Eric Huefner is a Waterford Parent Ambassador, a member of the Board of Trustees and the father of four Waterford students (twin daughters entering grade 7, a daughter entering grade 3, and a daughter entering PreK-4).
How did you learn about Waterford?
My brother taught at Waterford when the school was originally located in Provo. After the school relocated to Sandy, I had the opportunity to be a substitute math teacher and then a full-time faculty member from 1990-93.
What was your impression of the school as a faculty member?
The parents were very engaged, truly invested in their child’s education, so as a teacher I felt accountable. The faculty was collaborative, caring, and passionate. It was a great environment for teaching.
Now you are back at Waterford as the parent of four students. How did it all come about?
I left teaching to go back to school for an MBA. My wife Martha and I ended up living in New York City, and we would go to dinner with Nancy and Dusty Heuston when they were in town. Martha heard so much about the school over the years that we finally carved out a day during a trip to Utah so that she could see it first-hand. Although we never expected to move to Utah, my wife fell in love with the school and the campus. Years later when an unexpected opportunity came up to relocate to Utah, Martha’s one criteria was that we be able to enroll our kids at Waterford.
What kind of unique experiences are your kids having at Waterford?
We moved here when our oldest girls (twins) were just entering Kindergarten and we have had a fabulous experience at Waterford.
The thing I love about the Lower School experience is that it has encouraged my children to be curious, thoughtful and interested in learning. They love going to school. The specialists bring so much passion to their areas of expertise that my kids can’t help but become engaged in the process of discovery. They are helping my children find and develop their own passions. One of my daughters fell in love with science. She volunteered in the science lab in the mornings where she was able to feed and take care of the animals; she even brought one home for spring break. Whatever your child’s passion, there will be people at Waterford to encourage and water their interests.
Can you talk about the faculty here at Waterford?
Looking back on our seven years at the school, what strikes me is that there is no risk of getting a bad teacher at Waterford. In many schools there are good teachers and bad teachers, and you hope for the best. At Waterford our experience has been that there are good teachers and great teachers.
We’ve also been so pleased that the class placement of our children has been thoughtful and deliberate. The teachers are very involved in placing each student for the coming year. They try to create the right teacher-student matches, the right classroom dynamics, and the right academic challenge for each child. They know the kids well and we have become confident in their placements for our children.
I also really appreciate the responsiveness of the faculty. They respond quickly and thoughtfully to questions or concerns. I can tell they truly care about our child, and are partnering with us in our child’s growth and experience.
Why do you give time as a volunteer?
I am very intentional about where I spend my time. I gladly serve on Waterford’s Board. Foremost, I want the school to be great — for my own kids, for every child here, and for the impact Waterford can have on education broadly. Thinking back to my time as I teacher, I remember kids whose lives were changed. I know personally the influence that teachers and schools can have on children, and how that impact can affect a lifetime. Since I’m no longer the one in the classroom, the least I can do is support those who are so they have every opportunity to increase their own positive impact on these young lives.
Why do you support scholarship and/or annual giving?
My grand hope is that one day interested families will not have to ask the question of “can we afford Waterford.” Scholarship and endowment are critically important so the school can become increasingly available to a wide range of students from different backgrounds. An important part of any educational experience comes from fellow students.
I had the opportunity to attend Harvard as an undergraduate. It had the reputation of being a rich, elitist school, but my experience was quite different. Many of my roommates were from humble backgrounds, and were only able to afford Harvard because the endowment covered the gap in what they could pay. I would love for Waterford to be able to move towards that kind of a need-blind admissions model, but it will take a healthy endowment.
Waterford is academically rigorous, how has that been for your family?
I have really liked how my kids are being trained to work hard and be responsible. This has been achieved gradually, but consistently, month-by-month and year-by-year at Waterford. For example, we could see the fourth grade teachers already starting to prepare the kids for middle school as they began increasing each child’s personal accountability. Waterford prepared our twins nicely to enter middle school in sixth grade and to begin owning their education. With different teachers for every subject they do get a healthy dose of homework, but we can see how the passion of each teacher impacts our child’s interest in their homework.
It is so easy to overschedule our children. We work hard to make sure they have time for their homework, to experience their other interests, and to have at least a little white space in their day. This ”free” time is often spent reading, as each of our daughters has developed a real love of reading…which I’m sure is in part from the emphasis on reading in the Lower School. We all love the “Read Only” night each month (where they have no other homework).
I get asked all the time why I send my kids to Waterford, and for me it comes down to two things. The first is that Waterford helps kids love learning and broaden their minds. It is not about memorization, or about reading a book just to write a book report. It’s about fostering a curiosity and creativity and passion about the world around them.
The second is the incredibly high level of intellectual experience that goes on here. Every time I observe an Upper School classroom I feel like I am in a college environment. The kids are not being lectured to, they are discussing ideas, asking questions and developing their own viewpoints. They are encouraged to try new things and explore new ideas and ultimately discover who they are and how they want to shape the world. It is incredible for these kids to have this kind of self-awareness at such a critical time in their life.
Waterford is an environment where students are surrounded by other kids who care, where working hard and being intellectually interested is cool, and where the entire community is involved and committed to the growth of each child.