Summer Musings

Dear Putney Parents,

After a brief lull, the campus is full of teenagers again. The Summer Arts program is up and running, with studio and performing arts of all kinds and a side dish of robotics. Each of the three-week summer sessions feels like a pop-up Putney, with Sing, camping, and students from across the world. Out my office window I see a group of our summer workers (past and present Putney students) replanting the garden outside the Field House, which was dug up this spring in an infrastructure project.

The summer makes space to do some long-form thinking, rather than the more “just in time” thinking that the school year mostly calls for. Our admin team spent two days last week up north by a lake, wrestling with the thorny and the aspirational questions that define our school. Discerning the critical balance between support for the individual on the one hand, and nurturing of a sense of communal purpose and responsibility on the other was a central topic. We also talked about ways to teach a growth mindset and the principles of restorative justice, and what this generation needs in order to learn to handle conflict effectively. We looked at our goals and the structure of leadership on topics of diversity and social justice. It is a fascinating time in history to be in a school founded on John Dewey’s principles of education for a democratic society.

We also worked, of course, at budgets and logistics, what our three-year priorities should be, and the most immediate tasks of the coming year. We welcomed our new Director of Communications and Marketing, Vada Mossavat, who is an outstanding addition to our team.

Your Putney students will shortly get an email letting them know of an all-school read for the summer. Faculty and students will all be reading Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West. It combines a look at war, migration, and family with a bit of magical realism that takes the story global. I recommend it to you as well, if you have not already read it. It has been a few years since we have had an all-school read, and it would be wonderful to have parents join in the conversations about it. The news is full every day of people crossing borders or trying to, on foot, in boats, or any way they can. This will doubtless be a major theme for the lifetimes of our children. Exit West makes the news reports more real, and offers, too, more complexity. It is a wonderful story.

As of July 1, the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be legal in Vermont for people over 21. The law (Act 86) does not establish a retail marketplace. It also states that anyone who gives marijuana to a person under 21 years old, or enables their consumption of marijuana, can be imprisoned up to two years and fined $2,000. We do not expect the new law to change things at the school in any noticeable way, but will be watching to see how things unfold. There is now clear scientific evidence that marijuana can affect teenage brain development in lasting ways, something we could not say for sure even five years ago. We will still work hard to keep marijuana off campus, and trust that we have your support in this.

As you know, one of the central questions about education – and child rearing – in this generation is the extent to which young people use technology and, in particular, social media. We try to find a middle ground here, and we also try to get students to self-assess and self-monitor. That is very difficult indeed (how are we doing on this as adults, we might ask…?) It is telling that many of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley do not let their children use iPads and smartphones, and send their children to schools without technology. I hope that summer does not mean more phone time for Putney students, and that if it does, you will try to wean them to some extent before they return. One way that you could help would be to send them back in the fall with an old-fashioned alarm clock – the perennial excuse for taking the phones to bed with them is that it serves as their alarm.

Best to all of you for a lovely summer,

Inquire Now