From the Director’s Chair
"Our Religious Society endures as a community of friends who take thought for outward society by first taking care of one another. Friends are advised to maintain love and unity, to avoid tale-bearing and detraction, and to settle differences promptly and in a manner free from resentment and all forms of inward violence. Live affectionately as friends, entering with sympathy into the joys and sorrows of one another’s daily lives. Visit one another. Be alert to give help and ready to receive it. Bear the burdens of one another’s failings; share the buoyancy of one another’s strengths."
— Faith and Practice
I hope this newsletter finds you well. By all accounts, the 2016-2017 school year is off to a great start. Despite the oppressive heat of last week, we enjoyed a wonderful opening assembly (in the air-conditioned Dooney Field House!), which set an exciting and promising tone for the year ahead. As is our tradition, the senior class president addressed the entire school. This year, we have the good fortune to have co-presidents – Amira Martin and Joshua Patton – lead the senior class. I really enjoyed their remarks, and you can find them here, along with Darryl Ford’s opening remarks.
Once a month in this venue, I hope to 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 as another medium through which you can get a snapshot of life in the Upper School. If you use Twitter, I encourage you to follow me: @UpperSchoolPC.
As Dr. Ford, Amira and Josh introduced to us in their welcoming remarks, we will focus on the Quaker testimony of community this school year. What I appreciate about the above quotation is the call to focus first on the care of our own community, so that we can “take thought for outward society.” It has always been part of the mission of Friends schools to educate and prepare our students to look beyond themselves and to engage, aid and contribute to broader society.
However, if this work is to be done well and meaningfully, we must do so from a position of collective strength within our own school community. The expectations we set in how we treat and support each other, in how we model dialogue and resolve conflict, and in how we remain truly present to one another deeply affect our own community and directly influence the level to which we are able to help others. In true Quaker spirit, these expectations might often run counter to the prevailing currents at the local, national and global levels. Throughout this year, we must work with each other and with our students to “be alert to give help and ready to receive it. Bear the burdens of one another’s failings [and] share the buoyancy of one another’s strengths.” In our opening advisory sessions, we have already focused much of our work with students around this concept of community and our collective roles and responsibilities in maintaining the health of our school community. Of course, these conversations and this work will continue throughout the school year (and hopefully beyond).
Another major focus of this school year, will be our transition to a school calendar based on semesters. As many of you know, we have been on a trimester system in the Upper School for more than 40 years. Adjusting to a new school calendar impacts course structure, the timing of grades and comments, and the overall rhythm of the school year. While we are confident the overall effect is positive, we will need to assess if this move will help us to achieve our goals in the areas of pace, balance and flexibility. Concurrently, we will also be working to deepen our understanding and use of the Hub, particularly in the areas of communication, assessment, recording and reporting. In our ongoing effort to promote academic excellence and a healthy school culture, we will also be forming several standing committees to highlight issues, research best practices, and provide recommendations for further development and improvement of our Upper School program.
Last, but certainly not least, I am excited to welcome Erin Hughes to the Upper School administrative team in her role as 11/12 Grade Dean. Erin possesses a wonderful balance of the knowledge, skills and experience needed to support our older students, their families and all of us. Catherine Ezzo, Claire Scribner and the entire Upper School administrative team are very much looking forward to our work with Erin.
Again, welcome to a new school year! I look forward to seeing all of you at Upper School Back-to-School Night on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7:00 p.m. in the Meeting Room.
Director of Upper School
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 read about our new colleagues!
Grades and Comments via the Hub. For the first time, 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 2016-2017 to see the exact dates during which parents can log in to PC 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, be better informed about their child’s progress, and be 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 over their education experience here at Penn Charter. We do not expect perfection, but we do expect that with this new, 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.
Educating and Raising Awareness Around Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction. Be it from the media, from our own experiences, and/or from the direct experiences of our students and children, the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol continues to be an unfortunate reality for many adolescents and their families. While our efforts to curb this reality can sometimes resemble a Sisyphean struggle, we as parents and adults can never stop our efforts to inform and educate our children and students on these issues and on the personal, local and national impact of addiction. Age appropriately, in all three divisions of the school, we do provide our students with the facts on these issues. Our ninth graders take an online course on alcohol use and abuse, and our health curriculum covers the topics of alcohol and drugs in both the ninth and 10th grades. We also bring in speakers on an almost yearly basis to speak with our students, so they are continually getting a different perspective and are hearing real-life stories on the destructive power these substances can have on our bodies and brains and in our lives overall, especially in adolescence.
Beginning this year, the Upper School will begin a partnership with Be Part of the Conversation, which is a non-profit organization that raises awareness, educates and provides support and resources around the issues of alcohol, drugs, and addiction in adolescents. From their website: “We are a collaboration of community leaders, students, school district representatives and families who believe that having meaningful, inclusive conversations will support individuals and their families in their efforts to develop healthy coping skills and access support whenever there is a need.” Executive Director of Be Part of the Conversation Kim Rubenstein spoke with the Upper School faculty during our August meetings, and a representative and board member from the organization will be with us on Back-to-School Night on Sept. 22. Rubenstein will be our guest at the Upper School Parent Forum on Monday, Oct. 24, and we are finalizing plans to bring a guest speaker to campus this winter.
Upper School Back-to-School Night is on Thursday, Sept. 22. We will begin at 7 p.m. in the Meeting Room. In an effort to make the evening run as smoothly as possible, we will be sending your child’s schedule to you via email. Please look for an email from the school next week, which will include all the schedule information you will need for the evening. Please download and print the necessary materials from this email, or you can choose to look at the materials on your smartphone during the evening (as long as that smartphone is silenced!). While we will no longer provide a hard copy of your child’s schedule at the beginning of Back-to-School Night, there will be folks here to assist you as needed.