News Post

Challenge Balance Joy
Challenge Balance Joy
Academic Dean Kelley Black

(abridged from Dean Black's Family Weekend address)

The beginning of a school year has such great energy; it's an energy fueled by the promise of newness: new classes, teachers, friends, roommates, teammates, experiences and resolutions. We've enjoyed seeing old friends re-united and new students quickly finding a home here.

Now more than halfway through the first quarter, your children are settled into the rhythm of classes and afternoon programs, and they are hard at work. I make it a point, and my Fitbit reminds me, to walk the hallways each day, and I love it because I get to see students learning and loving to learn. A glance through the classroom windows reveals the expressions of curiosity and engagement. Through the classroom walls are heard the sounds of student dialogue, debate, questioning, experimentation, and discovery, as well as teacher exuberance over literature, science, history, art, language, and math. It is truly a vibrant place.

Your children are challenged, and they are learning deeply. They are analyzing poetry and writing their own, they are using toy cars to investigate speed and velocity, they are engaging in model diplomacy as members of the U.N. Security Council, they are excavating artifacts from a prehistoric rock shelter right here on our campus. They are throwing pots, creating photographs, and making music. They are reading Beowulf and The Odyssey. They are exploring the foundations of American democracy and reflecting on types of faith and holy experiences. They are solving equations, analyzing data, and speaking other languages.

In addition, students are pursuing courses that reflect their unique academic pursuits and future goals, taking classes at the University of the South in Calculus, French, mythology, Arabic, anthropology, history, German and economics.

Yes, your children are diligent, yet we also know that balance is important. So, they are pursuing individual passions and interests and inviting others to join them as they lead clubs that delve into history, community, athletic spirit, outreach, and even a throwback from the 80s, Dungeons and Dragons.

As you know, our school day doesn't end at 3:00. We believe it is important that our students' academic pursuits are balanced with physical and creative pursuits. On the field, the court, the trail, the course, and the stage your children are learning new skills and refining others, and they are understanding and embracing the values of perseverance, discipline, teamwork, and responsibility.

And then there is joy. There is no question that SAS is a happy place. You see it in our 6th graders who run, for fun, everywhere and in our older students who congregate in the halls or the benches outside to visit and share a laugh, throw a ball, or kick a hackey sack. You see it in our performance of our original school cheer and in our celebration of a touchdown scored, a violin played, and a beautiful voice heard. Your children find joy in the classroom, too. They are eager and curious and kind. As one of our new teachers remarked, "I feel like I have died and gone to teacher heaven." Yes, your children are amazing, and it brings us joy to teach them.

The past two years, administrators and teachers have experienced what it is like to be a student at SAS through the Shadow a Student initiative. On this day, we exchange our teacher dress for student dress and accompany a middle or upper school student through his school day, attending chapel, class, work period, and lunch. The common observation for those of us who have experienced it, after acknowledging the exhaustion of it all, is the variety our students have in their school day. We engaged in both individual and collaborative work. We were asked to experiment, to reflect, to demonstrate, to question. School days at SAS are characterized by "doing" and thinking in ways that go deeper than memorization of facts. The shadow a student days showed us that our students are challenged with real work, they are encouraged to inquire, and they are inspired to be creative.

We believe that the future will belong to creative, life-long learners, and our faculty model that idea by constantly learning themselves, experimenting with new teaching strategies and infusing new content. Indeed, we strive to be what author Vicki Abeles of Beyond Measure describes as the ideal school: a school that values "quality over quantity," that "encourages students to persevere through challenging work that actually means something important to them," that presents learning "as a rich and varied experience, not a transactional equation." Our faculty challenge your children to take intellectual and creative risks, to consider topics from various perspectives, and to grapple with difficult problems.

Today, during the Class Walk-Through, you have the opportunity to experience the St. Andrew's-Sewanee classroom as your child does. We invite you to sit in your child's seat and enjoy being a student again, but without the worry of homework, tests, or even detentions! During the class walk-through, your child's teachers will provide information about course content and teaching philosophy. Some may highlight aspects of the course through demonstration, activity, or discussion. As you visit your child's classes and speak with their teachers and advisors today, I do hope you'll come away with a sense of the passion our teachers have for teaching, our commitment to deep learning, and the genuine care we hold for your children.