by Maggie Pavlik, Upper School Director
Once every six days of school, the entire VMS Upper School gathers for Town Meeting. This provides an opportunity to learn together, discuss issues, share both successes and struggles, and build community. At the first Town Meeting of the new school year, Upper School Director, Maggie Pavlik, offered the following reflection on community, and on our community.
Today my speech is titled “What is Community?” And before you start rolling your eyes or thinking about how many times you have heard the word “Community” in the last two weeks (or already in the blog post), I am going to present you with some research. Some people say that developing a Community and contributing to a Community are “soft skills,” however you will see evidence in this research that communities grow excellent citizens and fantastic learners. And, that it takes real life skills to be a Community member—skills that are going to serve you long term, far beyond your time at VMS.
An Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development article says the following: “A growing body of research confirms the benefits of building a sense of Community in school. Students in schools with a strong sense of Community are more likely to be academically motivated; to act ethically and altruistically; to develop social and emotional competencies; and to avoid a number of problem behaviors, including drug use and violence.”
The rest of what I learned reading this article I am going to summarize for you. Strong communities:
- grow students who outperform their peers in schools where Community doesn’t exist;
- encourage strong academic engagement, higher standardized test scores, and have students with higher grade point averages;
- develop students who are respectful and have solid social skills;
- have less misconduct in and out of school;
- have students who demonstrate lower rates of violence, lower rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking, =lower rates of sexual activity; and
- have students who are more academically motivated when compared with other student groups.
1. Vail Mountain School is a place that cultivates and maintains rapport.
Building relationships with each other and with your teachers is the most fundamental element of your success at VMS. You may not be the best math student, or the best soccer player, or the best actor. And that’s OK. For the majority of high school students, these skills will not be the linchpin to success in college or in life. It is the ability to build and maintain trusted, caring, respectful relationships with your peers and your teachers, with people like you and with people unlike you, that will be what makes or breaks you in this world. Start now.
2. Vail Mountain School is a place that is committed to improving your character.
Every day you are faced with small or perhaps large dilemmas that shape who you are. Do you follow the direction of the teacher, or jump in with your friends and ignore the teacher? Do you leave campus, knowing that you shouldn’t? Do you pretend to be ill in order to skip your math test? Do you stand up for someone who is having difficulty standing up for themselves? Do you address the discriminatory language that you heard amongst your peers? Do you do what’s right or what’s easy? As teens, you’re learning and growing, and no one expects you to do what’s right at all time. But—we do clearly expect you to grow and learn from your mistakes, and to be able to reflect on what you would have done differently and do it right the next time. Be mindful of your everyday actions with each other, with younger students, and with your teachers. Listen to the voice in your head—that ever nagging conscience, and while it may take longer, or it may be more challenging, do what’s right. Model it and own it.
3. Vail Mountain School is a place that encourages you to think beyond yourself.
Sometimes we confuse thinking beyond ourselves with the idea of performing incredible service work. However, in our everyday setting we can give a little of ourselves. In a world that values individuality, be sure that you don’t let it own you. Help a person at lunch who is struggling with their plate, hold the door open when you walk into school, demonstrate kindness and care for a friend who has experienced a disappointment. Recognize that VMS is a big place and you are one of many, but you nonetheless have the potential to make a difference. Realize that people at the school are doing their very best, giving all they can, and appreciate your ability to be here. Contribute to the Community in your every day.
4. Vail Mountain School is a place that helps students to recognize their developmental place in this Community.
As an Upper School student, realize that all the younger students’ eyes are on you. They admire you on the soccer pitch, they love your high fives in the Common, they adore you as a tutor or a cross age buddy. Know that you are admired all day long by younger students who will someday be you. When there’s PDA in the Common, those eyes are still watching and questioning that behavior. While it’s not unusual at high schools across the country for students to snuggle on the loveseat, high schools nationwide don’t have five year olds in their midst. Look around at your house members and think about how you can contribute to the team. Can you help to pass papers, plan an activity, pair with a younger student, or be an active team member? How can you bring your own student agency to the group?
I assure you, Community, with a capital C exists in the every day at VMS. So now I ask: How can you help to shape our Community? Is it simply by speaking at Town Meeting? Is it by modeling your integrity? Is it by speaking up for someone who needs your help? Is it by helping to shape a program or classroom ethos? Is it by helping a new teacher or new student by explaining a Community tradition? How do you, or how will you contribute?