Dear Westchester Families,
For the past five months I have been writing about the distinctiveness of Westchester Country Day, and before I move on to my final topic in this series, the teacher in me can’t resist a quick review:
- Our teachers are second-to-none, and they work in an environment that combines high expectations with the latitude to be creative, flexible, and ambitious in their classrooms, serving the needs of each student.
- We instill in our students strong habits—intellectual, moral, physical, and organizational—that ultimately become manifestations of the moral, academic, artistic, and athletic excellence toward which we strive to educate them.
- The school offers students a wide range of interpersonal, cultural, intellectual, and co-curricular experiences through which children learn to think for themselves, celebrate diversity, contribute to a team, and give of themselves.
- Our intimate classrooms offer teachers and students powerful opportunities to forge strong, trusting relationships upon which all great teaching is founded; teachers invite and demand participation from their students here, and students learn to speak up, to share their ideas with confidence, to ask good questions, and to ask for help when they need it.
- We are always concerned with instilling values in our students, and all of us—children faculty, school leaders, and parents—strive each day to live out our school mission’s call to moral excellence.
The final component of this work to build the kind of community in which students can pursue excellence concerns the environment that our students inhabit each day. Among the core values that we embrace here is the fact that the pursuit of excellence must take place in an environment that, as our mission statement puts it, “respects the student and honors learning.” We believe firmly that children can best become strong students, for example, in a place where they feel safe, cared for, supported, and encouraged. The intentional community that has been created here is a fundamental component in our work to teach students to create, serve, perform, and achieve.
With this in mind, I offer several snapshots of the impact that our school environment has on students:
Westchester students are happy to come to school. Last summer, as I was working to get settled and find my way around, I had the chance to meet several Westchester students on campus and around town. I asked them, as I have asked students over the years, if they were excited about the beginning of school, ready for the summer to end so that we could get back to work. Though you may assume that they looked at me as though I had lost my mind, almost all of them looked me straight in the eye and answered “yes.” I’ve had many new parents share that among the powerful changes that they saw when they brought their child to Westchester, most striking was a new-found excitement on school day mornings.
Westchester is a place where it’s cool to be smart. Our community cares deeply about curiosity, intellectual engagement, and hard work, and all of us—students, faculty, and parents alike—celebrate and respect these values. Ours is a school where doing homework each night, engaging in a class discussion, and performing at one’s peak on an assignment are the norm, not the exception. Students and faculty surround one another with a positive peer pressure to succeed.
Westchester students feel known, cared for, and safe. I wasn’t long on campus before I came to appreciate the love that surrounds each child here. Teachers know their students well and understand the powerful role that they play in guiding, challenging, and protecting them here at school. Moreover, teachers and staff members make it a point to know other students in their division by name and to follow up with former students as they grow and move on to higher grades. Students know that they can always find an adult who cares for them and will help them, who will keep them safe and guide them through a difficult challenge.
Westchester is a place where all students can thrive. Make no mistake about it, we have very lofty, ambitious goals for our students. Our mission’s call for us to “educate each child toward moral, academic, artistic, and athletic excellence” is a demanding challenge. These high expectations, however, play out in a very deliberate school community, one that seeks to create an environment in which children are free to pursue these goals without distraction and where they feel cared for, equipped, and confident enough to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Only then will they come to appreciate what they can really do; only then will they realize the great potential that lies within them.
Head of School