Introducing Division Heads Corner
Aaron Cooper, Head of School

You may have noticed a new column in last week’s Wednesday Envelope - the Division Heads Corner, in which Paul Baly, our middle school head, wrote about Morrow House’s signature Leadership Symposium program.  This week in that space, Beth Brennan has written about the transforming of the Lower School Library into a collaborative learning space.  Next week, you can expect to hear from Tricia Eickelberg.  We have added this section because our division heads are experienced and insightful educational leaders whose philosophies and visions complement one another and support our school’s core values of caring deeply about academic excellence, character development, community, diversity and inclusion, and passion for learning in a child-centered environment.  Their voices here will provide more context and food for thought - as well as fodder for conversation, hopefully - for our community.  We also hope that their words will give you a window into how each division of our school supports EMS’ core values in a manner that is authentic to the development ages and stages of its students. 

Our division heads will lead our faculty in articulating EMS’ core values in action next Tuesday, on our annual Faculty Study Day. This year, all faculty and staff will be working on our self-study, which is a major part of our decennial New Jersey Association of Independent Schools’ re-accreditation process. In the roughly 150 page self-study document, we describe our current practices and beliefs in order to paint an accurate picture of how EMS lives its mission. This document will then be reviewed by eight to 10 peer educators from other NJAIS schools, who will be on campus in November. They will visit with faculty, staff, trustees, students and families, and observe our school in action to see how well our day-to-day operations mirror what we have written. That visit will result in a report that will operate alongside our strategic plan and form the road map for the school’s next five years.  

If you have not yet seen it, I also encourage you to watch some of the ways that Tricia, Beth, and Paul work together and complement one another in the video from the State of the School address from February 2.

To Belong
Aaron Cooper

This past weekend, I had an adventure.  I raced on Saturday in the United States Association of Track & Field’s Masters Cross Country Championships race in Tallahassee, FL.  I was part of a team from the Garden State Track Club, and the team was competing with others from around the country in the race.  I planned on flying in Friday night, but my flight from Newark to Charlotte was delayed, and I missed my connection to Tallahassee.  Even though I am only now getting my fitness back after an extended injury lay-off, I chose to enter the race so that our team was complete (five runners are required to complete a cross country team) and could score in the meet.  

When I missed my connection, though my teammates encouraged me to fly back home and miss the race, I felt I needed to be there for the team.  So, I rented a car and drove all night (I took a two-hour nap in a rest stop south of Macon, GA.)  I arrived about an hour before the race and was able to run.  Happily, our team won the race, and I was the fifth man.  

As humans, one of our most important traits and needs is belonging.  Feeling a part of a group, a team, or a community both forms interpersonal connections and deepens the desire to be further connected.  In fact, there are also chemical reasons that belonging is important, as increased oxytocin is linked with a sense of belonging.  For the ages we at EMS teach, this sense of belonging is perhaps even more important because it is during childhood - particularly in the later year of childhood from third through eighth grade - when children’s senses of identity are largely formed.  That sense of identity, an essential part of maturation connected with puberty and with increased independence, grows healthiest when the individual has ample connections and points of belonging.  

It is for this knowledge that we at EMS have designed our program to be broad and full of opportunities for students to find belonging.  From morning meeting in our lower school classrooms to advisory in the middle school, students’ days begin in small groups designed to encourage cohesion and camaraderie.  Then, the sheer range of options our students can choose at various points of their day further these opportunities for belonging.  Middle school students at EMS, unlike their peers in many other schools, can play an instrument and sing in a chorus and act in a play and write for the school newspaper and play on a sports team and be on Student Council - all simultaneously.  In addition to planting the seeds that may someday become lifelong passions, these activities provide several opportunities for students to feel more connected and more engaged with one another and with goals.  Such belonging encourages healthy maturation, and we at EMS are very intentional in designing a program that is thoughtful of child development on several levels.

Sometime during the wee hours Saturday morning, somewhere in South Carolina or Georgia, knowing that what I was doing was irrational and yet having no doubts that it was the right decision, I reflected on the power of belonging we carry with us well beyond our formative years.  That makes the experiences of belonging from those childhood years all the more important.  After running the race and helping the team to a successful outcome, I felt even better about the whole ordeal, even if I am still recovering my sleep!

Investing in Community
Aaron Cooper

What a wonderful event Saturday’s International Food Festival was! Between food from around the world and a great community atmosphere, the festival was a resounding success yet again.  The addition this year of charity:water with its Jerry cans and its virtual reality experience along with the penny contest that preceded it was so important for our students.  The message of service and philanthropy and understanding need in the world (particularly in the context of the plenty that we all enjoyed at the festival) provides context and awareness for everyone. Special thanks to Yujie Dong, Pamela Graham, Joan Toro-Herrera, Dimitri Vermes, and Jean Zhang for organizing the event and to all the volunteers who set up, cooked, organized tables and worked during the event. Without you, the event could not have happened.

Building on that wonderful community event, I invite all of you to this Friday’s State of the School presentation. This is an event that many schools host, and it will be our first. Please come to hear more about the finances of the school, about some of our ongoing curricular innovations and evolutions, as well as some of the ongoing major projects including our strategic plan, our school’s re-accreditation, and leadership transition. You will hear from members of the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee and from members of the administration.

The presentation will be in the Peter Lawrence Gymkhana starting promptly at 8:30 and running until 10 a.m., including a period for questions and answers.  Please feel free to come a few minutes early to get a bite to eat or a cup of something warm beforehand. I hope to see you there. 

The Power of Community
Aaron Cooper

Last Saturday, we hosted a very successful admissions screening.  Those of you whose children entered in first grade and below likely remember the day - the children go to the classrooms in small groups to work with teachers, and other family members stay to mingle and learn more about EMS.  Tricia Eickelberg, Beth Brennan, Paul Baly, and I spoke about the school and familiar themes of creativity and innovation, character, service, diversity and the importance of cultural competency. Through this discussion, the importance of community emerged.  

Thinking later in the weekend about about the centrality of these themes at EMS, it struck me that the International Food Festival fits with so much that is core to our school. The entire community will gather for food from around the world, representing the many cultures that comprise our community.  Some of the food will even be prepared by our students as part of their class assignments!  There will be activities and much camaraderie, and we will continue raising money for charity:water as we have been for the past two weeks.  

Combining many of the major values that are at the core of our school makes each individual component more ingrained and relevant for our students. Doing so in a major event like the International Food Festival brings that sense to the whole community.

Please join us in the Peter Lawrence Gymkhana in Morrow House this Saturday from noon to 2!  Please feel free to bring your friends, and please make sure to thank our dozens of volunteers without whose dedication, time, passion, and ideas this event would not be possible nor nearly as successful.

A Commitment to Service Learning
Aaron Cooper

Last Friday, at our first All-School assembly of 2018, we announced the “Penny Contest” that will run up to the International Food Festival on Saturday, January 27 in support of charity:water. The timing of the assembly, on the eve of the Martin Luther King Day weekend, allowed us to connect our commitment to service to some of Dr. King’s teachings.  

At many levels of our school, students learn about Dr. King---in celebration of the observance of his birthday, in observance of Black History Month in February, and in connection with curriculum, most commonly in social studies and language arts. Rightly, the bulk of the lessons on Dr. King focus on the Civil Rights Movement and the drive for more equal treatment racially.  We spend less time on Dr. King’s involvement with the anti-war movement and his dedication to the eradication of poverty.  Yet, Dr. King spent much energy in the last years of his life focused on fair pay, dignity, and rights for those in poverty.  This work continues today and, in many ways, EMS’s service learning program is focused on students learning the values of access, respect, and equity.  

That service learning program encompasses the entire school community, and it involves both all-school events and classroom-specific endeavors. Just last week, we partnered again with the Center for Food Action for a weekend snack packing event that benefits under-resourced students in this area who live at or below the poverty level and who often do not have enough to eat on the weekends.

The “Penny Contest” effort at the International Food Festival is similar.  At assembly on Friday, we showed a video emphasizing the importance of more equal access to water and the ways that charity:water helps deliver it.  

In connecting this effort to Dr. King’s legacy, I underscored the point that working towards equity even in small ways is important.  I am proud that the EMS community acts upon these values and is committed to making a difference in the world.  I hope you will send some change in with your child this week.  Together, we will increase access to water, that most basic of resources, and we will also further educate our students on the importance of working towards a more equitable world.

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