Dear Putney Alumni and Friends,
Greetings from Putney, in hopes that this finds you well and nicely distanced. In a time when we are all both isolated and reaching out to each other, I hope to share some thoughts and give you a sense of what we are doing.
Our campus is quiet, but our community is still buzzing. Most of our students are at home, learning to learn remotely. A few, for whom going home is impossible or potentially dangerous, are still with us, spread out among the dorms. We are just at the start of our spring term, and are working to take a place-based and hands-on educational program into the virtual world, and to keep the spirit of the community alive. We are doing virtual assemblies, planning Sing, electing student leaders, putting out a yearbook and a literary magazine, and embracing every virtual tool we can find.
This pandemic is a catastrophe, for sure, and we are not trying to pretend it is not. It has been clear for years that this generation of students would have enormous challenges ahead of it, what with climate change, the decline of the body politic, inequality, all the rest. It seemed obvious that we needed to turn out resilient young people and creative problem solvers. I certainly didn’t imagine the future would come so suddenly, and present us with problems that are not only scary in the short term, but are likely reshaping the world our students are inheriting from us.
We are aware that the biggest lesson that our students will learn this spring will be from watching how the adults they know and trust respond to this. In most public emergencies people show their true colors very quickly. Do they expend their energy figuring how whom to blame, or looking to see what needs doing? Do they put their oxygen mask on first, and call it good? Do they help others? Do they help others first? And how do they behave when the immediate excitement is over and the long haul sets in? Our students will be watching and listening to us, and they will learn.
Mrs. Hinton’s grave stone at Lower Farm has the words Laughter, Courage, Optimism. I have these words over my desk as well.
Laughter right now seems a stretch, but we will need it. We will find time for silliness and absurdity, for joy in being together remotely. Our students already have the knack of feeling connected with others when they are physically alone, and as adults we will learn from them and stop complaining about social media, at least for a while.
Courage we don’t really have a choice about; we are not charging into battle but waiting for it to come to us. Nevertheless, we can work on ways to find courage in ourselves and in each other, and ways to help our students find it in themselves. We will pay particular attention to those students who are stuck far from home and family, who will need extra doses of support and fortitude. We are working to find ways to be helpful in our neighborhood, and encouraging students to do the same. We have more chickens than students on campus, so the extra eggs are going to the Putney Food Shelf. We are working to get students set up as tutors for local elementary students who are home without parents who can homeschool. Because our board chair, Josh Laughlin ’82, is also a town selectman, we are able to make clear to the community that we wish to be of use wherever possible. Helping is not courage, exactly, but it does make people stand up straighter and feel as if they can make things happen.
Optimism we all need to learn to fake with young people if we don’t have it. We can acknowledge how scary and unpleasant this plague is, and still help them avoid despair. It has been a trope these past few years to talk about what people are “going through” and although I sometimes find that a trite phrase, it does have the benefit of being optimistic, with the suggestion that one does, in fact, get through whatever it is. And, optimistically, we can predict that one of the good outcomes may be a more resilient group of kids, who have “been through” something historic, and already have something to tell their grandchildren.
I know that you are reaching out, rekindling old connections, and finding ways to preserve laughter, courage, and optimism. Facebook users can stay tuned through The Putney School. Alumni can stay in close touch through the Putney School Alumni Facebook group. If any of you have suggestions and ideas that you think would help us continue to fulfill our mission in these interesting times, please feel free to share them with me.
Best to all of you,
Head of School