Each year, our new parents enter Lawrence Upper and Lower School for parent orientation sessions with serious expressions on their faces. Eyebrows are furrowed, chins set, shoulders hunched. They have visited schools in the past.
They brace themselves for what they have encountered previously. They prepare for worrisome sessions in which they begin to catalogue the various difficulties and struggles with which their son or daughter will have to contend: requirements, procedures and protocols that shove and poke at their children instead of embracing their approach to learning and encouraging their affiliation.
They grind their teeth anticipating homework battles and daily drama that disrupts family life. And worst of all, they worry that their child will continue to feel like strangers in school, or think of themselves as failures. They fear that their children’s confidence and self esteem will continue to decline as curriculum complexity increases year over year.
What happens next, however, lifts my heart. I watch it every year. By the end of the evening, their shoulders are lower. Their eyes brighten. Eyebrows raise and chins drop, broadening into smiles. They are chuckling and simply enjoying themselves at school!
What sparks this remarkable change?
First, they get fired from their job as homework helper! Then, they get a contact sheet of who’s who at the school with many reminders that we want to hear from them. Instead of carrying the burden of various worries around for days, they are encouraged to call, and we will help. Worry, they are told is a “form of prayer”; send it up (not onto your child) and call someone from the school to sort out what is troubling them.
Next, they meet the teachers and administrators, who not only see and hear their concerns as parents but understand and embrace their child. They begin to experience firsthand that Lawrence School is committed to reversing the trend seen at past schools where their children with language-based learning differences fell further and further behind their peers. They begin to see that we have designed the school to operate and teach the way their children learn.
It’s a similar transition for our new students, who enter our doors unsure of what to expect. They are worried that they will be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed that they don’t understand or know something that everybody else seems to know. Like their parents, they too quickly relax and revel in an environment that honors who they are, accepts them, affirms their strengths and challenges, holds them accountable in reasonable ways, and teaches them advocacy skills.
The result? They are heard in comments throughout the year.
“My daughter came home and told me she felt smart,” a parent of a new Lawrence fifth-grade student recently told me. Said others, “My son is running for student council!” and “He just came home and did his homework… on his own!”.
In a particularly moving moment, a graduating senior revealed last spring, “Lawrence allowed me to be a son again to my parents.”
I am extremely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish at Lawrence, and with a record-high enrollment this year my spirit soars knowing that we will be able to reach so many more students. Along with the increased enrollments, we have new Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. We are reaching out to bring our message of commonsense teaching to anyone who might benefit; to share what we have learned at Lawrence about creating learning environments that serve kids best.
I love the start of a new school year.
Even after all these years, it never gets old, is always invigorating and always inspires me. No matter how many times I hear the comments and observations from parents who begin their journey with us at one of these back-to-school sessions, each one touches me deeply. Each one represents a child and family transformed.
Each one, every year.
Best wishes for the school year ahead!