Another Opening, Another Year!

The opening of a new school year

Openings—the word got my brain going as we prepared for our all-faculty and staff opening meetings for this, our 126th school year at Laurel.

Over the summer, I collected connotations and expressions associated with the idea of opening: ”Another opening, another show,” the opening number from Kiss Me Kate; opening nights in theatre; the heavens opening with a storm; opening a can of worms; opening up an artichoke—that may have only been my mother worrying about skating too close to a sensitive topic; opening a jar by tapping the lid against the floor to break the seal, being cracked open by an experience—more violent than the jar tap; the command, “Open sesame!”; opening our hearts, our minds; being an open book; my morning glories growing on our back fence opening their faces to the sun; job openings; opening moves in chess and in other board games; an opening in a garment for your arm or your neck; a space to pass through.

Openings offer a passage between one space and another, a beginning, a moment before the first moment. An opening feels to me like a liminal space. We open a book, open a door, open a new chapter, or, as it happens, a new school year. And we cannot know what is on the other side. I do not want to slide from one moment to the next without noting it, taking a breath, acknowledging that this opening is different from other openings of past school years.

The opening of the school year—in person mostly and on Zoom sometimes if needed to continue to prioritize the safety of our community—always feels exciting to me. I love that the cyclical nature of schools allows us to open each August, to begin again each January.  

The world is hard: the earthquake and devastation in Haiti, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, wildfires out west, climate change, the continuing quest for racial justice in this country, the Delta variant in a Global Pandemic that is with us again as we start school. This backdrop is an excruciating one filled with events that feel largely out of our control.

Some of us respond to feeling out of control by locking down and controlling everything in our power—teachers dedicate and rededicate ourselves to planning our classes, making bulletin boards; as a mother, I might zealously organize the sock drawers, or, when our children were young, determinedly attempt to reclaim their bedtime routines that had eroded over the summer—anything to help us feel that there is a semblance of order or something we can control!  We cling to ritual, to the aspects of our lives that feel predictable, to routine. Some of us feel overwhelmed and stuck. Some of us rage.  Some of us weep. Some of us protest. Some of us—me, occasionally—escape into fiction. There is no single way to feel, and our many perspectives on the world is one of our great strengths as a school—our girls and little boys have many resources in all of us–teachers and family members. They learn that for them, too, there is no single way to feel. 

The last 17 months have been momentous and challenging for everyone—faculty and staff, students, parents, alumnae. Fear, loss, sorrow, worry have been with us, but we have also seen great successes—children flourished in our care; we started a wonderful new division at Butler; Commencement occurred in person at Severance Hall; we found new ways to connect with parents and alumnae. The pandemic has served as an accelerant, propelling us. Schools are notoriously slow to change, but we are nimble at Laurel, able to pivot quickly, to assess what is best for our community and to move forward, secure in our claim that we know girls and determined to demonstrate that—determined to make relationships a priority, no matter what unknowns lie ahead this year.

Our theme this year will focus on rebuilding community. After almost a full year and a half of learning at home on Zoom or in hybrid ways even when many girls and little boys were able to be back in the building, it is important to re-connect, to forge new relationships, to laugh together and feel the sense of being one school though we are now five divisions spread across two gorgeous campuses. The Lyman K, 1, 2 and 6, 7, 8 grades will resume regular trips to Butler as will Pre-Primary; we’ve put a mailbox near Ms. Hoegler’s office to encourage letter writing between the two campuses. Buddies have been reinstated. We are dreaming about how to connect Upper School girls with younger girls. We are slowly—and safely—braiding the school back together, so we can all enjoy the connections that are part of Laurel and contribute to our sense of pride in being a part of our glorious school.  Wear your Gator Gear—the new Gator Lane has something for everyone—and one way to spread the good news about Laurel is to celebrate our school in public! Remember, too, parents of  students of all ages, and alumnae, we are eager to connect our Upper School girls to you through Protégé internships and Capstone projects. If you are willing to sponsor a student, find out more by emailing Bill Rice (bRice@LaurelSchool.org). Seeing our girls in action is the best advertisement for your choice of Laurel for your girl.

As I begin my 40th year as a teacher and my 18th year of leading Laurel School, I feel so fortunate to be opening in person, so glad to continue to learn and lead among extraordinary colleagues and exceptional students. In my very first Chapel Talk back in 2004, I quoted this line from the singer Dar Williams, “And where does magic come from? I think magic’s in the learning.” As we open the 2021-2022 school year, I look forward to magic, growth, possibility and joy. There is magic, indeed, in the learning at Laurel School.