September 27, 2017

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

Do you remember when you went to school and how you felt about the different aspects of that experience? I have vivid memories of sitting in long rows. I was told to take notes on what the teachers said as he or she stood at the front of the room, filling blackboards with tons of material. My responsibility was then to go home, do homework that often consisted of repetitive problems, five-paragraph essays, and memorizing lots of facts, and then return the next day to repeat that exercise. Occasionally, I would have to “give back” to the teacher what I had memorized from all of these efforts. To be honest, I was always grateful for the end of the day, when there were athletics, which gave me a chance to release some of the stress from the academic day.

Please don’t get me wrong. I loved my school and my friends, and some of my teachers truly had an impact on my life. In fact, it was my school that offered me my first job out of college. I taught, coached and counseled students there for 16 years. But back then school was school, and that was pretty much the way it was done. There was little variety in the course offerings and opportunities. There was no incentive to venture beyond the traditional curriculum that had been put into place as the foundation for American education at the beginning of the 20th century. Everyone always took English, math, science, history and foreign language. Arts, athletics, and “extracurriculars” were often viewed as “fluff.”

Today, school is far different. With the touch of a button on a cell phone or a laptop, there is instant information. In addition to the traditional content they still learn, our students also have opportunities to be creative, learn critical problem solving and communication skills (both verbal and written), and how to collaborate with other people. They are applying their growing knowledge in new, dynamic and relevant ways. Learning is no longer static; today’s students are not simply learning what everyone has learned for the past several centuries. Learning is active. It demands participation. And learning has become more focused on how people will work when they enter their careers. There is still a lot of writing (thank goodness for spell check!) and plenty of reading and math. But there are frequent moments now that allow students to venture into new areas. Areas that never would have been considered as part of a secondary school experience just a few short years ago.

In our Lower School, besides making sure our young Huskies can read and write effectively, they are also exposed to technology with the introduction of the iPads. This year, in fact, we opened an Innovation Lab, which is now the fifth classroom dedicated to the Innovation Department on our Lower and Middle School Campus. Spread throughout the building, there is a Robotics Room, a Makerspace, a Technovation Lab and two Innovation Labs. The new lab contains a carving machine, a 3D printer, Keva planks, a Lego wall, Makey Makey Stem packs and connectivity kits, just for Lower School students. These items allow the students to maintain a traditional science lab while also having opportunities for creativity and problem-solving. They can now become young engineers in addition to being young scientists. In fact, computer science is now a part of the Lower School curriculum. Remember when computer labs were major innovations within schools? Now, with us being one of the nation’s most recognized independent schools for technology, we are teaching computer science and programming to students in all three divisions. Through a regular rotation process, they are learning programming, the importance of creating algorithms with precision, the use of directional cards, and how to make certain that things are done in a direct, systematic order. We are also teaching Digital Citizenship, a course in which they learn how to use technology responsibly and effectively while using their iPads at school and at home. We also want to introduce them to career paths and ideas for the future as we bring in parents, alumni and other special guests to a Brown Bag Enrichment Program. In this program, our kids are exposed to a variety of topics beyond the scope of our regular curriculum.

In the Middle School, there is a focus on making sure that there is a true foundation in place for the skill sets that students really will need as they move forward. Middle School is also when students are introduced to the performing arts, from band, orchestra, choir and percussion, to dance or drama. All of it is focused on becoming a part of a team and beginning to develop a love of the arts. Competitive athletics start in Grade 7, which is layered on top of our demanding academic program. Classes like Wellness become even more important as we begin to talk about relationships, drugs and alcohol and items around health. We teach them how to get along with each other and how to recognize adults in our community as mentors. Add to this list, their active participation in academic competitions through our Latin and Math programs. The introduction of additional languages also becomes key. After taking Spanish in the Lower School, students can study French or Latin in Middle School. Later, this list will include the study of the Chinese language in the Upper School. They also begin to do far more in programming with Intro to Programming, Object-Oriented Programming and exposure to various coding languages, like Swift, Python, Java and others coming into play. There are also numerous offerings for Makers and Robotics. All of these courses allow our students to constantly apply this growing knowledge individually and collaboratively in groups.

As our students move into the Upper School, the quality of the program truly is college preparatory. In fact, it far exceeds what my college was like years ago. I once jokingly asked the Board of Trustees to consider awarding a Bachelor’s Degree along with our diploma. Our students are taking math beyond the Advanced Placement levels, including Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra. Students can take courses on Social Entrepreneurship, Small Business Startup and Management, Public Relations, Disruptive Innovation through Social Media, Filmmaking, Design Thinking, Psychology, Micro and Macro Economics, World Religions and Ethics, Physical Anthropology and Archaeology. For our Huskies this just seems normal in the Upper School. Theatre, sculpture and all of the various arts including Digital Design, can also fill the day along with an enormous array of History and English electives. All of our School’s Program Guides are available on Husky Hub. They will give you a chance to see the courses that our Huskies are taking at the various levels.

All of it is focused on providing them the opportunities to learn and grow in a supportive environment. Having tons of homework is no longer the way to gauge the quality of a course or a program. Teachers become facilitators and mentors and our faculty truly relish in that responsibility. And like you, we take enormous pride in our students’ accomplishments at every grade level. Each step is critically important to the next. We are committed also along with all of that, to having a clear focus on values. Our four core values of respect, responsibility, honesty and compassion are sincere, relevant and frequent topics in conversations here at school and are referenced in every subject a student may study. We need our students to develop a humble confidence and competence in all they do, and we want them to be prepared for life not just in terms of what they know, but also who they are as citizens of this world. It is quite a challenge and an enormous responsibility. But we cherish each and every day and the challenges that come from that experience. Our mission and vision express our approach as well.

This is exactly why that partnership I referenced last week is so important. Because at the end of the day, the beneficiaries are your children. We are committed to doing this the right way. Our only agenda is in creating the safe, respectful and exciting space for this to happen. One that challenges and nurtures them to develop skills that foster their own personal sense of resiliency and grit.

It is an exciting year! Education today is in constant motion. Innovation and a growth mindset is what the world is demanding. It is our responsibility to have them prepared for their world, not the world that greeted us years ago.

If we can help in any way with questions about our program or what, how and why we are doing what we do, please do not ever hesitate to call on the Division Directors or any of us in the Leadership to clarify points or to hear your thoughts, reactions or suggestions. Together we look forward to continuing to create an educational experience that allows us to keep the students’ best interest at heart!!

 

Best wishes to you! Have a great week.

 

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster