Common Fire Day: Celebrating the Importance of Community
Recently I read an insightful blog by John Chubb, the NAIS president, called "Power of Community." Independent schools often assert that "Great schools are distinguished by their communities. They are distinguished by the human connections that help students understand right from wrong, the dignity of every individual, the value of self-respect, respect for one another, the duty to serve others, and the content of character."
I believe Nobles is a "great" school. Not just a good one that attempts to do the right thing more often than not, although it does do that. But I say a "great" one, because having been on the inside of this vibrantly alive institution for almost 20 years I have the perspective of knowing that we build community in hundreds of ways over the course of each year, layering all-school events like assembly or sporting contests with one-on-one advisor meetings, or extra help sessions built into every faculty member's day. Over time, and with intentional planning, astonishing bonds are built within these moss covered New England rock walls that surround our campus. But there is another kind of community Nobles has built, and we will celebrate it in a big way on April 14, "Common Fire Day."
For decades, each extracurricular season finds students and faculty coaches climbing into vans and traveling out to the local Dedham and Boston social service agencies and schools to spend their afternoon hours connecting with them and working for them. Afternoon program director Linda Hurley makes sure that every afternoon we build tutoring, teaching, creating, sorting, and preparing food is a "connective tissue" with the world outside the walls of our school and classrooms. The people out there are our friends and colleagues. We know them, and they know us.
So when we want to celebrate Nobles as an institution, and we plan events to do that for our Sesquicentennial, we reach out to these hundreds of partners beyond Nobles and ask to spend a whole day with them doing service. They say yes, despite the recent (and very cogent and timely) Boston Globe article that exposed the frustrating side of being a nonprofit organization who uses volunteers. It is true that huge groups who want to arrive on their sites in flip flops, with no water to drink or sunscreen, hoping to paint a wall or interact with second graders often have little or no real connection or understanding of the places they are serving and end up being more of a hassle than they are a help. Nobles has been guilty of that at times I am sure, but we are aware of our clients' genuine needs as well, because we are not doing "one shot" days of service for them very often. Our usual commitment is for 8 weeks at a time, on a daily basis. They know us well enough to tell us what they genuinely can use us to do, and our work is to educate ourselves so that we can be of real value, or go and find something else to do! That way, the community we do establish between ourselves and our service sites are what friendship really depends on--mutual aid and respect.
As we think about our community in the year ahead, it is vital to celebrate, notice and comment on the interactions we have every day in small and large ways between the members of this great school. But to my mind, one of the reasons we chose to "kick off" our celebration of all that makes us strong as a Nobles community, by leaving our campus for the day and revisiting our neighbors out in Boston, is that we also recognize that "greatness" comes of a shared commitment to the health and happiness of the whole city. That is what service at Nobles is celebrating; finding common cause with the world that can truly warm the world--the "Common Fire" of which we speak.
Sandra MacQuinn, Director of Community Service