As classes are beginning, students everywhere are organizing their notebooks and binders and practicing note taking. At Rock Point School, we encourage students, when possible, to take notes by hand. Wondering why?
As the spring approaches, our students take part in events that showcase their many achievements throughout the year: our annual Art Show, the Vermont Young Playwrights’ Festival, our student-produced prom, and, of course, our weekend of Graduation events. These opportunities for our students to celebrate their success also allow them a chance to be seen, appreciated, and publicly praised by their peers and by the adults who’ve come to know them throughout the year.
In the field of education, there has been a lot of research about the benefits of play-based education for preschool and elementary school students. It is accepted that young children learn everything from social skills to reasoning to math through play. As students get older, however, the benefits of play are emphasized less and academic pressure increases. But for high school students, play can be just as valuable to their learning as it is for elementary school learners.
As students get to high school, many are forced to make the choice to give up taking an art class in order to make room in their schedule for other academic classes seen as more essential for college or careers. While it’s true that high school students should not be expected to overfill their schedules, the value of studying and creating art translates not only into the workplace, but also into emotional and social health. This is one of the reasons that at Rock Point School, we continue to put the arts at the center of our curriculum. Whether students are collaborating on a mosaic or doing a photoshoot in the woods, the skills they gain in the process are essential to becoming successful in school and beyond.
The other day I was helping a student prepare for our Thanksgiving service, when we started talking about what he was grateful for in his life. “I’m grateful I’m accepted for who I am here,” he said with a shrug. While he did not know it, his statement stayed with me all day. I am so grateful to work in a community of students who are inclusive and kind to one another, and I probably don’t tell them that enough. Our conversation reminded me of the importance of practicing gratitude in our daily lives, not just when the holiday rolls around.
At graduation, our long-time History teacher, Gus Buchanan, has a sweet tradition of reading from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. The line that usually gets us all to tear up a little, comes at the end of the first chapter, “And it’s still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.” We hope that as our graduates leave, they keep that lesson in their heart, to look out for one another, and stay connected. Of course we also hope they have learned some tangible life skills to take with them when they move on.
I had a plan going into our weekly School-wide Reflections meeting before April vacation, but as often happens when working with teens, my plans changed. Looking at their faces, tense bodies, and the general lack of attendance, I wondered what was going on. So, I asked. My students, as usual, surprised me with the depth and breadth of their answers.
Earlier this year, I read an NPR interview with Susan Cain, author of Quiet, and most recently of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. In it, Cain reveals a nationwide growth in understanding that sometimes quiet students are just as engaged, talented, and successful in school as their extroverted peers. Cain points out that as a culture we’ve tended to value the extroverted person for their willingness to contribute, their confidence, their assertiveness. In school, we often encourage extroverted behavior by grading students on class discussion and presentations. But this approach may have missed something important: introverted students need to be valued for who they are, and then led slowly, rather than pushed, out of their comfort zone.
This time of year, many of our students and families are planning for the summer. As the weather warms up, our students are already anticipating sunny summer days with fewer responsibilities and the possibility of sleeping in. While having time to relax and to take a break from the rigors of the school year is important, we also know that having some kind of structure in place during the summer helps keep our students on track to be successful in the following school year.