The Halloween Parade, along with Country Fair (what a beautiful day we had!), always feels to me to be the unofficial kick-off for the time of year when we focus most on being grateful for what we have, and on helping others who need it. You’ve likely noticed that we do a good job with these two things at Park, both in formal ways like our food drives and community service projects (the LS drive is underway!), and in informal ways like our students taking care of each other during the day. More so than in other places, Pioneers build a deep understanding of the importance of taking care of the wider world. I always feel lucky to be a member of such a giving community.
Occasionally, I’m asked about how Park does this. How do we help young people grow into adults who are empathetic, engaged in their communities, and who are good at being kind? The answer is both beautifully simple in theory, and incredibly complicated and often messy in practice. It all starts with ensuring that our kids are given the opportunity to build familiarity with the wider world. Exposure to other cultures and realities beyond our own is the best way to open our minds to different opinions, cultures, and ways of thinking. Park has a long history of doing this, in part because “learning by doing” requires that you engage with the world around you, and also because our foundational mission demands that we remain Responsible to others, and Kind as we do so.
I know that as Park’s Head of School, I can do a better job of sharing with all of you the many different things that happen at Park on a daily basis, especially as they inform the growth in your children that I mentioned above. I sometimes get lost in the day-to-day business of school and forget that the great things that happen here daily, while they are ever-apparent and right in front of me, might not be so visible to you. Thus, I thought I’d share a few brief details on some larger initiatives that we currently have in-process, happening in addition to our regular school work.
For almost as many years as I’ve been at Park (17 and counting!), we’ve been engaged as a faculty in an ongoing examination of our curriculum to ensure that it is representative of the experiences of the students who attend our school, and that it exposes them to cultures and experiences that are different from their own. This is important, mission-driven work, and while it may have started primarily as an effort in the Upper School, it has shifted and become more intentional across all three divisions. Further, it is also work that will never really be finished as we strive to adjust and improve our efforts year after year.
A quick look at our curriculum and program in recent years across all the grades reveals a broad focus on diverse cultures, and includes Chinese and Asian history and culture, Black and African American history and culture, Women’s rights and issues, LGBTQ+ representation, and broad looks at different religious cultures across the world, just to name a few. Currently, we’re developing coursework and pedagogy about Indigenous Peoples, particularly those from our own region, and we’re examining how these themes can and will live within the curricula of even our youngest learners. We also spend a lot of time considering different types of learners, and how adjustments to our approach might help everyone involved.
Mind you, there are errors to be made in the way we do this work (and we have made some of them!), but we’re also pursuing training as an entire faculty and staff to ensure the mistakes are fewer and farther between, and that we correct them appropriately when they happen. The most striking current work in this regard is being funded by a grant from The John R. Oishei Foundation that Park and fellow EdCo (Education Collaborative of WNY) schools won last spring. It’s allowing all of us to receive training in DEI work - Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - and it informs everything I’ve mentioned above. It includes access to an instructional coach for our teachers, data analysis about our academic results, access to resources that support our diverse mission, and a collaborative effort amongst all of our schools to create and manage an annual diversity hiring initiative. We hope this will both attract candidates to our schools, and help our schools take good care of them once they’re here.
The Kadimah Scholars program has also brought some attention to the space and time we afford to community members of different faiths, even though we have always been and will always be a secular school. While the Kadimah partnership is unique in its newness and structure, it is representative of Park’s historical choice to allow all Pioneers to share and celebrate their different belief systems and cultures with the wider community. Like the Christian group of Upper School students and faculty that meets for prayer on occasion before lunch, or the focus and attention we give each year to the Chinese New Year, or the exchange programs and Multicultural Luncheon managed by our World Languages department, this openness to cultural and religious difference makes us all a little worldlier, a little more open minded towards others, and much more prepared for the wider world.
And finally, you’ve likely heard me talk this year about our shared Responsibility to ensure that Park is accessible to as many families across our wider community as possible. Some of that work comes from my asking parents and guardians to talk us up in your circles and spread the word about our wonderful school. Some of it comes from partnerships we have with organizations like Earth Spirit Educational Services, with whom we are now working to build new programs that allow Park students to host and work with students from urban schools who don’t have the daily benefit of a beautiful 34-acres campus and incredible new science facility. And some of it comes from the shared effort we collectively make as parents, faculty and staff, board members, alumni, and friends of the school to support fundraising efforts like our Annual Fund. To close this letter, I’d like to ask for your help in this particular effort.
As I finish these last few sentences, I’m at a conference with other heads of schools from all across New York State. I spend a good amount of time throughout the year with administrators from other local schools, from schools across the wider region, and at events like this one. I can tell you that in many important ways, including all of the ones I’ve written about here, these meetings always confirm for me that Park is a unique, important place. The work we’re doing together, and the ways in which we’re trying to do it -- especially our constant willingness to examine and re-examine that work, make mistakes, and get better at connecting with our students -- just doesn’t happen in many other schools. I myself forget that sometimes as I get lost in the madness of our daily work, but being away for a day or two, especially with other school folk, always makes me remember.
I am so grateful for The Park School and the chance it gives me to help teach our kids in the intentional ways we do so. Our Annual Fund supports this work, and when we have high percentages of participation, it allows us to pursue other funding as well. As you consider the things about Park for which you’re grateful, I ask that you also consider giving to the Annual Fund to help ensure they keep happening for our kids, and to help us collectively ensure that other kids and families might have access, too. This is really good stuff, and I want the world to know it.
Thanks for walking this path with us, my friends.