From the Director’s Chair
The peace testimony is not something Quakers take down from a shelf and dust off only in wartime or in times of personal or political crisis. Living out a witness to peace has to do with everyday choices about the work we do, the relationships we build, what part we take in politics, what we buy, how we raise our children. It is a matter of fostering relationships and structures—from personal to international—which are strong and healthy enough to contain conflict when it arises and allow its creative resolution. It is a matter of withdrawing our cooperation from structures and relationships which are unjust and exploitative. It is a matter of finding creative ways of dealing with conflict when it does arise, with the aim of freeing all concerned to find a just and loving solution.
– “Quaker Peace Testimony,” by Mary Lou Leavitt
Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! I hope this newsletter finds you well. We have had another great opening of school, highlighted by our welcome addresses by Head of School Darryl J. Ford and senior class president Jake Cutler at our opening assembly. I have enjoyed reconnecting with students, colleagues and parents over the last few days and weeks. The school building never feels quite right until it is teeming with students!
Once a month in this venue, I will give you a taste of life in the Upper School. Some of these posts will have more of a “nuts and bolts” feel, while others will include broader reflections on Penn Charter, adolescent development or education. I hope you find these posts useful and helpful. I also use Twitter and Instagram as additional means through which you can get a snapshot of life in the Upper School. If you use Twitter, I encourage you to follow me: @UpperSchoolPC. If you are on Instagram, follow: upperschoolpc.
As a pre-K to 12 community this year, we will be focusing on the Quaker testimony of peace. Based on my experience, those with less exposure to Quakerism will often first cite peace as the concept they most closely relate to the faith, tradition and practice of Quakers and Friends schools. Perhaps this is because “living out a witness to peace” can sometimes play out in very public ways.
I cannot think of a more appropriate theme for us this year. So many people in the world, in our country and in our own communities are in conflict and are suffering in profound ways. I appreciate the above quotation for its articulation of peace as both a choice and a consequence of everyday relationships. In fact, this is where Quakerism and Quaker schools draw at my mind and heart most acutely – the intentionality and centrality of being in relationship with others. As teachers, this is at the core of everything we do – it is perhaps our biggest pull to this profession, and it is certainly one of its great rewards.
In addition to exploring the peace testimony during our time together this year, we want to work with students and parents on what unites us, what divides us, and what steps we need to ensure that Penn Charter continues to be a unique and exemplary community of inclusion and ethical, spiritual and intellectual engagement. Together, I hope we can create clear plans of action and follow-through that can have a real impact on our school culture, on our students and on each other. To focus our work, we will continue to use our standing committee model, where faculty will clerk and/or participate in specific groups over the course of the school year. Each faculty member will join one of the following committees: Diversity, Student Health & Wellness, Technology, Intellectual Engagement, Quaker Process, Activity Requirement, Academic Policy, Policies & Procedures.
The faculty and I will also continue to monitor and examine the impact of our move to a semester-based calendar. Whenever you make a change with how you structure your time, it is going to have significant ripple effects into many different aspect of school life. And this was certainly the case last year. Overall, the effects of the transition were very positive, and this had much to do with the hard work, flexibility and patience of the students, faculty and staff. However, in pursuit of the goals of better pace, balance and flexibility, switching to semesters was never intended to be the panacea or the end game. Rather, it was an important first step that will now swing open the gate to the small paths and broader thoroughfares on which we must travel to continue to provide a first-rate educational experience to our students and to lead them to finding greater balance in their lives. We are already witnessing the benefits of this with the creation and implementation of a new Senior Comprehensive Project and a certificate program that recognizes students for specific, in-depth pursuits of the issues about which they are most passionate. (See below for detailed descriptions on both of these exciting initiatives). There are many more examples of how this calendar change has shifted our thinking in new and exciting directions. We are pursuing them and we must continue to do so.
Again, welcome to a new school year! I look forward to seeing all of you on campus in the near future. And, especially on the evening of Oct. 20.
Senior Comprehensive Project Reimagined
Beginning with the Class of 2018, the Senior Comprehensive Project (SCP) has once again become a graduation requirement. As you know, the Strategic Vision calls us to think critically about our academic Program and our use of Time. Our move to a semester-based calendar last year was an important first step in implementing some of the specific strategies aligned with these two goals and with Penn Charter’s overall vision of “educating students to live lives that make a difference.” More specifically, the calendar shift allowed us to take a look at the experiences of our seniors and the future and potential of the SCP. I charged the Upper School Standing Committee on the SCP to come up with a new plan and purpose for a project that is closely linked to our Center for Public Purpose. This faculty group succeeded in creating a project that:
- integrates traditional academic disciplines with "real world" settings;
- engages students in service and community-based projects by addressing some of the most pressing local, national and global issues;
- and inspires students to take ownership of their own learning experiences.
In addition to many other important facets of the program, the new SCP requires students to be engaged in their projects at least 20 hours per week during the month of May. Previously, the SCP began in March and required students to engage in their projects for a few hours a week over the course of a trimester, all while attending a majority of their academic classes. Shortening the SCP to a more intensive, four-week experience (with fewer on-campus responsibilities) will allow students to engage more fully in their chosen experience.
First Certificate Program: Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability
Beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, Penn Charter’s Upper School is starting a certificate program for interested 11th grade students. This new program is geared toward students looking to engage in a particular focus and passion in their junior and senior years. Through pursuit of a certificate, students will pull together academic and additional curricular endeavors around a theme that aligns with Penn Charter’s Strategic Vision and our Quaker mission. While we are exploring a number of different categories, this fall we are piloting our first certificate program in Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability.
This certificate will show particular student commitment and academic achievement that will be awarded in addition to the Penn Charter diploma. Students will be able to “bundle” existing programs and requirements around themes of environmental stewardship and sustainability. Students who are pursuing a certificate will meet regularly with a certificate advisor who can help support and provide feedback for each part of the process. In order for a student to gain an Environmental Stewardship Certificate at graduation, she/he will need to complete four main aspects: three course credits, three major projects, 80 hours of service/club activity hours, and an SCP (Senior Comprehensive Project) that is centered around environmental stewardship and sustainability. More information about each of these aspects can be found in this letter sent to parents of 11th graders last month.
News You Can Use
New Upper School Faculty. We are pleased to welcome several new faculty and staff members to Penn Charter this year. Please click here to read more about our new colleagues!
Grades and Comments via the Hub. For the second year, we are opening online gradebooks for parent viewing during week-long intervals at the middle and end of each quarter marking period. By clicking this link, you can view the Upper School reporting schedule for 2017-18 to see the exact dates during which parents can log in to the Hub and view their child’s grades in all courses for which grades are given.
The decision to open gradebooks to parents was made after careful consideration and with our students’ best interest in mind. It is our hope that this new level of transparency will help parents stay up-to-date, better informed about their child’s progress, and more connected to their child’s areas of strength and challenge. While our parents will have intermittent access, our students will have access to the gradebooks year-round in all courses.
For this initiative to truly help the process of educating our students, parents need to demonstrate empathy and understanding, as well as appropriate boundaries for intervening. Our goal is for students to learn to advocate for themselves and take ownership of their education here at Penn Charter. We do not expect perfection, but we do expect that with this timely and accurate information about student progress our parents will engage in healthy conversations with their children about learning.
When problems arise, we expect that parents will partner with teachers to seek solutions that place our students in the best place to succeed.
Friday, Oct. 20, 6-8 pm; Dooney Field House
Food, fellowship, illuminating conversations and student performances when Head of School Darryl J. Ford reveals the plan for Penn Charter's future and the campaign that will fund it. Look for your invitation in the mail and join us. RSVP.
There are so many important events happening at PC this school year. We strongly urge you to read the weekly Parent Post and log into the Hub daily, or at least routinely. In addition to PC social media channels, we recommend signing up for news alerts and, if you would like to follow varsity sports, SportsZone.