The first conversation I ever had with SAS students was when I arrived on campus three years ago for my interview. I was struck by how truly happy students were here. When I asked my tour guides, Cooper Nickels '17 and Maggie White '17, what they thought about school, they said they loved it. But they were not just saying they loved SAS; I got the impression that they loved the idea of school. In other words, they had not grown cynical, or frustrated, or bored. They said their courses were really interesting. Their teachers were amazing. Cooper and Maggie were really happy to be here.
That is not the case everywhere. Most classes in most schools across the country are not interesting to students. I have also heard students at other schools tell me that although they may love their school, they do not LIKE their school. We all know that we can love something out of loyalty or a sense of obligation or because we have invested so much into it without liking it. But Cooper and Maggie truly liked SAS.
That is what every child wants and what every parent wants for their child. They want to find a place where they are safe, interested, and happy. They want a place like SAS.
How do we do that? How do we keep students interested and happy while preparing them for their future?
I believe the answer is Challenge, Balance, and Joy.
At SAS, we do not just challenge our students to think about what they are learning. We ask them to consider why they are learning it. We challenge them to think beyond the assignment, the next test, and the exam. We encourage them to think deeply.
That challenge goes beyond their academic subjects. It is in our rites of passage – the 8th grade This I Believe presentation and the Senior Year Creedal Statement. In challenging them to better understand and articulate what they believe, we better prepare them both to welcome other perspective and to survive challenges of their beliefs.
In the classrooms, in the studios, on the playing fields and trails, we challenge them to build resilience. From Chapel in the morning to their interactions with classmates from around the world at night, we provide them with the safety to step out of their comfort zone. We challenge them to try something difficult, and we help them to understand that it is the attempt, not the outcome, that is the source of growth.
At SAS, we value balance in our children's physical, mental, and spiritual lives. We provide balance across the curriculum, which is why arts, athletics, and afternoon programs are not "extras." We encourage and guide students to pursue community service and leadership opportunities. We concern ourselves with the health of their friendships and other relationships.
We also endeavor to help students find balance in their time for work and play, their diet, their exercise, and their rest. We encourage opportunities for quiet contemplation. We strive for political balance, racial balance, gender balance, and ethnic balance. And, each day as we work with students, we invest time and deep thought in trying to find a balance between mercy and justice.
None of this can be successful without a true commitment to joy. At SAS, this begins with a culture of acceptance, care, and love. It is the appreciation we show for the talents shared in our Creative Expression Assemblies. It is our commitment to catching students doing something good whether it is opening a door for a classmate or turning in a lost wallet. It is having teachers on the sidelines to cheer on the victories and offer an encouraging word after defeat.
But, it is more than that. Alumni tell me time and again that SAS allowed them to try many things in a supportive environment, and, in that exploration, they found momentary and lifelong passions and sources of joy.
Our joy is enhanced by our surroundings. Much research has been done in recent years about the mental health value of being in nature. This is not news to us. We make it possible, every day, for our students to be in nature for study, recreation, and renewal. We know that a beautiful sunset has a way of putting a tough day into perspective, and that time in a tree is never time wasted.
Challenge Balance Joy
Although it may not have always been articulated as boldly, challenge, balance and joy have always been the SAS recipe for success. As we move forward, in every decision we make, we will continue to ask ourselves: Does it provide our students with the challenge they need? Will it help them to find balance? Does it have the potential to bring joy?