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    Grandparents' & Special Friends' Day 2018 by Jason Putsche Photography

Community and Belonging: An Anchor in Disconnected Times

In December, hundreds of GDS community members gathered at Washington Hebrew Congregation for one of our newest school traditions, the Winter Choral Extravaganza. The evening brings together students from grades four through twelve to perform in a variety of ensembles, and opens and closes with all of the performers gathered on stage in a massed choir. Watching eight-year-olds sing alongside eighteen-year-olds provides a vivid snapshot of child development, and the sound of those hundreds of voices woven together is enough to lift the audience out of their seats.

Following the concert, the audience and performers gather in Washington Hebrew’s spacious lobby. Countless happy connections are made between students, parents, grandparents, faculty, and alumni. In these small, human moments of conversation, community is palpable. We experience being part of something bigger than ourselves, having enjoyed the same beautiful singing and feeling the deep connection that comes from sharing something meaningful.

In a fast-paced, often disconnected world, community sustains us. Throughout the GDS school year, the strength of our community is nurtured in countless moments—Sports Saturday, the MLK assemblies, the Benjamin Cooper Memorial Lecture, Country Market Day, the High School spring musical, the Lower/Middle School Halloween parade, and so much more. We are drawn to those moments when we connect with the breadth of our diverse community and the power that comes from shared experiences.

Twenty-first century America presents something of a paradox. On the one hand, we are living in an era of unprecedented wealth and technological prowess, where machines make possible a future that until recently seemed implausible and feed a booming economy with a global reach. On the other hand, in spite of this increasing wealth and technological advances, most humans are feeling more isolated and less fulfilled. Although we have thousands of “friends” on social media, most Americans have fewer non-virtual friends than they have had in generations. Forty percent of American adults report feeling lonely, a number which has doubled in the past 20 years. Humans are social creatures who need connection, and the consequences of loneliness are quite real. In fact, positive social relationships are second only to genetics in predicting health and longevity. Put differently, loneliness impacts mortality as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Our students experience community each day, and are fed by it. In Lower School, morning circles and weekly assemblies foster lasting and intentional bonds between our kids. They cheer for each other’s birthdays, new pets, or triumphs ranging from a lost tooth to a talent show performance. Middle School students find connection in advisory, on sports teams, in clubs, and at weekly gatherings at which they offer “shout outs” to celebrate their classmates. In the High School, community is forged in the Forum where students come together for Monday Morning Meeting, to hear visiting speakers, or simply to eat lunch and talk. The strength of our community is perhaps most profoundly felt in those rare moments when we come together across divisions to experience our extended community.

As we look ahead to 2020 and the gift of life on a single campus, we look to the strengthening and deepening of our community. When High School students can act as mentors or tutors for younger students, when new traditions celebrate the full GDS journey, from four-year-old pre-kindergarten students to graduates heading off to college, when alumni return to campus and are able to visit their past teachers in a single location, we will grow closer, know each other more fully, and experience the power that comes from growing deep roots alongside a diverse group of peers.

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