Open Hearts. Open Minds. Those four words capture what I experience each day -- that St. Anne’s is not only an exceptional academic institution, but also a community committed to the growth and development of individual character and compassionate hearts. Indeed, the state of the school is strong, and I'd like to draw from my own daily observations and recent interviews with our college age alumni to share how some of our mission priorities are getting lived out at St. Anne's this year.
The Ability to Challenge
When I visit classes, I always look for a “buzz in the room.” Are the kids engaged, are the teachers passionate about their work, are the tasks that the students are doing meaningful and challenging? The answer is invariably, yes. When the preschool children count out the days of the week in three different languages, recognizing letters and patterns as they go; or when the 8th graders analyze the courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird; or when they learn how to track and predict genetic inheritance with the use of Punnett squares, pedigree charts and probability, our students are challenged to discover, to synthesize, and to communicate their understanding in a variety of ways.
When we spoke with our alums on January 6, they commented eloquently about how St. Anne’s helped to open their minds to new ways of thinking, gave them confidence in building relationships with their teachers and classmates, and taught them how to prepare for a class, study for a test, or write an essay.
“I was advanced in high school because I had already done a lot of the material while at St. Anne’s.” - Lauren Camp (SAES ‘09; U of D Honors Program ‘17)
“St. Anne’s challenged me to think critically and bring my own thoughts to the table, much more than most elementary and middle schools, which has been very helpful in both high school and college.” - Kelsey Cumiskey (SAES ‘11; St. John’s College ‘19)
A Commitment to Growth
We know that when we invest in our teachers, the rewards will be paid back for generations to come. We encourage and support teachers in their professional development and we strive to model a growth mindset for our students as well. Great schools are built on great teachers.
At our first of two in-services this fall, we had teachers visit over 20 different schools to observe examples of innovative programs, paying particular attention to schools using design thinking, an innovation lab, or a maker space. Through the year numerous teachers have also attended workshops and conferences on subjects as wide ranging as Singapore Math, Teaching Writing, Engineering, Responsive Classroom, Diversity, Early Childhood Literacy, Educational Technology, and Children’s Book Illustration, just to name a few. Our expenditure on faculty development is now double what it was three years ago, and our teachers return from these trainings excited to share and apply what they are learning.
Our alumni can attest to that same growth mindset from their time at St. Anne’s. Aaron Chang (SAES ‘10; Duke ‘18) credits the close teacher relationships and small class sizes for helping him “to grow academically and to come out of (his) shell socially.” Blaise Dickinson (SAES ‘09; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ‘17) says that “St. Anne’s was a safe environment to grow, and everyone was so understanding and nurturing.”
We are also committed to helping our parent community to grow their skills as well. We had a wonderful program last month on Navigating Early Childhood, and Krissy Pozatek, the author of Brave Parenting, spoke with parents on February 17. With a message for parents of children of all ages, she focused on building kids’ emotional resilience by letting them experience safe struggle. SAPA is also planning a panel for parents on cyber safety on March 16.
The Character to Lead
Good leaders understand and show compassion for those they aspire to lead. At St. Anne's we believe that our Preschool through grade 8 model provides students with far more opportunities to grow as individuals and to lead by example with higher levels of participation and an environment where everyone is known and understood. Research has shown that students are more likely to stay focused on academics, and become role models as they move into our middle school. Our students take on leadership roles at an earlier age than K-12 schools. Our Student Diversity Leadership Council and Middle School Student Council have both played important roles this year in guiding our community in ways that can help everyone to feel a sense of belonging. Whether it is through the Week of Courage and Compassion, Random Acts of Kindness initiative, Mix-It-Up luncheon, daily devotions and chapel messages, or our many service activities, it is part of our mission to exemplify what St. Paul wrote, that we are all “members of one another.”
Lora Byrd reminds us that St. Anne’s helps students to “feel socially and emotionally free to learn and lead, because you cannot learn or lead when you are feeling afraid.” Peyton Beard (SAES ‘10; Pratt Institute ‘18) said that St. Anne’s helped “ease the transition to Wilmington Friends and then college because of the shared values of self-respect and respect for others.” Perhaps Hailey McNelis said it best when she told us,
“St. Anne’s was the best education I could have had. I was an awkward Middle Schooler and the teachers were so caring, they helped me to be myself.” - Hailey McNelis (SAES ‘11; U of D Honors Program ‘19)
The Vision to Explore
We know that children learn better through exploration and discovery than they do through direct instruction. Our teachers strive to make their lessons interactive and meaningful. Whether it is through building a model solar home in the Lower School STEM lab, writing and performing a skit entirely in Spanish, or working on their master study in 8th grade art, students are engaged when they have a chance to search and explore on their own. Our alums regularly tell us that at St. Anne’s they discovered their passion for art, music, history, writing, math, science, and more. Similarly, we help students of all ages explore their own spiritual growth through early experiences with the life and language of the Spirit. We do not tell them what to believe; we provide regular opportunities for them to explore their own understanding of the Divine by learning about different faiths, witnessing sacred ritual, and sensing the comfort and joy of God’s unconditional love.
The Knowledge to Succeed
As our 2016 graduates head off in June to schools throughout the region and beyond, they will leave us confident that they are well prepared for the next level. This year 36 of our 38 8th graders have applied to schools that have an admission selection or lottery process. So far nearly all of the responses have been positive, with several students receiving significant scholarship funding along with their acceptances.
Our ERB test scores in the fall of 2015 reinforce that confidence, with an average of 55.2% of our 5th-8th grade students scoring in the 95th percentile or higher on one or more of the qualifying verbal and math subtests, which allows them to participate in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth selection process.
Our ongoing math focus on numerical concepts and problem solving at every level and our new 8th grade problem solving class both appear to be paying off in student success. This year the two 8th grade math league teams are currently in first and third place in the region, with 8 of the 9 team members having been at St. Anne’s since first grade. Additionally, we are proud that four 8th graders performed last weekend in the All State Chorus and will spend two full days with talented singers and a nationally acclaimed choral director in preparation for their concert on February 19. Our graduates from the class of 2012 are also reciving great college news with early acceptances at Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Berklee College of Music, NYU's Steinhardt School of Music, Northeastern, Purdue, U of Delaware Honors Program (several), Elizabethtown, Stevenson, Lynchburg, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, just to name a few.
A Future Filled with Promise
The mission of St. Anne’s is vital in today’s world, and as we look to the future I am excited about the direction we are heading. Our admission applications are ahead of last year, especially in grades 1 - 8. Our faculty continue to seek out ways to hone their craft. We also continue to learn from our alumni feedback and expand our STEM initiatives, provide more opportunities for literary analysis essays, and make better use of our beautiful campus. Next fall we plan to extend our commitment to the Google Classroom platform with Chromebooks in all classrooms from 4th grade through 8th grade. We are also excited that we will be hosting an Arts Week in the week of May 16, culminating in the spring concerts on the 19th. Our Director of After School Programs, Meghan Ferster, continues to expand the range of offerings, and she will also be serving as our Summer Program Director for a four week program in June and July this summer. Finally, we are in the early stages of determining how we might reconfigure the technology lab and adjacent spaces to make for more flexible work areas that could accommodate more engineering, computer science, research, and design thinking for students of all ages. To help us plan for that, two faculty members are applying to attend a week-long summer training led by the Stanford D(esign) School and held at Good Shepherd Episcopal School in Texas.
I hope that you can sense my excitement for where we are and where we are headed as an educational community focused on the whole child. We aspire to broaden the mind and open the heart for each child at St. Anne’s, and we take pride in having your child and family as a part of our community. I hope that you feel a similar sense of pride and belonging!
Peter C. Thayer
Head of School