Enriched by Community Connection


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Enriched by Community Connection

For Jonathan Brown, engaging in Shady Side’s parent community has spurred personal growth, learning, and transformation. While he leads the Unified Parents’ Association (UPA), the group’s focus on collaboration means that their success is a group achievement. “Community changes the world,” Brown says. “The Parents’ Association is the means to foster that community at SSA.”

Winter 2023-24 Shady Side Academy Magazine Cover

The Winter 2023-24 Issue of Shady Side Academy Magazine is online. Read it now.

Brown’s journey to Shady Side, like many auspicious life events, was unforeseen. Before his eldest son entered the Junior School’s kindergarten class, Brown had never considered an independent school education for his family. But a casual suggestion from his son Julian’s mother led to a transformative experience, and Julian is now a thriving ninth grader at the Senior School. Following Julian’s path, Brown’s daughter, Allyn, began her education in senior pre-kindergarten at the Junior School and is currently in fifth grade.

Over the past decade, Shady Side’s nurturing environment has cultivated the Brown children’s academic prowess and shaped them into exemplary role models and leaders. Encouraged by his children’s school experiences, Brown has developed new leadership skills himself. He fondly reminisces about how his children’s educators promoted public speaking from an early age, while he only learned that skill as an adult. This proactive commitment to comprehensive education has led to touching moments when Brown finds himself gleaning insights from his children, a testament, he believes, to SSA’s vast community influence beyond the academic sphere.

While his children effortlessly integrated into their new school environment, Brown initially struggled to find his place within what he viewed as the “SSA mold.” With time, he embraced authenticity, casting aside hesitations and boldly expressing facets of his identity, from his tattoos to his choice of attire.

Reflecting on his experience, he notes, “When I first became part of the Junior School Parents’ Association (PA), the team welcomed me with open arms, fostering a sense of belonging.” He adds, “It all boils down to leadership. While we hail from varied walks of life, our unifying thread is the mutual aspiration to support our children.” After serving in the Junior School PA, Brown made the deeply personal decision to become president of the UPA. “As an African American father, I recognize the significance of representation. Through my leadership this year, I aim to champion diversity within the Parents’ Association, emphasizing that every child — and by extension their family — should see themselves mirrored in the broader SSA community.”

Acknowledging the important groundwork laid by UPA presidents before him, Brown considers what is next for the UPA and how he can pass the baton to the next president. “Under the leadership of Bart, Shady Side Academy has seen some traditions evolve, and has embraced innovation and change. It is important for the Unified Parents’ Association to be in alignment with this direction.” He adds, “Our focus for the UPA right now is to blend the richness of our traditions with a new forward-thinking approach that responds to what our community’s needs are today and in the future.”

Community is at the heart of the UPA’s initiatives. Brown emphasizes the importance of valuing every parent volunteer, whether they can contribute 15 minutes or an entire day. By creating diverse opportunities for involvement, the UPA seeks to ensure that every SSA community member feels heard, seen, and supported.

Brown encourages all SSA parents, especially fathers and guardians, to get involved with the UPA — and bring others along. “Playfully nudge or encourage that person who wants to get involved but perhaps doesn’t see themselves as part of the UPA,” he says.

If there is one thing Brown wants every parent and guardian to know, it’s that there is a place for them here at SSA and within the UPA. “Come as you are,” he says, “We are all here, focused on the kids.”

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