As August begins we are gearing up in earnest for the arrival of your children, even though the campus is still busy. We have summer programs students here until August 4th, and the following week the whole campus is given over to adults. The Vermont Jazz Center’s annual Jazz Camp, brings musicians of all ages, creating wonderful noise from every corner of campus. Simultaneously we have our Studio Arts Week and the “mentor camp” for the Progressive Education Lab. All this creates a wonderful mix of people, and the fizz in the KDU is not only because there is a certain amount of wine.
When Putney students arrive at the start of the year, we start our annual process of remaking the community with the new members and the old. Putney’s powerful culture works its magic, but we are also very intentional about how we start.
We will have not only a whole new 9th grade class, but a number of incoming older students as well. We have new students coming from Afghanistan/Pakistan, Mexico, Thailand, China, Japan, Germany/Sweden, Indonesia, South Korea and Madagascar, in addition to the many from the U.S. Our goal is always to form a school culture that allows each student to bring their whole self to school and embraces what we can learn from each other.
Returning students have grown and learned over the summer, often having seen themselves differently in a different peer group, or found new confidence by new challenges. In particular, the difference between 10th grade boys in June and 11th grade boys in September is often startling – not only have many shot up like weeds, but they often return with a maturity and poise that we only hoped for last year. Many seniors return having been working in completely adult environments, or having been camp counselors and the ones in authority. Students who have spent the summer inseparable from their phones and those who have been entirely offline all summer both have to realign with our middle ground policy.
We have been talking a great deal this summer about what this generation of students needs in order to thrive. For us, thriving includes the wellbeing of both individual and group, and a shared understanding of what we mean by ‘civil society’. We draw the lines in different places from some other schools, and different places from popular culture and the internet (which seem to have no lines at all). As a members of a progressive school we are committed to educating citizens for a democracy. We try not to preach particular political views, but these days most everything seems political. Foul language and open discrimination seem accepted in public discourse, but they are not acceptable on this campus. There were times in Putney’s history when the school may have served the purpose of freeing students from artificial social constraints; we now must hold them to higher ethical and behavioral standards than they see in the world around them.
We will start the year, as usual, with our Long Fall trips, which are four-day camping, hiking, canoeing or climbing expeditions. The goals are to welcome and integrate newcomers, and to start the year focused on responsibility to a group and a common goal. Creating some distance from phones and other distractions is helpful. We also believe that it’s a great gift to young people to learn to enjoy life away from the built environment. A considerable number of students come to Putney never having left the beaten path, and since about 80% of the earth’s land is more than one kilometer from a road, they will miss a lot if they don’t ever find out how beautiful it is!
We will try not to bombard you with information in the next few weeks, but we want to be sure that you have what you need. You should have recently received a letter from Michael Sardinas, the Dean of Students, outlining the start of the year logistics and schedule, as well as a packing list for new students.
In mid-August we will send you the log-in to your “Parent Portal,” which gives you access to our new database system. There you will find your child’s schedule, teacher contacts, school calendars, upcoming events and a variety of other resources. It also has a tab for the last several e-mails from Putney at any given time, so when you have that “I know I got an e-mail about that….” moment, you will know how to find it easily. When time comes for reports, you will find your child’s reports in your portal.
Have a wonderful August,