Edgemont School District
From The Superintendent
Back-to-School Issue 2018
A surprise hit film this summer was the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which chronicled the fascinating life of Fred Rogers, the creator of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. For myself and, I’m sure, many others who saw this film, it was a re-centering experience, a reminder of what really matters: relationships, community, and heart. It gave me cause to reflect on the importance that community plays in supporting the growth and development of school-aged children.
We ended the school year on a very high note with the EHS graduation on a beautiful night with some impressive and thoughtful speeches from students, teachers, and administrators. One that stands out in my mind is Joanna Kaizer’s moving speech about the positives surrounding a term I sometimes hear used pejoratively around our community: the Edgemont “bubble.” Joanna spoke about the support and care she received from other students, community members, and teachers and staff in the wake of her father’s sudden death two years ago. Like Fred Rogers, Joanna came to understand the value of something we often take for granted: the importance of community and relationships in supporting us throughout our development.
Communities as special as Edgemont’s don’t just “happen,” especially in this day and age when so many external forces seem to be driving people apart. Children need to be taught how to live with themselves and with the people around them. In school, beginning in kindergarten, we learn how to live in a community and we learn through a community. Learning is a social activity, and the things that we learn in turn help us to contribute meaningfully to the many communities we inhabit throughout our lives. Our work over the last few years on implementing the reader’s workshop approach to literacy instruction demonstrates this principle. Students receive explicit instruction in new reading strategies as a group, practice them together, then apply their learning to their reading of leveled texts geared to each child’s reading ability and then share their new learning with their classroom community.
This learning continues well beyond kindergarten, and it is our charge as a public school district to give students the skills and knowledge that they will need not only to succeed in college and careers but also to participate as citizens in community. In Fred Rogers’ words, “Feelings are mentionable and manageable.” Whether in personal situations or in world events, as our educators know, there is a place for learning about oneself through the experiences of others. A seventh grader confronting death finds solace in discussing the different ways of responding to death in Priscilla Cummings’ Red Kayak; a tenth grader mourning a loved one’s passing takes comfort from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s illustration in The Scarlet Letter that grief opens the way to being fully human and taking one’s place in a human community. On the more global level, students become more sensitive to others as they learn of situations beyond their current experience. Confronting racial disparities in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, students put themselves in the shoes of a young black man stopped by police, knowing that “one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated” (15). Or having read Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, the story of Lost Boy of Sudan Salva Dut and his later efforts to heal war wounds by building wells, a group of students started the “Water for South Sudan” Club to raise funds for wells in South Sudan.
Technology poses a particular challenge for school communities in this era of smartphones and Chromebooks. It has the power to build and strengthen community but, at the same time, can be extremely isolating and divisive. This year, Edgemont teachers, students and parents will have the opportunity to work with Janell Burley Hoffman, the author of iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up. Together they will explore issues surrounding digital citizenship and ways to engage teens productively with social media and other online resources.
A common reaction to the topic of social-emotional learning in schools is, “That’s nice, but isn’t it going to take time away from academics?” Nothing could be further from the truth. Numerous studies have shown that students’ social emotional learning acts as a multiplier for academic achievement. This is especially true in this day and age when employers and colleges value communication and collaboration skills among prospective applicants.
Edgemont is not Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, but the school community of Edgemont is a caring, supportive learning community. Risk-taking is an integral part of the learning process. The feeling of not knowing or not being able to do is a feeling of vulnerability. Being able to take those risks in a supportive learning environment remains our goal, whether using innovative or classic approaches to teaching and learning. We will recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our students in all areas of the curriculum as we seek to “provide a culture of learning that reflects each student’s needs, interests, abilities and voice for the academic and social-emotional development of the whole child in each and every child.”
We invite you to follow our progress toward this aspirational goal on the district website www.edgemont.org. The website is also host to our calendar and all of the information from the Edgemont “Blue Book.”
-Dr. Victoria Kniewel