Sara Wilcox is a Waterford Parent Ambassador and the mother of two boys, one in grade 12 and one in grade 10. She has served as Auction Chair, on the Parent Advisory Committee and she is currently the Vice President of the Waterford Parents’ Association. The Wilcox family has been at Waterford for over 10 years.
Why did you choose Waterford?
My oldest son was a very early reader and we knew it would very important to keep him challenged and engaged. We hadn’t ever considered private school, but when it was time to enroll in Kindergarten, I started looking around. As the parent of boys who were 3 and 5 at the time, I wanted a place where they would be challenged, but more importantly, I wanted a place where they would be nurtured. When I visited Waterford, the kids were so happy. I saw the preschool teachers down on the floor interacting with the kids. We walked around and visited the Lower School science lab and the students were so excited to be learning about science, that they were literally jumping up and down. I just knew that Waterford was the right place. I knew my boys would be happy here.
And are they happy?
They are so happy. Now they are Upper School boys! They truly love going to school.
Do you feel like they enjoy the process of learning?
To me it is like a big jigsaw puzzle, and they are adding pieces to it every day. I think they realize how fortunate they are to be going to a school like Waterford. That starts at home, because we value education and we let them know that this is an honor and a privilege to go to Waterford.
What do you like most about the Waterford faculty?
Oh, where do I begin? My oldest son was a very strong reader and even though there were only two students in the class at this level, his teachers were able to create an accelerated reading group where they could be challenged. Instead of tamping down this passion of his, they fueled it. This was just amazing.
Another story from that year was when I was reading a bedtime book to my boys, The Big Red Barnby Margaret Wise. In the story, the bats fly out of the barn at the end of the day. My son, who was three at the time, chimed in, “that’s because they’re nocturnal!” Both of my sons were learning about nocturnal animals in science at Waterford, and they were so excited about science. This moment turned into a great conversation about nocturnal animals. This is just one example of how Waterford has made us better parents. Education is not confined to school. We are constantly engaged in conversations with our kids that just blow my mind. Sometimes it is hard to keep up!
What types of unique experiences or opportunities has Waterford provided to your children?
I think the exposure to other students who love to learn, and to other parents who put emphasis not on where you live or how you look, but on what interesting things you are doing in school. Being surrounded by kids who want to excel at school is invaluable.
How has education in the arts been beneficial to your kids?
Well, my husband is strong in math and science, and I am strong in English/reading/history. We know our kids are going to be strong in these areas because it is important to us. The area where we are weak is in the arts. We recognize this weakness and knew that we needed help in exposing our children to music and the arts. We didn’t want our children to be pigeonholed into being “just a scientist” or “just a mathematician”. We want them to have a broad experience.
My oldest son had photography this last term and it was hard for him! He is very literal and very analytical. But with photography, his assignments were harder to define. He didn’t have a list of specific photos to take. His assignment was to “take a photograph that shows emotion” or “take a photo that shows a timeless moment.” He struggled with that, but rose to the challenge. At the end of the term he was more proud of his grade in photography than in any other class.
What about athletics?
My younger son has always participated in team sports and has thrived. But my older son never really got that excited about team sports. However, last year, he got involved with the Waterford Outdoor Program and he loved it. He had an unbelievable experience. He still got the whole “teamwork” experience when learning how to find avalanche beacons, belay a friend, etc. I was so excited that he had this great non-traditional opportunity to step-up and show his leadership skills.
Another similar experience was theater. I was so shocked when my oldest son came home one day and said he wanted to be in the lower school play. This is a kid who doesn’t want to get in front of people and put himself out there like that. Waterford gave him the confidence and the safe place to take a risk and do something I never thought he would try. And he has absolutely loved it. This led to his willingness to try debate. The environment at Waterford is such that kids are willing to take a chance on something totally new and different and they are willing to fail because it is safe. I think some of their most amazing life lessons have come from taking these chances on new opportunities.
Why do you give your time as a volunteer at Waterford?
Because it makes me a better person. I don’t feel any pressure to volunteer, but when I am around some of the other moms who volunteer their time and their talents, I am so inspired. There are such great people here. I truly enjoy it.
Why do you choose to financially support the Waterford Annual Fund and the Waterford Scholarship Fund?
I think the “aha” moment for us was when we realized that the school operates at a deficit. What we pay in tuition does not cover the entire cost of our children’s education. We are very fortunate that we can afford to send our children to Waterford. This is one area where I can help. I love the diversity at Waterford, and I enjoy having families and students from all different backgrounds.
Talk a little bit about the diversity of the Waterford Community. Does religion play a part at all?
Waterford has quite a bit of religious diversity. I just think this is another dimension to my children’s education and I embrace it. We grew up in Montana, and we really hadn’t experienced a great deal of diversity. I now have friends who are from many different backgrounds, and for my family to learn about their traditions, and to learn more about their beliefs has been fantastic. Also, the exchange students who have come to Waterford have taught us so much. It is wonderful to experience other cultures and ideas.
Have you begun to think about the college admissions process?
Not yet, but when we travel, we usually stop and tour at least one college campus. That is another area where Waterford has opened our eyes. Our boys are more aware that they don’t have to go to the state school. They know that they can go anywhere and do anything and find the college experience that is perfect for them.
What impresses you about the Waterford Parent Community?
Probably the diversity and the education level. There are so many “regular” moms who are doing typical mom things: creating costumes for Egypt day, running carpool four times a day, etc., but when you sit down to talk to them, they are doctors or lawyers or MBAs and they have had the most amazing life experiences. Another mom I know is an artist and she is so interesting. To get her perspective on politics or religion or books is truly eye opening. She is in the Waterford Book Club with me and I love it. There is such an array of backgrounds and interests. It’s amazing.
Any other “Waterford Moments” that stand out?
My son was asked to stand up and introduce his song for a band concert, and the debate coach happened to be in the audience. She came up to him later and told him she was very impressed with his speaking voice and his delivery. She told him that he should consider debate. I watched him stand up a little bit taller in that moment. He took her advice and is now pursuing debate. These wonderful teachers just build these students up on a daily basis without even realizing it.
Also, there is a Latin teacher at Waterford who recognized early in the school year that there was a group of 7th grade boys (my son included) who just loved learning Latin. So he invited them to come to his classroom during lunch one day, and offered to teach them some Greek. This turned into a regular event, and for the rest of the school year they met once a week, and this teacher taught them Greek on his lunch hour. How incredible is that?
Talk about the Waterford campus and facilities.
Well, the campus is unbelievable. But one of the things I like to talk about is how the school uses their resources in a very responsible way. Their priorities are in the right place. For example, the dining hall is a crazy, chaotic place and they start cycling students through at 10:45 in the morning. And while a new dining hall would be nice, the school uses its funds for things that directly benefit its educational goals. Like new equipment for the science labs, or a new math curriculum. I also appreciate that the school has invested in beautiful music rooms, performing arts spaces, state-of-the-art science labs, and art studios with huge windows.
Starting in Grade 6, students walk outside between buildings every day. They get some fresh air and get to see the view of our beautiful mountains and our lovely campus.
With our campus being located right at the base of the Wasatch mountains the science teachers and the art teachers have immediate access to nature. They can just grab their 20 students and drive to the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon to observe the mountain goats. Or they can go birdwatching or search for insects for their ninth grade bug collection. That they can take advantage of where we live and the amazing nature around us is fantastic.