Ah, back-to-school time. I distinctly remember an ad for Staples that ran when I was a child. A father coasts gleefully on a shopping cart while his children sulkily drag their feet behind him as they shop for school supplies, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing merrily in the background. My mom thought that commercial was hilarious. I didn’t really get it; I thought school was the best.
Back to school has always been my favorite time of year and I am thrilled to welcome faculty and families—but most especially students— to campus as the new Head of Upper School. The students are what make school such a special place, and they are the ones who will undoubtedly teach me as much as I aspire to teach them. I’m eager to hear from students about what they are learning in their courses this year, as well as to learn more about their interests outside of the classroom.
If you do not follow women’s soccer then you are probably not familiar with the name Nadia Nadim. But if you are a fan of football (as soccer is called in the rest of the world) then you know that Nadim is an international superstar who is considered the greatest female Afghan football player of all time. Nadim has never played football for an Afghan team. She fled the country as a child with her mother and sisters when her father was killed by the Taliban in 2000. Her career began in Denmark where her mother found refuge for her family. Over the course of her career, Nadim has played for teams in England, France, and the United States as well as the Danish national team.
I have always loved the start of the school year. It brings with it the excitement of new beginnings, the anticipation of new opportunities for growth, learning, and connection. Teachers are eager to get to know their new groups of students and to begin to build their classroom communities, which is so central to our Ellis belief in the importance of learning in community. As parents and guardians, you have likely seen all kinds of emotions in your children during this first week of school, including joy at seeing old friends and making new ones, curiosity about what their new teachers and classrooms will be like, disappointment about the reintroduction of early morning wakeups, and nervousness about how the year will go. As you read this, you may also be seeing some pretty tired girls, as the transition from summer to school schedules can take a bit of energy.
One of the truly distinctive aspects of the Ellis community is that it is filled with faculty and staff who think really carefully about what we hope our students are learning, ways in which we hope they are growing, and messages we want them to hear and see from us.
The common idiom “pulling the rug out” has always been exceptionally comical to me; the image of someone sprawled in the air, arms and legs akimbo as the offending rug is whisked away speaks directly to my love of pratfalls and a steady diet of The Three Stooges when I was a youngster.
I hope you are beginning to see a light at the end of the strange tunnel that has been this year. We are definitely seeing it at Ellis, with virtually all of our faculty and staff now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and many of our older students already in the process of getting vaccinated. Next year promises to be a much more normal one, which I know we will all welcome.
My father, who passed away in 2013, would have turned 100 this year. On his birthday, March 31, my family members and I found ourselves emailing each other stories about him, and memories of his many qualities we adored. One thread that emerged was his relentless optimism and ability to tackle problems with great creativity. He was, to coin an Ellis word, a real changemaker.
Last spring, many visual arts teachers were sorting out the safest and best way to approach learning in hands-on, art studio classes in the midst of the pandemic. No one knew what to expect, how long schools might be closed, or if we’d be mandated by the state to teach remotely in the fall. When it came time to order supplies for this school year, teachers prepared for a variety of scenarios.
When I first came to Ellis in 2017 I had a chance to meet a wide variety of Ellis alumnae of all ages. I was so impressed by these women, by their passion for their work and interests, their authentic warmth and lack of pretense, and their confidence. They embodied our mission—to develop girls and young women to become bold, authentic, intellectually vibrant changemakers—and were truly inspirational.
It’s a typical Saturday morning in January, in Pittsburgh, with the temperature hovering around freezing and a swift snowstorm brewing on the horizon. While most teenagers are still sleeping, cozy in their beds, eleven Ellis Upper School students gather in the School’s courtyard, bundled up by an electric piano to warm up for the official vocal recording session for Shrek the Musical.
As we launch into the new year, it's a particularly fitting time to lift up our mission at Ellis, which is to educate girls and young women to become bold, authentic, intellectually vibrant changemakers. I am particularly excited about our focus on growing changemakers, because I firmly believe it is the most unique gift we give our students. It can also be the word in our mission statement that provokes the most questions. What does it mean to be a changemaker? What do we do at Ellis to grow this characteristic in our students?