Author Archives: GeorgeSchoolVoices

Coming Full Circle

by Kim Major, associate director of admission

Last week was my favorite week of the year, hands down. While my children think I am crazy (they think the last day of summer vacation is the worst!), I know I am right. You see, last week was orientation for our new students and the start of our new academic year here at George School.

So, why was that the best? I mean, the start of the academic year to faculty and admission officers means back to long workdays. It means many, many meetings. It means late nights, tired eyes, and no more trips to the beach or the pool. I already miss those trips to the beach and the pool. HOWEVER, what it also means is that I get to see the fruits of last year’s labor. All of the students with whom I worked so hard last year – at admission events, in interviews, in follow-up phone calls, meetings, and emails – I get to see all of them on campus, here and now as students!

Over the last year, I got to know 170 new students, most of them in person in some capacity. I knew we admitted a rocketry wizard, and I got to make sure our robotics and engineering faculty knew about her. I knew we had at least four students who count ukulele as a big-time hobby, and I got to let them know about one another (some pretty cool jam sessions are about to go down in our dorms). I knew that one of our students had a really challenging summer and was feeling a bit down, and I got to make sure his advisor was prepared to offer a little extra love. I got to understand, before the rest of the school, that our new students are going to knock the socks off of our faculty and returning students. Now everyone gets to know it and I get to see the joy that brings.

Many people see admission officers as gatekeepers, standing at the school doors and judging who gets to come in. While we certainly have a difficult task in making admission decisions, we aren’t gatekeepers. No, I see myself more as a matchmaker. Through the admission process, I help students to navigate the admission process (and sometimes that means helping them to find a match that is better suited to their particular needs). And, when the school year starts, my matchmaker skills kick into high gear as the entire school prepares to welcome them. I help in the faculty advising and roommate pairing processes and work with families to match them with the resources they will need to get started here at George School.

So, when move-in and registration days roll around, it all comes together, and it is magic. The best part? I know that I have two, three, or four years more with these students and I get to see all the dreams they talked about in the application process come true – and I get to see them discover new dreams they didn’t even know they had!

That, to me, is what makes George School so special. New students aren’t a number. Each new student is a person, a part of a family, a dreamer, a do-er, an artist, an athlete, and so much more. When they start their first day here, they start with many, many people knowing quite a bit about who they are, and they already have a jumpstart in helping them to reach their goals.

Here’s to another terrific year!

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How We All Live To Let Our Lives Speak

2004_Jessica (Jess) M. Klaphaak

by Jess Klaphaak ’04

In recent years, I have come to be a rather active member of the Quaker meeting here in Copenhagen. Every Sunday I sit with Ulla and Mogens, both are over 90 years old, who lived through World War II and took part in the Danish resistance against the Nazis. It is quite an experience to listen to their stories of vandalizing fighter jets and sewing dresses from fallen parachutes to hide the evidence of soldiers escaping from battle. We have about ten regular members and at 30, I am the youngest of our little group by about three decades.

At the beginning of July, my family and I went to the Scandinavian Yearly Meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. There were over 120 participants from Norway, Sweden, and Finland. The three of us went as the only participants from Denmark. One afternoon, I sat with the executive secretary of FWCC-EMES and we had a-one-on one conversation about the challenges that face all Quaker communities across Europe. I voiced my concern that our biggest challenge in Denmark is building community, getting people to stay and take on responsibility and that I personally struggle with a feeling of hopelessness for our community that has recently been affecting my motivation and drive.

Being a Quaker and going to Yearly Meeting and other Quaker retreats was such a big part of my childhood and teenage years, and subsequently my adult life, that it is difficult to witness the community that always seemed to sail so smoothly, struggle so hard to keep afloat. Here in Copenhagen, I often feel like I am alone on the mast of a sinking ship. What should I do? Should I jump into the lifeboat of mindfulness or Buddhism or should I climb down and repair the holes myself? For now, I choose to patch the holes. Quakerism offers something more than mindfulness and obviously something different from Buddhism.

As a whole, my experience in Gothenburg left me with the sense that we are all delicately connected—a connection that exists because we, as Quakers, reach out beyond ourselves to actively create community. Perhaps Quakers are particularly good at this because, in my opinion, a true sense of community is formed when we answer that of God in others.

Community is by definition something bigger than one’s self. It is a network of connections to which we belong. Even though un-programmed meetings face dwindling membership across the planet, the few who stick around often accomplish great things through service efforts and lobbying activities. Silence is merely a tool we use to listen to our inner Light, but it is what we do with the messages we receive that defines us, both as individuals and as a group. When a group of over 120 active and engaged Quakers meet, in spite of cultural and language barriers, it is impossible not to feel how we all live to let our lives speak.

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Friends Council on Education Statement – August 15, 2017

The violent expressions of hatred, racism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism in Charlottesville, Virginia were directly opposed to the values our schools stand for. These events serve to deepen our commitment at Quaker schools to teach our students habits of heart and mind that insist upon a disposition of openness and respect for every member of our community regardless of race, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, place of national origin, gender identity or gender expression.  

As we wrote in November:

William Penn founded the first Quaker school in 1689, one hundred years prior to the formal addition of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.  Penn directed that the school educate students from all walks of life, genders, religions, and ethnicities to prepare them to be moral leaders within the Commonwealth no matter what profession or trade that they might someday pursue.

Penn’s school created a program of study through which these young people might together imagine a more ideal society. Today all Quaker schools strive to serve this critical public purpose just a Penn imagined it in the earliest days of what would become the United States.

In time of uncertainty, and deep distrust, Quaker school communities turn to the Quaker values of peace, integrity, equality and community, as well as the longtime practices of peaceful conflict resolution and nonviolence, as touch points for navigating these turbulent waters.

It is our sincere hope that as children everywhere return to school that they may come together, in the spirit of respect for all, to find a way to listen deeply to one another, to value the gifts that all students bring with them to school everyday, that they might, together, imagine an ideal society.

Each of the 78 Quaker schools across the United States is founded on core Quaker values and practices. These principles strive to address issues of societal injustice. Friends schools seek to create inclusive and diverse communities and to live into the Quaker values of peace, equity, and social justice.

Friends Council on Education supports schools in their efforts to teach for justice and equity. To that end, we lift up just a few examples of how Quaker schools and Quaker school educators are actively working to provide students with skills in mediation, conversations about differences, and peaceful ways for resolving differences.

Upper school students have a social justice collective where they meet weekly to engage in conversations utilizing the model of Intergroup Dialogue. (Germantown Friends School)

Students participate in a Peer Facilitator Training Program that strives to provide students with skills in asking open ended questions, clarifying and summarizing what you have heard, giving respectful feedback – all with the goal of preempting conflict. (Media-Providence Friends School)

The social curriculum serves as a foundation for a Social Justice Unit as early as preschool focusing on fairness, inclusion, and community. (Friends School Haverford)

Upper school students team up with students at other independent schools to host a student-led Mid Atlantic Regional Diversity Conference. Students explore issues of identity (sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, and religion) through activities that encourage building community and leaning into discomfort. (Abington Friends School)

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A Reflection on the Senior Class  

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by Ralph Lelii

When the neurologist Oliver Sachs was dying in 2015, he had written initially that he feared his imminent death. He had a sense of dread about the future, and lacked faith in what would follow his demise. As he entered stage four of his cancer, he was treated by a young Japanese-American oncologist. He wrote shortly after in his last essay that he had been changed by the experience. When he saw the care, the competence and the dedication of this young physician, he realized his arrogance. He would die confidently, in his words, that the future was safe in the hands of the young.

Each year I find proctoring the IB/AP examinations a moving experience for several reasons, but today Sach’s words resonated with me. As I watched almost eighty of our seniors engage a sophisticated literary essay for two hours, I was deeply touched by their sense of purpose and duty and the need to construct meaning from what they had read, but more than that, I was conscious of what it is we are doing here at this school, what we must do.

Every one who works on this campus, no matter her role, is participating in the survival of our species. We are communal, collaborative, and highly social creatures, and whatever else we are doing, we are passing on what we know so that we might survive beyond ourselves. The truth of it was palpable for me today as I watched them in their youthful beauty and strength struggle with that examination. Despite our pretensions as adults, their imperfections and anxieties differ from ours only in degree. Freud said that we become truly adult when we realize that our parents suffer just as much as we do. I would add the corollary observation that we fully grasp the nature of the young when we grant them the complexity, the nobility and the mystery we attribute to ourselves.

Earlier this year, I had a minor surgery, although as I learned, there really are no “minor surgeries”. They are all risky and require great precision. As I lay in the OR, I was surrounded by eleven doctors, technicians, nurses and support staff, each playing their part in this elaborate and precisely staged medical ritual. I remember thinking of all the teachers each had encountered in their youth, all the men and women they had observed in so many roles, how they had absorbed both the utility of knowledge and the sense of ethical duty that accompanies it.

Today, watching our seniors, I felt again the simple truth that the far larger share of the future belongs to them, not to us. Despite our human tendency to think that the entire universe revolves and evolves around our own consciousness (it does not), it was satisfying to know that I, like Sachs, like every one of us, am just passing through. This work we do matters so much because it is fundamentally about the survival of our species, about our continued evolution and the adaptation it necessitates; they will do well when their turn comes, perhaps even better than we. In the words of the poet Sharon Olds, it is the oldest story of the human race, the story of our replacement.

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Why College Means a Lot to me

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Here is Bea in her Oxford University t-shirt.

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

College has a different connotation in every household. In some, it is a necessity. In others, it is uncommon. In my house, it is expected, but I knew I could make whatever choice I needed. But, I have always wanted to go to college.

Not only do I want to go to college, I want to go to a highly selective school. When I was around twelve, I got my heart set on Oxford University in Oxford, England. The school is globally ranked in many subjects and the more I read, the more I liked. I ended up at George School to get the IB diploma to increase my chances of getting in. Now, in my sophomore year, I think I want to stay domestic for my undergraduate degree and go to Oxford for my graduate degree. I am considering schools like Stanford, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins. I am working with a private college counselor to help improve my application.

College has come to mean a lot to me. I know I have the freedom to take whatever path I wish, but I want to learn. I want to do research and study. More than anything, college offers me a place to do that. I want to go to schools with globally recognizable programs. I want to be overqualified for any position I could possibly want. College is not my end goal, but rather the beginning of a hopefully successful future.

Schools like the ones I am looking at are considered lottery schools. Going into my junior year, my grades and courses are increasingly important. For me, this is just another lap in the race. For some, it is the start. It is time to go on college tours and talk to admissions officers. People are starting and joining clubs to boost their application. I am looking for job and research experience, but also leadership positions. And of course, I am trying to balance a social life as well.

The college process is by no means easy, but for some, it is the way to go. For me, I know college is the next step. For others, it might not be. Regardless of what people want to study, what kind of degree they want to get, or if they want to go to college at all, junior year is going to be a difficult and stressful time.

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An Ongoing Commitment

by Sam Houser

At a time when transgender rights are again in the news, I am writing to affirm George School’s own commitment to welcoming and including students and employees who are transgender or gender non-binary, or whose families may include members who identify as transgender or gender non-binary. Similarly, we welcome the presence, active engagement, talents, and support of our graduates who identify as transgender or gender non-binary.

In April of 2015, the George School Board approved a policy stating the school’s intention to welcome and include transgender students in our community. This included providing appropriate accommodations and a supportive residential environment for those who are boarders.

In February of 2017, the Friends Council on Education issued a statement affirming that, consistent with the Quaker testimony of equality, Friends schools strive to create communities inclusive of all students, including transgender and gender non-binary students.

Last spring, the Friends School League (FSL) also adopted a similar policy regarding the inclusion of transgender and gender non-binary students into athletics programs among FSL schools.

All of these developments reflect a deep commitment on the part of George School and other Friends schools to foster healthy and diverse educational communities by valuing, respecting, and drawing upon the richness of differences to strengthen our education. This commitment stems from the very underpinnings of Quakerism that include teaching there is that of God in every person, that all people are equal and deserve equal respect and treatment, and that healthy communities are those that accept and nurture differences.

George School is a rare place. Here, people of many identities, from around the world, live, learn, and play together. Being a George School community member entails engaging with new and sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. This can be hard work, but the effort is an important one that will help us diligently mind the Light and prepare us to do good inside our school community and beyond.

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A Reflection on Life After Graduation

Sarah Kelly

by Sarah Kelly ’17 

On May 28 I graduated from George School. On August 17 I will be moving in to my dorm at Philadelphia University. This summer and the time I have had between these two dates has been probably the most exciting time of my life, as I gather up all my dorm supplies, meet new friends, find a roommate, figure out my schedule, go to orientation, and so much more.

But with this excitement, also comes anxiety. I grew up on this campus, from being at the George School Children’s Center, then Newtown Friends School, and then George School again. I have known some of my friends since I was 2 years old and a student in the Children’s Center. These 81 days between high school graduation and the start of my college career, have been and will continue to be strange. I am no longer a George School student, but I am still only barely part of the Philadelphia University community. This is the first time I will be in a community other than George School.

If I had to give advice to rising seniors of George School, or any high school for that matter, it is not to worry about this potentially awkward in-between time. Instead, use this time to focus and try to identify your own identity, not relating to what school or community you belong to. Although it may feel like you don’t belong to anywhere during this time, that is ok, because you learn a lot more about your own self during times like these. You will have plenty of time to shape your identity around a community in the next four, five, six, or more years in college. And if this task is too daunting, too scary, then don’t sweat it. Because once you are part of the George School community, you never really leave it. It is ok to be part of more than one community. Just do not let leaving this one, great, small, George School community make joining a new one difficult. Just because you graduate, does not mean you cannot talk to your old friends. Remember you are not alone, because everyone else is experiencing the same feelings you are. Trust me. I did too.

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Letting go of hierarchy: what I realized at my 20-year reunion

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This post originally appeared on www.DepthWorldwide.com

by Delilah De La Rosa ’97

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 20-year high school reunion. I went to George School, a Quaker boarding/day school (I was a boarder) in Newtown, PA. For those that are not familiar with Quakerism, no, it does not have to do with the Amish. It is a Christian-based religion that operates on the core belief that we all have the light of God inside us, ALL OF US. As G.S. explains on its website, “This straightforward, elegant idea basically means that everyone has the capacity to do good and the facility to be great. You just have to listen to that of God within you and recognize it in others.”

This core belief manifested in several ways while I was at G.S. (and still holds true today):

Everyone and I mean EVERYONE from students, faculty and staff addressed each other by their first name. This subverted the idea that teachers/staff/adults had authority over students.

Instead of being preached to or following orders/rules, our religious service was meeting for worship where we sat still in silence for quiet reflection, and if we felt moved, we addressed the people in the Meetinghouse with the inspiration coming through us.

Everyone, no matter what your economic status, had to do co-op, an on-campus service program where all students performed various tasks to help in the daily operations of the school; money saved through the program supported the school scholarship fund.

G.S. did not promote, in fact, rejected superstar culture academically, athletically and socially; cooperation/community instead of competition/hyper-individualism was stressed, thus, there was no valedictorian, sports hero or prom royalty. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have a prom. We had a senior-year dinner dance where all students had to ride a chartered bus to get to the dance hall in an effort to curb materialism and stratification among students.

While I came from a junior high school that instilled in me the importance of community, this high school experience challenged a core belief and overall consciousness I had deeply internalized: there is a hierarchical order to life. I held a (conscious and unconscious) belief that all living things were ranked in order of importance (i.e. the planet belongs to us humans, not we belong to the planet) and that some humans were better/worth more/mattered more than others. This originated from and was constantly affirmed by family, school, religion, culture and society.

Since this was true for me, I committed to the onerous, insatiable and futile task of being THE best (not MY best) so as to claim my position at the top of this hierarchy. I wanted to look the best, dance the best, be the coolest, be number one in my class. I remember that at the age of 9, I felt so humiliated for not receiving first honors after having so consecutively for a few years (beaten by the new girl in class) that I pleaded with my mother for me to not go back to school anymore.

So one can imagine how unfamiliar this idea of all of life matters PERIOD (no more, no less) was to me when I entered high school. You’d think it would offer a healthy reprieve from the consciousness I held that was causing me suffering. Instead, I resisted.

I wanted to continue being top of the class, but how could I be top of the class when there was no award ceremony or public announcement to honor those that performed the best academically? I was forced to focus on performing MY best without competition as the driving force; the driving force had to come from within. At the time, I couldn’t see how this would benefit my well-being and personal growth, and instead felt that the “fun” was taken out of the equation because I could no longer dominate.

I felt a bit shortchanged by not having a typical high school prom. After all, it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to showboat and see who could outdo who (with my striving to come out on top, of course).

I remember complaining to my advisor about the school’s lack of hierarchical culture (not in those words) and expressing my desire to go to an elite college institution that promoted exceptionalism, where I’d be among the best of the best. She responded with a reminder of G.S. values where “every soul is sacred and worthy of respect,” but in true Quaker fashion, didn’t force it down my throat.

Although I resisted, I was still immersed in this culture 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (most weeks) and it left its imprint. My driving force had to come from within, not from where I ranked among others. Inspiration became integral. I was able to connect with people from all walks of life in a meaningful way. I was able to connect with nature, which paved the way for what has become my love affair with trees. I was more emboldened in believing in goodness in all of life.

Experiencing life without the need for hierarchy was one of most liberating, creative, enriching, powerful and happiest times in my life. It was only when I held on to hierarchy that I suffered.

And yet, that’s what I did for many years after that, going to and getting caught up in the culture of an elite, top-ranking college and working in the entertainment industry where it’s unapologetically hierarchical and hierarchist. I became embroiled in the soul-sucking endeavor of being the best, being special, being on top (of others). I couldn’t resist the lure of hierarchy if it meant that I was winning.

In the last 10 years however, I started to develop an awareness of this being one of many ways to view and experience life, and that I was enmeshed in this particular consciousness. I started to see how this idea of there being a hierarchical order to life compromised my personal growth and well-being. I started to see how it caused suffering, being out of alignment with my true nature and the truth of we are one, and thus, real power that we all hold within. And more recently, I started to see the many factors–people, places and experiences–that fostered a sense in me of there being a consciousness that was more expansive, harmonious, loving and aligned with my truth, the truth.

When I went back to G.S. after nearly 20 years, I was deeply moved by the realization it was no accident I chose to immerse myself in a culture that challenged a limiting consciousness to which I was loyal. In my mind at the time of choosing to go to G.S., I was intrigued by the idea of going to boarding school, of independence, and having a college experience at the tender age of 14; I thought it was interesting and that it would look interesting, stand out as special. But I realized 20 years later that it was actually my soul’s way of having me experience a consciousness that was more aligned with my true nature and the truth.

I realized how much I resisted letting go of hierarchy, how I wasn’t ready to fully embrace this new consciousness at the time. The only way I knew to be powerful was to be exceptional, dominant, on top of the pyramid; I couldn’t comprehend there being another way to view and experience life. Since I longed for a sense of empowerment (like all of us) and held a distorted view of power, I felt the need to keep hierarchy in place, something I’d have to contend with along the path of embodying a new consciousness, the truth.

I also realized that while I can still hold on to hierarchy and vacillate between the old and new consciousness, I’ve been making my way back “home,” making a conscious commitment toward embodying this new vision of and approach to life that’s more aligned with the truth. This coming full circle struck me precisely as I stood in the Meetinghouse after 20 years. What I’ve come to know and embrace as my truth, the truth, and the several values and practices that keep me aligned with it, were rooted in this place. And I was destined to this place to make my way back home.

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Why I Chose the IB Program

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Teacher Kathy Rodgers helps with a class assignment. 

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

When I was about twelve, I started thinking about college. I was not sure of much, but I knew I wanted to go far, possibly even outside the country. My mom has a few friends who live in California and the school their kids go to offers the International Baccalaureate diploma. I first heard of it over the phone when I was in seventh grade. I looked it up and was drawn into the information I found.

The idea of having six subjects and having an equal balance in each interested me. At first, I worried about the arts, but I figured out that I could double in a subject to replace it. After thinking about it for a couple of months, I talked to my mom about my findings. I was really interested in getting this diploma. I was convinced it would make me a better student and wanted the opportunity to engage in this deeper level thinking.

She gave me the green light to go ahead and research schools. That’s actually how I found George School. When I got here, I was not sure what would happen. I did not know if I would change my mind and drop the IB idea. But two years later, I am a likely IB candidate. I plan to take two standard level exams, Spanish and Economics, and four higher level exams, English, Latin, Math, and Biology. The rest of my classes are a sprinkling of APs. I am doubling in language and not taking an art.

I know this is going to be very difficult, but I am prepared. The IB diploma is something I have been working towards for three years now. I love the thought of learning to think critically. I am anxious for a chance to write essays of deeper level thinking. I want to learn, but I don’t want to focus in one subject. I want to be a well-rounded academic and I feel like IB offers me more resources to do that.

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Arizona – Day 12

by Precious ’18

It’s day twelve on our trip in Arizona and school has ended, but it’s not over yet.

Today, we went to go help a friend of a friend (Leena’s brother, Jerome) on his farm. Unfortunately, because of poor weather the corn they had been growing didn’t grow well. So our job was to help replant the corn and weed the farmland. Oddly enough tumbleweeds are really strong. They don’t just tumble in the air like in western movies. Weird, right? Another group went to dig up tumbleweeds that may affect the corn that were planted. It took a few hours to complete both jobs.

After working hard through the early hours of the morning, we were rewarded with watermelon and hugs as thanks for helping out on the farm. Hugs are more rewarding than I thought. The group then visited a flea market in Tuba City. It was very hot and we were all sweating by the end of it. Many of us bought items such as blankets and jewelry. We then went back to the townhouse to go swim at the Kayenta Elementary School. It was very refreshing after hours of hard work in the fields.

There was also an opportunity to go to a powwow, and three people in our group danced in the middle of the circle to celebrate the Navajo veterans. Since we were hungry after, we went to the restaurant called The View, which is right near Monument Valley. We all had an amazing view while we were eating.

It was a great day all around, and we’re glad we could help one more person as our trip is rounding up. We’ll see everyone soon.

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