Upper School Life
A newsletter for Upper School parents.
"Continuing Revelation builds on and fulfills what was understood as truth before, a truth that now seems somewhat incomplete as it is taken forward in a new direction. Such revelation is affirmed in the unity of those who come together trying to be open to the voice of the Spirit . . . Continuing Revelation taught us that slavery was wrong even when, for many Friends, it was socially and religiously acceptable. Later on, in the movement for women's suffrage, it taught us that gender is a source of human integrity and not a justification for political oppression and dehumanizing social restraint. And day by day, we are learning that love can still be sacred love regardless of whom it joins together."
— Philip Lord, "AFSC: A Conduit for Continuing Revelation"
From the Director's Chair
Perhaps you have seen the blue, green and purple banners lining Penn Charter’s driveways and circles: “Opening to Truth.” “Listening for Truth.” “Seeking Truth.” Between these phrases and the school’s name are two smaller words that are no less significant: “Continuing Revelation.”
Looking out of my office window this overcast October morning, I am reminded of a statement I heard a couple of years ago from a 12th grade girl (who is now OPC ‘17).
“When we were in eighth grade, we didn’t like each other at all,” she said about one of her classmates. By senior year, however, the two girls were the closest of friends. How did that happen, that transformation from Middle School “enemies” to Upper School friends? At some point in the girls’ time at Penn Charter, each girl allowed herself to take in new information about the other, to alter her understanding of what she “knew,” and little by little, what she had known in eighth grade to be true . . . wasn’t anymore. Each girl’s thinking had shifted. By senior year, each “knew” that the other was a good person and dear friend.
People experience similar changes and have similar realizations on a regular basis. The ability to adjust one’s thinking or values, furthermore, typically requires a willingness and the flexibility to do so. One must take in new information, process it, evaluate it, and either confirm one’s original belief or form a new one. Quakers say realization requires divine intervention, that God reveals new truth to us or inspires us to think anew.
African-Americans were on this continent for hundreds of years before the nation decided slavery was wrong and ended it. Still, for nearly a hundred years after that, segregation was legal, until the Supreme Court decided it was wrong. Originally, only men were allowed to vote in this country; in 1920, that changed and women were granted the right to vote. Prior to 2015, LGBTQ people were denied the right to marriage; that changed three years ago. As the changes in law indicate, thought evolves. New truths materialize.
The same is true for individuals and with personal beliefs, as my example with the eighth grade “enemies,” then senior best friends, illustrates above.
Being open to new ideas and evidence, willing to entertain different perspectives and interpretations, curious about seemingly contradictory truths—that is the epitome of the Quaker tenet of “continuing revelation.” And that is one of our themes for the 2018-2019 school year.
News You Can Use
My colleagues in the Upper School Administrative Team, Lee Payton (Assistant US Director), Sharon Ahram (11/12 Grade Dean), Marianne Master (9/10 Grade Dean) and I are pleased with how well the school year is going and are working daily to provide students with a rich experience and you with information about it. Here are some quick details to that effect.
To stimulate reflection and discussion about "continuing revelation," we have several speakers lined up for 2018-2019. On Sept. 24, Cordell Carter, the executive director of the Socrates Program at the Aspen Institute, led a seminar for a dozen U.S. History students titled "Becoming An Inclusive Republic." Next up on Oct. 10 is Niyonu Spann, a Quaker who will share her personal and professional journey with us. On Oct. 17, a representative from Minding Your Mind will speak about living with depression. Samantha King will join us on Nov. 7 to talk about LGBTQ and gender matters. And that is not all; we are holding dates for even more speakers to address the theme of "continuing revelation."
"Present, Presentable and Polite"
I have tasked Upper School students with the three P's: Students need to be punctual and present for each class and fully engaged therein; certainly, students can maximize their learning and performance when they are "present," in both senses of the word, for all of their academic endeavors. Thanks to Student Council, we now have a newly revised and very lenient dress code, so students need to be "presentable" daily. If you or your child has any question about whether a pair of jeans is ripped vs. cut, frayed vs. distressed, worn vs. holey, please just keep that garment at home. Finally, despite what may be commonplace in the culture at large, Upper School students need to behave with decorum, whether in the hallways or dining hall or grandstands. We are . . Penn Charter. We are . . . polite.
New this year, teachers will send "Academic Notices" through the Hub when a student has earned a C- or below on a major assessment, has demonstrated a worrisome pattern (not completing homework, falling asleep in class, etc.) or is otherwise struggling in class. Teachers will use Academic Notices to share information in between the regular report dates, and the Notices will automatically go to you, your student and your student's advisor so that all parties have the information in a timely manner. Grade deans introduced students to Academic Notices last week with this email. (In case you missed it earlier, here is the document about parent access to student gradebooks as well as a chart with report dates.)
We will also send detentions through the Hub. Morning detentions take place on Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30-8:05am in the Overseers Room. Saturday detentions take place once per month. If your student is not in dress code, is excessively tardy or absent, uses a cell phone during the day or otherwise misbehaves, she or he will earn a detention.
Signing In & Out
If your student arrives late to school or needs to leave early, you and your student need to follow two procedures: 1) You need to notify the School. Call or email Bridgette Bonner-Fennal (firstname.lastname@example.org). Arriving late or leaving early for doctors' appointments will not "excused" unless you provide a doctor's note. 2) Your child must promptly sign in and out with Ms. Bonner-Fennal.
Rings of Support
Navigating institutions can be challenging, particularly as they have unique cultures and practices. At Penn Charter, the practice is to start at the micro level. Those present for my Back-to-School Night presentation may remember my analogy about tree rings, with your student at the center, encircled by caring and trusted adults. As the parent, you are the first ring of support for your child, and at school, your child's advisor is a primary ring of support. Teachers, coaches and activity leaders comprise another primary ring of support for your student; they are the Penn Charter adults in direct contact with your child.
If your student has questions or concerns about a class, team or activity, encourage her or him to speak directly with the teacher or coach. This can be hard for a student, particularly as teens are often more comfortable with texting or electronic communication as opposed to face-to-face discussions. You and your child's advisor can coach a student about how to have these conversations, ask for help, express confusion, share frustration in an appropriate and productive manner, etc. If you want to follow up with a teacher, for example, after your child has had an initial conversation, that is a good next step. In sum, the first levels of support for students are: 1) you, the parent, 2) your child's advisor, and 3) the teacher, coach or activity leader.
Another ring of student support includes the Grade Deans. Marianne Master is the 9/10 dean, and Sharon Ahram is the 11/12 dean. If you or your student needs support beyond the first few rings, the deans are the next step for you, your child and even your child's advisor. The Grade Deans are tremendous supports and excellent problem-solvers! They are also well-networked and knowledgeable about resources, so they can help you navigate the institution from there. Contact Marianne Master at email@example.com and Sharon Ahram at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year, we started the Environmental & Sustainability Certificate program. Led by Environmental & Sustainability Coordinator Tom Rickards, the program has seven participants. This year, we launched the Global Studies Certificate program; Foreign Language Chair Sarah Aguilar-Francis has 11 participants in that program. If you or your student wants to learn more about the certificate programs, please contact Tom Rickards (email@example.com) or Sarah Aguilar-Francis (firstname.lastname@example.org) about their respective programs.
Thanks for reading this newsletter and partnering with the Upper School in supporting our students.
Erin P. Hughes
Acting Director of Upper School
From the Director’s Chair
There has been much written (and deservedly so) over the last several years about the increase in reports of adolescent anxiety, be they episodic or official diagnoses. In particular, a recent New York Times article (“Why Are More Teenagers than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety?”) has been shared and discussed among many colleagues here in the Upper School. Regardless of your experiences or familiarity with this topic, I strongly encourage you to read this article in its entirety, as it shares some recent studies on these issues and it also relays authentic stories from real teenagers who are suffering from anxiety and related mental health issues.
To frame the significance and seriousness of this concern, along with the need for further study, work and consideration (especially among parents and teachers), here are some of the statistics (mostly about late adolescence) provided in the article:
- over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services;
- between 2011 and 2016 the number of undergraduate students reporting “overwhelming anxiety” jumped from 50% to 62%;
- in a survey of incoming college freshmen 41% said they felt “overwhelmed by all I had to do”; this was up from 29% in 2010 and from 18% in 1985;
- anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults.
As this article rightly points out, we all have anxiety to some degree. It has been evolutionarily useful, and it is a natural reaction to dangerous situations. However, as a few of the above statistics point out, there is certainly an increase in reports of young people feeling overwhelmed by anxiety. There are many thoughts on the sources and contributing factors to these rising figures, including:
- physical and emotional environment (home and/or school)
- sense that they will never be able to “measure up” to expectations (internal or external)
- how friends and teachers will perceive them
- family conflicts
- external events (terrorism, natural disasters)
- social media (24/7 nature of comparing yourself to your peers; according to one teenager in the article: “It’s become this thing that we can’t live without but that’s making us crazy.”)
At our opening faculty meetings this summer, we hosted Katherine Dahlsgaard, an expert on the treatment of anxiety. She worked with the entire pre-K to 12 faculty, and gave us some very practical advice on how we as educators can help our most anxious students. In line with other professionals cited in the NYT article, Dahlsgaard firmly believes that anxiety needs to be treated actively, with, among other things, therapy, relaxation training, and exposure (helping individuals to gradually confront previously avoided situations until they can be mastered). According to Dahlsgaard, accommodations that encourage avoidance may allow someone to move past current anxiety-producing situations, but these avoidance strategies are far less likely to produce positive progress in the long-term. In short, active treatment of anxiety is a must.
While we do not currently track specific points of data on this topic here at PC, we know we are not immune to these current trends. We are learning more and taking active steps to support our students, both as individuals and as a collective. Several of our own students are even beginning to take a more active role in creating support structures here in the Upper School, including hosting sessions in our Teaching & Learning Center. In addition to the education already in place in our health and religious studies curriculum, we have partnered with Minding Your Mind, whose mission is to provide mental health education to students, parents and educators. Please mark your calendars and consider joining us on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 27, for a presentation by two representatives of Minding Your Mind. The evening, which is for both students and parents, will begin at 5:30 pm with dinner; from 6 to 7:15 pm we will hear a first-person account of dealing with anxiety and depression, and then a presentation about how to recognize warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression. The evening will conclude with a brief Worship Sharing.
Given the size of our school, our Quaker mission, and our excellent faculty and staff, I think we are well positioned to support our students. This being said, we still have a lot more to learn about anxiety, its sources, how it is best treated, and how we can begin to reverse these current trends. Again, I hope you will read this NYT article. We will be discussing this article, and the topic of anxiety as a whole, at our upcoming Upper School Parent Forum on Monday, Dec. 4. I look forward to having it be a continued point of discussion and collaboration moving forward.
Senior Comprehensive Project Update
The preparation and planning phase of the SCP is in full swing! Although this is a senior project, all Upper School parents maybe be interested to learn that we have revamped the SCP and brought it back after a brief hiatus. Plus, there is an opportunity for parent involvement.
Seniors have received their first reading and journal assignment. They were asked to the read the article The Greatest Good and to respond to two questions. The article, written by Derek Thompson, explores effective altruism and people's misconceptions on charitable giving. We believe this article will spark students' interests and begin to shape their ideas and plans for the on-site/experiential phase of the SCP.
As we said over the summer, a successful SCP involves student initiative and self-discipline as well as the entire Penn Charter community. If you’re interested in being part of the SCP, please learn more about these opportunities by clicking on this link. If we all work together, this could be one of the most rewarding experiences the students will have in high school.
If you have further questions, please reach out to Sharon Ahram, Senior Comprehensive Project coordinator and assistant director of the Center for Public Purpose, at email@example.com or 215-844-3460 ext. 162.
131st PC/GA Day. By almost every account, PC/GA Day was a great success. I could not be more proud of the way our students performed and competed, and it was wonderful to see such a large turnout from students, family and friends. The genuine spirit and enthusiasm were remarkable! View more photos.
Upper School Fall Play. I was excited to see so many new faces up on stage in the production of we can try, we can fail, we can be ourselves—scenes from high school life. Written by our own Zac Kline OPC ‘03, with ideas and feedback from our students, the play is based on the real stories and trials of modern adolescence, which made it particularly poignant. Under the direction of Eva Kay Noone, the cast and crew put on an excellent performance. More photos.
Save the Dates
Senior Breakfast, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 7:15 am. The senior parents are providing our second breakfast for seniors in the cafeteria starting at 7:15 am. It's Countdown to Commencement! We could use some waffle irons—not to mention some people to staff the waffle irons! Please sign up here to lend a waffle iron and/or a hand in the festivities.
Upper School Parent Forum, Monday, Dec. 4, 8:15-9:15 am, Overseers Room. Please join Travis Larrabee, Catherine Ezzo and Elizabeth Coombs Hitschler for a discussion about recent research and findings on adolescent anxiety. We strongly encourage you to read the New York Times article referenced above in the Director’s Chair piece.
Upper School Band & Choral Concert, Thursday, Dec. 7, 7:30 pm, Kurtz Center. As always, this winter concert will feature a variety of styles. Symphonic Band will explore contrasting musical genres with new compositions such as Ballade and Scramble as well as the holiday classic Sleigh Ride. The Jazz Band set includes a wide variety of styles from big band and ballads to rock and Latin. A surprise member of our faculty will conduct Eye of the Tiger. Quakers Dozen will feature Mel Torme's The Christmas Song and a terrific holiday spiritual. The Charter Singers, in honor of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday, will perform excerpts from his Mass, along with traditional holiday favorites; plus, a faculty guest solo artist. For the finale, members of our audience can join the choir on stage singing the traditional Hallelujah Chorus, and there may even be another guest conductor for that. This concert will be over the top for sure!
Upper School Parent Social, Saturday, Dec. 9, 7:30 pm, Timmons House. Please join parents from all Upper School grades at the first-ever all-Upper School Parent Social. Check out this signup to bring some food or a beverage.
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.