Head of School’s Notebook: Beginnings

September 15, 2023

After the excitement of the start of the year, we are more fully back into the routine of the school and students are settling into the rhythm of their lives on the Mesa. Part of what makes this transition into regularity so seamless is that last week, we all spent time away from Cate in the wilderness, away from phones, with each other, and this time helped us all more fully arrive into ourselves and into the school year.

I had the great privilege of attending the 9th grade Pyles trip, a decades-long annual tradition that was only disrupted during the COVID years. While I had heard about the magic of this experience, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw and felt last week. Here are a few snapshots of what I saw and experienced:

  • Students spent time sitting in circles in the meadow or at the picnic tables, playing cards or simply talking about life. I saw students at ease, being silly, turning to the quieter students to ask questions, and truly present in the moment. 
  • Each night before we ate dinner, we expressed our gratitude to the kitchen staff for making us dinner. We made sure everyone had food on their plate before eating, and we ended the meal with a group share of highlights and gratitude. While subtle and simple, these practices united us in our shared humanity and ensured that we each felt a part of the whole.
  • While hiking, we routinely stopped to check in about how people were feeling with their comfort level. Those of us who felt more sure-footed or in our element were asked to attend to those who weren’t. Almost by magic, I watched as the groups naturally rearranged and oriented toward those who needed more support and encouragement. Subsequently, I saw that the confidence level of the entire group immediately improved and students started to smile and say “This is WAY more fun than I thought it would be,” or “I never thought that I’d do something like this!”
  • When our hiking group returned an hour and a half late to dinner, we arrived to find that the entire group was waiting for us to return so we could all eat dinner together. A simple yet profound gesture to signal that we belong to each other. 
  • At our final “pine cone ceremony” students took turns expressing gratitude and reflections. Numerous students said that initially, they were dreading this Outings Week either because of a fear of being outside or because they didn’t feel like they had any friends. Now, at the end, they expressed that they felt like they could just be themselves and were accepted just as they were and felt like the whole world opened up to them as a result of learning how much they loved being outdoors. 

These moments are just a few of the many I saw and experienced. I know there are thousands of examples that your children or my colleagues would share and I encourage you to ask them more about the trip. There is a perceptible shift in how the culture feels on campus this week. Students talk about feeling more at home in themselves and with each other. I’ve always believed that the most important ingredient to transformative learning is when students can bring their whole selves into the classroom so they can bring all of their gifts and resources to the task of embracing ambiguity, considering possibilities, and discovering something new. As I learn more about Cate I continue to feel that our model is a paragon of a transformational educational experience. I am humbled and proud to be a part of such a tremendous school.