December 3, 2018
We are now fully immersed in the school year and have entered the holiday season. It’s likely that you’ve heard me speak in recent weeks about the opportunity this time of year can afford us (if we let it) to slow down and think for a bit about the things that bring us joy, and for which we are grateful. For this letter, I’ll do just that, by sharing some thinking I’ve been doing about our school, who we’ve chosen to be, and some good things that lie ahead as a result.
You may have seen a copy of the “elevator speech” carry card we’ve recently developed for sharing with parents and friends of the School. The text is copied below and there’s a link to it here:
This card captures in plain language the things that define us as Park. They are sometimes hard to articulate, and we haven’t always done the best job of sharing them as widely or proudly as we should. I’m hoping to change that in my new role as Head of School. Word of mouth is our greatest marketing tool, and is the best way to help members of our current community to connect us to the wider community. These conversations help us to support the health of the school, to maintain our wonderful diversity, and to ensure that people far and wide have knowledge of and access to a Park education.
Here’s the text from the card:
What does it mean to be a Park Pioneer?
The Park School of Buffalo is our region’s premiere Progressive School for students in PreKindergarten through Grade 12. Here’s what that means in plain language.
Park is Individually Focused - Progressive Education calls for schools to pay attention to who your child is as a unique, individual learner. We believe that our students are best served when we know how they learn, and approach their education accordingly.
Park is Experiential - Progressive Schools believe that experience is the best teacher, and that learning is strongest when we leave room for making mistakes, and for the incredible growth that follows them. Park believes in Learning by Doing.
Park is a Community - Progressive Educators know that students value their schooling more when they feel a responsibility to it. Park’s intentional, universal focus on kindness and strong community means that our students care about themselves, their places in our community, and each other.
How this impacts students…
Park’s motto is Veritas et Gaudium
- Truth and Joy. More than century of experience shows us that Park students leave us for college and the wider world as intellectually curious, self-confident, resilient, good citizens. They engage the world around them, knowing who they are and how they can contribute to the greater good. Park students are true Pioneers!
In upcoming letters, I’ll take the above principles and focus on each, individually. For now, I’ll mention them collectively to celebrate our new building, the Knopp-Hailpern Science Center, and what it will soon allow us to do -- things for which I feel a great amount of joy! With the impending opening of the new building, it stands as a great example of how Park uses the above defining principles to educate our students and community in ways that are unique to our school. I hope you’ll get a good sense of why I’m so grateful for all the planning, thought, and hard work that has gone into this project.
Park sits on 34 beautiful acres, giving us a feel very similar to that of a small college. Our campus includes natural woods and marsh areas, our beloved pond, the trails that connect them, and the wildlife that lives within. Our students live in and use this connection to the outdoors every day at Park, regardless of their age or grade level.
For our Lower School friends, this might look like:
- bird counts behind the Helen Long Building,
- measuring precipitation at the weather station by the playground,
- tracking the numbers and types of turtles around the pond and marsh during a nature walk, or
- taking care of Stewie, the Bunny, in our Grade 2 classroom.
Our Middle Schoolers might use that same weather data to create:
- a digital forecast with green screen technology,
- plot the solar system to scale from one end of campus to the other, or
- track plant growth from seed to vegetable in our greenhouse and garden.
In the Upper School, this might mean
- analyzing “blood” spatter or a certain administrator’s beard hair <<shudder>> in Forensics class (I didn’t do it - I swear!), or
- conducting water studies to help assess, predict, and manage the long-term health of campus water sources.
The above are representative of how experiential learning, especially tied to the outdoors, allows Park students to learn in their own ways, by trying and failing, and by collaborating with their peers on projects that tie them directly to this beautiful campus we all share.
Knopp-Hailpern Science Center Benefits
As if that weren’t enough to be thankful for, The Knopp-Hailpern Center, which will serve as the gateway to our natural resources, is already spurring new, additional opportunities that benefit or support this great work. Like the mechanically fed stream it will sit next to, the building flows down the hill from the center of campus to the pond, drawing us into our natural world, physically connecting us to the outdoor environment. This provides a wonderful chance to take what we already do well, and make it all even better.
Envision it this way: at the top of the hill, tucked in between Hamlin and Chapin Halls, the KH Center welcomes visitors into the Gretchen & Gordon Gross ’49 Center for Campus Inquiry -- the window-encased first part of the building that you can see from the Circle. This space is where our community can demonstrate for the wider world all of the fruits our our labors in science, math, and beyond. It will house the physical collections we’ll build of natural specimens of plant, insect, and animal life from across campus, as well as the digital collections of the many different types of data that we gather in our daily learning. This is the space that draws people in, shows them what we’re capable of doing, and pulls them further down the hill towards the pond, marsh, and woods.
From there, we move down a floor to four, fully configurable classroom/lab spaces and two faculty work rooms. These spaces will house the hands-on, lab-based work that our students do in both life sciences and physical sciences. Unlike the dated, stationary set-up of our current science classrooms, these rooms will allow for more student movement, active collaboration, and greater freedom for creative delivery of curriculum.
At the end of the building, the new Berardi Family Field Station for use primarily by our younger learners in grades pre-k to 6, is equipped with a garage door for bringing the outdoors inside, more incredible windows for natural observation, and storage for all of the tools we’ll need to fully connect our students to the natural world they study. Even better, we can hose the room down when we’re done, allowing us to get out hands dirty (and clothes - sorry!) as we investigate just what our environment is made of.
Truly, the gateway nature of this building fosters a more direct, better supported connection to being outside than we’ve been able to provide before. We’ve had curricula and the will for all of this in place for years (and plans for so much more), but we haven’t had the facilities to adequately support our robust endeavors. Now we will, along with even greater capacity to build on our strengths.
Moreover, I’m grateful that this space will impact more than just our students and community. It allows us to strengthen our historical partnerships with schools and community members from all over WNY that simply don’t have access to the natural world like we do. This lets our kids partner with other kids and serve as docents for them, sharing what they’ve learned (and their excitement for that learning). It allows for even deeper partnerships with local colleges and universities who are interested in the way that our approach to teaching science works, and with Earth Spirit Educational Services, who is excited to build on the shared curricula and programming we have already.
If the Knopp-Hailpern Center is the platform from which we can make our observations and conduct our studies, then the environment around the building is the wonderful addition from which we can build new, expand on old, and stake our claim as the premier learning community in our region. Thanks to this project, Park students will play a direct role in bringing all of this to life, and will benefit from the experience of doing so, as well as from the opportunity to become stewards and managers of these spaces after they’ve been created.
By now, you’ve likely gotten a sense for my excitement. I hope so! I also hope you’re now more able to clearly see the opportunities that lie ahead. The Knopp-Hailpern Center is the fruit of an incredible amount of good work from good people and philanthropic support from hundreds of friends of the School. Our time for living into that good work and our potential is coming up fast. I’ll mention here that none of this happens without the foundational principles I defined above, which informed the design of our new building and our many plans for how we’ll use it. The Knopp-Hailpern Center will be awesome, and it is uniquely Park. I can’t wait for us to get in there and get our hands dirty! Please join me in building even more excitement about all of this in the wider community.
See you on campus,
Head of School
PS -- You’ve likely noticed I didn’t mention a specific opening date for the building. We’re in the midst of some unfortunate delays that are typical to construction projects and wholly beyond our control. I’ll have some updates on that soon, but we’re still on target to be in the building for our second semester. Work on the stream and surrounding landscaping and planting will continue into the summer, and will afford us additional learning opportunities as we involve Park students in the work that makes it all happen.
PPS -- if you’d like a copy (or several) of the “elevator speech” card to keep with you and help in spreading the word, they are available in the main office in Helen Long, or in my office in Hamlin. Thanks!