Steve Piltch, Shipley's Head of School, shares an important letter to the Shipley community regarding student Austin Wylie '17.
July 15, 2016
Dear Shipley Community,
Let me begin this very difficult letter by thanking each and every one of you who reached out to the Wylie family or to us at School and to all who were concerned about Austin’s welfare when he went missing on Wednesday. Although everyone was praying for a good outcome, I do not have good news.
Brooksley and Jim asked me to share that on Wednesday afternoon, Austin parked his car at Spring Garden and 5th Street and proceeded to jump off of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Although his body has not yet been recovered, the family thinks it is important for people to know that it has become evident that this is what happened. Honestly, there is no easy explanation for Austin’s decision; although there is no clear basis for why, a note to his family recovered by the authorities from his phone indicates that he was feeling significantly overwhelmed in the moment. Needless to say, the family is devastated and wishes more than anything that he had been able to get through the moment. We do as well.
From Austin’s first days here as a fourth grader, he developed a reputation as one of our most committed, talented, humble, and resilient students. Blessed with indefatigable integrity and an insatiable drive to do his best, he loved to learn and accomplished ever so much as a student, athlete, and person. Not one to bring notice to himself, he was a leader by example; he took full responsibility for anything that ever went wrong and did whatever he could to help those around him get better.
Symbolically, it was Austin’s impact on our soccer program that captured the essence of the difference he made everywhere. Perhaps the single most committed team player we have ever had, he always put the team’s needs before his own. When he was selected All-League and All-State this past year and captain of the 2016-2017 team, he refused to take personal credit for the accomplishments. In fact, when I congratulated him on being selected All-State, he nodded his head and said to me, “Dr. Piltch, I got selected only because the team made me look good. There were so many other players who were more deserving." Contrary to what he said, no one was more deserving; he played a major role in making the team League champions and the members of the team better people.
With Austin’s passing, the Wylie family has lost a wonderful son and brother, and everyone has lost a dedicated student, an extraordinary soccer player, and a terrific person. All those who knew Austin will remember him for his selfless approach to life and for doing all the little things that no one noticed in the moment.
As I write this letter, the Wylie family is making plans for a service. Once we know the plans, we will share them with you. In addition, we will work with the Wylie family and our students to develop an appropriate memorial service at School for the Shipley community. We will keep you abreast of the plans when they are made.
In celebration of Austin’s life, the family has asked us to establish the Austin Wylie Memorial Fund here at Shipley. Money contributed to it will go to a specific cause to be determined over time.
Over the coming weeks, we will communicate about opportunities for our students to get together to talk about Austin, and we will have counselors in place to help people deal with their grief. And, as overwhelming as this may be for many of us, the Wylie family and we are particularly concerned about those who knew Austin best, his teammates and coaches, classmates and teachers, and others who worked with him and about those who may be facing their own challenges at this time. We will be communicating directly with students about opportunities for them (and their families) to get together as we process this terrible situation. Margaret van Steenwyk, our Upper School Head, will be in communication with Upper School students and families to outline specifics for the next few days. As you can imagine, we will continue to reach out over the summer and throughout the school year. If you or anyone you come across is in need of help, please seek whatever support is necessary. You will find links to resources at the end of this letter.
Although Austin is gone far too soon, we were privileged to have had him at Shipley. He epitomized all that is good about our School. I know you join me in sending your thoughts, love, and prayers to his parents, Brooksley and Jim Wylie, brother, Cameron '14, and grandparents and other family members. We will do whatever we can to help them through this process.
Thank you in advance for your ongoing support of the Wylie family and for being there for your own family, one another, and the community. Our ability to come together is what makes the Shipley community what it is. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me. My thoughts are with all of you.
Just this month, Steve witnessed four different events that had him in awe of our kids and of their growth and their performance. "As with most everything we do, the process frequently matters more than the result, and this is the time of year when we see the results in so many areas that show the ongoing growth of our kids."
This month, Steve has been reflecting on goals and objectives for our students, particularly as it relates to their ability to engage effectively and thoughtfully in a world that is increasingly complex – but also increasingly lacking in thoughtful dialogue. In his letter, he shares a few resources to be able to communicate in a productive manner.
Ernest Hemingway's The The Old Man and the Sea and our recent All-School Assembly reinforced for Steve the importance of understanding that what we initially see in people may not be who they really are. "Let’s continue to work together so that our students have the transforming experiences that allow them to develop and share their voice and go on to utilize the courage necessary to deal with inequities and make a difference."
During a cooking lesson with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law, Steve noticed a deep connection between her work and what we believe at Shipley. "As she spoke, she emphasized that her background in science, math, and psychology were important factors in becoming a successful chef. She reinforced my belief that broad, integrated learning and love for your work are at the heart of excelling in whatever you do."
Thanksgiving is Steve's favorite holiday, and for good reason. It's a time for reflecting on what matters most and being grateful for what's around you. He recalls All-School President Henry Katz's words at the Thanksgiving All-School Assembly, about the small things being important and offers a few suggestions of little things to make others (and ourselves) a little calmer during the upcoming holiday season.
October proved to be a very busy yet fulfilling month. Dr. Piltch reflects, "It’s in experiences like this that I realize that as important as the academic program is, it's often the things that go with it—such as field trips and other co-curricular activities—that make a difference in people's lives."
In this month's letter, Steve expresses his gratitude to the Shipley community for a wonderful start to the new year. "In particular, thanks go to parents and guardians who have been there not only to support their own children, but also to reach out and find ways to make a difference in others’ lives and in the School."
Steve's summer was full of great nostalgia and special importance, including the wedding of his daughter and beginning his final year at Shipley. "Everywhere I turned, I found myself doing things that forced me to reflect on the many years I’ve had the privilege to spend as the Head of Shipley."
Over Shipley's spring break, Steve and his wife traveled to China to visit Shipley families and schools in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. While his trip was one he will never forget, the most important lesson he learned was to remain open to and receptive of those who come from a different background, have different views, or simply look different.
Steve reflects on Shipley's March All-School Assembly, which highlighted moments of Shipley pride. "My hat is off to each and every student mentioned above and to all of our students who are seeking and finding excellence on an individual or collective basis."
After noticing a family out to dinner together engaging with their phones instead of each other, Steve reflected on the increased use of technology in our everyday lives and the effects it has on us as people. "Many of us—and I very much include myself—rely on our phones (and other technology) way too often."
January's All-School Assembly celebrated and honored Black History Month with a focus on courage. Steve recounts the special moments of the assembly and the powerful speeches given by Upper School students, "I was amazed by virtually everything that happened."
Shipley's Head of School, Dr. Steve Piltch, has announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 academic year. Read letters from Steve and Brooksley Wylie, Chair of Shipley's Board of Trustees.
Inspired by a recent trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Steve is committed to the idea that we at Shipley must do what we can to fight the attitudes and behaviors associated with hatred, racism, and bigotry. "We continue to witness examples of discrimination, hatred, and disdain on a regular basis in virtually all walks of life. To facilitate growth and progress, we must be willing to push our own community and others to deal with the issues in a direct and open manner."
Steve enjoyed his favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, with all three of his children and some extended family this year. His experiences on Thanksgiving made him think about many other experiences that took place at Shipley in the last month, for which he is especially grateful.
October was a busy month at Shipley! Steve touches on a few of the important events Shipley hosted, including the Positive Education launch, an anti-bullying workshop in the Middle School, and Shipley's accreditation visit from Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools.
Fall is a busy time at Shipley, and in this month's letter, Steve shares some of his favorite memories from the All-School Assembly and Super Saturday. He also looks forward to the October 11th Positive Education Community Launch with Dr. James Pawelski.
As the school year closes, Steve finds inspiration in learning about the Shipley experience from many members of the community, and shares an important thought for the summer break, “The time to reflect often results in greater growth than being overscheduled.”
The end of the academic year is quickly approaching, and as schedules get hectic, Steve reminds us to slow down and enjoy the moment. He talks about the student-planned Impact Day activities in each division, and the last All-School Assembly of the year, the highly anticipated Oaks and Acorns celebration.
Inspired by the NCAA March Madness tournament, Steve stresses the importance of balance in the lives of our student-athletes. "We should have them in programs that stress the importance of balance in their lives – after all, even for athletes able to earn a scholarship, an athletics career will rarely last beyond college graduation."
In this month's letter, Steve speaks to the "remarkably positive" atmosphere and sense of things at Shipley. From a very successful Swamp Night, to athletics championships, to the fifth grade Think, Care, Act Fair, February has been a wonderful month for the Shipley community.
Dr. Piltch reflects fondly on time shared with two dear colleagues who recently passed in this month's letter. "Coach and Graham were birds of a feather. Although I do not think either one of them would have identified himself as a role model or mentor, they both used their roles as educators to impact people beyond the level that anyone could expect or anticipate."
In this month's letter, Steve shares the details from a recent trip to Boston, including a visit to his childhood home and the wonderful experience he had with the current owners. As we all look to 2017, Steve offers his best wishes and reminds us to slow down and enjoy the precious moments with friends and family.
In this month's letter Steve reflects on the recent Presidential election and cites Shipley's commitment to appreciating each member of our community and to being a safe, supportive, and understanding environment for everyone regardless of background.
In this month's letter, Steve expresses his joy in the changing of the seasons and recalls Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea during a recent walk on the beach. He relates Santiago's life skills to those we strive to teach our children and students. "By paying attention to their emotional development and their practical skills, we enhance the possibility that they will thrive as adults and deal with their challenges as successfully as Santiago."
In this month's letter, Steve shares his excitement about the beginning of the school year, reflects on the events of 9/11, and speaks to how we can all discuss the upcoming election effectively.
"In this environment, we find ourselves compelled to hope for a systematic change that brings an exchange of ideas (not just in the election but also everywhere) in place of today’s exchange of negativity. We can only accomplish this work if we hold ourselves in the elective process to higher standards. While there may not be a clear path to doing so nationally, we will make that effort here at school by being open to and understanding of a range of points of view."
Steve Piltch talks about the Shipley Method and how he saw the results of that process in four culminating events of the year. He says, “Such events are, in essence, rites of passage that will provide wonderful memories for those involved (and their families) and will serve as the basis for our students to take new risks and better develop their confidence to explore and creativity so that they meet the challenges they will face moving forward.” Read the letter.
Steve discusses the development of good decision making skills in our students, and how we can teach them how to responsibly deal with and learn from the consequences of bad decisions. He says, “If we can find a way to help our students consider the ramifications of their actions in advance and behave in a consistent manner, both during the times of struggle and the times of success, then we are helping them become well-rounded individuals who are prepared for the world.”
Steve explains the difference between "hard" and "soft" skills, how both are important in education, and why they are both necessary for success in life. He also offers up a sneak peek at the new view afforded by Shipley's Learning and Research Center, slated to open in April.
Steve discusses Shipley’s commitment to fostering a constructive college admissions process for our students and the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s recent report on transforming the mainstream college admissions process, “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.”
Steve shares his thoughts on Shipley’s integrated service learning program and its impact on students. He also finds a powerful metaphor in Shipley’s winter concerts for how we can move beyond the threat of identity politics to create an environment of inclusion and peace in our world.
Steve discusses the distinction between communicating and connecting, and how technology and social media affect both. He urges us, “We should work to use the phone and social media as tools to improve communication and enhance functioning in the world around us, not as the defining component of our social existence.”
Steve thanks the community for a successful Super Saturday and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Shipley Commons, and discusses the visit of alumnus Robb Armstrong ’81, the creator of the syndicated cartoon Jump Start. He says, “When Robb shared his story, he brought a smile to my face. He noted that his best work and his life’s dream to become a syndicated cartoonist would not have happened had he not been pushed to do his best work, forced to create his own ideas, encouraged to learn from his disappointments, empowered to develop confidence, and emboldened to deal with the difficult challenges he faced at Shipley (and in his life). Because of this experience, his passion for art and cartooning became the deeply rooted learning that we speak of and believe in here at Shipley.”
Steve welcomes back the community for the 2015-2016 school year and discusses Wallace Nichols’ book Blue Mind, which explores the restorative power of water, in relation to Shipley’s Social, Emotional, and Ethical Development (SEED) program.
The Shipley School, a Pre-Kindergarten through 12 coeducational day school, is committed to educational excellence and dedicated to developing in each student a love of learning and a compassionate participation in the world. Through a strong college preparatory curriculum in the humanities and sciences, the school encourages curiosity, creativity, and respect for intellectual effort. Shipley upholds and promotes moral integrity, a sense of personal achievement and worth, and concern for others at school and in the larger community.
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.