shudder and side-step of the pandemic pause?
I envisioned that we would need to be intentional about such a recommitment. Paying attention to specific, mission-aligned goals would be necessary for our boys and faculty. To that end I asked us thematically to “burnish the shield” this year, to take custody of the escutcheon, hammer out its dents, apply fresh paint to it, and polish it generously. To do this work, we would need to do three things: I asked us to strengthen our culture, to engage fully in teaching and learning, and to prioritize reading. We went after each of the three goals wonderfully.
At St. Albans our culture has always prized the exchange of ideas and how to express our responses to them. There’s an intellectual heft that is ambient to our school, and the general discourse, whether at assemblies, town halls, or forums, where substantial issues were discussed, was vibrant. We treasure community, relishing the time we spend together and seeking greater unity and care. We saw this in our return to the Little Sanctuary, to the refectory, to team sports and athletic competition, and to the stage and studios for creative (and public) artistic expression. The spiritual life of the school is another facet that gleamed again this year. An array of chapel talks led by the Rev. Leslie Chadwick and her Vestry team girded us and inspired us. We heard a panoply of messages in our “restoration” year. Highlights included reflections on powering through tough times, cherishing every moment with friends, the value of being curious, how God is present in helping shape our paths, the benefits of silence and the Sabbath, the interplay between light and shade, and the necessity of taking risks. In such ways, we tended to our culture.
Remote and hybrid teaching and learning aimed to give our teachers and boys the best experience possible, but it could only approach what we do normally every day. This year we desired to dive into teaching and learning, reestablishing, in appropriate ways, challenge and rigor in the classrooms. Percolating in classrooms and labs were lessons on poetry and prepositions; magnesium and HCL; quadratics and honors capstone projects; Commonsense and the Declaration of Independence; ROVs; geography; close readings of literary texts; and participation in the MAESA Fair, the Maker Faire, geography and spelling bees, and the Student Art Show. Complementing this collection of curricular work were other investigations in the “seams” of our lives. We spent more time than ever exploring Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) topics and lessons, especially in Forms C, B, and A. Topics ranged widely: Identifying and expressing gratitude in our lives, building and sustaining healthy friendships, making kindness contagious in our school, learning best to manage distractions, identifying anger and strategies to diffuse it, balancing time on our devices and screens to reach our learning and personal goals, understanding the adolescent brain, and managing the role of video games and its sway in our lives.
The ability to reopen the Parrott Library and library programming was essential and welcome. The number of library check-outs rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Of note is that the popularity of audiobooks, which skyrocketed during the periods of remote and hybrid learning and stayed strong this year, too. I highlight Mrs. Raegan Conlin’s energy and enthusiasm for being our guru and North Star in her librarianship, which included her spearheading a resurgent Book Clubs program. The library hosted eleven book clubs this year, and 122 boys participated in them. Reading for pleasure is vital, and any time given to reading bolsters one’s learning across the curriculum. We are lucky to have a powerful reading impulse among the boys.
Already we are at work planning for next year, distilling the needs the boys and faculty have into programming, emphases, and a new theme to guide us. To be sure, we aren’t fully back; we have more work to do. Still the shield has been repaired and loved. It is a ready tool for us, a talisman, of sorts. The shield boldly asserts itself, whether it rests above the hearth in the refectory, on the organ in the Little Sanctuary, on a lapel pin, on a tie, or on a swim cap. The work for next year is, largely, to wield it even more thoughtfully, using it to rally all the Bulldogs in any challenge we face.