Recently, a group of fourth graders came to my office with a letter describing their dissatisfaction with the ice cream treats served in the cafeteria. Additionally, the letter included suggestions for improving the ice cream selection. This is not the first time I had heard complaints about ice cream.
The ice cream issue popped up at the beginning of the year, but I thought it had been resolved. Apparently, it is a lingering problem that the fourth graders have discussed at length and intend to fix. Ice Cream Day is an Ellis tradition that occurs on Fridays. After a girl has eaten all of her lunch and gotten the green light from a teacher, she may go to the freezer for a treat. The younger students are restricted to the ice cream cups, but older girls can choose other treats—or at least that is how it is supposed to work. In our meeting, however, the fourth graders shared that the kitchen is restricting them to ice cream cups as well. This is not what they expected. They’ve waited for this privilege. They are also concerned that the ice cream cups are not dairy- or gluten-free, which means that some of their classmates with allergies are left out. It’s not so much about the ice cream as it is about the tradition, the privilege of choosing for yourself because you’re growing up, the camaraderie of a shared experience.
In the course of the years a girl spends in the Lower School, there are several traditions that all of the students participate in, but to varying degrees depending on age. The most notable is the Lower School Musical. This year’s musical was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The students who came to my office and their classmates are the stars of the show. They are singing, dancing and acting on stage while also running the show behind the scenes. On the day of the final dress rehearsal, I was backstage to help. I quickly realized that no one needed my help and the best thing I could do was get out of the way. These girls, who as kindergarteners dressed as ducks and sang one short song in the production of Aristocats, were now playing multiple roles that required costume changes. They were entering and exiting the stage on cue, delivering their lines with dramatic flair, and beautifully singing solos while also moving props, managing the curtain, and helping younger students on and off the stage. While the girls were brilliant on stage, it was the competence and confidence I saw backstage that amazed me. They didn’t need an adult to direct them. They had learned everything Mrs. Crosby had taught them over the weeks of practice, and they were ready to command the performance.
I wondered how the students felt about their accomplishment, so I asked them to reflect on the experience. They wrote about their challenges—memorizing lines, learning to speak clearly and loudly, figuring out how to be funny or to act scary. They shared what they had learned about themselves or their classmates. Nora Woon wrote that she discovered that each of her classmates is talented in her own way, and Bella DeSanctis wrote that she now truly understands the meaning of “practice makes perfect.” Many of the students said they learned to overcome their fear of being on the stage and their doubts about their abilities. As Naomi Craig put it, “I learned that I am good at acting, dancing, and singing, not bad like I thought. I was scared in the beginning, but now I feel great!” Didi Bobo described herself as feeling “confident and brave” after performing, and Simone Boyadzis wrote, “I am proud of myself. I put in a lot of hard work to make it a great play.”
At the end of this year, the fourth graders will leave the Lower School, and in the fall they will be the novices of the Middle School. There will be new traditions and privileges. The experiences they shared as fourth graders, whether it was banding together to fight for better ice cream or performing in front of a packed audience, have influenced their view of themselves and their classmates as capable of anything they put their minds to.