11791 Letter ~ September 2011
B E R W I C K A C A D E M YS e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 1
1791 L e t t e rClass of 2012 ConvoCation
2 1791 Letter ~ September 2011
M E S S A G E F R O MG r e g S c h n e i d e r
H e a d o f S c h o o l
seeing BerwiCk anew
As always, falling asleep on the evening of Labor Day was a challenge for me once again this year. While the respite and opportunity for reflection afforded by summer is always enriching, school just isnt school without kids. Every year on the eve of the first day, I find myself whirring with the unknown possibilities of a new year. However, this particular year came with a whole new range of emotions for me, as the day after Labor Day was my first day of school as a Berwick parent as well. My wife Amy needed to escort our youngest daughter Avery to her toddler program on Berwicks first day. So I was charged with bringing Kenna to our new Pre-Kindergarten, with the able assistance of my incredible mother-in-law, Judy. Tuesday morning brought forth a weeping mist that bemoaned the passing of summer, so I was out in full rain slicker regalia before sunrise. As usual, I was walking our dog, Lucy, around the Fogg quad at about 5:15 a.m. I can tell that fall is here when these walks suddenly take place under the moonlight. Regardless of my new parent role and committed as ever to my routine and schedule, I was in my office just a few minutes before 7:00 a.m., having exercised, read the paper, and had some breakfast. In hindsight, I think I was trying to prove to myself that this day was going to be just like any other first day of school I had experienced in the past.
When I emerged from Upper School assembly at about 8:20 a.m., having welcomed our largest group of
students ever in that division, I found Judy and Kenna meandering down the path towards Burleigh Davidson, following the plan we had made the night before. Kenna was bundled in her purple bunny rabbit rain slicker, spiffy new rain boots, and a bright bumble bee umbrella that enveloped half of her body - making sure that she was fully protected from the elements on her first daily commute. Suddenly the butterflies began to flutter in this Head of Schools belly just a bit more than normal.
As she grabbed my hand with a smile and a squeal, I flashed back to the prior week. I had attended the Pre-Kindergarten/Kindergarten potluck for the first time in my dual role as parent and as Head of School. As the evening hour approached after that dinner, my girls did what they always do: they got tired and accordingly started to struggle. One of them bumped their lip on the playground, and another wiped out on a particular kind of slide. And so the meltdowns began. To be honest, I am around such events regularly in my role as Dad, that I rarely give them a second thought. But suddenly I felt myself wondering what the other parents were thinking. Was I supposed to know the way to avoid such things based on my role of Head of School? Were the other parents in the class watching to see how I would react to the tears of my children -- with empathy? With a clear sense of boundaries? With a magical problem-solving response?
Snapping back to our journey to Kennas first day at Berwick, I reminded myself that I shouldnt linger when I dropped her off for the first day.
I knew this from my former days as a Director of Admissions in New York, where I was keenly schooled in the arena of child separation from parent. To be honest, I had been witness to some rather painful scenes. Within moments of entering the classroom, Kenna settled into her cubby and was drawn to the amazing new light and shade table that Ms. Sullivan had created for the kids. I found myself easing into conversations with other parents, convincing myself that I had to do a bit of the Head of School thing as well. But I was really watching - making conversations but proving to myself that she was going to be OK. Suddenly, I looked over at Judy and came to the realization that everyone else seemed to get before me: I think I need to get out of here.
My catharsis on the page this month is nothing more than my way of expressing a new level of empathy for parents and parenting. While I have been through a million first days of schools and their surrounding issues for children, I had never had one quite like this. I had never experienced it truly as a Dad. What had always been intellectual for me at Berwick suddenly became entirely emotional: will she like it? Will she talk to the other kids? Will she do something outrageous? It is probably not until I have had the chance to sit down and write this piece that I can articulate the true beauty of children; that we need to remind ourselves never to squelch - they can never be fully controlled, and their spontaneity and unpredictability is why we love them so much. They learn more from their failures than their successes in most cases. I guess this is
31791 Letter ~ September 2011
B E R W I C K A C A D E M Y1791 Letter
also my way of saying that whatever worries or questions you might have had for your child on his or her first day of school this year -- remember that you were not alone. Some guy up in Burleigh-Davidson who supposedly has all the answers was sweating it out right along with you.
Later that day, I had a chance to catch up with Judy, who had sat in on the parent orientation with Mr. Hawes as part of the morning while I did my Head of School duties. She clearly can see this place with eyes that are far more fresh than my own at this point. She left the morning simply dazzled by the thoughtfulness and care of our Lower School as a whole. From the bottom of her heart, she made me realize just how lucky Kenna was to be a part of such a place. As a former first grade teacher herself, Judy doesnt make such comments lightly.
While I am sure that being both a parent and the Head of School will create plenty of challenges for me and for Kenna down the road, for now I am simply reveling in the fact that as her Dad - and only as her Dad - I am so glad that she is here at this particular school. People will know her and help her learn, and all of you - the families of Berwick Academy - will help her grow into an amazing person through her exposure to your values and your children. Now I just have to sit back and let the journey begin. This is supposed to be the easy part, right? You will have to wait a few years to hear my thoughts on raising teenage girls, I suppose.... but in the event you have any advice, you always know where to find me.
Welcome back to Berwick, and I hope that your year is filled with spontaneity and unforeseen adventures.
Bulldog Classic and Blue and White Weekend: One of the highlights of the year is our annual Blue and White weekend, which begins with the Bulldog Boosters Golf Classic on September 22. This event supports our athletic boosters program and typically includes parents, alumni, and other friends of the Hilltop. On Saturday, we will have a full slate of activities and games, alumni events, as well as our annual Dog Days fair for all families to enjoy. If you are new to our community, this is not an event to be missed!
Lower School Admissions Open House: This year, we are separating the Lower School component of our Admissions Open House from the other two divisions, and this new program will take place on Sunday, October 16. While it will continue to have the active flavor of our successful Exploring Nature events from prior years, it will also serve the purpose of helping people take a first look at our community. As parents, you can have tremendous impact on the future of Berwick simply by recommending people to come see the School for themselves. Given our new Pre-Kindergarten program, we know that places in Kindergarten will be scarcer than ever this year, so please encourage your friends and neighbors to consider Berwicks Lower School early this fall for next year.
Traffic Downtown: As many of our families from the Dover area are keenly aware, getting off Academy Street has been a major challenge with three schools dismissing at the same time in that area. Safety concerns have arisen, as well as frustration with waiting. To make matters worse, South Berwick
budgetary constraints eliminated all crossing and traffic support downtown at the end of the summer. Having been approached by the town, we have offered to have Dan Bresnahan, of our Buildings and Grounds team, help cross students and direct traffic in the afternoons. This serves the dual purpose of being a good neighbor to the town in need and hopefully allowing for a slightly improved departure situation for our families coming off Academy Street. Although this is a work in progress, I wanted our families to know that we continue working on improving this situation.
4 1791 Letter ~ September 2011
Peter Saliba - Upper School Director
U p p e r S c h o o l N e w s
We have made it through the opening of school, and the whirlwind has settled into a familiar routine. The first week moves along in a blur, and Convocation is the crescendo. This ceremony is always a great moment as we honor our seniors at the start of our academic year. It is one of the bookends to a students final year and throughout the ceremony I am trying to guess what this year will be like. Usually, I am surprised, which contributes to the excitement of my job!
Convocation is also a great reminder that we are a school. For those of you who read this letter regularly, you would agree that many of my topics have to do with the human relationships that make Berwick thrive. I still believe that those are the essential parts of our soul as a school, but Convocation always makes me reflect on our core value of academi