Letter from Steve Piltch - November 2017

November 29, 2017

Dear Shipley Families,

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year. When I was young, my eight siblings and I would spend the early part of the day playing cards or board games before going outside to play everything from hide-and-seek to football and basketball. When we got home, we changed our clothes and got ready for our Thanksgiving dinner. We would welcome our guests and congregate around the table for a wonderful meal that included turkey, vegetables (overcooked), cranberry sauce and pickles, candied yams and mashed potatoes, and Ritz Cracker stuffing. Dessert included different kinds of homemade pie and pineapple fluff (a combination of whipped cream, marshmallows, and small pieces of pineapple). Before we ate, we would go around the table and share something we were grateful for or looking forward to – a tradition that continues to this day with our own families.

Since moving to Bryn Mawr over 25 years ago, my wife, our kids, and I have developed our own traditions to create a memorable Thanksgiving experience here, except on those occasions when we have traveled to Boston for a larger family event. This year, with our three kids out of college, it was especially nice to have them all home and to enjoy the day with them, our daughter’s fiancé, my wife’s brother and one of his children, and some friends of my daughter’s from Japan. It was a nostalgic day that reminded me of my childhood and all of the memories associated with Thanksgiving and other family holidays.

The day was also humbling, particularly when I tried to play basketball with my two sons and daughter’s fiancé. It became evident very quickly that whatever team I was going to be on would be at a marked disadvantage. I felt bad for my future son-in-law, who tried to carry us, but it just was not meant to be. Whether I want to admit or not, my pride took a hit – and I have been sore ever since playing!

Without a doubt, the highlight of the day was being together and sharing the things we were grateful for with one another. Not surprisingly, there was a range of things for which people were grateful. Some were big; some were small. More than anything, we were grateful to be together and to share the time. In fact, even though our guests left after dinner on Thanksgiving and our youngest son left on Friday to visit his girlfriend and her family, our joy lasted through the weekend. Our remaining family enjoyed meals, movies, conversations, and games, and we especially enjoyed following the games involving the Eagles and Patriots; fortunately for me, we did not play any more basketball.

Our experience on Thanksgiving made me think about many other experiences that took place in the last month for which I am especially grateful. In addition to the wonderful day-to-day activities that make me appreciative of everyone in the Shipley community, I found myself particularly proud of several notable student efforts this fall: our field hockey team and boys’ soccer team winning league titles, our Upper School thespians performing a very challenging set of plays entitled Unheard Voices, our Middle and Upper School students bagging Thanksgiving dinners for more than 2,000 people, our support of hurricane victims, our involvement in Special Olympics and Positive PAWS, and our students sharing their moments of gratitude at our All-School Assembly.

I have also been grateful for the opportunities to visit incredible places outside of our community, especially a visit my wife and I took to see Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer at the MET in New York City. Although I have long been aware of and impressed by Michelangelo’s work as a sculptor (David) and a painter (The Sistine Chapel ceiling), I found myself in awe of his (and his teachers’) remarkable skills and abilities depicted through the different pieces of the exhibit. In addition to being a sculptor and painter, Michelangelo was a remarkable draftsman, drawer, architect, poet, author, teacher, and athlete. How else could you paint the Sistine Chapel standing upright for about four years?

Moreover, he was also a terrific collaborator, someone who knew the importance of working with others while leaving others to develop their own abilities and work. A deeply religious individual, his sense of conviction and drive for excellence was seen in everything he did. Seeing the exhibit reinforced the importance of appreciating where individuals are as they strive to get better and of doing what we can to help our children and students develop their own voices through whatever medium is most appropriate for each individual.

The experiences of the last month reinforce for me the importance of our commitment to celebrating each and every one of our students, and to do so in a way that helps them to see and understand the complexities of the world while advocating for what is right. We need all students to learn both to take productive risks and to fall and get back up in order to develop the passion, the resilience, the confidence, and the creativity to pursue excellence that will define their lives. If we can work together, it will benefit our kids, us, and our community.

I am hoping we can all continue to find gratitude in the coming days and weeks – for our families and friends and for our community. We know from our work in Positive Education that gratitude (which was the theme of our Thanksgiving All-School Assembly) is a skill that we can develop that will increase our well-being. During the busy weeks ahead, I invite you to reflect daily on what you are grateful for during the holiday season. I will remain thankful for our students, families, colleagues, and friends. I applaud our students for the deep passion they have shown and the wonderful things they have achieved as they have demonstrated compassionate participation in the world in so many ways this fall. While we have done well and done good, we can and will do better. I hope you find special joy in time together with family members and friends in the month to come. Have a wonderful holiday season and a healthy and happy 2018.

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.