September 28, 2018

Mini Musings - The Opportunity to Grow Up in a School Like McGillis

by Jim Brewer, Head of School

At our first Board meeting this year, we were each asked to briefly share about a teacher in our lives who had a deep impact on us growing up. These reflective questions are really a great way to bring the Board into a good frame of mind for their work, reminding us of what it’s like to be a young student while bringing us together to collaborate on the work ahead. As I reflected on my own young experiences in the Iowa public school system, I found myself wishing I had grown up having the teachers we have here at McGillis. I am envious of our students - not only do they learn alongside our amazing teachers, but they also experience these precious years immersed in a community filled with caring people of all ages who help to create a deep sense of belonging.

During my formative educational years, my family moved across Iowa (and one year in Minnesota) nearly every year until 7th grade. In fact, 7th grade was my seventh new school. On the positive side, I became very good at making new friends. I was able to experience life in many new communities, even if only inside a few states. There’s a drastic difference for a 10-year-old moving from a town of 600 to the metropolis of Des Moines, Iowa, and a lot to be gleaned in that experience.

But I missed the opportunity to grow up inside a school like McGillis.

Knowing schools as deeply as I do now, and seeing the value of the K-8 experience at McGillis, I wonder how my childhood might have been different had I experienced the whole journey in a community such as ours, where I would become well known by my past and future teachers, develop strong relationships with them, experience annual traditions as I grew older, and build lasting relationships with my peers. I am certain it would have proven a special period in my life, and that as an alumnus I would enjoy returning to breathe in the community and see the people I had grown to admire and respect.

So many McGillis traditions happen in this first month of school - Ethics in Action projects, the Sukkot Potluck, 4th grade’s day-long expedition to the Great Salt Lake, Kindergarten Gingerbread Man rehearsals in the Gathering Space - and all represent the ethics, academics, and community of The McGillis School that I wish I could have experienced in my K-8 years.

Having moved my own children midstream, I am aware that I denied them the continuity in their educational journeys, and yet, I am thrilled they have the opportunity to experience McGillis for the period they are here. Whether you are an 8th-grade family in your 9th year, a new Kindergarten family in year one, a 4th grade family in year one, or a 4th grade family in year five, the journey is alive, the experiences are rich, and the feeling that you belong to a community with great values and providing great value, I hope, is strong.