A recent article in The Atlantic argued that smaller private schools are dying out and are gradually being replaced by more affordable options such as public and charter schools. This argument had me thinking about the value of a boarding school education; boarding schools have an opportunity to “double down”—but only if we can articulate what makes us special, a value we all deeply believe exists.
This article’s wake up gong is good for us to consider. And yet, the 24/7 model of a boarding school creates what I believe are hard-to-measure interactions across the spectrum of things we do.
Certain things are timeless. This week, I was reminded of that when I heard about the varsity baseball teams victory over Pomfret and listened to the student council present to department heads. The dance concert tonight is another example of creating an invaluable student experience. In all of these examples, the “doing” means that you have to be there.
The article also had me thinking about how the argument of “turning to families from Asia who can afford tuition” is always, and I mean always, written as a pejorative. There’s a story in that. Schools have always evolved over time. If American boarding schools are a highly sought after experience among an international population, is that so bad?
Until the great social changes brought upon by the Civil Rights movement—I am thinking here of such landmarks as Brown vs. the Board of Education and Johnson’s Civil Right’s Act—boarding schools, and indeed colleges in New England, catered primarily to elite populations. Then the great egalitarian sweep of U.S. geographical distribution occurred. And now we are schools to the world.
While tuition costs may be growing, I believe the world view, rather than the provincial one, will create growth opportunities for building sustainable models. Certainly private institutions need to increase endowments for tuition relief—but most important is that we continue to offer relevant and timeless education opportunities for all.
Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and four more stops before returning to Williston. It has been a fast paced trip to Asia—too fast to see all of the alumni who constitute Williston’s extended global family. But as with our last trip, I (and all the Williston folks traveling with me) have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of our hosts and the eagerness for news. I’ve been talking to many people about the good initiatives underway at Williston, as well as those still to come.
Moving from country to country, I can’t help but juxtapose various meetings. Here’s an example of what I mean: At one point, we met the distinguished citizen of Seoul (and Williston’s first Korean alumnus), Mr. Yun, son of a former South Korean president. He graciously showed us his traditional home. In Hong Kong, we met Ronald Chan, from the Class of 2001. Mr. Chan represents the younger generation of civic-minded Willistonians in his role as political assistant to the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs. Two men, two different eras, both committed to civic engagement and the public good.
Robert Ward liked to quote the poet Robert Frost in saying that Williston instills in its students “doing good well. ” On this trip, we have witnessed that such values have a truly global reach.
Boarding schools share many rites of passage, but certainly one which we most anticipate has to do with coming back together as a community after long breaks. As always at Williston, we begin the first day with assembly, and while it was a pleasure to offer welcoming remarks, I did so knowing that the young children of Newtown, CT were also reconvening in their new Sandy Hook elementary school location.
Because that tragedy happened after Williston students had returned home for the holidays, I wanted to offer reassurance about safety measures that we have taken during the past two years (recalling an all-school drill we had in the fall term), remind our community of the support services at our ready disposal (counselors, mentors, advisors), and reiterate to our students that their safety is our highest priority.
As I watched students wind a familiar path from our chapel to their classes, I was reminded that the young people at Williston, learning and living together, have much to look forward to in 2013 and their journeys beyond. May their clear-eyed optimism of youth never be clouded by the inhuman actions of a few.
While Williston resumes our normal schedule and students returned last night from an extended long weekend, our thoughts are with those who were not so fortunate. As with other natural disasters with widespread tentacles, six degrees of separation invariably means that the extended Williston family has been directly and profoundly affected.
We have students living in the tri-state zone of destruction, a faculty member whose relatives suffered an unimaginable loss, a colleague whose Easthampton home sustained a direct hit from a tree—these are some of the stories affecting Williston. The minor disruptions we tolerated are nothing compared to what some have had to endure.
Williston is “back to normal” today, and our community is thankful for being spared human and property loss, but ever mindful of those who continue to suffer from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath.
It was great to come home to Williston following a vacation that took the Hills far afield to visit family in both the UK and South Africa. As is so often the case after such an experience, one cannot help but return with fresh perspectives.
I recalled the diverse beauty of South Africa from a previous visit, and so that viewpoint was not new or changed from the impression I gleaned over 20 years ago. But what seemed different to me was the human landscape, epitomized by the recent celebration for Nelson Mandela’s birthday, or the colossal World Cup stadium that marks one view into Cape Town and carries its memories of “Bafana Bafana.”