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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones
Ana Ramirez

Dear St. Andrew’s Family,

On Monday, St. Andrew’s welcomed Palestinian author Yousef Bashir as part of our Open Minds series. Mr. Bashir’s compelling personal story about forgiveness and hope for peace between Palestine and Israel resonated deeply in our community. Conflicted about and frustrated by the hospitality and kindness of his father toward Israeli soldiers during the occupation of their house in Gaza, Yousef, a 15-year old boy at the time, could not understand his father’s approach to life, given the harsh reality of war. However, Yousef began to comprehend his father’s philosophy of compassion and acceptance the day he was shot in the spine by one of the soldiers living in his house. Rushed to an Israeli hospital, Yousef was saved and embraced by dedicated Israeli doctors who cared for his life. Through surgery and many months of rehab, they helped him regain his ability to walk; they never gave up on his recovery. Saving his life and accepting him without regard for his identity as a Palestinian, the doctors and nurses reciprocated Yousef's father’s belief in humanity.

As I listened to Mr. Bashir’s story, I could not stop thinking about one aspect of our St. Andrew’s students that I so much admire: their ability to confront their fears and step out of their comfort zones for the benefit of themselves and others. As a teacher of Spanish, I see my students take risks as they communicate in a language they don’t yet fully understand. I see them put themselves into the lives of others whose cultures and customs are different from their own. These students could always opt for writing or speaking the bare minimum, but that is rarely the case. Not long ago, I visited a math class. Students were working in small groups, engaged in solving problems, and most of them were facing difficulties, yet they did not seem worried about being wrong. Just last weekend, a number of students wrote original plays, and other students performed these plays for the very first time. Ah! And this was a completely student-organized event. 

Intrigued by students’ courage and motivation to step out of their safe spaces and stretch themselves, this week I asked students to tell me their stories. Here are some of their perspectives. Katie Macalintal ’20 writes: “One way I have stepped out of my comfort zone at St. Andrew's is by speaking up in English class. At first, I was worried about saying something ‘incorrect,’ ‘stupid,’ or ‘insignificant.’ As I received feedback from teachers and became cognizant of the culture associated with the discussion table, I started speaking up more and letting go of my previous worries. By contributing my thoughts and confronting confusion in English class, I have learned about the importance of asking questions, collaborating, and challenging my own ideas.” 

Isabel Hwang ‘20 reflects, “Through the constant love and support of my fellow peers and faculty members, I joined the cross-country team, started a brand new club, and overcame my fear of speaking in public. The culture of kindness at this school encouraged me to start a conversation with Mr. Gus, a wonderful driver for mentoring, and Ms. Darlene, a warm SAGE staff member. I believe that I’ve most changed by learning how to appreciate others. I wouldn’t be who I am today if Charlotte [Gehrs ’20] hadn’t encouraged me to try running, or if Mr. Mufuka hadn’t been so open to the idea of an Ethics Club, or if Model UN never challenged me to talk to complete strangers.” 

In the winter of his junior year, Cole Ferguson ‘19 decided to join the wrestling team. This was a brand new experience for him. He writes, “I had no idea what I was getting myself into but knew that I had to try it until the end. Though the practices and matches were so difficult, I stuck to it and decided to keep going with the sport. By the end of the season, I maybe wasn't the greatest wrestler, but had a priceless experience with my team and learned so much about myself and discipline.” Similarly, Miles Abney ‘20 joined the swim team this past winter. Miles reflects, “Trying a new sport halfway through my junior year was a foreign concept to me. I was terrified of letting down my former winter team, not being good enough in the pool, and feeling ridiculous for trying something new so late in my high school career. However, I was amazed by how my former coach, my new swim coaches, and the swim team supported my decision. I absolutely loved every minute of the season and never felt unsupported or as if I wasn’t good enough. I do vividly remember stepping out of the pool after my first race into the embrace of so many of my teammates. I had not only just placed last but had been disqualified, yet everyone encouraged me to keep trying and not get down on myself. The incredible culture of the team taught me how to challenge myself to not necessarily be the best, but to focus on improvement no matter how much improvement it is.”

Through the voices of these students, one can sense how their courage to confront their fears and explore new endeavors, and to engage with themselves and others, is directly linked to the trust, respect, and care they feel they are given by their fellow St. Andreans. Emily Paton ‘20 says it perfectly: “St. Andrew's pushes you to form deeper relationships with peers and teachers and teammates.” Connection and understanding is the fabric of our culture, and into it we sew trust, respect, and support so that we, as members of this incredible school, can each of us grow by exploring new ways of thinking, new activities, new ideas. Just as Mr. Bashir’s connection with the Israeli community brought him hope for change, so St. Andrew’s students, in their welcoming, caring, respecting and trusting of others, build a culture of safety in which all may grow and become seeds of change and hope in the world.

All my best,
Ana Ramirez
Dean of Leadership, Modern Languages Department Chair