New school years often begin with the setting of intentions. What do we hope for our students as they embark on a year of learning and exploration? What do our students hope for themselves? In the 4th grade, this intention setting comes in the form of a “Hopes and Dreams” exercise. Students take time to write down their aspirations, providing an artifact of who they were in September that they can revisit in the spring―and later in their lives.
Elina articulated her 4th grade “Hopes and Dreams” as follows: “I want to learn about other people and their cultures/traditions by learning about where they are from and why they celebrate this tradition or why they wear/do this. I can learn about why they pray or why they eat this food.” Elina’s offering is illustrated with a menorah, fireworks, and other images that, I imagine, reflect some of what she hopes to learn, experience, and begin to understand this year.
In Elina’s goals, Georgetown Day School’s founders would recognize the school that they set out to create. Philleo Nash, our School’s first Board Chair, was an anthropologist and scholar of different human cultures. He, along with the six other families who started GDS back in 1945, believed that the opportunity to learn alongside and about people whose life stories and experiences were different from one’s own was foundational to a good education. Aggie O’Neil, our first Head of School, articulated this beautifully. “It is most important that we should try to understand each other. One of the best ways is through participation in each other’s days of joy. We are not trying to impose religious belief on anyone; only to show them the beauty of other nationalities and religions.”
It was for this reason that our founders insisted on celebrating both Christmas and Passover each year, a practice that continues to this day. The scope of traditions that the School recognizes has expanded over the past eight decades but the premise for these celebrations remains the same―if we take time to know each other, we can develop an appreciation for each other, for our similarities and differences. This appreciation can set our young people on a path toward building a better and more peaceful world.
In 75 Years, the GDS history book created in 2020 in celebration of our school’s big birthday, former Associate Head of School Kevin Barr provides important context for this GDS practice:
Some historical perspective is helpful here. GDS officially opened its doors in October 1945. World War II had ended just a few months before. Germany had surrendered in May. Japan in August. African-American soldiers…were returning from the war only to find that the freedoms they had fought for abroad were still denied them at home. Jews and the rest of the world were learning of the full horror of Hitler’s final solution. Six million parents, cousins, sons, and daughters had perished.
Our founding parents, Christians and Jews, African Americans and Whites, veterans and civilians, were keenly aware of what happens when one’s religion or race is discounted, when one’s very humanity is denied. Christmas and Passover and the other festivals that would be added through the years would be testimony to those founding parents’ declaration that their children would go to school together; they would learn with and from one another; they would be safe; they would be valued; and their deepest traditions would be recognized and honored.
In 2022, the need to know one another remains as vital as it was in 1945. Our nation is profoundly polarized. Our world is threatened by conflict, which has geopolitical underpinnings, but is often rooted in a lack of appreciation for the other.
One of my four charges for our faculty this year was to “stay curious.” My own “hopes and dreams” are that as adults, we can model curiosity about those who are different from us, and that we can foster a learning environment in which curiosity is encouraged as a pathway to appreciation and understanding. Elina’s desire to learn about different cultures and traditions is a beautiful instinct. When we lead with curiosity instead of judgment, we make room for discovery, for connection, and for growth. And we can help to build the world that our children deserve.