School as a Sanctuary

*Adapted from my Back to School Message for Lower School Families, Sept. 20, 2022*

Most of your students will know, and some of you may know too, that I am an extremely avid reader. It is not unusual for me to have multiple books going at once. I have both in print and in my ears, and I find it a great source of learning and joy for my heart. Perhaps my favorite text from this summer was See No Stranger, a Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, written by author and activist Valarie Kaur. I commend it to you. I won’t tell you much about it other than to say that I believe that it speaks to the heart of humanity and the heart of the Quaker testimony of seeing that of God in another person. This particular quotation that you see here, I think, speaks to the heart of what we do at Sandy Spring Friends School and in the lower school. 

See No Stranger, A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.

Wonder is central to what we do here in early childhood and elementary education. Wonder is the beginning of learning, wonder is the beginning of love, wonder is the beginning of curiosity, and wonder is finding our way– learning begins with asking the question “why?” As we walk together in these earliest years, we honor the curiosity and wonder of childhood as a reverent time within our learning journeys. We ask the question of why as we learn words, and we see how they fit together into sentences, and then we see whole sentences become paragraphs become pages, and what does that mean, and how do we grapple with the text? We learn as we become curious about numbers and how they fit together, and how when you combine them, and then you mix them, and then you take them apart if you get magical things. As we work in our friendships, we build our connections with other human beings, both younger and older, we wonder, “how am I going to navigate the space?” We learn the stories of others and tell our own, we ask, “how am I going to be a good friend? how am I going to navigate conflict?, and who along the way is going to help me that is part of the work of childhood?”

I have heard it said, and you probably have too, that Sandy Spring Friends School is a bubble, and I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about it. Many of us have come to the school for the shared set of progressive social values and the mindset around the relationship between adults and children walking in community together.  I’ve started to think about shifting the word bubble to sanctuary. Sanctuary, being the place where we go to find rest, to build, to learn, to be equipped in a safe environment that is at the heart of what we do here. Providing a safe space for our children to learn and grow and struggle and succeed and fail, all within our safety net that honors and respects who they are along the way, and also equips them to walk from this space, from our beautiful acreage, into the world where they will encounter those with whom they may disagree and those with whom they may find it hard to love. And yet, from this space, they will be equipped to walk into the world confidently, knowing and honoring the values learned here and in your home, and taking them out to be changemakers.

As we work through details and logistics, let us not forget the why behind the what and how. My why is affirmed each day in the faces of the children, in their infectious laughter. I get to be here each day to help shape and guide the learning all children. I get to be in a space that affirms that of God in everyone and creates a sanctuary for belonging and love. And, I am buoyed by the trust placed in us by our families to join us in our mission. This is a sacred gift, and I’m deeply grateful.

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