Recently, I was looking through a folder that I had labeled "Talking about Ellis” and came upon my notes from a presentation I gave at an Open House for families who were considering Ellis for their daughters. At the top of the page I had written one word in all capital letters, COMMUNITY, and underneath were these words:
School by its very nature is a social experience. Every school is a collection of students. What’s different about Ellis is the degree of care and attention we give to creating our community. We aren’t just bringing children together in a space and hoping for the best. We act with intention to create a collective identity, to build supportive relationships with students, families, and teachers so that we come to see ourselves as a community of learners who have a strong sense of shared purpose.
I wrote these words in 2018 in the first weeks of taking on the role of Head of the Lower School. Now, as I come to the end of my time at Ellis, I feel even more certain that it is the strength of our relationships with one another that makes Ellis such a special place. This was never more evident than during the beginning of the pandemic when we finished our school year from home and when we returned to campus in the fall.
In the spring of 2020, we stayed connected despite moving school online. Lessons, recess, assemblies, and closing exercises were all conducted virtually, but we kept showing up for each other despite the challenges. We dedicated our summer to figuring out how to safely bring students back to campus. It was apparent from the start of the planning process that without this foundation of teamwork we had built over the years, all of our carefully laid plans would crumble. We knew we could count on each other and this culture of cooperation proved to be key to the success of the school year.
While acting as a cohesive group that is capable of prioritizing the collective over the individual may not seem particularly remarkable, it really is outside the norm in our society that celebrates individualism. Over time, Americans have become more isolated from one another. While the pandemic has played a large role in separating us from one another, loneliness and depression were already on the rise in American society with psychologists pointing to social media as a major cause. Disconnection is at the core of the violence in our country and our inability to find common ground and solutions to our problems.
As members of the Ellis community for however long or short, I hope that we can all take from this place the experience of belonging and let it shape how we interact with others and how we understand our responsibility to one another. There was a moment in an assembly this year when a second grader shared that the best thing about Ellis is that everyone has your back. It meant the world to me to hear her say that, as it is the thing I care most about. It’s why I chose to be an educator so I could play a role in showing children that the world is a wondrous place and when they go out into it there will be people there to love and care for them as they grow.
Thank you for embracing me as a part of this community and giving me the opportunity to know and guide your children. I won’t say goodbye, but see you later.