21 Sep

Message from Joe Algrant, US Principal

Dear Upper School Families,

Hoping you are doing OK after a great weekend, weather-wise (and happy new year to all our families who observe and celebrated Rosh Hashana), I just wanted to send home a quick review of the school year thus far, along with brief reports from the class deans on their perceptions of how the students are doing at this early point in the year, some photos (see above and below) and reminders of upcoming ‘virtual’ events for both the students as well as all of you.  

With the exception of one grade cohort, all students have been on campus one day, and we start the new rotation on Tuesday (tomorrow, September 22).  These first days have been gratifying in terms of seeing everyone, and a little tricky as we start to review new protocols and see how they are responding to the increased restrictions we all are facing. Rather than start them all at once, we are training them some each time, and during this second round we will start working on the pathways they take from one place to another. Used to taking the shortest route, students will now have to follow signs that direct them in ways that are not the most direct or efficient, but in the interest of safety we must insist they follow. All of us will take longer to move from class to class, and we have adjusted the schedule to allow for the extra time. As we rise to full capacity, we will also stagger the end times of classes so that the traffic is reduced.

Of equal importance to mention is that we have started to talk in School about some of the important subjects that will occupy this year. The election looms large right now, because it is coming soon, especially by school time standards. So we want to take up a school-wide conversation in a healthy and meaningful way. To do that successfully we are beginning this week and next to establish some standards and principles about how to have those conversations when there can be 1) polarized disagreement and 2) significant emotional energy. That’s nationwide of course, and to make our best efforts in that regard we are starting with more personal inspections of our own emotions and the standards that we live by at Dwight-Englewood as written in our own foundation documents. We believe that these documents provide the institutional structures to engage our students in complicated dialogue, as opposed to debate. They remind us of the importance of listening  to understand and highlight the imperative to honor our different identities and experiences. They will scaffold in important ways the work that we’ll be doing all year: about the election, about ongoing issues concerning the pandemic, about our push against racial injustice. I encourage you to ask your students about the activities we are doing during these two weeks if you want a deeper sense of our plans. 

In terms of the election itself, we will be scaffolding that discussion as well by bringing speakers about the history of political systems and ideologies, about what free speech means, about media literacy and the role of social media in public opinion and elections, trying to help us understand the particular dynamics of this election. We want to be able to understand why this election is so fraught and be able to discuss the issues constructively. It’s a lofty goal for sure, and we understand the need to address both the election itself and the surrounding reasons that make it personal and emotional. Helping ourselves demonstrate active listening and empathy are central to this working well, and will be overt parts of the program. 

Each week we will update you on this work and encourage you to check in with your students and see how they are doing with these conversations. 

Some important dates:

  • Friday, September 25: Last day to add a course
  • Monday, September 28: Yom Kippur, School closed
  • Tuesday, September 29: Ninth Grade Math Night, virtual
  • Wednesday, September 30: PA Virtual Parent Ed. Event: Dr. Richard Weissbourd (click here for a flyer)
  • Thursday, October 8: Back-to-School Night, virtual
  • LATE BUS service will start on Tuesday, September 29

Pictures featured are from the Upper School’s Community of Readers 2020 Zoom sessions. The annual all-school reading program, hosted by English Department, was held ‘virtually’ last Friday.