On Thursday, September 29, past and current Park faculty and parents and alums gathered for a program called Grade IX Lead Us Out. Everyone at the event had a connection to Grade IX. Some were ninth graders themselves, others taught or worked with the ninth grade, still others had a child in Grade IX – and some were a combination of the three. (Including this writer.) Everyone knew first hand about the many ways that ninth grade was unique, and the evening gave us the opportunity to remember why we treasured this program so very much. But we’ve also understood that the ninth grade as we knew and loved it was just not viable; and so we understood the decision for Park to become a Pre-K – Grade VIII school.
Grade IX Lead Us Out was an honoring, a good bye and a way to mark that Park is moving forward – leading onward, to quote Cynthia Harmon. We began the 2016-2017 year as a Pre-K – Grade VIII school. And while eighth grade will never become a carbon copy of the ninth grade, the underlying elements of the things we valued most about the ninth grade are being woven into Grade VIII.
I use the word weaving intentionally. I have always been intrigued by the phrase, the fabric of the school. What does that mean? What does that look like? Why fabric? Fabric refers to woven cloth. It also refers to the basic structure of something. Time and time again, the things that are most important to Park are referred to as part of the fabric of the school because these things have been woven into the basic structure of what we do and who we are and because the threads combine to tell a story – the story of the school.
To really understand this metaphor, one must understand the threads themselves, the warp and the weft, and how they work. Warp threads are fixed vertical threads that form the backbone of the weaving. The weft threads are woven across the warp, and these are the threads that tell the story by painting a picture, if you will, into the fabric. The weft threads can be changed in a process called discontinued threads when one weft is knotted or tucked into place and another is introduced.
To me, the warp represents the permanent parts of the school – the core values, the pieces of the Park mission that have not changed and will not change even as mission statements have been re-written over time. The warp is the backbone of the weaving, invisible actually in a tapestry but of the utmost importance because the warp threads give support and structure to the weft threads.
I believe that many of warp threads of the Park School stand for the things we love most about Grade IX. These threads include the importance of relationships and a sense of belonging, the belief in and respect for each student as an individual, the care and attention which allow students to blossom, find a passion and trust their voice, the commitment to excellence, the joy of learning fueled by curiosity, creativity and confidence, the commitment to group leadership, and the multiple opportunities for each student to learn and grow both in and out of the classroom.
While parts of the warp are fixed, Park’s fabric is not static. Rather than one unchanging square, the fabric of the school continues to be woven, discontinued weft threads are knotted and changed, which allows the fabric to tell an ongoing story, evolving as necessary.
How exciting to think that we are, right now, weaving new threads into that fabric. How important to realize that the things we love most about the ninth grade are, in fact, so central to the school that they form the backbone, the structure, the warp to our woven fabric and are, as a result, permanent threads in the story of the school. The weft of Grade IX – the discontinued threads I described earlier – have been gently knotted and tucked into the back of the tapestry. New weft threads are being woven as we speak, beginning to tell the story of a Pre-K – VIII school.
Each of us, connected to Grade IX by personal experience and devotion, has been woven into the fabric of the school by being a part of this special program. And while the weft threads may have changed, our story is still there, still strong, still important. And our collective legacy, the legacy of the ninth grade will continue to provide structure and permanence to the fabric of the school as we move forward. Ninth graders led us out of Morning Meeting for close to 50 years. Many of the things we love most about Grade IX will continue to lead us onward.
To view the video “Grade IX Lead Us Out” click here
The Upper Division annual Community Reading event will take place on Thursday, September 15. This is an afternoon of cross-grade-level book group meetings, when we gather together over cookies and lemonade to talk about books. Every student and faculty member in Grades VI-VIII read one of the five books which were selected for this summer reading assignment. For those of you who have ever been in a book group, our afternoon meetings will resemble book group discussions rather than a formal class. The dIscussion groups are led by eighth graders and faculty members, who will be equipped with a series of questions to begin conversation.
Community Reading is celebrating its tenth year. We think this afternoon of spirited conversation sure beats a book report!
See the list of books here or below: Summer Community Reading
On the first day of school, the entire Upper Division – students and faculty – gather on the main field (West Gym if rain), stand shoulder to shoulder and shake hands. At the end of 30 minutes, each child and adult has shaken hands with every other child and adult and has greeted them by name – we wear name tags to help new members of the Upper Division. The handshaking line makes its way around the perimeter of the field/gym, and when the last pair shakes hands, we delight in doing The Wave several times. This tradition is a way to form community, to welcome each other back to school, and to learn new names. The handshaking also provides the front end of a bookend to the year; our Graduation exercises end with a handshaking line where we say goodbye to departing students. As we begin the school year, we take the time to remember the power of a face-to-face greeting and a handshake.
One of the first thing we learn about each other is our names. But we rarely have the chance to hear the full story behind those names. Park sixth graders research and write their name stories, sometimes learning things about their names that they had never know before. Several of the grade VI name stories were presented in Morning Meeting, and they inspired members of the faculty to tell their own name stories. These stories are varied and beautiful, funny and poignant, and always one of a kind, like the names themselves.
In late February, the entire school participated in a Social Justice Week. Social Justice, explained Park’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, is what we DO so that everyone can have access to what they need. The organizing theme for the week was #do one thing to # make things better.
Upper Division students organized the first ever Pink Shirt Day at Park. Students also had a series of Morning Meeting presentations, including one by the artist Bren Bataclan, who spoke about his Smile Project.
While the younger students were assigned to do one specific thing, the older students were free to choose the one thing that they wanted to do. Below is a sample of Upper Division responses to the question, What is the one thing you are going to make better?
- I’m going to try to make the world better by making sure everyone feels included whenever I can.
- I do my best to say hi to nearly everyone.
- I would like to try to express more positivity towards everyone no matter what.
- Hold the door for someone and think about the people around me more.
- We are working on creating a rooftop garden with herbs to harvest for the kitchen.
- I will try to be the best student I can be by helping my friends in tough situations and help watch my language.
- I am going to be even more appreciative to the kitchen staff for the delicious lunches they make. I am also going to clear even more dishes and platters at my table at the end of lunch.
- I am going to recycle all of my papers that I don’t want instead of just throwing it in the trash!
- I will treat my sister with more respect than I usually do.
- To say hello to people I know and to acknowledge that people are trying to help me.
- I am going to help people who are being bullied. If I see someone being bullied, I am going to be an ally and tell them to stop.
- I am going to make sure that all the teachers know that THEY are making things better by teaching me things and helping students everyday.
- I want people to feel more accepted and involved at school or in a conversation.
Social Justice Week may be over, but Upper Division students (and their teachers) will continue to identify what they can do to make their world a better place.
This week we had the pleasure of hearing Thaddeus and Kion present their Grade IX talks. Enjoy!
Each year, our amazing librarians conduct a mock award contest to see what our Park readers might choose to win the coveted Caldecott Award. Here is this year’s event. Enjoy!
2016 Mock Caldecott Awards from The Park School on Vimeo.