I first noticed the trend a few years ago. Every August, my Facebook feed starts to fill up with back-to-school photos. Children, often holding brand-new backpacks and dressed in shiny, new school outfits, smile at cameras. The looks vary, some stand proudy with big, broad, confident smiles, others slouch slightly, more understated, lips closed, only the corners of their mouths slightly upturned. Ages and stages can often be determined by tell-tale signs – missing teeth, braces, hairstyles. In families with multiple children, the interactions between the peers are often telling, as is the absence of one or more siblings from a photo or the emergence of multiple first-day photos, a reminder that someone has moved on to a new stage of their lives – high school or even college.
What is missing from my feed, for the most part, are the adults – parents, grandparents, teachers – who are also preparing for their entry to the school year. I love to imagine my feed filling up with photos that capture the complexity of adult feelings. A parent, smiling bravely, as they watch their 4 or 5-year-old enter the junior kindergarten or kindergarten classroom for the first time. Another parent, smiling gratefully, as they watch their 4th grader run onto campus, signalling the end of summer and the return to normalcy and routine that a school year brings. A different parent looking somewhat torn – a mix of pride, excitement, and a twinge of sorrow, as they watch their 8th grader enter Hillbrook for their “final first day.” A teacher, closing their eyes and taking a deep breath, as they eagerly – and yet undoubtedly with a bit of nerves – anticipate the arrival of their students.
The images, whether literal or just in my imagination, are reminders of the promise of a new school year. Each time I see one on the Facebook feed my stomach flutters slightly, as I feel my own mixture of anticipation, excitement, and nerves that comes along with the start of a school year. Nine years into my tenure at Hillbrook, 25 years into my career as an educator, and many, many, many years after my own first day of school in kindergarten, I remain drawn to the possibility that a school year offers. I embrace the opportunity to take on a beginner’s mindset, to view the school with the fresh perspective gained from a summer away, and to try to see the school through the eyes of the many children, families, and teachers who are experiencing Hillbrook for the very first time.
Last year, the night before the first day of a school, a memory popped up on my Facebook feed. It was the first day of school, 2009, my very first day as the Head of Hillbrook School. I was standing behind Lily, who was 7 and entering 2nd grade, and Jackson, who was 5 and entering JK. Piper, not pictured, was still four years away from her first day. All three of us look excited and just a touch terrified at the prospect of the day ahead. So much has happened since that day, and yet the things that drew me to Hillbrook – a strong community, an extraordinary educational program, a belief in the possibility and promise of childhood – remain as strong as they were on that day. Indeed, the ensuring years have only deepened my sense of appreciation and connection to Hillbrook and its community. Hillbrook is and has always been an extraordinary place for children and adults.
Whether you are new to our community or returning for your second, tenth, or twentieth year, I encourage each of you to embrace the promise of the new year. Please join me, the 8th grade co-heads, more than 350 students, our dynamic and talented faculty and staff, and parents of all ages at Flag on Wednesday morning. I can’t wait to see you.