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Reflections at the End of the 2015-2016 School Year

Friday, June 24, 2016

Dear MCS Community, 

Mosaic of Manhattan Country School's 96th Street Building The final weeks of a school year are busy–with many chances to observe Manhattan Country School as a vibrant community and a way of life that welcomes differences and experiences that teach what’s possible. The contrasts inside and outside MCS could not have been more stark against a backdrop of rancorous presidential campaigning, a deadly mass shooting targeting the LGBTQ and Latino communities in Orlando, and so much more.

In the MCS lobby, a mesmerizing collage of faces against an image of the façade of 7 East 96 Street captured what Karima Grant ’86 remembers about MCS. “Diversity is a way of being as opposed to something to achieve.” Just as countless alumni have taken the lessons learned at MCS into the world, we will bring the collage and the lessons learned in five decades to our new home in September.

In the library, a circle of 4-5-6s enjoyed stories their seventh grade child development partners wrote and illustrated. Wide eyes and pure joy were the result of months of observations and conversations about how children grow and change. Authentically child-like in many details, the stories were also filled with scenes of children facing challenges and then working to overcome them. These CD stories anchor enduring bonds within a diverse intergenerational community, and will be seeds from which their understanding of the definition of change will grow.

The Music Room was set up, and set up again, endlessly flexible for the countless end-of-year gatherings we held there. At a final meeting of the Parents’ Association, Mary Trowbridge and Maiya Jackson shared highlights of Lower and Upper School programs. It was also my chance to thank parents whose generosity guided a school year and a transition team. As the eighth grade prepared its final play, the set painted by seventh-graders revealed a farm and a giant spider’s web in front of which transpired three delightful performances of “Charlotte’s Web.” A final assembly congratulated each class, and united us once more through songs everyone knows.

In the Courtyard, two signs produced by seventh- and eighth-graders—“Build Bridges, Not Borders” and “Refugees Welcome”—hung as reminders that a defining feature of MCS is our commitment to social justice and activism. I observed Fifth Floor students as they asked hard questions of speakers, watched videos to learn more about topics seemingly beyond their years and made presentations to parents and to classes of young children throughout the school. I witnessed their excitement as the chance to take part in a Day of Action with the American Immigration Lawyers Association came together and they boarded a bus to Washington, D.C. They came back with a deeper, more nuanced understanding of democracy as a complex political process and energized by the conversations with Congressional staffers whose views were not the same as their own.

At Farm Outing Day, hundreds of MCS community members came to appreciate what a special place the Farm is for MCS students. New families were welcomed, as were the alumni who stopped by. The 7-8s confidently shared what they learned on their first farm trip this Spring about pond life and farm animals. Eighth graders showed off four hand-hewn cherry benches that will be their legacy to the Farm and our new home on 85th Street.

All the eighth-graders wrote final reflections, answering the questions, “Are you ready to graduate from MCS?” and “Are you prepared to leave MCS?” They wrote about each other, their teachers, the curriculum, the support they felt as emergent leaders, and the Farm. “Developed the skills to think deeply and critically,” “appreciate different perspectives,” “to understand myself,” “how to be a community member,” “have a voice” and “be an activist” are insights they highlighted.

Amina, like many of her classmates, made it clear that becoming a good student and a committed member of society is not always smooth. My resolve is strengthened by her parting thought: “I need to go off to spread the mission of MCS, continue to speak out against the wrongs in society and continue my progression on a path of compassion, growth and bringing about change.” 

What more can we do to ensure that all young people have the chance to be committed to that path? We have the summer to ponder the question. The work and the fun starts up again in September as we begin a new chapter in MCS history. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary in a new space that will allow us to reach even more families, we will remain steadfast in our mission of nurturing a community dedicated to diversity, social justice, progressive education and sustainability—a community that is committed to developing leaders who will make a difference in the world.