Over a decade ago, when my children were around three and five, I would ensure that every Friday over the summer months we would head out for a hike. These outings usually included an excruciatingly slow, hundred-yard excursion filled with many stops to explore the intricacies of the natural world and ended in a snack break, prompted by my daughter who had echoed, “Picnic” from the ten-yard marker on. One location that we frequented was the Lair o’ the Bear outside of Golden.
Not far from the parking lot, a striking tree punctuates an intersection of trails; its thick branches splay out from the trunk, the lowest ones stretching out, near and parallel to the ground, enticing the youngest of climbers. We would often just stop here, snack, and play around, up and down the tree. Though I had planned on going to destinations farther afield, that was often the extent of our “hike.”
Those weekly ventures reminded me to value the summer as a time to slow down and appreciate a slower pace, one where you might be able to sit back and simply watch your children explore, be that in the mountains, by the ocean, or in a city park. We, as parents, often have grand plans for our children. We are, rightly, future-focused, but as my children have grown into teenagers, I have become nostalgic for the now of those early years.
In my end-of-year letter last May, I refined my perspective on purpose, suggesting that a child’s purpose at school is not about a distant future goal; it is about feeling connected, recognized, and empowered to grow now. Around that tree, many years ago, my children’s growth came in various forms—their curiosity led them to discover all elements of nature, animate and inanimate, their adventurousness led them to climb the tree from branch to higher branch, and their need to connect to other children led them to make friends and socialize. Though the analogy may be too simple, I hope that Graland is a similar environment of growth for your children where their curiosity, their agency, and their empathy can flourish.
In the midst of a world that grows more complex by the minute, I am inspired to avoid abstractions and return to the concrete and simple reason behind our purpose at Graland—the children, who are important reminders to find joy and meaning in the present moment. Last year we spent most of the year focusing on our inspiring and inspired faculty and the compassion and competency they bring to their craft, and this year we will focus on the root of their inspiration—their students. Teachers understand that students, just like the branches of that tree, will grow in a variety of somewhat unpredictable ways and are fulfilled by doing their part to foster that progression. As Dr. Thompson explained to me at a training last year, children and teenagers are always growing along several threads and we should honor that multidimensional growth, whether it be physical, cognitive, or emotional.
This school year, we will specifically explore how the intellectual and social-emotional strands of that growth converge and compliment themselves, preparing students to thrive not only in the future but right now. On the opening day of school, you’re invited to stay following the Back-to-School Coffee to hear my vision for the 2019-20 school year, as well as opening remarks from Bernie Dvorak, President of the Board. I hope you will join us on Tuesday, August 27, at 8:15 a.m. in the Anschutz Commons dining hall.
I hope that all of you have had a wonderful summer, enjoying family and friends, and I look forward to seeing you back on campus in a few weeks.