Letter from Steve Piltch - May 2017

May 31, 2017

Dear Shipley Families,

The days are flying by and are loaded with one memorable event after another! We’ve enjoyed choral and instrumental performances, grade level plays, awards assemblies, and goodbye barbecues, and over the next ten days we will have formal closings in all three divisions. As busy as things are, it is important for us to take a step back and put things in perspective. If we slow ourselves down and pay attention to our children’s/students’ attitudes and behavior along with their accomplishments, we have the opportunity to see the different pieces come together and to notice their incredible growth.

The value of this approach was particularly apparent to me a number of times this month, beginning with hearing our alumni award recipients reflect on their Shipley experience at Alumni Weekend. Interestingly, all three of our award recipients, Reza Sayah ’87, Dr. David Michel ’97, and Anna Steel ’87, spoke of their Shipley experience in remarkably similar fashion. Although they noted the commitment to excellence and the celebration of people as individuals, across the board they believed that the relationships they developed with people here defined their experience, providing them with not only wonderful memories but also with the drive to strive for so much more.

Reza, an extraordinarily successful journalist who owns his own media company and covers incredible stories in Iran and other countries, was the recipient of our Distinguished Alumni Award. Reza, whose family is from Iran, spoke of the remarkable commitment that his mother made to him and the genuine interest and care he received from his teachers and peers while at Shipley. In similar fashion, David, who was the recipient of our Young Alumni Award, and whose family came from Haiti, spoke to the attentiveness and enthusiasm that people here had for him – from Greg Coleman, our Director of Admissions at the time, to the teachers and coaches who excited him and believed in him, to the teammates and classmates who supported him. These relationships helped him to pursue his dream, a dream to become a doctor and go back to Haiti to help the people (which he did following the earthquake in 2010). And, finally Anna, recipient of the Alumni Service Award, grew up in Villanova and has spent the better part of twenty years making a difference at Shipley and in the greater community by serving as a volunteer in numerous capacities and serving as President of our Alumni Council and a member of our Board of Trustees. She spoke glowingly of teachers and classmates, of risk-taking, growth, and service.

As I traveled to the individual class reunion parties that Saturday evening, I saw those relationships still at work. For example, with Anna’s class, Upper School English teacher Kristin Jaffe, who had been Anna’s class’s fourth grade teacher, was there to celebrate with them. Similarly, Greg Coleman, who was extraordinary during his thirty-two years here at Shipley as a teacher of French, Head of Upper School, Acting Head of School, and Director of Admissions, also came to a number of the events. When Reza, David, and Anna spoke, they related how the relationships they built with people here like Kristin and Greg had provided them with the confidence to take a risk and a willingness to pursue their different endeavors. Anna particularly challenged the students to think about the people, courses, experiences, and other things that define their Shipley experience. She said, “Take a minute to think about what makes YOUR Shipley special. Cherish it every day!”

Inspired by Reza, David, and Anna, I felt compelled to hear from our current students about their Shipley. When I attended the second grade Desert Zoo and the fourth grade Westward Ho later that week, I learned about the importance of each of those events to our students’ time at Shipley. The second graders awed me with their knowledge about animals that many of us had never heard of and with their confidence to share their knowledge. One parent actually said to me: “I can see that this is when they begin to develop the confidence and ability to share their thoughts and to speak in a public forum.” Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would they remember what they had learned? Does the experience really matter? I got some answers very quickly!

When I went to Ashbridge Park for the fourth grade Westward Ho program, there were a number of tenth graders there to help with the event. This project clearly had been very important to them in fourth grade; lending a hand allowed them to relive the experience, share their knowledge, and give back to the program. I took a chance and asked them about the Desert Zoo Project. To my disbelief, all but one of them actually remembered the animal they had studied and could share the basic facts with me. Moreover, our discussion of the event brought smiles to their faces. They were pleased to be asked and even more pleased to remember. (By the way, Westward Ho is spoken about by virtually all of our students who went through fourth grade at Shipley. It is also remembered by many of our parents. The picture to the right captures two of our past parents, Sally Hyman and Shelly Fisher [from left to right], whose youngest children are now out of college coming back to help with this year’s event. It was their way of thanking Linda Van Horn, who is retiring after twenty-eight amazing years here, and other teachers for making such a difference here.)

Of course, Desert Zoo and Westward Ho are but a couple of the experiences that bring shape and direction to our students’ lives. There are similar events in every grade as well as school-wide traditions such as Super Saturday and our Mighty Oaks to Little Acorn and Little Acorn to Mighty Oaks Ceremonies. Our seniors are currently involved in very individualized experiences as they finish their careers doing Senior Service Projects. And of course, graduation is close upon us. These culminating events all help bring closure to the incredible work our students have done over the course of the year – leading all of us into a well-earned summer vacation.

As we begin the break following such an intense series of experiences for our students and children, it’s important to give them time and opportunity to process these experiences and the year as a whole. To help with this process, sometimes it’s not just okay, but perhaps even better to leave our children unscheduled – even if they become bored. It’s important for all kids to find ways to fill their own time so they can process what is happening in their lives and develop creativity, initiative, and perspective. The time to reflect often results in greater growth than being overscheduled.

This is borne out by psychologists all over the world. In an article entitled “Psychologists recommend children be bored in the summer” Lyn Fry, a noted London child psychologist, says: “If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do for themselves.” Fry goes on to say, “There’s no problem with being bored…it’s not a sin, is it? Children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”

Fry suggests that at the start of the summer, parents sit down with their kids, at least those above the age of four, and collectively write down a list of everything their children might enjoy doing during their summer break. It can be basic activities like playing cards, reading a book, and riding a bike; or more elaborate ideas such as cooking a fancy dinner, putting on a play, or practicing photography. Then, if your child comes to you throughout the summer complaining of boredom, tell them to go and look at their list. It puts the onus on them to say, “This is what I’d like to do”.

We want our children to thrive, to be committed, and to dream. While we all know children need to be supervised and guided, it is important to take a step back and let each child be a child. We all want what’s best for them, but we also want them to learn, to care, to be kind, to be creative, to explore, to set their goals high; most importantly, we also want them to be healthy (both physically and emotionally), to have fun and perhaps even be bored sometimes.

Hopefully, when the year ends, we will all find some time to be relaxed (and maybe even a little bit bored). I hope you and your family have a fabulous end to the school year and a summer of rest, relaxation, revitalization, togetherness, and growth. My thoughts and wishes will be with you.

Warmest regards,

Steve Piltch
Head of School
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.