May 24, 2012

Honoring Transitions

Fifth graders on their Graduate Hike
As we get ready to celebrate the end of another school year, the students and staff are gearing up for the Silver and Gold graduation ceremonies that will be taking place next week.  Pre-Kindergartners and 5th graders are getting ready to say goodbye to old friends and prepare for the journey ahead where they will make new friends.

Here at Friends’ School we believe in the importance of ritual in marking the passing of time. We believe in honoring transitions in meaningful and authentic ways. Many of those ways are well-known, such as Silver and Gold. On Wednesday of this week, I was invited to accompany our 5th graders on an important tradition of which I knew very little.  I was asked to join the students, their parents, and their teachers on the 5th grade Graduate Hike.

Each year our Kindergarten and 5th grade classes participate in an important curriculum called PassageWorks which integrates social, emotional and academic learning and helps us to create meaningful relationship-based classrooms.

As part of the PassageWorks curriculum for 5th grade, instructors Laurie Nakauchi and Harwood Ferguson support our students in developing compassion, character, academic excellence, and a sense of deep connection to themselves and the world around them. The practices and principles of PassageWorks support the inner lives of teachers and students.  Inner life is defined as that essential aspect of human nature that yearns for deep connection, grapples with difficult questions about meaning, and seeks a sense of purpose and genuine self-expression. 

The Graduate Hike on Wednesday was the culmination of the PassageWorks curriculum. Harwood and Laurie led us all on a gorgeous hike atop Flagstaff Mountain.  At the furthest point on the hike, we all sat in a circle and the fifth graders talked about what and who they would miss at Friends’ and how they felt about entering middle school. Our seventeen graduates are entering one private and nine public middle schools in the fall.  The kids talked fondly about the people here at Friends’ – their classmates and their teachers.  And they expressed excitement and a certain amount of nervousness about the road ahead.

The parents also had an opportunity to speak. I asked Meg Hansen, our Director of Communications, who is the parent of a fifth grader, to write in her own words of her experience.  Here’s Meg:

"My son’s 8 years at Friends’ culminated yesterday with the hike up Flagstaff Mountain. This is my very favorite Friends’ School event; it’s my chance to acknowledge his transition from Friends’ School to middle school and to express my pride in the child he has become. I’ve been lucky to attend this ceremony for two children now, and both times it has affirmed my decision long ago to send my children to this school.

Friends' parents hiking Flagstaff Mountain
As parents, Harwood led us through a visualization exercise, remembering our child’s face as babies. It came to me quickly – the baby, the toddler, his first day at Friends’ preschool. It was so long ago and suddenly he was here in fifth grade at the end of his elementary experience. Time had sped up too quickly during that exercise.  As I stood and looked in his eyes and told him in front of his/my community of friends how proud I am of him, I realized how rarely we as parents are given the chance to honor our children in such a public forum. I’m not crazy about public speaking and yet it was the most natural, safest thing to do. These children and their parents and teachers, had watched my child grow, celebrated his triumphs, hugged us both during tough times. Each one of them, and each experience at Friends’, had shaped my child’s life. This community is our village.

I knew in that moment that all that he has become is in part due to the heart of Friends’ School. Friends’ has honored his heart and allowed it to flourish, his kindness to grow, his spirit to soar. After yesterday’s event, I wanted one more year at Friends’ for him, or perhaps to start it all over and really savor it this time. If only I knew then what I know now. But I do know that he is ready to move on to the next phase of his life, filled with all the greatness this special school has imparted on him, another Friends’ School ambassador."

See you at Silver and Gold.

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