From Greeters to Graduates: How Shipley Develops Student Voice

Debra Finger
“Hi, my name is Evie, welcome to Shipley! Right now it’s center time.” 

Walk into any Lower School classroom on any given school day and you will immediately be welcomed by the greeters–one or two students who have been assigned the important job of making sure visitors to our school, and their classroom in particular, feel welcomed. It is a role students take seriously because they, too, were once visitors and a warm greeting is the first step in feeling like you might belong here. It is also one of the first ways that students are empowered to use their voice to communicate with varied audiences, one of Shipley’s overarching goals for its graduates. On the Upper Campus, student Admissions Ambassadors do the same for prospective students and families.

Students have many opportunities to develop their voice and learn to communicate in a variety of formats while they are at Shipley. In the Lower School, a  partnership with Wolf-PAC in PreK and Kindergarten teaches students how to project their voices and use their bodies to portray characters in the annual stage performances. First graders learn about the poetry genre, crafting and reciting their poems during a Poetry Cafe event. Second-grade students become expert “zoologists,” reading, researching, and learning about a chosen desert animal and then sharing their knowledge confidently with peers, teachers, and other guests as part of the Desert Zoo. Our third graders give voice to historical figures, crafting a structured biography that they present to an audience of family members in their classroom, then later as a wax museum figure to fellow Lower School students. Fourth-grade students use their voice to argue a position in several debates throughout the winter and spring and do the same in fifth grade. 

Middle and Upper School teachers build a foundation of trust and a community of learning among their students, encouraging and allowing them to feel safe as they learn to use their voices in different ways. This foundation enables students to share their learning, thoughts, and opinions confidently and is evident in Modern Language class presentations, English course discussions, Middle and Upper School plays, art class projects, and even on the playing fields. 

In history, this foundation empowers students to use their voice during Harkness discussions, where they may contribute in a way that agrees with, disagrees with, or furthers previous statements. In Jeff Addis’ World Religions class, where students are invited to add their voice to a discussion board if they feel it was underrepresented during class, a student recently said, “Your mind expands when people disagree with you.”

At Shipley, we are committed to helping students find their voice, providing opportunities to practice using it within the safety of Shipley’s learning environment and community, and teaching them to use it with confidence, empathy, and humility beyond the classroom.


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.