Embracing Our Community

Being “in the city and of the city” is deeply connected to our Quaker values. It’s who we are; it’s what we know how to do best. Advance Friends Select, our strategic plan, provides a path for us to follow in order to develop external partnerships to meet teaching and learning goals. Our Center City location provides unending opportunities to leverage these partnerships in order to create authentic learning experiences for our students.

As a longtime Quaker educator, I know that community-based education is the heart and soul of Quaker schools. According to “The Essence of Quaker Education,” published in the Chronicles of Quaker Education, there are “five essential themes of Quaker education: reflection and meeting for worship; inquiry-based learning; experiential learning; a focus on community in learning communities; and education for social justice and a peaceful, sustainable world.” This important work also calls us to develop our skills as diversity practitioners. Each learning experience in our city provides students and teachers with opportunities to examine and reflect on their own bias. Utilizing the city as a living classroom allows teachers to provide culturally relevant curricula “that include myriad voices and multiple ways of knowing, experiencing, and understanding life can help students to find and value their own voices, histories, and cultures.” These experiences also foster a desire to engage with our communities civically and in so doing, partner in serving each other. This type of work inspires all who are involved, and is the work I am particularly most passionate about.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents laughing at me while saying, “Why? Why? Why? You never stop asking us ‘why?’” I am a learner, curious about all things—especially all things education. I also happen to really love people and making connections with them, which makes being Director of City Curriculum such an exciting opportunity for me. Over the past few months, I have taken a deep dive into the lives of teachers and students at Friends Select, as well as the city of Philadelphia. Each Tuesday I shadow a student in a different grade in order to get a better view of student life. I have observed teachers who care deeply about their students’ emotional well-being, as well as their academic achievement and understanding. I have also observed the myriad of opportunities for students to exercise their voice and have choice in their learning. These Tuesday visits have proved invaluable in that I am able to learn about curriculum, and I hope I have begun building relationships with teachers and students.

Many members of the Friends Select community have also connected me with the greater Philadelphia community. I have gone on an extensive neighborhood tour with a Board member. Teachers, staff, and parents of all divisions have directly connected our students to city learning experiences or with someone they know who could. I had the opportunity to visit a community project with a parent who is a leader for Mural Arts Philadelphia. She showed me the wonderful work from residents who designed and built a greener space using recycled materials. As a result of that visit, the parent from Mural Arts will bring a neighborhood organizer to speak with one of our sixth grade English classes that is reading Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman. They will learn firsthand how gardens can transform residential areas. Furthermore, organizations all over the city have offered to meet with me to discuss developing new relationships or collaborate on ideas to deepen the ones that already exist.

I have already felt the love and commitment of Friends Select students, teachers, staff, and families. The Quaker testimony of community is alive and well at our school, and all are ready to embark on a new adventure to use the city as our classroom. I am honored and beyond excited to be part of it!