Principal’s Blog

Creating Historical Memory Sept. 10, 2021

A few years ago, my family attended an exhibit on the tearing down of the Berlin wall that evoked powerful responses from my wife and I as we walked through. We noticed that our daughter’s reaction was quite different. It was a historical event to her-something that happened before she was born. It was a memory to us filled with the emotions that came with watching the end of a terrifying cold war. Bridging that gap of historical awareness is a challenge and it can only be done by creating collective memory.
On September 11, 2001, our nation experienced a series of four coordinated attacks by al-Qaeda, a terrorist group, that resulted in 2,977 deaths and over 25,000 injuries. It is the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of humankind and the single deadliest event for first responders in the history of our nation. In its advent, memorials such as the National September 11 Memorial/Museum, the Pentagon Memorial, and the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania have been built and annual commemorations mark the day. But, twenty years have passed and the enormity of that day is ebbing as generations are being raised with no memory of that moment in time. To prevent this from becoming just another page in the history books, we must be mindful of how to commemorate this day.
At school, our teachers are preparing lessons on that eventful moment in time that are age appropriate and we will stand in silence at 9:11am to remember the innocent people who died that day. We do so to honor their memories and to remind our children that freedom cannot be taken for granted. It is a lesson repeating itself time and time again as we’ve seen most recently through the events of January 6 and the evacuation of Afghanistan. We want our children to remember as if they were there so it becomes part of the collective memory of our nation. Whether they were born on American soil or immigrated from abroad, we are united as a nation born of immigrants sharing the history of a country that is as much an ideal as it is a land with borders.
For students to understand why history matters, they have to be connected to it. As an example, in language arts, children are introduced to literature that exposes them to the Holocaust and to the black experience. When the number is no longer about six million but about a boy in striped pajamas or a teenage girl hiding in a secret room, students can more easily connect to the horror of inhumanity. It becomes relatable. When children are introduced to racism in all its cruelty through the eyes of a teenager just wanting to be a teenager, they learn empathy and compassion.
We do this throughout the year in different ways. On Veteran’s Day, students connect with members of our community that have served in the military for us to honor their commitment and to learn again that freedom is not free. It is why we will stand in silence on Monday, why we tend to daffodils in the spring, and why we rise to pledge allegiance each day. In doing so on multiple levels throughout the year, we help contribute to the creation of a collective national memory that will hopefully enable our children to learn from the lessons of the past, respect tradition, and recognize that we are stronger together than when we are divided.
This weekend, we pay tribute to the memories of those lost on September 11. God bless America and all of her children.

Believe the Best in People August 27, 2021

As a matter of practice, I try to believe the best in people. I did not start out that way and I had my share of years where cynicism played a role in my life (I believe we call that our twenties), but things really changed when I became an educator. Working with teens and later with younger children, I realized that if I was to be a trusted adult, I had to be able to not just believe in them but I had to encourage them to believe the same. Part of believing the best in people is being able to understand their story and where they are coming from. It is how children develop empathy and compassion and it has to be modeled. Over time, it has become embedded in my outlook on life and while I am sometimes disappointed, it has grounded me. More times than not, people rise to the occasion.

This is particularly important in the times we are now living. There is so much division and hostility that even stating this fact feels like a redundancy. People are frustrated, scared, angry, and hurting. Tolerance levels are shot. But as parents and educators, we have to remember that how we act and respond will be duly noted by our children who watch and hear everything we say and do. If we model patience, they will learn patience. If we practice empathy and kindness, they will be inclined toward empathy and kindness. The tone of our voice is more critical than ever, whether be in the words we speak or the words we write.

With the stream of COVID notices at school and the rise of cases in the area, it is easy to succumb to malaise. But we can’t. When we stop believing the best in people, it means we are giving up on people and that is a line we must try not to cross. Parents are doing the best they can. Teachers are doing the best they can. Children are doing the best they can. When harsh or abrupt words are used, it is easier to be offended than to listen past the tone and to try to understand what is happening.

Every day, I see teachers and administrators working hard to give children what they need. Every day, I receive notes and words of support and encouragement from parents. And every day, I see children thriving amidst the challenges we face.

I have no grand solutions to what we are facing because there aren’t any. Only time can heal what we are going through now. In the meantime, appreciate the special moments and celebrate the normalcy that still exists. And, please try to believe the best in people and act accordingly.

When There Ain’t No Routine August 20, 2021

With two weeks behind us, we find ourselves continuing to pivot and adjust to whatever comes our way. We have had quarantines, carpool backups, and a tropical storm to contend with. It is a challenge in large part because human beings are creatures of habit. We don’t want to be continually surprised. All of us rely upon routine- adults and children alike. Routine allows for a predictability that we depend on. We have a baseline and when surprises arise we can deal with them and then return to the everyday norms. So when routine is continually disrupted as it is right now, we feel on edge and get frustrated with so many things that are beyond our control.

I wish we could snap our fingers and make it alright. The lack of routine is taking a toll on our children, our parents, our staff, and our administrators.

At school, we are adjusting to this reality. We are beginning the executive function training to help children plan and better predict their days. Homebound is becoming a normative part of the support network for individual students who are quarantined. We are building schedules for when classes must go remote. Our counselor continues to survey the staff to be sure that children who seem to be struggling are being looked after. And we are working hard to get carpool to a point where people know what to expect. We can’t control all the disruptions we face but we can provide our children and ourselves with tools to manage. Snacks help too.

At home, parents should pay attention to routine as well- family dinner time, homework time, play time, etc. By setting up a routine in the home, children will get the grounding they will need to make it through these next few months and beyond. If children know there is a time where they can share their day, it creates a sense of stability. As a parent who has often had things to work on after quitting time, my wife and I made family dinner sacred time. It made all the difference and was more important as our kids got older.

 My personal advice may seem to be somewhat corny but bear with me. Everyone is trying their best. Be patient. Believe the best in people because you don’t know how impacted the person next to you has been on a given day and what they are going through at work or in their personal lives. If we can do nothing else, make that a routine. 

As the great crooner Frank Sinatra once bellowed, “That’s life, that’s what people say. I just have to pick myself up and get back in the race.” In shorthand, please hang in there.