The robotics team gave each new teacher a gift bag, ASB students handed out class schedules on the first day, and when I walked into one AP Government the class of seniors greeted me with a welcoming chorus of “Bjorn!” Walking through classrooms this week I saw chemistry experiments, sculpture making, and a round table about how to apply for college. In the gym I saw students stretching beneath a wall of mirrors decorated with phrases Knute Rockne would never have uttered: “There is no higher happiness than peace” and “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” In screenprinting class they began to design t-shirts and in culinary arts they made pineapple pancakes.
From time to time, when people in our district witness a celebration of something a little iconoclastic coming from my school, I hear the phrase: “Very SDA.” It’s true; the world looks a little different here.
I could see this spirit as the students arrived on the first day of classes. One of my assistant principals and I greeted students at the front of the school, welcoming new faces along with the familiar as they walked onto campus ready to pick up their schedules at the Mosaic Cafe. We were joined by teachers on their way to class, who stayed with us to say hello to students. I’ve seen students before who looked happy to be back at school, but I’d never witnessed the reciprocal glee that accompanied the spontaneous hugs I saw on the steps of the school. Teachers and students were excited to see each other, and the affection they shared for each other is a defining ingredient to the culture of our school.
I saw that same affection the next day when I was talking with a math teacher at lunch. He was in his classroom helping a student, other groups of teenagers spread out at tables eating and chatting around them. “Cool,” I thought. “This is a place where students really feel comfortable.” And then he told me about the motorcycles.
One of his students, he explained, was a motorcycle racer and had just won a major race. He wasn’t at school, and because of travel would miss another couple of days. “When he gets back,” the teacher told me, “I’d like to throw him a little parade. Nothing fancy, but an acknowledgement of his hard work and success.”
This week I’ve met a singer-songwriter, a freshly minted Eagle Scout, and a gifted basketball player (who, when she was introduced to me as a “star” by our athletics secretary, smiled modestly, shrugged, and said: “It’s fun.”). In classrooms across campus I’ve heard rousing debates about economics, passionate presentations about our PALS program, and (on a campus tour with our superintendent) we dropped in on an intelligent discussion about zombies.
Then, on Friday afternoon, as I was walking across campus at the end of the day, I heard cheering. Wild shouting and sounds of excitement filled the meadow by the bell tower. I hurried over to see what was going on; Friday afternoon on a high school campus it could be anything. A smiling mob of students clustered around the door to our theater. Parts for the fall play had just been posted.
These amazing students, some of whom I’d seen throughout the week learning Japanese, discussing architecture, and showing new students how to find their classes, hugged each other, smiled, and talked about the upcoming production.
We’ve all seen lists posted on doors before, elementary class rosters and those who did or didn’t make athletic teams, but this display was different.These were actors and theater techs who were collectively happy. They held scripts and each other and the rich sense of possibility. I stuck around long enough to talk with a few who let me join the conversation about stage lighting and Hamlet and our school.
I left inspired, as I had been by those hugs on the first day, robotic gift bags, and pineapple pancakes. And as I gave a high five to a freshman I knew from last year, I thought to myself just how fortunate I am to be at a place so “very SDA.”