Mid-Year Reflections by Bob Henderson, Head of School
Every school year is shaped by a unique combination of salient external and internal influences. As I reflect at the end of the first semester, I am struck that these six months have been successful in most ways, and I always feel challenged to examine why and how—and to consider whether the formula might be reproduced. This year, many of the influences and factors were grand in scope and unlikely to be repeated. Throughout the many recent changes and challenges of last semester—on campus and around the world—the Nobles community responded by creating opportunities for positive action, intellectual engagement and personal growth.
We will probably never again open a school year with the sort of physical transformation represented by the renovation of and addition to the Castle. It was exciting to get into that space after many months of inconvenience and curiosity about the construction outcome. Yet, for most of us at least, the new Castle significantly exceeded expectations. In my view, the most important impact was the effect of the Castle on the culture and morale of the school. The new facility, conceived and constructed to enhance dining, also served to bring a bright new collective experience to us, conveying openness, a welcoming spirit, and a sense of being part of something special every day. The Castle will serve permanently as a boost to the tone and morale of the school.
Learning with mentors, step-by-step
The routine functions of the school are easy to take for granted. Yet it is in classrooms and studios, and on playing fields and stages, that there are critical small triumphs every day. The school mission asserts that, “through mentoring relationships, we motivate students to achieve their highest potential and to lead lives characterized by service to others.” This is not generally accomplished in sweeping, dramatic gestures. Rather, it occurs step-by-step, through persistence and steady modeling of behavior, by upholding unrelenting high expectations and standards, and with the investment of caring and support. One measure of our success is when there are immense challenges from the outside world to that routine. Almost invariably at Nobles under such circumstances, there is a call to service, channeling emotion, concern, and sometimes even despair or horror, into deliberate, empathetic and inspirational action.
Political process and intellectual engagement
Despite the sometimes-apocalyptic rhetoric of divisive election campaigns this fall, the tone of debate in the school remained civil and productive. National issues were articulated in assemblies, various classrooms, hallway discussions, and the Nobleman with admirable directness, intellectual engagement, passionate concern for the future, and pragmatic, creative inventiveness in regard to solutions. This process served as a counterweight to the more toxic general political climate, and provided a model for how our students might enter the world with a commitment to finding paths to progress, while motivating others to join them in that endeavor.
Challenges, and the Nobles response
When Hurricane Sandy ravaged parts of New Jersey and New York, our Community Service Board immediately conceived ways that student energy and concern could be channeled to help. Milton weekend this year, for instance, as always a wonderful celebration of athletic skill and competition, also provided the chance for over 70 volunteers from our extended community (including students, parents, faculty, graduates and even a few grandparents) to take a break from the sidelines to help package over 10,000 meals to send to the relief of folks facing hunger in the storm areas, as well as for people in need here in Greater Boston. Indeed, several varsity teams made service a priority this fall, undertaking projects to provide aid for a remarkable variety of local, national and global causes. And when unthinkable savagery was unleashed in Newtown, Connecticut, students and teachers from this school immediately sought ways to reach out, creating welcoming and comforting snowflake decorations for the new school the children will attend.
The stretch in the school year from January to March is long one, yet I am heartened by the spirit and momentum generated to date. There are many challenges ahead, both for everyone as individuals trying to reach goals, and for the community as a whole. There will be tests and games to complete, paintings and essays to compose, and many performances in various forums. There will be seniors making college decisions and Sixies engaged in their “Round the World” project. The outside world will surely intrude on us often, making us evaluate and reconsider, yet always inspiring the remarkable students here to think of answers and ways to help. And I know, in the end, there is no formula for the success of a school year; rather, the key is the sustenance of this school culture, the continual brewing of what one parent described to me as our “special sauce,” as well as our determination to uphold our mission to inspire leadership for the public good. Indeed, it is that mission that enables adolescents here to develop their identities and ambitions in the context of causes and possibilities that are bigger than themselves.