September 29, 2017
Dear Shipley Families,
I truly can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the first few weeks of school. Although the pace has been frenetic, every colleague (faculty and staff member) feels the energy, vitality, and conviction that our students brought back to School. Since we are a school that revolves around relationships, it has been particularly enjoyable to watch our students and colleagues engage with each other and to have so many of our parents join us for Back to School Nights, sports games, and other special events.
Just a couple of days apart earlier this month, we had two of the special events that I believe capture the essence of who we are and what we’re about. At our first All-School Assembly, our seniors – our Mighty Oaks – presented our Little Acorns (PreK, K, and first graders) with pencil boxes to welcome them to Shipley. For both seniors and their parents, several of whom attended the event, it was the first of what will be many nostalgic days in the course of the year. Our All-School President, Owen Verzella, reflected the feelings of many other seniors and others in the room when he said:
"Now, I’m going to discuss my experience as an ‘Acorn.’ I didn’t go to the Lower School when I was in Pre-K, nor do I remember much from when I was four years old. All I can remember is that I never wanted to leave school, and that’s the way I feel now. For the seniors, we have 261 days until we go our separate ways, but here’s my message: Don’t count the days, make the days count. Even for the acorns, who are set to graduate between 2030 and 2032, the time goes faster than you think – cherish every moment with your friends and family. This is a huge day for the Pre-K’ers, kindergarteners, first graders, and seniors; especially the lifers. Even though this is only my fourth year at Shipley, today means a lot to me, as I feel like I have been at Shipley for a lifetime."
The following Saturday, the sense of community was heightened at our Super Saturday and ribbon-cutting event for the new squash courts and rowing center. While we were acknowledging the facilities, we were really celebrating what happens inside our fabulous buildings. Board Chair Brooksley Wylie, Vice Chair David Lazarus, and Past Board Member (and current parent) and President of Drexel University John Fry were incredible as they thanked people and discussed the impact of our efforts. Perhaps even more notably, our student speakers, Senior Class President Ashleigh Gundy and All-School President Owen Verzella, awed the audience as they shared their perspectives.
Ashleigh summed up her Shipley experience and the event:
"Shipley has been able to give me all that I need to take my next step into college. Not only have I been given the best education, but I have grown as a person, a student, and most importantly a leader. I want to thank everyone for making the new facilities possible. I can’t wait to come back and see the new rowing facilities and my little brother, Trey, playing squash in the new courts. When I become an alum, I look forward to seeing students thrive for generations to come. Lastly, thanks to everyone for making not just today possible but my Shipley education possible."
Owen described his perspective this way:
"As some of you may have heard in my speech in the recent All-School Assembly, I mentioned the openness and generosity of the Shipley community. A day like today is not possible without the kind contributions from various members of our spectacular community. They say that the United States is ‘the land of opportunity,’ and that is how I feel about Shipley. Personally, I have been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the All-School President of one of the best schools, and all the squash players and rowers have been granted the opportunity to expand on their games and build as a team while on campus."
(The picture on the right depicts Ashleigh, Owen, and our rowing and squash captains, as well as a couple of our coaches.)
When the ribbon cutting was over, the community barbecue and sports games began. People at the barbecue seemed to get special joy out of hearing the karaoke session that involved students from PreK-12 as well as parents and friends of the community – it was awesome! – and everyone seemed to have a good day. Personally, I loved watching our different teams compete. The field hockey, girls’ tennis, and boys’ and girls’ soccer teams all worked hard and represented themselves and us well!
My day was made after the games were over when one of our parents said to me, “Steve, this has been a special day for a special school. I can’t tell you how fortunate we feel to have our kids here.” The parent happened to have been at the assembly, too, and we talked about the process involved in making both celebrations possible and real – from the growth of our Oaks and the potential of our Acorns to everything else we have been able to accomplish.
Of course, while I am happy that that parent is pleased to have her children here, as I hope all of you are, I also want to say that we as a school are incredibly grateful to have your children here. They, more than anything, make our school the place that it is. Our job, as it has been for generations, is to challenge them, support them, appreciate them, and help them develop an awareness of themselves and others that allows them to become the best students and people possible.
The essence of this task is captured in an art exhibit that’s been hanging in the Speer Wing of the Upper School – THE FOURTH GRADE PROJECT. In this effort, the artist, Judy Gelles, spent nine years visiting schools all over the world to see how fourth graders see the world. The goals of the project are to bridge cultural differences and to foster a strong, tolerant student community. She asked them three questions: Who do you live with? What do you wish for? And what do you worry about? When she was here, she discussed the project with our Upper School as well as with our fourth and fifth graders. As a result, our fourth graders decided to do our own version of the project which can be found on the walls of the Lower School. For more information, go to judygelles.com/fourth-grade-word-portraits
Of course, empowering our students to answer those questions and to achieve their goals (which, of course, may well change over time), is what we are all about. If we do that, we will have accomplished our mission: to inspire excellence, love of learning, and compassionate participation in the world. We are a school that pushes your children to develop the confidence to explore and the creativity to dream, allowing for deeply-rooted learning that will carry them through life. Of course, in order to accomplish this, it’s essential for every person in the Shipley community to work together on students’ behalves. In our effort to make each other better people and the world a better place, we commit ourselves to positive education, a sense of purpose, and direction.
With that in mind, I invite you to our Positive Education Launch on October 11th at 7 p.m. in the Shipley Commons. The evening will begin with a keynote talk by Dr. James Pawelski, Director of Education and Senior Scholar in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program at the University of Pennsylvania. His presentation will be followed by presentations from Shipley colleagues and students. RSVP by October 8
. By working together we’ll do our best to create a positive growth mindset for ourselves and for our kids that will help everyone develop the grit and determination, understanding and resilience necessary to deal with the challenges they’ll face and become the best they can be. Add to calendar
. If not before, I look forward to seeing you on October 11. Thank you for believing in us and doing whatever is necessary to help us get better.
Head of School
P.S. If you have the time and want to have a special treat, our girls’ and boys’ soccer teams will be playing Friends’ Central on Tuesday, October 3rd, at Talen Energy Field in Chester. Prior to those games, the Philadelphia Union will play against Seattle this Sunday, October 1st. If you would like tickets to Sunday’s Union game, go to: http://www.groupmatics.events/event/shipleyschool2017