Two weeks ago, I asked the students how they were progressing in this new academic year. Most looked at me with puzzlement in their eyes. “We just started school!” was what they seemed to say with their looks. I challenged the grades to sum up their sense of progress for me before Berlin Fair Friday, and if I received a summary from each grade in a well thought out and presented manner, I would consider a “dress casual” day for Berlin Fair Friday.
Soon, the assessments started coming in. With students from four to fourteen, you never know what you are going to get. I received some gems. Here are a few samples.
“This is what I plan to make progress on now: math. This is how I plan to do it: checking my work to make sure it’s right.” – 2/3 MAG Student
“I have shown progress by being a good role model to the K-3 students.” – 4/5 MAG Student
“I have shown progress in math by learning the right way to rename in subtraction.” – 4/5 MAG Student
“Our class has definitely learned about the importance of using a planner.” – 6th
“We are all excelling in our own individual ways.” – 7th
“We have all gotten stronger as a group and have become better friends.” – 7th
I leave you with two more that span the spectrum of age and sophistication. The first is priceless in how it underscores how adults tend to see things in very complicated ways and how children see them in very simple terms. The second is an interesting reflection of the growth and progress in the 8th by them.
“Something hard for me is reading books. This is how I plan to [get better at it]: reading books.” – 2/3 MAG Student
“Over the past three weeks of the school year the eighth grade class has rapidly progressed. We now work together better than ever and get along very well as a group. Also, as a class, we have learned to better manage our time so we can be more punctual on the sports field and when handing in homework. Over these three weeks we have also found the younger grades looking up to us for help and guidance during sports. As the oldest grade, we have had to quickly learn to be leaders. Some of us have even become captains, which means taking on even more responsibilities. Each one of us has also conditioned ourselves to be independent and to solve problems for ourselves. This lets our teachers feel better about giving us more freedom to study the way we want. We are proud of our accomplishments thus far, but throughout the year, we will continue to develop as a whole during the Year of Progress at Mooreland Hill School.”
One of our goals in our Mission Statement and Educational Philosophy: “Central to the mission is the conviction that each child is encouraged to develop a realistic sense of self, a respect for others and the environment, high moral character, and a strong feeling for family and community.” Self-reflection is hard, but our students are measuring up well in their ability to look at themselves objectively. From this develops the ability to assess next steps for growth and success, academically and socially.
My family and I were fortunate to attend the 60th Newport Jazz Festival at the beginning of August. We went to hear Dee Dee Bridgewater perform the songs made classic by Billie Holiday in honor of Ms. Holiday’s inaugural performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. In addition, we went to hear the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, who performed legendary pieces played at the festival over the course of the last sixty years. I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I heard was profoundly moving and enlightening.
Ms. Bridgewater first addressed the crowd in character as Billie Holiday. (Dee Dee Bridgewater played Billie Holiday Off-Broadway in Lady Day.) This brought tremendous applause. As it died down, she was very quick to say, that while she could sing the tunes as Billie did, it would not be a fitting tribute. She would sing in her own style and with her own interpretation. By doing this, she was honoring Ms. Holiday and the jazz community, for the success of the art rests not in imitation but in that most difficult thing: to make original what was so well done before. Ms. Bridgewater did just that.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis came on next. The theme for the evening was to play pieces that legendary artists had made famous at the festival over the last sixty years. The orchestra was outstanding. In particular, the pianist, Dan Nimmer, was stunning on Horace Silver’s Senor Blues. A Brubeck piece was equally astounding. Everything they played was very, very good, and, as it was with Ms. Bridgewater, it was not imitation; it was original and fresh.
The entire evening was built on a foundation established sixty years ago by artists and visionaries who saw each festival as another opportunity to grow, promote, and honor the art of jazz. It became clear to me that the festival has been such a success because it has had a strong foundation upon which to build and against which to measure progress.
On the walk back to the hotel, I could not get out of my mind the crispness of the music and the energy of both young and old at the concert. This was truly a multi-generational event; entire families were in attendance, not unlike a school community event. It takes a special experience to bring several generations together.
For the young, I believe, it was the newness of the experience. Did they know who Horace Silver or David Brubeck was? The music may have been decades old, but the performance afforded them a new experience. For older generations, it was the invigorating reinterpretation that proved that what is old can be new again.
The quality of the music underscores that we do not have to be content with the status quo; time will hold our place forever if we allow it, but it is in human nature to make progress, to ask unending questions, and to challenge ourselves anew at all times. In doing so, we need not record over the past with revolutionary fervor, but perhaps, add to it with evolutionary zeal.
The key to growth and progress done correctly rests in the subtlety of progressive change, based on a thoughtful plan. We need to set the bar high. A focus on our goals, a call to action, considered decisions on which steps to pursue, all lead to making meaningful and valuable progress. And, to measure progress a solid base, must first exist.
A strong foundation is something we have in abundance at Mooreland Hill School. Now in our 85th year, Mooreland is established, but the key to our progress remains in our interpretation of what makes us a successful school for young students. While the 2014 version of the school may not be the same as the 1930 one, it is fresh and vital and, yes, new. We cannot rest on our previous laurels because we owe it to our students to help them appreciate that their world is ever new and evolving. It is a vibrant world with endless possibilities and opportunities available to them.