Brendan Largay, Head of School

Nights of Wonder

It is impossible to be everywhere at once. Take it from me. I’ve tried.

This sentiment feels particularly acute during Back-to-School Night when parents of multiple children in one division have to divide and conquer, or when a single parent has to divide the night. It’s true, also, for parents with children in both the lower school and middle school divisions who have two events to attend. I’m telling you. It’s impossible to be everywhere at once.

So, it wasn’t particularly surprising when a happy middle school parent offhandedly commented on her way out the door last evening, “Tonight was great. I wish I could have heard what was going on in every classroom.” Fair enough. This week’s message is here for you.  

Over the course of the past week and again this morning, I have been gathering comments overheard at the two Back-to-School Night programs. These quotes come from parents and teachers who had the classrooms and hallways buzzing and offer a snapshot of all that was on display.

“We don’t teach reading and writing because it helps improve student test scores. We read and write to wonder, to explore, to grow, to reflect, to compose meaning in our lives, and to go places we did not know we wanted to go…”

“It’s all invented spelling and fun and then, bam, second grade.” [Taken from an article in The New Yorker that opened the evening in second grade.]

“Did Minna really give that entire presentation without a single note card? Amazing. You really need to up your game, Largay.”

“I’m loving the direction of these Back-to-School Nights—get the parents into the classrooms and show them the stuff they came to see!”

“Each year, teachers embark on their own journey of discovery and learning, inspired by our students and the things they wonder about. Tonight we will speak to the many ways in which we inspire wonder in our classrooms and in your children.”

“The freedom of choice available to students in the library enables them to wonder freely about possibility…without constraint.”

“I don’t want to say that we’re the best teaching team in the middle school. But, let’s be honest, we’re definitely in the top three.”

“In athletics, we encourage our students to take risks [note: imagine a tennis ball being thrown by John O’Neill over the heads of the parents in the PAC from the stage to the back corner to have it caught by Abbey Nyland in her lacrosse stick] because on the path to excellence you can’t get there without taking them.”   

“Has anyone heard at home the two words that are universal for our seventh grade mods in humanities? Values and conflict. I really hope you have. That’s our operating theme for the year.”

“Pat yourselves on the back for knowing that this choice—your choice to send your five-year-old to Belmont Day—was the right one. A choice that you will see validated again and again throughout tonight’s presentation.”

“Parent SEED was the most meaningful connection I have made to other parents in our community.”

“Your children will fail and thank goodness for that. That’s where they will learn.”

“It’s so nice to see so many of you joining us tonight. I’ve realized it’s probably this month’s ‘date night’ for you. Thanks for spending it with us.”

“The really hard part of seventh grade science is the winter when we study meiosis and mitosis- these are really abstract concepts that your children will struggle with but eventually understand.  And then spring comes, and it’s all animals, plants, and ecology—it’s much easier for them to imagine—it’s stuff they grew up with and they can see every day when they walk outside.”

“Before I begin speaking, I just need you to imagine ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ blaring behind me as my walk-up song. So, anyway, I teach woodworking…”

“Welcome to the Labyrinth. This is not about creating a place where your child may be lost. It is about creating a place where your child begins their journey one way—as a young third grader still learning so much about themselves—and leaves transformed, as the hero who emerges from the Labyrinth does, as a rising sixth grade student, fundamentally changed for the better.”

“I’ve been so moved by what they said. Every interaction we’ve had as new parents has been better than the last.”

“I actually try to take the wonder out of my classroom. To demystify the ways in which things work and ask my students, instead, to wonder: why didn’t they design this better?”

“To raise independent kids, treat middle school as a dress rehearsal for life.”

“What does eighth grade look like, sound like, feel like?” [Parents wrote: “excitement,” “exciting,” “an afterschool special,” “love,” “dualities: confidence/anxiety, maturity/childishness,” “wisdom/uncertainty,” “security/insecurity,” “being on top of a mountain.” ]

“This is a visual path to proficiency in French. Students chart where they are on the path before we start the year and we use standards-based evaluation to determine proficiency.”

“In pre-k, I never expected to make these kinds of connections so strongly or so deeply.”

“Wow, the new sixth grade cubbies are awesome. It really feels like they’ve grown up.”

“Ok, before you go, on the count of three, just make the noise that you think eighth grade sounds like before you go to your advisories… 1… 2… 3…”

Everywhere at once.  

This still doesn’t capture it. The magic of the two nights. The joy of reconnecting with families who somehow have a seventh grader when it feels like they were here with their fourth grader only yesterday. The playfulness of a faculty that knows, respects, and trusts one another. We thank you for making the time to join us, and if you missed it, I hope this article gives you a flavor of just what kind of wonder was on display at BDS.

Click the B to listen to this message at Blue Handprint Studios!

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