In a recent blog post, Quaker Traditions of Pacifism, Activism, and Advocacy, we highlighted a bit of the history of Quaker beliefs and practices, as well as some notable Quakers from past centuries who joined the movement and helped to promote equality and social justice causes during their lives. Today, Quakers and Friends Schools continue to make history in the service of Quaker principles of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equity, and Stewardship. Read more below about how Friends schools like SSFS continue to uphold the tradition of service and activism their predecessors established.
Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) was founded in 1961 with the radically optimistic belief that a school firmly grounded in Friends values could help to make the world a better place. How? By graduating students who were thoroughly educated in what School founder Brook Moore called "the living philosophy of Quakerism." From the beginning, SSFS sought to model its mission, “Let Your Lives Speak,” and for more than 60 years—through the School’s expansion from a (mostly) 10-12 grade boarding school to a place of learning for students from preschool (age 3) through grade 12—it has looked to Quaker values such as Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equity, and Stewardship to guide its education and practices.
SSFS alumni from the 1960s and 1970s often recall how they sought to live up to the School’s mission through their experiences with local and national service efforts and social justice campaigns. From establishing the state’s first Civic Association and participating in local community service projects to attending peace demonstrations and vigils, members of the SSFS community continued to work hard to maintain the School’s role as a good citizen.
As Sandy Spring Friends School grew, its efforts to serve expanded. Today, members of the SSFS community continue to uphold the tradition of service and activism their predecessors established. Through service activities and trips, participation in protests, and exploration of modern issues, SSFS seeks to promote justice, equity, and sustainability in the world. Recognizing that true sustainability is like a three-legged stool, the School rests on the three pillars of social, economic, and environmental justice, knowing that without all three, a society cannot be called sustainable.
At SSFS, students learn about social justice issues that affect our society at large—and our students’ lives personally—through study, reflection, discussion, and action. During the past decade, students have organized on-campus demonstrations and participated in national protest movements in the nation’s capital around issues such as climate change, gun control, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Real-world concepts are explored in the classroom and in advisory groups, where students have a safe space to learn about and explore their own identities and national and global issues they feel passionate about. With non-violent conflict resolution as one of the foundational values of Quakerism, students learn to listen, mediate, and self-advocate in effective ways that will allow them to better understand the world around them, and effectively participate in the search for solutions.
National and international week-long Intersession trips during high school expose students to other types of issues. For example, the West Virginia Intersession trip took students to the heart of coal country, where mountaintop removal was devastating both the local environment and economy, flooding valleys and rivers with debris and toxic heavy metals, and greatly decreasing the number of jobs provided by each mine. The students met with leaders in the community who were dedicated to fighting this harmful practice; they also helped in clean-up efforts and participated in spring planting in a community garden.
At home, SSFS is set apart by its own community farm program, which provides fresh, organic produce to the cafeteria while engaging students in hands-on learning about environmental sustainability and food production. Learning about environmental issues and regenerative processes begins in the Lower School with a farm curriculum that pairs scientific study with first-hand experience on our school’s farm. In Middle School, the 7th grade science classes conclude their sustainability unit each fall with a signature trip that includes visits to our own farm and to local-area farms to see the practices they’ve been learning about (composting, soil regeneration) put into action. Our Upper School offers a Science course called “Farm to Table” that explores the biology and science behind how food is grown and consumed, covering basic nutrition, how different biogeochemical cycles are affected by and affect growing food; composting; soil chemistry, and the science behind developing sustainable soil; necessary resources that are consumed to grow, move, and eat food; different methods of farming; and cultural and societal issues around food dispersion and supply. Their curriculum is supplemented by hands-on experiences, where our own backyard serves as an extension of the classroom. Students can even incorporate the farm into their own health via a PE class: Farming for Fitness!
This kind of activism—the kind that provides hands-on opportunities for student involvement with important issues and creates transformational experiences that will remain with them forever—is perhaps the most powerful way that SSFS contributes to our society’s sustainability.
By involving students in activist efforts of all kinds, we prepare and inspire the next generation to continue to strive for justice, equity, and sustainability. In the Quaker spirit of continuing revelation, SSFS seeks to impart to its students the conviction that there is always more to improve in our society and ourselves, and that they are the greatest implements of positive change.