All eleventh graders at Waverly take a This I Believe class, intended to develop mindfulness and self-awareness while also helping them to foster their writing and public speaking skills. I was invited to participate by composing and reading my own This I Believe essay with the class. Feeling grateful for this place, I am happy to share what I believe with you.
When I was in the ninth grade, I was assigned a five-paragraph essay about “Safety in the Home.” I remember being somewhat dumbfounded that anyone would want to read thirty plus essays on why we shouldn’t plug a fan in next to the bathtub. There wasn’t a discussion, an article, or anything to proceed or follow the assignment. I wrote the essay. I got a “B.” I completed dozens of assignments such as this during my years in high school. Math problems were endured, essays were written, historical facts memorized. I don’t remember a single class discussion or individual conversation with any teacher about how I was doing in their class. I remember getting grades and feeling vaguely disappointed when my grades mirrored my lack of inspiration. I developed my writing skills during my high school career through notes I wrote during class to friends. In some classes, I was able to cover two full notebook pages front and back. I would fold them into tight squares, to be passed along between classes, the fruit of a fifty-minute instructional period. These missives, developed over class periods when only the teacher talked, held all my thinking.
My own children began their education in a small, parent-participation nursery school. The teachers were caring professionals with profound appreciation for play – play as the work of children. In this place, my children constructed their own learning. It was here that they first made play dough, prepared snacks for their classmates, and conducted science experiments in sand. They fed the snake, held the bunny, and watched baby chicks hatch from eggs. I wondered why this kind of education, where my children were engaged in discovery, had to end in preschool? I began to search for a different kind of school, and I found Waverly.
The brochure I received in the mail invited me to “Imagine a school, where kids learn to think, to question, to reason, and to explore, where they develop as unique individuals, and where teachers guide, mentor, support and challenge.”
Never, at any point in my school experience did I find teachers who were guides or mentors. The grades I received defined my instructors’ perceptions of me, and often of myself. I was intrigued by the possibility of a school valuing the importance of students’ engagement in their learning, and invited to play a more active role. I felt hopeful that my children could be educated in an environment where their learning would not be reduced to a letter.
It has been seven years since I first held that brochure in my hand. On the way to and from Waverly every day, my three children share their enthusiasm for their daily discoveries, their conversations with their teachers and their friends. They share their curiosity about the world, the stories they are writing and the insights of their classmates and teachers. They ask endless questions and sprint for the playground, often forgetting to shut the car door. From my office at the elementary school, I can hear them singing in the community room, and feel grateful I found this place. People ask me every day about our school, and I can tell them with certainty, I believe in Waverly.
2nd, 4th, and 8th Grade Parent