A Letter from Our Head of School on the Eve of the 2018-19 School Year
A Letter from Our Head of School on the Eve of the 2018-19 School Year
Tad Roach

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I am proud and excited to welcome you and your sons and daughters to the 2018-2019 year at St. Andrew's.

I spend the months of July and August reading, writing, thinking, and preparing for the flourishing of this educational community, but inevitably I reach a point where I want to move from theory and preparation to practice and engagement. In other words, I cannot wait to welcome the students to St. Andrew's to their school, their community, their second home.

Even as I share a few priorities and changes for the 2018-2019 year, I wanted to emphasize how powerful and critical St. Andrew's parents have been to the creation and strengthening of the St. Andrew's culture. You have affirmed, honored, and practiced the values and habits of mind and heart so central to the spirit of St. Andrew's:

  • You serve as role models and exemplars in the ways you approach your personal and professional lives.
  • You support St. Andrew's values of kindness, empathy, generosity of spirit, and service.
  • You teach your children the power of truth, integrity, and honesty.
  • You honor, support, and celebrate the diversity you find in your own communities and at St. Andrew's.
  • At a time of anxiety, doubt, and confusion, you articulate a love of life, a reverence for community, and a belief in the redemptive power of love.
  • You join us in a rejection of the lure of alcohol and drugs in the lives of adolescents.
Over the course of the summer, I have continued to read essays, studies, and books focusing on the disruptive and corrosive effects of technology on our intellectual, civic, and spiritual lives. As I read such studies, I keep remembering the principle Neil Postman established years ago in his study of technology's effect. He asked us to consider what we have gained through technological innovations, and more importantly, what we have lost.

We as adults developed our work and study habits before the rise of the technological revolution. Yes, we too struggle to figure out how to develop a mature and effective relationship with technology each and every day; yes, we too find our attention span and focus undermined by the sight and sound of our smart phones; yes, we too interrupt family time and conversations by scanning for messages. However, we did have the opportunity in our lives to learn how to think, read, write, problem solve, and communicate in a world with fewer distractions. We created a foundation of focus, concentration, and attention that protects us from the onslaught of technology today.

For children born in the midst of this revolution, the perils and dangers are real. The technological forces that compel the attention of adolescents in this era are directly opposed to the practices, values, and aspirations of St. Andrew's. We believe in active learning and living; deep and authentic communication among diverse members of the community; shared problem-solving, discussion, and debate; the power, serenity, and beauty of the natural world; the cultivation of personal relationships and mentorships characterized by trust, communication, and support. In contrast, the allure of the virtual world has led to so many contemporary challenges: the growth and encouragement of political polarization and fragmentation; new levels of social insecurity, anxiety, depression fueled by social media; addiction to video games, movies, social media sites that inhale vast stretches of free time; the corresponding loss of skills of focus, concentration, and resilience. As Jean Twenge wrote in The Atlantic last year: "If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence... it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen."

St. Andrew's has always been skeptical of the influence of technology on the culture of academic communities, delaying wireless integration of our dorms, first rejecting and then controlling the use of cell phones on campus. In the 2018-2019 year, St. Andrew's students, faculty, and staff will join together in a year-long study of technology on campus as we seek to protect and promote the human communication, collaboration, and creativity that must characterize the modern school. We look forward both to parent wisdom and participation in this work.

As you talk to your children about the year to come, I urge you to be specific about your expectations regarding the use of social media, video games, and movies. Urge them, to live, learn, and grow in the moment each and every day at St. Andrew's and actually resist the temptation of fading away in the isolation and passivity of the virtual age. We will be doing all we can to guide the students towards a more careful, mature, and intentional relationship with technology.

The 2018-2019 year will also feature a new daily and weekly schedule, designed to deepen the school's approach to both academic and community engagement. The academic schedule includes 75 minute teaching periods, each designed to deepen and inspire student learning; fewer academic transitions during the day in order to allow students to focus more intensively on class instruction and activities; more time after classes to reflect on just completed discussions, group work, assessments, and discoveries.

The schedule also redefines Friday nights and Saturdays as essential community engagement opportunities. Our Friday evenings and Saturday mornings will feature opportunities for academic immersion and tutoring, guest lectures and follow-up discussion groups; Form elections; community-building, diversity, and environmental workshops; community service days; Wellness Days; and advisor/advisee meetings.

The new approach to Friday evening and Saturday seeks to deepen our exploration of the full potential of St. Andrew's as a boarding community, as a school dedicated to goodness, and as a school committed to public service. We specifically want to protect this time each week.

St. Andrew's has made alterations in our approach to the dress code for the 2018-2019 year. We continue to divide our code to mark the various occasions of the day and year.

Finally, I wanted to share a few words about alcohol and drug use. St. Andrew's remains a school with students who, year after year, refuse to allow their community's trust and spirit to be corrupted by the use of illegal substances.

The defeat of the drug and alcohol culture has enabled St. Andrew's students and faculty to spend all their time and energy on the pursuit of excellence and the cultivation of a unique school culture. Our success in this area depends on critical collaboration among students, parents, and the school. Each year tests this communal commitment and tradition, but with the leadership of the VI Form and the support of all of you as parents, we can indeed have a year free from drug and alcohol use. Please include a discussion of your expectations regarding substance use before your child arrives at St. Andrew's. I include more reflections on this issue in a letter posted on our website.

If you have time in August, I urge you to read Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, our two summer reading books. We are excited that Jesmyn Ward will visit St. Andrew's in the spring.

Welcome to St. Andrew's 2018-19 year!

Best,

Daniel T. Roach, Jr.
Merrill M. Stenbeck Head of School