Greenhill’s 66th Founder’s Day

On Friday, September 9th, all Greenhill students and faculty assembled in Phillips Gymnasium to celebrate Founders’ Day. Jason Yaffe, Director of Academics discusses the meaning behind Founders’ Day.

Greenhill’s birthday falls on the infamous date of September 11th. For a date that will be etched in history as one filled with hatred and sadness, Greenhill’s 66th birthday last week was filled with honor, respect, and compassion. Sitting on the floor of Phillips Gym, the vibe was especially joyous this year. The second graders around me swayed, arm in arm, as all sang “Best Friends Should Be Together,” new community members were welcomed with great cheer, and all marveled at the mini history lesson Mr. Tom Perryman ’81, the Assistant Head of School, delivered.

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As a history teacher myself, Mr. Perryman’s descriptions of segments in the school’s past were inspiring. He brought the 1500 plus audience members back to Greenhill’s first day in 1950 when an opening bell started a new adventure for thirteen faculty members and sixty-two students. He spoke of fishing down near the creek for crawdads as a student, and dancing the night away in the school parking lot at Homecoming, surrounded by Lower School students, teachers, and even parents.

The evidence that Greenhill has changed since those early days was quite clear. What has remained constant, however, are the school’s core principles and best practices. One look at page 8 of From Humble Beginnings: The First Fifty Years of Greenhill School, written Mr. Perryman and his brother David ’83, speaks to our foundation. On that page, an advertisement for the school’s inaugural year describes how Greenhill emphasizes “personal development through teacher-pupil relationships.” That statement still reflects the kind of school we are today.

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The more I listened to Mr. Perryman’s vivid descriptions of other eras, the more I became acutely aware of our core principles in action during the Founder’s Day assembly. Here are some samples:

• Honoring the school’s history by celebrating three students from the class of 1998 who had the foresight to create the Heart of the Hill program, a multi-age group tradition designed to unite us all.

• Respecting the need for peace and unity in a world that can sometimes be filled with anything but that by singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.’

• Showing compassion for new students and teachers in greeting them with thunderous applause and cheers, knowing that everyone was once in their shoes as a new kid on the block.

• Honoring the Greenhill Legends (faculty and staff with 25 years or more of service at Greenhill), Faculty Leaders, and Penny Nicholson Award winners.

• Respecting the developmental needs of our early learners by building in time during the assembly for them to stand, stretch, and move.

• Listening intently and demonstrating compassion for one special fourth grader who announced plans for the day’s ice cream social.

In all, I felt even more committed to carrying out Greenhill’s mission as I left the gym. I also realized I should probably revisit From Humble Beginnings: The First Fifty Years of Greenhill School, from time to time, to remind myself that the core of our School is both strong and timeless.

A Window Into Social Emotional Learning on the Hill

Social Emotional Learning has become a big part of the day for Preschool and Lower School students. Jason Yaffe, Director of Academics, takes a look into the program in this week’s blog.

Imagine a school day, with all of its typical excitement and exhilaration, starting with a centering activity to ready students for their upcoming adventures. Instead of jumping into school work, imagine slowing down in the morning to prepare for the day to come. That’s what is taking place in the Greenhill Preschool and Lower School as teachers and students engage in intentional core practices, or centering activities, to help their brains think more clearly. With the recent adoption of the MindUP curriculum for our youngest students, the goal is to make Greenhill an even more harmonious center of learning.

Evidence of core practices can be found in multiple areas on campus, from classrooms to hallways, during designated class time and in transitions from one area of study to another. I recently observed it unfold at the weekly Lower School assembly. After some singing, announcements, and acknowledgement of the School’s core principles in action, a fourth grade student leader sounded a small chime and over three hundred students and adults in the lobby settled in. All were given directions for a simple breathing exercise.

Take calm, slow breaths…Keep your shoulders relaxed…If your mind tries to think about other things, bring your attention back to your breath…feel your stomach rising and falling…open your eyes slowly and take another slow, deep breath with your eyes open.

I engaged in that breathing exercise, but admit that I opened my eyes to take a peek at the students. All appeared to embrace the one to two minute exercise. Instead of rushing off to their first class of the day or starting the day on a hectic note, the students used the power of silence and breath to set a tone. Once the exercise ended, grade by grade moved quietly and intentionally to their first class of the day.

For our youngest students who are often bombarded with stimuli, I appreciated the calm that settled over them. This very core practice is occurring three times a day throughout the Preschool and Lower School and I have to think it’s eventually going to lead to greater self-awareness, self-management, and improved relationships. Not to mention much happier and healthier students and teachers.