I have a bone to pick with you.
But, first, let me make something perfectly clear: my primary drink for the last five years has been your school’s Kool Aid. Not only do I drink it when and wherever I can, I make pitchers of it and serve it to everyone I know. It’s that good.
The reason we made the very difficult family decision to switch our children from our respectable town public schools to your extraordinary (but costly) private institution was because we completely bought into your “whole child” approach to education. The fact that my children could receive excellent academic training AND be immersed in high quality arts and athletics was a big sales point for us. And all the opportunities to expose our children to the reality that the world (near and far) is made up of people who live differently from us and that we need to find ways to understand, communicate with, and when needed help those people really made the switch to your school inevitable. We want our children to be more than school graduates. We want them to be thriving citizens of the world.
You made good on your promises. Academics, Arts, Athletics, Civics, Cultural Competence. I credit you with engaging my children and building their desire to use their unique skills and talents to make a difference in the world. To help make the world a better place.
So you wonder, what more could I ask?
Here it comes, dear Headmaster, so maybe you should sit down.
There is one more, very important thing. It is something that truly irks me and makes me question whether this past Monday’s Kool Aid was somehow polluted. Did it get left out in the sun too long?
As you know, each year, on the day before 8th grade graduation, the school salutes the graduating students. The beaming class of soon-to-be graduates sits on stage in the auditorium while each grade (pre-K through 7th) sings an original goodbye song to them. The school watches an always poignant slideshow of moments from the graduating class’s years at your institution. And awards are presented to students who’ve shown themselves to be markedly superior in each of the areas of learning which this fine institution promotes and nurtures. Nine school “cups” (silver bowls, actually) are awarded by the athletic department, the performing arts department, the art department, the trustees, the faculty and the Head of School.
I am not somebody who believes that a middle school should not present awards to their students, despite the concern among many that it would make those not receiving awards feel bad. I think it is important to recognize those who work hard, focus energy on developing their talents, show compassion toward others, and simply make a difference in the school community.
And I love how the ceremony at our school functions. An award is described, the student or students receiving the award is called to the podium, and the presenter shares with the audience their take on why this particular student is deserving of public recognition. To watch the deserving student as the presenter speaks touches my heart so deeply, I often find my eyes full of tears, even when I don’t know the student prior to the presentation.
But this year, because my child was graduating, I did know all of the students who received awards, so it was doubly touching to watch, especially since I believe that the school made excellent choices regarding the awardees. And everything went smoothly, at first. Hearing about the sportsmanship, drive and ability of two wonderful athletes; watching as the extremely talented student performer listened to words of how his dedication to his craft enriched the school community; admiring the lovely, quiet student who was honored for her outstanding creative effort in the fine arts.
Then, the Trustee Cup was awarded. This cup is awarded for academic excellence to the highest-ranking student in the 8th grade class. The student was called up to the podium. The presenter and you, dear Headmaster, shook her hand and gave her the small silver bowl. All smiles, she stood, waiting to be acknowledged like the other award recipients. There was a little kerfuffle, a brief conversation between you and the student, and she nodded and took her award back to her seat with the other students.
The next five awards followed the same tradition as the first three. Presenters recognized students for outstanding achievements and personal qualities; for positively influencing the school community; for thoughtfulness and manners; for making best use of their talents; and for best expressing the ideals and spirit of the school through effort and character, athletics, and scholarship.
Do you see where I’m a little bit confused? No. A whole lot confused. And disturbed.
I’ll be very clear with you here: I thought academics was a very important part of what this school is about. I’ve seen the work my child brings home and I’ve seen what goes on in the classroom. Everything points to a school that values scholarship. As a matter of fact, your mission is to instill in students a lifelong love of learning. Surely academics are a vital part of that equation. Yet, the only student awardee who was not praised by her presenter, who actually was humiliated when she was told by you (as I learned later) that they didn’t have anything to say about her because they’d just figured out the night before who was ranked highest, was the student who excelled most in academics as shown through her class rank.
When mentioned later, one person said that the reason they didn’t honor her in the same way was that her award was merely a calculation.
Bullshit (this is one of those moments where it is acceptable to curse in a formal letter).
The student who achieves the highest scores in her class is much more than a calculation. There is a lot of work that goes into getting good grades, and while like the skilled athlete, said student might be naturally more talented academically than a portion of her class, she also, like the skilled athlete is a combination of many attributes outside of her “talent” that led to her high scores. If the school recognizes the sportsmanship or dedication to craft or creative effort in athletics or performing arts or fine arts, shouldn’ t they be recognizing the contributions and hard work and effort that went into this child’s academic excellence?
I suppose if the student with the highest rank was somebody who kept her head down in her books all of the time and only cared about her grades that maybe there isn’t a lot to say about that student. If that were true, I’d say acknowledge that student in some other venue. Don’t put her on the stage with all her friends and tell them how great they are and call her a calculation.
The interesting thing is that this student who received the Trustees Cup on Monday is an amazing kid. I’m not alone in thinking that. Her teachers, her peers, the parents of her peers say that she contributes a tremendous amount to her class and the school. She is anything but a calculation.
My children are now graduated from your school. I imagine that I will still drink and serve your Kool Aid, but I have to say that right now, after I’ve drunk my fill, I’m left with a rather bad taste in my mouth.
The Proud Mother of an Amazing, Recent 8th Grade Graduate of Your School
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