Good morning! I’d like you all to close your eyes for a moment and think back to your own school days. Picture those moments that made your heart race with excitement, the ones that sparked your curiosity and left a lasting impression. Maybe it was the thrill of discovering a new passion in a science experiment, the joy of performing in a school play, or the sense of accomplishment from mastering a new skill on the sports field.

Now, imagine if those moments aren’t just fleeting highlights, but are interwoven into the fabric of your child’s everyday experience at school. That’s exactly what we aim to achieve here in the Waterford Lower School. 

This morning, we’ll be delving into the many opportunities and support systems that await our students beyond the homeroom classroom and please note, I will only be able to scratch the surface this morning. From engaging extracurricular activities to personalized academic support, our goal is to provide each and every child with a full education that nurtures their passions, fosters their talents, and equips them with the skills they need to thrive in the world beyond these walls. So, as we embark on this journey together, I invite you to open your minds to the endless possibilities that await your child in the Waterford Lower School. Let’s celebrate the richness of their educational experience and the unwavering support they receive each step of the way. Get ready to be inspired, because the adventure starts here! 

The first step in the journey that I want to highlight is our Lower School counselor Jenny Wojcikowski. Jenny, will you please raise your hand so everyone can see you? Jenny supports the entire Lower School community from faculty, students and parents. Thus far this school year, Jenny has taught 96 social skill lessons to our students. The topics range from learning how to navigate stress, friendships, and belly breathing. She also teaches lessons from WinAtSocial, which is a curriculum designed to help students learn how to navigate technology in safe ways. Jenny provides check-ins for students, attends parent meetings, and writes academic support plans for students. We continue to be grateful for all the support Jenny provides to the Lower School. She makes our school a better place!

Next, Nicole Kennedy is truly our Glinda! She makes everyone feel better. Nicole, will you also raise your hand? Nicole is the Lower School nurse who supports students and staff with healthcare needs. You will find Nicole going into classes teaching lessons. Some topics include nutrition, taking care of your teeth, and the nervous system. Nicole also creates health plans for students who have ongoing health needs. She does all this while she runs a successful knitting club during lunch and after school because she is passionate about the mental health benefits of knitting. The students love it! Thank you, Nicole, for all that you do.

In Lower School, we have eleven lead teachers, which include homeroom and specialists. I share this with you parents because lead teachers are valued for their unique perspectives as members of the Lower School community. As such, their input and feedback with regard to initiatives or decisions about curriculum, program, professional development, learning environment, and data is crucial. This has a positive impact on the student experience. Lead teachers also help cultivate a culture of collaboration with regard to program, curriculum, colleagues, and the learning environment.  

The next stop on the journey is specialists. Specialists play a pivotal role in shaping the multifaceted educational experience of our students. Each specialist brings a unique set of skills, passions, and perspectives to the table, enriching the curriculum and nurturing the diverse talents of our young learners. 

Let’s start with the creative realms of Music, Visual Art, Theater, and Dance. These specialists serve as directors of imagination, guiding students through a symphony of self-expression. Through hands-on exploration and artistic discovery, students not only hone their technical skills, but also cultivate a deep appreciation for the beauty and power of creativity. Whether they’re belting out a melody, manipulating a paintbrush, treading the boards of the stage, or pirouetting across the dance floor, students discover the joy of self-expression and the thrill of sharing their unique voice with the world.

Meanwhile, in the realm of Science, Chess, and Computers, specialists ignite the flames of problem-solving and critical thinking. Through engaging experiments, strategic challenges, and hands-on coding, students embark on a journey of discovery and innovation. From unraveling the mysteries of the natural world to mastering the intricacies of logic and strategy, students develop the skills and mindset needed to thrive in an ever-evolving world driven by technology and scientific inquiry.

Of course, we must not forget the vital role of Physical Education (PE) specialists in promoting health, wellness, and teamwork. Through a diverse array of games, sports, and fitness activities, students not only build physical strength and coordination, but also learn the values of sportsmanship, cooperation, and resilience. 

Together, the specialists form a tapestry of support and inspiration that enriches the educational journey of every child, ensuring that each student has the opportunity to flourish and shine in their own unique way.

On the last stop of our journey, I would like to share about opportunities in our afterschool program. We continue to build on our program because we learned from the parent survey this is a request that many of you have. Our after-school program includes knitting, vocal academy, dance academy, chess, math, theater, robotics, outdoor and forest clubs. We have a growing variety of after-school clubs and activities that are all led by our Lower School faculty, so I’m going to highlight two this morning. 

The wildly popular Chess Club is led by Waterford’s own chess Master, Mr. Gustafsson, affectionately known as Mr. G! Mr. G brings a high-energy approach to his methodical instruction of the game. Here, students learn critical thinking, problem-solving, opening and end-game strategies, all while having a grand time. My son has benefited a great deal from Mr. G’s teachings, and often outplays adults far older than him, to our amusement and their occasional frustration. Notably, 90 Waterford students brought home 1st place in the state tournament this past weekend. The faculty and administration are all quite proud of our Waterford chess team. Go Ravens!

Waterford Vocal Academy is a new after-school opportunity for students in Classes III-V, who have a special interest in music and singing. If you have ever attended a Waterford vocal concert, you know how exceptional this program is. The Vocal Academy is led by the talented Mr. Robertson. Each session includes skill-building games and activities, vocal training in small groups, and large-group rehearsal. If your child has ever expressed interest in voice lessons, this is an excellent way to get started! Skill focus will include: understanding the voice and how it works, healthy singing habits, music reading, and part singing. The program maintains an emphasis on fun, teamwork, safety, belonging, and confidence. 

As we come to the end of our journey through the many opportunities and support systems available in the Waterford Lower School, I invite you to reflect on the icebreaker we began with. Think back to those moments from your own school days that ignited your passion, sparked your curiosity, and left an indelible mark on your heart.

Now, imagine if those moments weren’t just isolated memories, but instead formed the foundation of your child’s everyday experience at school. That is the essence of what we strive to achieve here in the Waterford Lower School. 

Thank you!

Hello my name is Ariana. I am a student in class 5. I started my journey at Waterford in kindergarten. These last five years have been an amazing learning experience for me. I have the joy of learning in a safe and happy environment. Waterford has shaped me into a curious thinker. I am eager to learn new things ,and I am not afraid to ask questions. I am also an ambitious learner. I am learning new things everyday. My teachers have helped me get through the challenges of learning new things. They have made school and learning fun for me. I really had a hard time with remote learning during lockdown, because I missed all my friends, and teachers, but Miss Neal made sure that learning was still fun, and sent us letters weekly. One of the many teachers that helped me develop my passion for reading was Miss Carlson. She helped me find books that interested me, such as The Girl in the tower, Kathrine applegate’s books, Roald Dahl’s books, and many more she also helped me improve my vocabulary with books. One of my favorite memories here so far was in kindergarten when I got to see my caterpillar turn into a butterfly. It really helped me learn the life cycle of a butterfly. I have the privilege to try many different things such as dance, art, music, science, chess and many more. One of my favorites out of these is music I love to sing and it just makes me happy to do it. This is important to me because it helps me find my true passion. And most people don’t even get a chance to even try these things. I am proud to say that I would never want to go to a different school. Just as a caterpillar grows into a butterfly, I am growing into the person I’ll be someday.

It is wonderful to be here this morning. Speaking about how we support students at Waterford is a welcome topic since it is literally something I think about and work on every single day. Through my eyes, a school is not just a place to learn, but is also a community that carries obligations and must also absorb the needs and worries of each community member. My thoughts today will center on how we strive to support every member of our Middle and Upper School Community.

I realize that many of you may only have LS children, so my message today I hope will signal some of the wonderful things that lie ahead for your children on their Waterford journey. 

From the moment our newest “Sixies” arrive from their Lower School homebase until Seniors walk across the stage to receive their diploma, we work to support, encourage and sustain every student in the most meaningful ways possible.  

Research and our own experience tell us that children gain strength by being “known”. Known by name, by their interests and talents, by their hopes and their dreams, even by their worries and concerns. In the “knowing” of our students, they must also know that they matter. “Mattering” is a term that has been used in social psychology since the 1980’s (social psychologist Dr. Morris Rosenberg). According to Professor Gregory Elliott of Brown University: “Mattering expresses the deep need we all have to feel seen, cared for, and understood by those around us” and is seen as a key to mental health and to thriving in adolescence and beyond. 

Because of that research, we know that in order to successfully engage adolescent students in a rich and demanding liberal arts curriculum, (that asks them to carry five academic classes, pursue performing and visual arts in a meaningful way and encourages everyone to play one or more sports) they need to be known and supported through caring relationships with trusted adults. This morning I want to give you a peek at how our infrastructure helps us do that.

Our Dean structure in Middle and Upper School is grounded in the belief that trusted adults of influence need to be intentionally positioned in the life of every student. Resilience in young people is clearly fostered by drawing strength from trusted adults who help them know that they matter.

As Deans, everything we do and strive for rests on Waterford’s core value of Caring. Most simply, Deans help students and families navigate Waterford in ways that are intentionally supportive of student wellbeing and success. Deans in Middle and Upper School care for students with informed effectiveness and tangible compassion. 

Let me explain.

Every grade in Classes VI through XII has a Class Dean. In Upper School, the Dean stays with the same class from Class IX through to graduation. In Middle School, students in Classes VII and VIII have the same Dean for those 2 years. It has become increasingly clear to us that in a school setting, being known, includes being known in the context of your peers. Keeping Class Deans with the same class has enhanced our capacity to support each of our students.  

Deans support students on everything from helping a student come back from a prolonged illness, to managing a challenging social dynamic, or tackling an academic setback where additional support may be needed. 

Because we are always seeking to better meet the needs of students throughout their Waterford experience we are expanding Dean support. Starting next year there will be an Associate Dean of Students for Middle School and an Associate Dean of Students for Upper School.

We know that students have a lot on their academic plate and by design we have a number of resources to support students academically. Academic support always begins with the teacher. By utilizing faculty office hours, teachers are able to carefully support individual needs in the context of a trusted relationship. Students also have access to  our drop-in Math Lab that is open every day at lunch and our Writing Center where students can schedule appointments to get meaningful support from an English teacher on their writing. Additionally, families can reach out to Liz Orton the Director of Middle and Upper School Tutoring if their student needs more formalized academic support.

As Dean of Students, I work with a team of wonderful professionals positioned to support students in all the ways we can. I am going to introduce you to three of those key players this morning and ask them to stand:

Katherine Stokes – MS/US school nurse. It’s hard to imagine that not so long ago we used to operate with only one part-time nurse for the entire school. Katherine takes care of day to day student health needs, partners with families on chronic health concerns, teaches in our Wellness Curriculum and is an integral part of our Wellness Committee that meets twice a month. She is an amazing touch point for many—helping students manage their health  through gently supporting them, listening to them, and giving them a moment to breathe.

Dr. Missy Johnson is our Upper School Counselor and Tanisha Shedden is our Middle School School Counselors. Not so long ago we had only one counselor to cover both divisions, but our commitment to supporting our students in every way we can is evidenced by our decision a few years ago to add a second counselor in order to meet the needs of two very distinct divisions in our school.

Missy and Tanisha work with individual students as well as groups of students who may need some help on establishing healthy friendship boundaries. They work with families to provide resources for outside therapeutic support. They attend weekly Dean meetings to share their insights. They also write our student support plans to support students with documented learning differences.  

These three amazing professionals will move into Waterford’s new Wellness Center in August, located in the 300 building. This will be a new, beautiful and inviting space where students can gather and further their interest and understanding of their own wellbeing.

Trusted adults creating lasting relationships with students is what we do here. About a month or so ago I became aware of a Waterford alum who graduated five years ago and is now facing some significant challenges so I wrote her a note of support and let her know I would love to reconnect. Well we met for dinner a few weeks ago and she shared what was going on in her life and we reminisced about her time at Waterford.  

She recalled for me that when she was in 8th grade and on Middle School Student Council—ten years ago—I had given a brief leadership lesson where I spoke about geese flying in a V formation. Geese not only take turns in leading the formation, but when one drops out because they get hurt or are tired another will drop out with them and stay with them until they can fly again. She said in her recent challenges that five minute lesson she heard ten years ago had come back to her mind and helped her.   

The power of adults of influence knowing you and helping you feel that you matter. That is what we do here. And I have come to know—that has a lasting impact,

I end my thoughts where I always end when I am speaking to parents—with great appreciation for all that you do as parents to love and support your children and as you support us in all that we do to provide them with a world class liberal arts education. I want you to know my door is always open to you. It is my good fortune to partner with you for the success and wellbeing of your children.

Thank you. 

Hi everyone, my name is Gia, and I am a senior this year! I was new to Waterford as a freshman, along with my twin brother, Niko. I consider myself fairly new since many of my friends have been here for almost ten years. After joining four years ago, I’ve found that one of my favorite and unique things about Waterford is the community of students. There is a culture here of learning where asking questions and making connections is encouraged. Having this open environment supports my peers and me in the classroom because making mistakes is just seen as a step in the learning process.   

Approaching the end of my senior year, I have been on countless college tours. On many of these tours, after going through selling points like the library or sports team, several schools have talked about programs of interdisciplinary learning. I hadn’t really thought or heard about this idea in my freshman or sophomore years, but after learning about it in the context of looking for the right “fit” in a college, I’ve realized how important it has been for me. Interdisciplinary learning means having flexibility in the curriculum to be able to study many subjects and dive deeply into their intersections. 

My own academic experience has been supported and motivated by my other classes. So, in this way, a liberal arts education, specifically a Waterford education, has been so valuable because it supports itself. My classes offer a broad range of subjects, but they complement each other. Classrooms are open for interdisciplinary discussions and projects. At heart, I am passionate about my STEM courses the most. But my love for science spreads to so many different disciplines that, at this point, it is a love for learning anything. 

I’ve never thought about myself as being an avid writer, but even then some of my proudest work at school has been essay writing. In my literature class this year, my winter research paper based on the books we were reading was framed by a narrative of genetics, which the was the unit we were learning in biology. Making connections like these is so important because it pushes me to explore more and more every day and in each class I attend.

Even for college applications, personal writing seemed super daunting, but Waterford equipped me with the skill set and tools to write my favorite piece of writing regardless of the fact that I was planning on submitting it to schools. This essay was about my time working in a lab, and my passion for helping others articulated in 250 words. Besides having support through curriculum and classes, I couldn’t be more grateful for the network of teachers and faculty here. I have met with so many teachers to go over essays, ask questions, or just talk. Waterford has a broad support system, whether organized, like the writing center, or simpler, like stopping by a classroom during a free period. No matter what it is, the community is always there, ready to help and listen to new ideas. 

Another way I supplement my learning is through leadership and the opportunity to explore academic interests outside of the classroom. Last year, three friends and I decided we wanted to run a summer camp to teach girls about STEM fields through our Women in STEM club (also known as the STEMinist club), which we started there years ago. We ran a successful week-long camp this July that was 100% student-run and included coding projects, an egg drop right off the balcony above us, and instruction on engineering principles, with the end goal of teaching girls that anyone can be a scientist. Again, taking this core interest in science and, this time, using it in a more social setting. Turns out that teaching 14 middle schoolers for the day is exhausting, but I have come out with a new perspective on teaching and appreciation for my wonderful teachers who trust us and share our same enthusiasm for building confidence in the next generation of girls in science. This camp and all of the projects we have done with the club translate into my classroom experience because they are a way for me to see how I can use what I learn, apply it to the real world, and share it with others. 

Now that I am about nine weeks out from graduating and five months from college move in day, I can look back and honestly say that my experience at Waterford is invaluable. Waterford has taught me that learning is a life long endeavor, and has prepared me with the skills and curiosity to tackle anything it throws at me. This curiosity pushes me on a continuous journey to discover the world around me, and I am so excited to bring this quality with me to college. Next year, both my brother and I will be attending Duke University in North Carolina. Niko will be in the School of engineering while I will be in the School of Arts and Sciences. I have had and thoroughly enjoyed so many areas of study here, that I am yet to decide what major to pursue later on. I know it will be STEM-focused, but I also know that I want to explore areas of interdisciplinary studies, such as learning about the relationship between science and society, and pursue research. As I move forward toward another step in my life, I will always recognize Waterford as a defining place for me because of what I’ve learned, the connections I’ve made, and the support I’ve received.Thank you so much for listening!! I am so happy to speak today, and I’ll be here for a little longer if you want to ask any questions! 

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