Dear Flint Hill School Families,

I’m sure that all of you, like me, are keeping the victims and families impacted by the horrific tragedy in Pittsburgh in your thoughts and prayers. While “life goes on,” the memories of such an event will linger, and we all strive to find meaning or lessons from such painful circumstances. That act of hate has hit our nation hard and should cause all of us to stop and think for a moment. While I often use my weekly letters to highlight the many positive things going on in our community, I am also reminded at times that while we are raising our children in what we hope is a safe, secure, and carefree environment, Flint Hill can be a “bubble” in a world that can often be at odds with our internal perception of “normal.”

During the past couple of weeks alone, we seem to be witnessing a growing sense of anger and aggression in the world that defies reason. Some of your children are too young to understand what is happening in the world and may only learn about it later in a history class. But, others are old enough to be frightened or concerned about the news and may go to you with questions. And as adults, we too can feel overwhelmed by what we see, read and hear. Still, we need to continue to instill in our children the importance of caring about others and the core values that we talk so openly about at Flint Hill. More than ever, we need to recognize the need to talk about respecting others, being responsible, having compassion and always being honest.

These thoughts were racing through my head as I was driving to Richmond, on Monday, for an educational conference where a number of our faculty and staff were presenting.  It was fitting that the first keynote speaker was an author who talked about the “Art of Community.” His focus was direct, simple and very powerful. In a world with billions of people, we have all experienced loneliness and the pain of not being part of a group. As I listened to the speaker’s words about the need to create a sense of belonging, in our schools, I found myself thinking that these concepts may add up and could play a role in some of the things we are seeing in the world.

The speaker made some excellent points about boundaries within our culture, the need for invitations to help people feel connected, and how, at times, the act of “invitation” is more powerful than the act of being physically present with others. He shared, “Just knowing you have been invited to be a part of something is transformative.” He talked about stories, symbols, rituals, and the “personal” temples we all seek — the personal spaces where we feel most at home and where we get a sense of safety and comfort. He then talked about the “inner rings” of a community where we deal with the people we care about and who we think care about us.

In a world full of individuals, with some that take hateful actions that fill our news and shake our confidence, it becomes essential for us to build a sense of community and make a difference. The conference earlier this week made me reflect on the powerful, simple actions of the people who cause the horrific events we hear about in the news, and whether being a part of a broader community could make a difference. One person truly does have the power to impact everyone else.

Where does that leave us with our children? Flint Hill’s Counseling Department and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) recently shared some guidance via email, which I have linked to in this letter. In terms of immediate steps we can take to feel that we have some control in a world that feels out of control, consider the following:

We need to build community in every “ring” of our lives. Whether it is during our upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations with family and friends, a trip to the local grocery store, or as we greet people at our front doors tonight with Halloween candy. We need to clearly demonstrate that we value others and want a sense of community in our lives. We need to make sure that everyone we encounter knows that we care and that our kindness may be infectious enough to encourage others to pay it forward. And as we do this, we also need to remember to continually hug our children and tell them how much we love them — this kind of affection is a constant and critical part of the community and family that we are building together.

We need to talk about kindness and the concept of belonging at home. Our discussions around kindness should extend beyond Flint Hill’s campuses, within our families, and within our local community. We need to expect a level of responsibility, civility, and commitment to doing and saying what is right. One of the things I take most pride in is the “feeling” visitors always talk about when they come to campus. The poise, acceptance, and manners of our students are powerful statements of who we are as a school family. But, we have got to continue this both at home and at school. We need to build on the traits that we know lead our great students to become outstanding, committed and forthright citizens.

Regardless of our political affiliations, we all have an obligation within the next week to vote. It is our one true right as a nation! For centuries in this country, people have fought and died to maintain that right. And if you have an 18-year-old in your home, who is hopefully registered to vote, please encourage him/her to get to the polls as well. Voting is one of the greatest gifts our country affords us and gives us a real say in where we as a culture will go. Voting is the singular act that allows us to make our voices known. Just as the actions of individual people have shaken the world, the simple act of voting can and will make a difference.

The great thing about the life of a school is that no matter what is happening in the world, we can do our part to gain control of what happens next. I hope that by setting that example for and with our children, we will collectively make our great nation and our world a better place. In the process, we are helping our children gain the skills and perspectives that will prepare them for their lives ahead.

Have a wonderful Halloween tonight and a super rest of the week ahead! Enjoy the Parent-Teacher Conferences on Friday and the chance to meet with our outstanding faculty and staff. They continue to build on the sense of community that is entirely focused on your beautiful children.

Best wishes to you!


John M. Thomas