Change and Mission: Friends Select in 2018-19

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Driving up 16th street to head home one afternoon this summer, I was stuck behind an iconic yellow cab. I watched the cab for a few blocks: its unmistakable color signaling what it is; its fees printed on the doors; and the phone number to reach the cab on the trunk. Looking to my right, I saw another driver stuck in the oppressive heat of late July Philadelphia. He looked like another commuter. He looked like you or me or anybody else. When his lane cleared, he sped past me and I saw the Uber sticker on his car. Another form of a taxi. But so much different than a taxi.

If you had asked me ten years ago about the difference between the taxi and the car that sped ahead of me, I probably could not have guessed that they were both in the giving-people-rides-business. Nor would the old iPod at home have signaled the advent of computer-in-my-pocket age that we now reside in. The world is changing before our eyes, in ways that we can see and ways that are hidden from us. Every year there’s a new social media platform, a new way of sharing the accumulated data of our days with each other. In medicine, there is newer and safer surgery that can heal us faster, and it seems like more variety of food is discovered every year from a farther part of the globe. It all brings to mind Mary Shelley’s canonical text, Frankenstein—an enduring tale of science celebrating its 200th anniversary this year—which delves into the changing world as a sci-fi novel that anticipated humanity’s tinkering with organ transplants, seeking immortality, and pushing the envelope of what we mean by human.

But what about our school? Is Friends Select on the move or holding fast?

Our classrooms look very much like the classrooms of 25, 50, and 100 years ago. There are still student desks and teacher desks and a board to write on. There are books and papers and tests. There are field trips and lunch together and sports. There are yearbooks and literary magazines; and this year—much like Shelley’s and Frankenstein’s creature—Friends Select will be resurrecting the school newspaper, The Falcon. There are a head of school and families who join together in community and there is our Meetinghouse. And yet, there has been the scent of change in the air for some time.

Our grades are now posted in something called Canvas, a learning management system. Students can post videos to their teachers with a few clicks. We can collaborate on documents from great distances. And while there’s still a lot of humidity in the air this late in the summer, there’s even more STEAM in the building. Students are learning to code and engineer and program robots; Victor Frankenstein might well be alarmed by our student’s work to bring inanimate objects to life. And every year we seem to add a new partnership with our neighbors at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts or the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the University of Pennsylvania or Drexel University or City Hall.

The school is ever closer to its ideal of delivering on its mission. To be in the city and of the city, to be more equitable and inclusive, to prepare students for the whole of life. We are in a state of great change, and yet a state of great stability. Our foundation is as firm as ever, as we are building up and out and across and with each other. Students will be out of the building more often in the future, getting real-world experience in all kinds of ways. Students will be studying new texts, ideas, and authors who represent a wider range of experiences. Students will be working hard to be prepared not just for college, but for life.

Unlike Shelley’s tale, Friends Select is about embracing the change and new horizons and potential all around us. And so, the taxi is still with us, even as Uber and Lyft make inroads and create new opportunities. Friends Select is stronger than ever, even as we make changes to live up to the promise of our work with students. As a community, we will weather the change, embrace it, and celebrate what’s new around the corner. Good education never goes out of style.