With Independent schools our similarities far outweigh our differences

Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus, Director of the SFS Drama Project

Last week, I had the “adventure” of traveling to Chicago (when Winter Storm “Linus” allowed it!) to take part in an ISACS accreditation visiting team. The school I was assigned to was Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, a Jewish independent school on the North Side of Chicago that serves students in preschool through 8th grade. As you are probably aware, all ISACS independent schools undergo an evaluation process every seven years to renew their accreditation. In fact, next year we will be surveying our community as to our performance in advance of our next accreditation. I’ve been on “that end” of the process several times, but this was my first time to evaluate another school. So what did I take away?
First, a Jewish day school conjured up certain images in my mind. I pictured a traditional school very different than St. Francis and our progressive mission. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although BZAEDS’ location is radically different than ours, a four-story campus in downtown Chicago, the atmosphere and vibe inside was much the same. Lower School students were carrying their snack buckets down the hall, two by two, and smiling all the way. Middle School students were playing guitar in the stairwells and recording original compositions onto laptops for a music project (a la Mr. Bertke). I ate lunch with their student council, which was discussing crazy ways to dress up for “Spirit Week.” (I felt like I had stepped into one of our student council meetings, minus the ravings of Clay Smedley!). I met with Board members who talked passionately about their support of the school and future plans for growth, and also with their parent council reps, who mentioned the sense of “community” as the defining feature of their school.
After the school day, I also met with their Middle School faculty, who were clearly a tight-knit, committed group of educators. And while they had plenty of positive things to say about their school, they also had many thoughts about ways to make BZAEDS even better for the future.

So again, what did I learn? Mostly that with independent schools our similarities far outweigh our differences. We/they are communities of adults and students who have come together to educate our children to the best of our abilities while providing them security, a sense of community, challenges, exposure to other ideas, cultures, and opportunities, and, yes, love. I left with a great sense of admiration for their school and an even greater sense of pride in St. Francis. It’s easy to overlook all the wonderful things we have and do here, and sometimes we just need reminding of that.

And back at “home,” as we head off to Winter Break, our Middle School teachers announced a new batch of Elective Projects that will start the first Friday we return. As I listened to the offerings, I noticed some new and first-time projects that are exciting! Erin Staley is offering computer coding, which has really been in the news lately. She mentioned that she “is no expert” in coding, but willing to facilitate it and learn with the students (that’s the spirit!). Likewise, Jason Chlopek will lead “Lego League,” a robotics project. While our robotics team went dormant this year, Jason hopes to get it revved up and back in competition for next year! Sarah Linkous and Angela Ponzio are helping Spanish students to prepare for the Spanish World Language Showcase taking place at Centre College in late April – yet another academic opportunity for our kids! And continuing on are the uplifting service opportunities afforded by Shelly Jones’ “We Act” Club, and 45 kids will be putting the finishing touches on the SFS Drama Project Spring Musical “Oliver!” as well. Several other projects are also on the docket, including one led by parent Bob Smedley. Bob received training from Junior Achievement and will be leading an “Economics for Success” project for any interested Middle School students who want to focus on personal finance and career goals in hands-on and fun ways. Hats off to Bob, and I encourage other parents with project ideas to get in touch with us! This batch of projects reminded me just how “cool” and different they are and how they are truly a “St. Francis phenomena.” It’s a shame kids can only choose one!

A BIG thanks to those who helped out at our very successful LISC dance last Friday night in the gym! Faculty members Lindsy Serrano and Salema Jenkins joined me in chaperoning as well as help from several parents. Dena Wilson spearheaded decorations before the dance and Lon and An Church donated sweets for the dancers! And doing a great job guarding the new gym floor from soft drinks were Chris Zimmerman, Angel Medley, and Terri White. Bob Smedley and daughter Gabby did their usual fantastic job “spinning the tunes.” We had over 200 middle school kids in attendance and grossed over $1,000 for the 8th grade gift! I call that a success!

Have a great Winter Break!