Learning Through Leadership
I love working in a multi-divisional school because of the opportunities for students to create community across age groups. One of the most exciting examples I have seen of a cross-divisional partnership has been the Lower School Buddy Program. This idea—born about two years ago out of collaborative conversations between MS students and administrators—allows 7th and 8th grade students the chance to work in a sustained and personal way with PK and K students in the Lower School. Our middle schoolers wanted to find a way to give back and share their knowledge with younger students.
Now in its second year, the Lower School Buddy Program provides middle schoolers with real-life mentorship experience, allowing them to develop as learners and leaders. Their young buddies have a chance to get to know the “big kids” in the school and develop a meaningful relationship with their new friends. Students can be seen leading ice-breakers, doing craft activities, reading books, and participating in indoor and outdoor activities with their buddies. It’s no wonder the PK and K students look forward to the special day, once a rotation, when their buddies come to visit.
Cultivating Lifelong Learners
Perhaps you have wondered what happens when the school is closed for faculty/staff in-service days. These are rare but wonderful moments for our staff to gather as a community to learn. Although there is a different focus for each of these professional development days, they are always aimed at how we as a community of adults can better support and serve our students. This past week, much of our time together was dedicated to diversity and inclusion. In collaborative teams, we developed timelines of our life experiences, noting critical moments when certain aspects of our identities made us deeply aware of bias, injustice, or privilege. Our dedicated team of diversity leaders led us through the exercise and facilitated conversations about how these personal experiences may influence our work with students. We also had the chance to hear from student diversity leaders who shared their perspectives on how MFS can continue to grow as a diverse and inclusive community.
Another highlight of the day was hearing from three teachers who participated in our annual Peer School Visit Program. Melissa McCourt (religious studies), Rachel Mainwaring (3rd grade), and Ted Quinn (3rd grade) were selected to participate in this unique MFS program, which encourages collaborative teams to explore a research question by visiting peer schools anywhere in the country. This year’s team visited five schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and North Carolina, exploring the concept of love: love of teaching, love of learning, and love of community. They found that teacher and student autonomy, connection to nature, and the cultivation of curiosity were just a few of the common threads found across these schools. Our faculty/staff then considered how these lessons could apply to our work with children at MFS.
Upper School: Intensive Learning Through Service
MFS is committed to providing diverse academic and cultural learning opportunities for all of our students. For our Middle and Upper School students and teachers, the Intensive Learning (IL) program allows them to break out of the structure of formal classes for a week of experiential learning, often off-campus. This long-standing MFS tradition — which dates back to the 1970s — encourages students and teachers to view themselves as lifelong learners.
The Upper School in particular has a number of Intensive Learning experiences that focus around a theme of service to others. Like many of you, I experienced IL virtually by following the student blogs that were posted throughout the week in late March. Students were pouring cement foundations for homes needing to be rebuilt after the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico. Others worked to restore a New Jersey tall ship, scraping, sanding, painting, and varnishing the boat to prepare her for the next season of educational programs. Others still prepared meals and supported families at the Give Kids The World Village in Central Florida, a non-profit aimed at helping children with critical illnesses experience a moment of solace through vacation with their families.
When I stepped back from all of these experiences—and many more—I was deeply affected by the scope and depth of impact that our students were having as a collective from as far away as Cuba to as close to home as Moorestown. In just a week, students were immersed in a different context, exposed to new vocabulary, and engaged in human connection with people from different walks of life—all while contributing a collective total of 3,000 hours of service. It is THIS kind of learning that teaches students what it means to have an impact on the world. I feel so fortunate that our students have this opportunity every year to go beyond their classrooms to give of themselves and take meaningful lessons from the world around them.
The Power of Meeting for Worship
I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles to meet MFS alumni ranging from the 1960s to the 2000s. It was exciting to hear what was similar across their experiences and what was unique to their time at Moorestown Friends School. Many of them spoke about Quaker values and the power of sitting in community with others.
Emma Baiada, class of 2010, is now a successful film producer living in Los Angeles. Her most recent project—the documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor" about the life of Fred Rogers—taught us all about the power of kindness to change the world. Emma talked to me about seeking out a Quaker Meeting House in Los Angeles. She did her research and found one in Pasadena, California. The moment she walked into the Meeting House was the moment she realized that something had been missing since her time at MFS and that reflective silence in community was important to her. In talking with other alumni across the West Coast, they all agreed that this weekly ritual played a critical role in shaping how they approach their lives today.