We stand with those who struggle for justice and equality
Throughout this week, I have informally referenced the events that are unfolding across our country. I believe it is appropriate at this time to make a formal statement. The Berkshire Country Day School is heartbroken over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the officers who were supposed to be protecting his community.
Through national protests, our country is witnessing an up-rise against the culmination of inhumane actions towards marginalized communities. Now is the time for us to embrace the changes that must be made toward a just society for all our citizens. We must all be open to acknowledging our role in the perpetuation of a society that accepts racism and be committed in words and actions to become part of the change we so desperately need.
In the words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Change comes when we are outraged by human suffering even when it doesn’t impact us personally. Berkshire Country Day School reaffirms its commitment to stand as one voice against injustice. We are committed to searching out the areas of our curriculum and programs to discover and include areas where we can affect greater democratic awareness; teach empathy and sustainability; and commit to habits that use inquiry as a primary method for discerning truth from falsehood. This will mean we confront our current methods and make the appropriate changes which will allow us to fully live out our mission to develop citizens who are ready to make a difference.
As we look to the future, we do so with the current moment in mind. Berkshire Country Day School is committed to becoming a private school with a public purpose. In doing so, we will commit our programs, resources and future strategies to more fully living our mission to develop citizens. We will do this through our teaching, as well as our outreach and partnership with the greater community. While we are not yet fully aware of how we will move forward to make this ideal manifest, we are solid in our commitment to make the changes necessary in order to fulfill our promise.
Early March 2020 seems worlds removed from today, but I still carry the first images of the COVID-19 crisis with me as a reminder of what Berkshire Country Day School is really about. First, we cancelled the grades 7-9 trips and I watched in amazement as disappointed children showed up still wearing smiles and eager to come to school. As the news spread that we needed to wash our hands more often we began our Moment of Prevention complete with a rap song sung by Ms. Doherty. We immediately stocked up on disinfectant, sanitizer and tissues before the shelves emptied and the prices soared. The daily handshake became an elbow bump and those daily bumps are the memories that carry me through moments of anxiety during social distancing.
The elbow bumps were every bit BCD. There were no instructions or explanations. I simply held out my elbow instead of my hand. In return, I received creative interpretations so exemplary of the students we serve. One student tapped my elbow three times. Another spun around before extending his arm toward mine. A few kids took full on body slams, but being only 3 feet tall it amused me. One student drew a question mark in the air with her elbow before bumping mine, while another jumped in the air. I decided then that elbow bumps were here to stay. How little I knew when I made that small decision. All I was aware of was how liberating it was for the kids to greet me in a way that allowed for their unprompted self- expression. Oh, how I miss those elbow bumps!
Over the past month I watched in awe at the way our faculty scrambled to deliver a meaningful, engaging curriculum. They took classes, watched webinars and scoured the Internet for new resources, all the while questioning whether or not it is “good enough.” It’s not good enough. It’s the best.
We agreed early on to approach the pandemic as an opportunity to try new things. Our aim in delivering the program is the same at a distance as it is in person: teach the individual. That is why some of our teachers are doing one-on-one coaching sessions online. Others are preparing individualized packages for parents to pick up. In some cases, we even deliver. I’ve heard sighs and we’ve taken some deep breaths, but nobody on our staff has complained about anything except not being able to see the students. And some have ameliorated that by driving by each student’s house to say hello. What is there to learn from this? We care. It’s more than just words: our actions show we care.
Someone asked me last week about the value and importance of an independent school education in an environment such as this. That’s an easy question for me to answer. Education matters. Personalized education with attention placed on the individual matters now more than ever. Schools are not charity organizations, they are part of an important social cause. Independent school education allows us to pivot quickly and blaze the trail that we see will get us as far as we need to go in the shortest amount of time. And the world needs this more than ever. The world needs highly educated people to discover cures, invent therapies and create social networks that will sustain all of us in times of trouble. If this virus has one thing to teach us, it’s that quality education is what will save lives. For every child who begins life with a great education, there are hundreds, thousands who will benefit from that start later on. When I think of the doctors, scientists, lawyers, creatives, etc. who are ready today to deliver us from the worldwide situation we are in, I bow to the teachers who prepared them. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring but we do know that we will continue to need highly educated, engaged citizens to pull us through hard times. High quality education is a cause worth celebrating, supporting and for which we are highly grateful. Thank you to our teachers for showing up and continuing to do the good work of the world even at a distance.
As a young girl, I was drawn to solitary places: the beach in wintertime, the uppermost branches of a tree, my closet turned into a fairy fort. I didn’t seek these places in order to be alone but rather to contemplate the meaning of life, not knowing at the time that was what I was doing. To me, there is an improbability to what may be considered ordinary and every day that continually fills me with wonder. It is this sense of wonder that propels me to engage in life. Art, to me, is the relationship between the improbable and the resulting wonder that something can and does come alive in a way that is both rule bound and totally free. To the extent that humans are involved in this paradox is what defines us as artists. When we teach children art, we are doing far more than offering an enrichment course of study. We are instead framing the world as a wonder-filled place where they can experience life as an act of creation and appreciation. Without art – without wonder – there is no avenue to meaning and life without meaning is not worth the effort. Nothing in life is ordinary. Through art, the observation of life as well as the involvement, allows a person to create a unique presence in the world.
I entered into the world of education with the belief that every person has something to say that nobody else can. It’s the guidance of teachers that bring children to the brink of understanding that they have something unique to offer the world. As Berkshire Country Day School springs into a new era, we do so with a mindfulness of the power of art to change how people view the world. Artistic appreciation and artistic creation are at the center of our philosophy on how to be good citizens and compassionate humans. Because art is an act of sharing, and community is a value that we cherish for its ability to transform our sense of self, we begin this new decade with a focus on art; art for the sake of discovering what it means to humans. Art is not an added extra in the educational experience. Art is not even just paintings, drawings, or products to adorn one’s space. Art is a way of being in the world. It is a way of sensing and appreciating the details that position us in shared spaces. Art is both personal and public and art is one of the most prominent expression of shared values in any culture throughout the world and throughout centuries. It is certainly a shared value of people who choose to live in this artistic corner of the world.
My intention for BCD is that we continue to discover ways for children to render meaning and value, not to “get ahead in life,” not for academic and economic success—those are simply byproducts of a good education. A real education is one that allows a person the inner strength to deal in a healthy way with whatever happens to them throughout their life. This takes creativity, learning from mistakes, coming up with something new, and remaining involved when things become tough or dull. Artistic appreciation and expression embody all those virtues. Art both heals and inspires. It consistently makes everything new. That’s why “The Art of Spring” is a great theme for our upcoming gala. As we look with fresh eyes on the value of a BCD education, we are able to see that given a bit of creativity, everything can appear hopeful and abundant with possibility. That’s how I view the school as a whole and each child as a contributing member of that community.
I hate being the gorilla in the room. I want people to see me as a different kind of animal, a smaller, less intrusive one with a few colorful feathers. Wings would be nice but not a beak. And please, no claws. I feel like I turn into a gorilla when the conversation turns to fundraising. People have such diverse reactions when the discussion turns to money. And an important part of my job is to talk about money, ask for money and manage money.
You know what energizes me? Value. More than anything, I love to see people feel that they are valued for who they are and what they bring to an experience. I love it when people feel as though they matter. When people are aware of the inherent worth they hold, they smile more easily, they laugh at the world in a carefree way and they sink into themselves in a way that allows everyone around them to feel comfortable.
Value has little to with money and everything to do with the kind of difference a person can make in the world. Everyone wants to be valued. I do the work I do because at its core, education is about helping people discover their true value. I am so energized by this that I don’t mind putting on a gorilla suit every now and then and asking for the funds that will allow our school to continue to do the good work of helping people become valuable and appreciated human beings.
You will soon receive a letter from me asking you to give to the school’s annual gift program. I hardly even know you and here I am sending you a letter asking for money! It’s okay. I first sent the letter to myself. I read the letter and felt a twinge of discomfort. Money is such a difficult subject. And money is never about money, instead, it’s usually about fairness. I grew up a middle child, so I know all about fairness. I learned early on that fair is not equal. Fair is about everyone getting what they need to feel valued.
So, I read that letter and I stepped up and gave a donation to the school. I have a million reasons why that makes me feel good and every one of them is connected to a sense of value: the value I see in each child, in every teacher and staff member, and in each family member who comes to the school. That sense of value is something I want to support every way I can. My donation allows me to feel an increase in my self-value as someone who can help out and does. From a practical standpoint, my donation helps pay the school’s bills and therefore allows us to keep doing what we do so well.
It’s not just part of my job to ask for money. Having the courage to do what must be done allows me to show up in my life as the human I want to be. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it. In both asking for and giving to something I really believe in, I discover meaning. I hope when you get your letter if you are inclined to see a gorilla, that at least she is wearing a pink tutu. And if you are someone who has discovered the gift inside giving, I hope you take a moment to revel in the reward you find there. And on behalf of everyone who values our school and our community, I thank you.
The high school I graduated from was considered small compared to the others in the region. I was in a class of two hundred. This past summer, I decided not to attend my 40th reunion because two of the four friends I could remember weren’t going to be there. I recall a great deal about my high school experience; some of it rotten, some humorous and some a waste of time. My grade school, on the other hand, was on the small side, with about 150 kids in the whole school. I still have friends from that school. Some of the most interesting adults I know were fellow Bobcats, taught in the 1970s to care about others, act with courage and conviction and do what we could to make the world a better place. The impact my grade school experience left on me is indelible and I attribute my experience there as a major reason for any success I’ve experienced or resilience I’ve managed to muster in life.
When I was in third grade, my family was pulled apart by several events that included illness and divorce. I remember crying when I discovered I was placed in Miss Miley’s classroom, a teacher notorious for draconian discipline procedures. My parents told me it would make a better person and that I needed to simply buck up and do my best. She was pretty mean, and when I really needed someone she was there for me. She assigned me to blackboard washing duty because it made stay alone in the room with her after school, something at the time I believed was unfair and scary. She asked me questions about my home life and without my awareness, she used those after school chore sessions to counsel and support me. It took me years to realize this, but Miss Miley was strong, consistent and she cared about me in ways nobody could ever really see except for me and not for years later. This wouldn’t have been possible in a large school where teachers sometimes have too many students to be able to devote special and personalized attention to one student.
Somewhere along the line, we were taught that bigger is better. Maybe it was when McDonald’s began supersizing everything. And maybe some things are better when there are more of them, like dollars in your wallet, for example. But schools aren’t better when they’re larger. They’re also not worse. It just depends on what you want to get from the experience. Today, we can get most of the knowledge we need online. So, one would have to conclude that much of the value of being at school is the process of socialization children go through. I agree. I believe that developing relationships is the single most important feature of today’s schools. And in this regard, bigger is definitely not better.
All but one of the schools I’ve led has had a student body that hovers around one hundred students. I’ve come to experience firsthand the less obvious benefits of this kind of intimate learning environment. But before I get too far down that road, let me crack open the notion that children need more students and bigger classes to adjust to social life.
In my neighborhood growing up, there was one family that had 14 children, another with 12 and one with 10. I felt a little cheated that we only had six kids in our family. What I noticed, though, was that in the larger families, there was always one or two kids that seemed less important. They were sort of the mess in the middle. Fine people, but just a bit overshadowed and maybe a little lost. The more people there are in any given unit, be it work, home, an event, or family, the greater the possibility that someone slips unnoticed into a crack we didn’t even know exists.
It’s rather easy to get lost in a crowd. It doesn’t take much work to show up only halfway when there are lots of other people there to focus on. “Nobody will notice where I cut corners because there are just too many people to take notice of.” The smaller the crowd, no matter what the context, the more noticed you are and the greater the responsibility is for you to show up.
I rarely work with a group of more than four people at once. The more we work together, the greater our understanding becomes of one another. The greater this understanding, the more agile we grow and the more agility we cultivate, the better the outcomes of our work. This how kids at BCD learn; in smaller groups, developing working relationships with better outcomes over time.
Remember those families of 12 and 14 kids in my old neighborhood? Well, one unique feature of those families is that the older kids often looked out for the younger kids. The younger ones had role models to look up to and learn from. At BCD, we are like an old school neighborhood where kids learn from each other and take care of one another.
I have 1,167 friends on Facebook. Of those, I think about 10 of them, (not including my family) are really good friends of mine. I’m talking good friends, not simply acquaintances. And I didn’t need to have 1,167 to cull down and discover those ten good friends, and I brought them to Facebook with me—half of them I met in elementary school! My point is that adults do not have dozens of really close friends. I have hundreds of friends off social media, but real, meaningful friendships that last a lifetime? I only have a cherished few. And those I met while in a small elementary school. I do know some really popular people who don’t have any really close friends. When you have to be in a small group with people you didn’t necessarily choose to be with, over a long period of time, you learn what really matters in relationships. You learn to listen, to appreciate different styles of communicating, and you grow in empathy.
I don’t believe a school can be “too small.” Small schools benefit from the following:
Multi-age classroom forces rethinking of same age attributes: Multi-age classrooms cause teachers to individualize their teaching. Most good teachers understand that this is necessary in same-age classrooms as well.
Rapid iteration: The ability to identify challenges and rapidly implement new ideas is much easier in a small school than a larger one. This allows problems to be solved more quickly and when something isn’t working, we can shift gears with immediacy.
Lower operation complexity: Relative to running a larger school, a small school has reduced complexity of operations which gives everyone more time to focus on the children.
Teacher empowerment: By design, small schools allow teachers to develop personal relationships with other teachers and their students. Because BCD is not wed to one educational theory, teachers are able to assess learning environments and quickly implement methods that work well for the students they have. There aren’t layers of bureaucracy to work through in order to shift gears. The smaller student population facilitates connections among students and between students and adults.
Our plans for the future include growing our enrollment while remaining a small school. The reason for us to grow is to offer more children, from all walks of life, the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from our intentional community.
A standing-room-only crowd gathered to celebrate and recognize our upper school students at BCD’s 72nd Closing and Awards Ceremony yesterday
A standing-room-only crowd gathered to celebrate and recognize our upper school students at BCD’s 72nd Closing and Awards Ceremony yesterday. It was meaningful for me to witness the students be so present and supportive of one another – a reflection of the vibrant community our talented teachers do to sustain it every day.
Special thanks goes to everyone who spoke from the heart about each departing eighth grader. I could hear and feel how powerfully they know about, care for, and love the students. The character of each speaker was an affirming reflection of everyone else who works at BCD.
I offer the following from my remarks to the departing Eighth Graders:
“Eighth graders, the time we have been looking forward to, and the moment we have been sadly anticipating, is upon us. Anje, Halle, Jamie, Aurora, Symaira, Abbey, Donald, Esme, Alex, Will, Clara, Chase, Sean, Ryan, Henry, and Keely, we are proud of each of you, who you are, your accomplishments, and your many contributions to our school community. We are excited about what the future has in store for each of you, and it is difficult to imagine what BCD will be like without you here.
You have met with success in the areas we value as a school – as learners, as original and critical thinkers, as members of the community, and in your ability to develop as individuals and express your originality. You have approached learning with creativity, taken risks, and done your best. We applaud your accomplishments and are grateful for the ways in which you have had an impact on those around you.
Similarly, we appreciated your earnest participation and teamwork in our athletics program. With heart, determination, leadership by example, always leaving everything out on the field, you played with sportsmanship, intense effort, and for the good of the team – every day and every game. Special appreciation goes to departing eighth graders Jamie, Clara, Donald, and Chase, for playing all three seasons this year – your contributions to the culture of our program meant a great deal.
And, this year, my last, we all depart from BCD together. Chase and Aurora, as you recall, we started at BCD ten years ago. You were so cute then. My, how you’ve both grown! Each year, the class grew, with so many great additions over the past nine years, and everyone experienced so much together. It has been a joy for me to greet all sixteen of you each morning, to observe you in classes, on stages, on our playing fields, and to watch each of you develop and flourish at BCD.
To every one of you, one thing I can imagine we all have in common as we prepare to venture forth on the next leg of our journeys – is that we are each experiencing and feeling a hefty measure of uncertainty. What lies ahead? What will be asked of us? Are we be ready? Will we make new friends? Will we be able to weather new storms, celebrate new successes, and realize fulfillment after we move away from the many people here who have supported, encouraged, challenged, and cared for us over so many years.
Perhaps you don’t know this, perhaps you do, these are some of the existential issues and concerns that everyone – regardless of their age – and no matter where they are in their lives – is dealing with –: the search for meaning and purpose, how to live with times of aloneness, how to come to terms with our limitations and mortality, and how to recognize and fan the burning embers of our self-will.
One truth that I have been reflecting upon for the past few months – as I explore the range of feelings that are the result of experiencing uncertainty – is that the antidote for uncertainty is gratitude. Here’s how it works. The more we express gratitude, the less doubt, hesitation, and insecurity we feel. By sharing our appreciation and thanks for the people who have: fortified and inspired us; provided steady hands on the tiller in stormy seas; expressed unconditional love and an unwavering appreciation for who we are; cheered us on to continue being our best version of ourselves; who held us with quiet care when we faltered and made mistakes; and who never settled for less knowing that we could move forward and attain new successes – we reconnect with what makes us individuals. And, we connect with others and those powerful moments in our memories in ways that both strengthen us and ensure that their mark upon us has been indelible. We find the courage to move forward, the conviction to continue to grow and succeed, and the humility required to be both self-aware and inter-dependent. The antidote for uncertainty is gratitude.
For many weeks, as I thought about that and prepared for this moment, eighth grade, what kept coming up for me was my sincere and individual gratitude for each of you. School is a shared endeavor. Respect goes both ways. Everyone carries a piece of the truth – each one of you sure does – and we all learn from one another. So, I’d like to take a few moments and express my heartfelt and sincere appreciation for each one of you.
Alex – Thank you for taking risks and for being willing to put yourself out there on the field and on the stage, a model for others. I also admire the way you look inward and express humility and a sincere sweetness.
Ryan – I appreciated how you humbly discovered the ways in which you are smart, always played with heart, shared your sense of humor, and expressed your steadiness as a friend.
Sean – I was grateful to witness your tested resilience, smarts, and the ability to stride purposefully anew the next day. And, thanks, too, for letting me see your inner charm and twinkle.
Keely – Gratitude alone may fall short in affirming your commitment to excellence, and with courage and daring, how you singularly set and reach for high goals, balancing drive and confidence with being humble.
Halle – I value your steady kindness, your ease with people and maturity, your intelligence, and your concern for, and service toward, others. I appreciate how you’ve always played your part and shared these gifts with us.
Symaira – I admire you for not tolerating injustice, for fiercely being loyal to friends, for finding that powerful voice and speaking up, and for finding success – able to express the broad palette of emotions and a huge smile.
Chase – It was a source of inspiration to experience your earnest determination and ability to follow your moral compass, and, I do not just mean your height – for rising above the crowd. I admire your work ethic and concern for rightness.
Jamie – Thank you for your huge heart, accessible goodness, helping out without being asked, and your proven personhood and perseverance, on and off the field, and for your drive to succeed.
Donald – I am grateful for how you demonstrated that being approachable, positive, polite, and good-humored are rock solid ingredients for success. I respect your gentleness and kind manner.
Abbey – I celebrate how you realized each day, that by approaching everything with determination and a ready smile, and an accessible sincerity and effort, you found leadership and rose to great heights.
Aurora – I am grateful for your grit, your sense of self, your laugh, and how you engaged with flourish and motivation. I recall that you knew how to both laugh at and be true to yourself and to focus on the things you care about.
Anje – I appreciate your earnestness and clarity, skills as a friend, and your approach each day with can-do and candor, tools that have served you well as you conquered challenges, found your stride, and came into your own.
Will – Thank you for all of those sleepy morning handshakes, for showing us your gifts of humor and qualities as a friend, and for sticking things out even when the going got tough – I value that as I do you.
Clara – I celebrate your grace, kindness, poise, and assurance, and the special ability you have to lift yourself and others around you. It is easy to see your selflessness and to hold you in high regard.
Henry – I so appreciated your dry wit, poker face and ready smarts each day, and your keen and resolute approach to finding your voice and identity. It was fun to applaud your successes and engage with you.
Esme – It is a sincere pleasure to affirm the depth of your goodness, all that you are and have accomplished, and the impact your talents and qualities of personhood have had on your friends, our school, and your teachers.
Thank you eighth grade – I am a better person for knowing all of you.
Now, I invite each of you to reflect on what you are grateful for. You don’t know, or exactly what it’s going to be like, where you are going – but, you do know where you’re coming from and where you’ve been. So, be appreciative – show your gratitude.
I express thanks to hundreds of community members every year, and I can tell you from experience that you can never say thank you enough. Today will offer you many opportunities to measure your successes and achievements for years to come. You will be showered with pride and praise from others, who will congratulate you and express their sincere regard for all that you have achieved. But, it is important that you seize the opportunity to express your authentic appreciation to the many individuals who have invested so much in your success as a learner and as a person. They provided for you in countless ways, made great sacrifices for you, and have had an immeasurable impact on you and your life.
I encourage you all – to assess how wonderful all of that was for you, and to measure yourself in these moments by how many individuals you seek out and thank today. These moments are yours to make, they will be fleeting – no one can create them for you, Find your teachers, move toward your parents and relatives, search for your friends in the crowd, move in really close and tell them how you really feel.
As you prepare to depart, I wish for each of you so many things. And, I want to share a special book with you. You know, some books are about a single wish. Some books are about three wishes. This book is about endless good wishes. (go forward and read I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal)
In closing, may your wishes come true. Embrace them and only the things that make you better. Go forward and continue with the work and effort required to succeed and to make a difference – in big and little ways – to the things that matter most to you and our world. Be generous in all ways, especially in who you are. Extend yourself and your sincere interest in others, and maintain quality in your relationships with one another and the many new and different people you will encounter along the way.
Thanks again goes to the faculty, the staff, our students, trustees, our generous parents, and the many family members and friends in attendance today. I am so pleased that we could all be together to share in this moment and to recognize and celebrate our students.”
Certificates for completing the course of study through eighth grade were presented to Aurora Benson, Symaira Elliott, Donald Miller, and Will St. John, Pittsfield; Abbey Boyd, West Stockbridge; Anje Capala, Spencertown, NY; Halle Davies, Lenox; Esme Lazar and Ryan Sonsini, Great Barrington; Jamie McDonnell, Old Chatham, NY; Clara Mollerus, Otis; Keely O’Gorman, Lee; Alex Rodriguez-Benjamin and Sean Sylbert, Monterey, and Henry Van Schaick and Chase Vermeulen, South Egremont.
In addition, eighth graders were recognized for academic accomplishments.
Abbey Boyd, Gail Heady Citizenship Award
Anje Capala,Anna Zaffanella French Prize
Halle Davies, Marilyn Orner Cromwell Art Prize
Symaira Elliott, a Steffi Fletcher Creative Writing Prize
Esme Lazar, Eighth Grade Science Prize
Clara Mollerus, Excellence in History Prize, Ned Douglas Mathematics Prize, and Eighth Grade Spanish prize
Keely O’Gorman, Viv Murray Caputo Vocal Music Prize and a Steffi Fletcher Creative Writing Prize
Chase Vermeulen, Marcia V. Jones Latin Prize
Seventh graders were also recognized for academic accomplishments.
Sam C., East Chatham, NY, a Eugénie D. Fawcett Classics Prize
Gus G., Great Barrington, a Seventh Grade English Prize
Miles G., Hudson, NY, Virginia I. Peterson Citizenship Award
Rafi K., Hudson, NY, United States History Prize, a Eugénie D. Fawcett Classics Prize, and Seventh Grade Growth in French Prize
Eli M., Craryville, NY, Theater Ensemble Prize and a Nancy Cowhig Growth in Mathematics Prize
Esme M., Craryville, NY, a Nancy Cowhig Growth in Mathematics Prize
Lilah O’N., Stockbridge, MA, Seventh Grade Growth in Spanish Prize
Petra O., Ghent, NY, Seventh Grade Science Prize
Samantha S., Richmond, a Seventh Grade English Prize