A Note From Chris to Start the 2023-2024 School Year
Last Tuesday morning, we gathered for our first Morning Assembly of the year. Amidst the birthday shout-outs, reminders about practices, and general student excitement, I took a few minutes to welcome our students to the new school year and share some thoughts with them about the year to come.
I began with a message for our new students, and told them a little about what it was like for me last year, when I was the new kid at Whitfield. Being new can feel awkward, and some degree of nervousness and confusion is normal, a natural and inevitable part of coming to a new school. And I wanted them to understand that any nerves or uncertainty they might be feeling are ok, that they are not alone, and that it will pass!
But the heart of my message was for all students, and I told them that I had two hopes for the coming year–and a challenge.
My first hope for our students was that the year ahead would be a hard one–maybe even the hardest year they’ve ever had at school. Because school should be hard, it should be challenging, it should cause you to struggle. Learning is work: Even if you’re motivated and studying something you really enjoy, we know that durable, deep learning takes time and exertion–it’s effortful. Real learning stretches you, pushes you to understand yourself and the world around you in new and challenging ways. And often that’s uncomfortable or difficult.
And so, in the same way that you feel tired, and your body aches after a really good athletic practice–hurting in a good way that tells you you’re getting better and stronger–I want our students’ heads to hurt a little when they go home each day or when they finish their homework at night.
My second hope for our students–your children–was that the year ahead would be an easy one–maybe even the easiest year they’ve ever had at school. Because as hard and effortful as learning can be, being at Whitfield shouldn’t be difficult. Whitfield is known for its powerful sense of community, the family-like environment we work hard to create in our classrooms, in the hallways and playing fields, and wherever our students come together across campus. I want our students to feel comfortable and safe and supported–I want them to feel that this is a place where they belong.
My challenge was two-fold: As much as I might hope for and want these things, and as much as their teachers and advisors and coaches will work to realize these hopes, I told the students that they have a decisive role in determining what kind of year they have.
Each of our students is the author of the story of their own life. They get to decide how hard they work, how much they engage in class, how involved they are in sports and arts and activities. They get to decide, each day, how much effort and energy and enthusiasm they bring to the life they create here.
At the same time, the students collectively will decide what kind of school Whitfield is. Every day, with everything they do and say, with every interaction with faculty, staff, and peer, the students help to create the culture and the community that we all share. The adults certainly have a profoundly important role to play, but, in the end, students have the power to make Whitfield the school they want it to be.
I share this with all of you because you are valued and essential partners in the work we do, and you should understand our hopes and aspirations.
All of us here–faculty, staff, administration–are grateful for the trust you have placed in us, and we are excited to partner with you to help your children to discover and become the person they want to be.
Chris Cunningham, Ph.D.
Head of School