Senior School Head's Letters

August 2017

Dear Families,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying the many pleasures of summer. As the calendar turns to August, our thoughts turn to the start of school, and I want to take this opportunity to welcome all of you to the 2017-2018 school year. 

science center construction While many of us work on a more relaxed schedule, it has been a busy summer at the Senior School. For those of you who have been on campus recently, you have seen the amazing progress with the construction of the McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation. It has been exciting to watch the structure take shape. Students will return to school to find fresh paint and carpeting on the lower and second floors of Rowe, and a new infirmary extension on the Kappel Faculty Home (on the upper circle across from Rowe Hall). We hope to have this new space for the Nurse’s Office ready for occupancy in mid-September.

Summer affords time for reflection and reading, and like many of our students, I have just finished Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. All students are required to read this novel along with another book from the summer reading list. Alexie’s engaging and thought-provoking novel tells the story of Junior, a high school freshman living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. While Junior’s life and struggles are in many ways far-removed from those of our students, there are elements of his experience as an adolescent that are transcendent of time and place. Junior relies on the unconditional love of his family as he navigates his transition to a high school “off the rez.” While he experiences significant loss, he finds genuine friendship and connections to peers and adults in his new school. He has a transformative experience as a member of the basketball team that helps him come to terms with the path he has chosen.

Junior’s experience on the basketball team illustrates the power of team sports. When students are part of a team, they engage with their teammates in a shared endeavor to work toward a common goal. Indeed, Shady Side students derive a myriad of lessons from participating in team activities, whether in athletics, musical and theater ensembles, or Science Olympiad and other academic teams. Students and faculty members have heard me talk about my experience as a member of Princeton Women’s Crew. Among the many lessons that I learned from countless afternoons spent in a boat with eight teammates (going backwards!) was that trust in each other was essential to achieve success. Each of us had to believe that the other rowers were doing their best to maximize their potential as contributors to the boat. If we were to doubt one another’s efforts, surely our own would begin to flag, and we would lose sight of the broader goal. At their best, team activities teach young people the value and rewards of being part of something bigger than themselves.

Earlier this summer, Tom Cangiano worked with the school heads, our Dean of Student and Residential Life, Chad Green, and our Director of Enrollment Management, Katie Mihm, to revise and update the Parent-School Covenant. At a school where we value team participation, it is fitting that the title of this new Family and School Partnership is “Educating Children is a Team Effort.” It reinforces the idea that families and school personnel are working together towards the common goal of helping students “attain the knowledge, skills, character traits and habits of mind required not just for the next step in their educational journey but so that they may live lives that are healthy, fulfilling and productive.” At the heart of our partnership is our trust in each other’s good intentions as we strive to support our students and abide by our Guiding Principles of honesty, kindness, respect, responsibility and safety.

I want to be sure you aware of a few things as we gear up for the school year. There is a great deal of information for families on the Shady Side website on the Summer Information. By now, all families should have received the list of courses in which students are enrolled for the 2017-2018 school year, along with information about ordering books from our online bookstore. Instructors will expect that students have all of their books for the start of school. In the coming days, you will receive an email from Chad Green that will outline some key sections of the Student-Parent Handbook for your review. His email will also preview the first few days of school and include more information about orientation for students and families new to the Senior School. For now, please note that there are two informal “New Parent Coffees” scheduled for Wednesday, August 16, from 8:30-9:30 a.m., and Thursday, August 24, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Both events will be held in the Benedum Student Center in Rowe Hall. These coffees do not have a set program; they are intended to answer logistical questions about the “nuts and bolts” of life at the Senior School. Typically, we talk about the dress code, drop-off and pick up, attendance policies, the schedule and other facets of daily student life. There is a more formal program scheduled for the evening of Sunday, August 27, at 7 p.m. for all new families (there is a program for new boarding parents that afternoon from 4:15-5:15 p.m.). We encourage you to attend this evening program because you will have the opportunity to meet your child’s advisor and hear from me, Chad, and other school administrators about our goals, expectations and aspirations for Senior School students. 

We look forward to welcoming new students for Orientation on Monday, August 28, and all students for Convocation and the first day of classes on Tuesday, August 29. We will also be welcoming a terrific group of new faculty and staff members (read their bios).  

It is a privilege to work with you and your children, and I am looking forward to the 2017-2018 school year!                                                                         

Sincerely,
Sophie Glenn Lau
Head of Senior School

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