SYNOPSIS: From the move to digital testing and college testing requirements to expectations for selective college applications and gap year options, the college admissions landscape has shifted in recent years. Join Head of School Dr. Rodney Glasgow and the SSFS College Counseling staff as they discuss changes in the application process and share advice for students who will be applying to colleges and universities in the next few years!
Gnu Stories Blog
SYNOPSIS: Listen to our winter holiday edition of the Gnu Stories podcast, featuring the 2020 Virtual All-School Assembly performance of "How the Grinch Stole the Holidays," as well as recent performances from our Lower School students and Upper School Handbell Choir!
SYNOPSIS: Head of School Rodney Glasgow speaks with Christina Drouin, CEO and founder of The Center for Strategic Planning, about the importance of strategic planning, the shift to a five-year planning cycle, and what people can glean from understanding the strategic vision of a school.
Independent schools often talk about fostering a culture of inclusivity within their student community and providing a welcoming environment. Within that framework, however, may lie the assumption that there are those on the inside “welcoming” those on the outside into the space, as invited guests. There is a subtle but significant difference between a student who feels invited into a community as a guest, and one who feels an inherent sense of belonging and shared ownership within their school environment.
Education leader and diversity practitioner Rodney Glasgow remarked on this distinction between inclusion and belonging in his first welcome address to students and families as Head of School at Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) in the fall of 2020. Rodney shared: “When you feel welcome, you feel like you could come in, and you'll be OK, and you could, to a degree, make yourself ‘at home.’ But when you belong, you already are at home. You know where the milk is kept in the refrigerator. You know where your favorite slippers are... You might have a key, even if it isn't your own home. This is a place that creates belonging.
Within that space of belonging, students are able to gain a better understanding of themselves and those around them, build self-confidence that fuels both academic success and emotional well-being, and become effective citizens of the world.
While students may find that sense of belonging in different ways, below are four important characteristics to look for (along with questions to ask) if you are seeking a school that effectively cultivates a sense of belonging for students and families.
Students are provided tools for self-advocacy and authentic opportunities for creating change.
Within school settings, there is a broad spectrum of expectation around how students participate in shaping the policies and culture of their environment. Students who feel that their input is actively solicited and authentically heard are more likely to feel a genuine sense of belonging and ownership. Look for a school that teaches and encourages students to speak up if they have questions or concerns, is a safe place for students to approach adults about problems, and provides plenty of opportunities for student involvement and input. The responses may differ depending on the age level of the students, but consider asking these questions of your school:
- How are most policy and/or disciplinary decisions made?
- Are student voices and feedback solicited from administrators when considering policies or procedures that may affect their daily lives?
- What is the role of student government? If there isn’t a formal student government, are there other school activities or clubs to help promote, teach, and provide opportunities for student leadership?
- Are student representatives included in faculty/staff and board meetings?
- Beyond student government organizations or clubs, are all students encouraged to think critically, to question policies and procedures, and to advocate for actionable change in productive ways as part of their day-to-day experience? How are these skills taught, both inside and outside the classroom?
Teachers lead and learn alongside students.
Teachers who recognize the partnership in learning also empower students to take an active role in their education. While it’s important for faculty to have a deep understanding and mastery of their subject area, the best teachers are often those who also actively engage with their students in questioning concepts and looking for new ways to approach or challenge a topic, instead of simply lecturing from the front of the room. Ask the school:
- What is the school’s philosophy of learning?
- What are some of the typical learning tasks in which students engage, and how is progress assessed?
- What kinds of professional development opportunities are provided so that teachers are able to provide for differentiated needs of students in class assessments?
- How do students and teachers typically interact with one another?
- Do students have input into the curriculum offered? If so, how is student feedback collected and used as the school decides what courses to offer and teachers decide what material to include as part of their course syllabi?
School programs and curricula are thoughtfully developed to help expand students’ understanding of the world–and themselves.
As knowledge, understanding, and course material continually evolve within higher education and in the world at large, secondary schools should regularly audit their curricula to ensure that students are prepared to meet the demands of our global society. Similarly, schools should review course selections and materials to determine whether the curriculum offered is culturally responsive and representative of various cultures and perspectives. Some questions to ask a school might include:
- Who determines the course curricula and content within each department?
- Does the curriculum reflect a flexible framework that allows for differentiation?
- Does the school conduct third-party audits or outside review of curricula and materials to determine if courses offer culturally-responsive content?
- Are students and parents/guardians surveyed in order to solicit feedback on course offerings and course material?
- What professional development is offered for faculty/staff to ensure that their course content remains relevant and culturally-responsive?
Students see themselves reflected in their community.
During the summer of 2020, many Black students took to social media as part of the “Black at” movement to share their experiences at predominantly White schools. The incidents reported as part of the “Black at” and other BIPOC social media movements illustrated many examples of both daily microaggressions and highly traumatic events experienced by Black and BIPOC students; the severely negative effects of feeling marginalized and alone within a school community were clear. Energy that might have been put towards academic achievement was often, by necessity, directed instead towards emotional self-preservation and/or having to “prove” oneself to get basic recognition. By contrast, students who feel that they have a supportive community around them, and who see their own cultural and social identities reflected as part of their peer group and within faculty, staff, and administration are likely to feel more validated and less vulnerable to social/emotional issues. Students are not only provided more opportunity for positive social and emotional interactions, but they are also able to direct skills and talents towards their academic self-fulfillment and positive achievements. Ask your school:
- What practices does the school employ to effectively recruit, retain, and support a racially, economically, neurologically, and socially diverse community of students and faculty/staff?
- Does the makeup of those in leadership positions in the school community reflect the student population?
- Are trained staff available to support students who encounter instances of bias or hostility within the school? How are these incidents handled?
- What professional development opportunities are provided for faculty and staff to ensure that students do not experience instances of microaggression or bias in the classroom?
- Does your school offer affinity group meeting opportunities for students, faculty-staff, and parents/guardians?
Belonging at Sandy Spring Friends School
Students who feel a genuine connection to those around them, and who feel that they bring valued contributions to their learning environment, are often better able to bring their whole selves to the classroom. Emotional and psychological energy that might otherwise be spent feeling self-conscious about a perceived difference from peers or frustrated about not feeling seen and heard can instead be put towards heightened academic success, growth of emotional and social well-being, and increased efforts to create positive change in the world around them.
As Rodney Glasgow shared in his opening remarks to Sandy Spring Friends School families at the beginning of the school year, “This is a place that creates belonging.” That special sense of belonging at SSFS stems from intentional work on the part of students, faculty, staff, administration, and our families. It requires asking ourselves the questions above each year; continually soliciting feedback from students, faculty-staff, alumni, and families; teaching and practicing methods of self-advocacy; and, above all, maintaining a culture of trust and respect, so that when we are not hitting the mark, members of our community feel empowered to discuss the issues in an open and authentic way, knowing that their voices will be heard and they can be part of the solution.
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.
With “peace” as one of its guiding testimonies, Quakerism is often associated with pacifism. However, although the words may sound alike, “pacifism” is often anything but “passive.” From the refusal of many in the Society of Friends to take part in the horrific violence of the slave trade in the 1600s, to those who put their lives on the line by refusing to participate in wars or by speaking out for the humane treatment of all in our society, Quakers have a long legacy of confronting injustices and actively advocating for equality and the betterment of humanity.
Quaker History, Notable Quakers, and a Legacy of Activism
The Religious Society of Friends came about in England during the mid-1600s, with George Fox emerging as one of the major early leaders in the movement. During a time of religious, political, and economic upheaval, Quakerism offered a response to, and a protest of, a system that many felt was inherently unequal. Many Quaker beliefs--that men and women were spiritual equals; that each individual could have a direct relationship with God instead of going through a “higher” church authority; that titles and honorifics such as “Your Lordship” should not be used--were considered radical at the time, and thousands were imprisoned, tortured, or executed for speaking out.
Quakers were among the first abolitionists in colonial North America, beginning their protests to end slavery in the late 1600s. However, some Quakers were themselves slave owners at the time. Yearly Meetings took up the issue, and, by 1776, all the Yearly Meetings in America had concluded that slavery was incompatible with Friends teachings. Many Quakers subsequently participated in campaigns to end slavery in society, and in helping to feed, shelter, and guide those who were on their flight to freedom.
From the Society of Friends’ founding in the 1600s, Quakers also held a progressive view toward women’s equality (at least by the standards of their time), and many joined the crusade for women’s rights in the 19th century. One notable Quaker suffragette was Lucretia Mott, who strove both for the abolition of slavery and for the rights of women to participate in the abolitionist movement. She continued her quest for the equal treatment of women after the 1865 abolition of slavery, fighting alongside African Americans for the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul were two more Quaker women who are renowned for their dedication to women’s rights and suffrage.
Other endeavors of the Religious Society of Friends to promote general human respect included advocating for humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill, and campaigning against war and violence as a means of settling international disputes.
Friends schools like Sandy Spring Friends School endeavor to carry on this Quaker legacy of peaceful protest and social activism promoting respectful treatment of all.
This upcoming Tuesday, September 21, marks the 40th anniversary of the International Day of Peace. First celebrated in 1981, the International Day of Peace is a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, through observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire.
The Sandy Spring Friends School Peace Committee has a longstanding tradition of finding ways for our school community to join together to honor this day, and that tradition continues into 2021.
Day of Peace 2008 - "Pinwheels for Peace"
Day of Peace 2021 - All-School Moment of Silence
Day of Peace 2016 - Peace Flags
At noon on Tuesday, September 21, the SSFS Peace Committee invites all members of the Sandy Spring community to join the School in participating in a worldwide "Minute of Silence - Moment of Peace" to mark the day. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever time zone you are in, take one minute at noon to join thousands of others across the globe as we reflect silently on world peace.
In addition, the Peace Committee will also be borrowing a "leaf" from our school's history by bringing the community together to create an art installation commemorating the "Tree of Peace.” The tree, which was planted in October of 1987, linked SSFS to an international effort by the Iroquois Confederacy for Global Peace, which honored a custom that began 1,000 years ago by the five tribes that came together in a move for peace to form the Haudenosaunee.The planting was arranged by the Indian Affairs Committee of the Baltimore Year Committee. [Read more about the tree from an October 7, 1987 article and an October 15, 1987 article in the Olney Courier-Gazette]
Everyone on campus will be given a paper leaf on which to write or draw their hopes and wishes for peace, and these, in turn, will be combined to create a school-wide art project that will inspire thoughts about peace, our relationship with the greater world, and our sense of community.
September 15 marked the first day of National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month! This heritage month, which runs through October 15, begins in mid-September as a nod to the anniversaries of national independence for a number of Latin American countries. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua all celebrate their independence on September 15. Mexico’s independence is celebrated on September 16, and Chile’s independence is celebrated on September 18.
Starting this past Wednesday, SSFS began celebrating the many contributions of the Latinx Community both at SSFS and in the world. In the Lower and Middle School, bulletin board displays have been created to highlight LatinX authors and changemakers. Advisory groups in the Upper School were quizzed on their knowledge of Hispanic/Latinx history. Additionally, our IG team has compiled books from our library’s collection that highlight Hispanic/Latinx stories. Our School, with the support of the SSFS Office of Institution Equity, Justice, and Belonging, will be celebrating in a variety of ways throughout the month including educational activities, guest speakers, and more!
Hispanic/LatinX Heritage Month Quiz
Test your knowledge and learn something new by taking our Upper School Advisories’ Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month Quiz!
- When was Hispanic Heritage month first celebrated?
- Which US States once belonged to Mexico?
- What was the first settlement in the continental United States and who founded it?
- What is the name of the first Hispanic female governor of New Mexico and the first Hispanic female governor in the history of the United States?
- The co-creator of reCaptcha and DuoLingo is a Latinx man. Who is he and where is he from?
- Which Latin American countries celebrate their Independence Day on September 15th?
- Name two of the four Latin American countries that do not have Spanish as an official language.
- Known as El Libertador, this man served as a leader of the independence movement throughout Latin America.
- What is his name and what are three countries that he is credited with leading?
- When is Mexican Independence Day?
Answers: 1. 1988 2. California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado 3. St. Augustine, FL founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés 4. Susana Martinez 5. Luis Von Ahn - Guatemala City, Guatemala 6. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala 7. Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana (Any two of these four) 8. Simón Bolívar ( Any three of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama, Gran Colombia) 9. September 16th
SSFS counselors Joel Gunzburg, Erin Rose, Elizabeth Billett, and Beatrice Adewole share what we’ve been doing in each division here at SSFS to help reestablish connections and support our students as they return to in-person learning:
The first weeks of school were filled with palpable excitement as we welcomed all of our new and returning students to campus again after virtual and hybrid learning in 2020-2021. From the littlest preschoolers to our young-adult seniors, students were eager to meet their teachers, see new and old friends, and enjoy the beauty of our campus. The hallways were once again filled with laughter and unbridled energy as students navigated their classes. What a joy to see!
Whether school was virtual, hybrid, or in-person, over the past 18 months every student profoundly felt the effect of the pandemic on their academic experience in some way. We are also mindful that the pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health across kids of all ages. For the 2021-2022 school year, students may have new worries or anxieties, stress reactions, and “rusty” social skills.
The counselors at SSFS wanted to share some of the ongoing, intentional efforts to support and reintegrate students, build social connections, and strengthen the feeling of community. In each division, students are participating in a variety of activities to help them get acclimated to school. Here are a few of the highlights:
Lower School (Preschool - Grade 5):
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Building Connections: In the Lower School, we have begun our SHINE classes, a standalone social-emotional learning (SEL) class, which will take place weekly and will address a number of different areas of social-emotional wellness. As we begin to learn more about each other in this first month of school, our focus will be sharing what we want our friends to know most about us and also getting curious about what we can learn about our friends. Starting the year by forming these strong bonds of connection is essential as we strive to build a community where all of our members feel a sense of belonging. Our SHINE curriculum will continue to have students looking for all perspectives and voices in each topic and we are proud to be working closely with the Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging with our SEL curriculum.
Mindful Learning in the Classroom: In the classroom, we have made intentional decisions to promote Guided Discovery and community building. Our Mindful Schools curriculum, which will be delivered to each grade (including preschool) in the Lower School, focuses on the practice of paying attention to the present moment on purpose. It will provide our students with a plethora of opportunities to develop resilience, grit, and acceptance of the many challenges of social and academic life.
Middle School (Grades 6-8):
Building Connections, Finding Routines, & Introducing the Support Team: In the Middle School, the goal of September is getting to know our students and helping them adjust to middle school routines. Students participated in two days of orientation that focused on team-building activities, advisory meetings and lessons on “everything you need to know about middle school.” Students learned about their classes and the rotating day schedule. They met with the support staff--including advisors, the learning specialist, the counselor, and the MS facility dog, Hawkeye.
Strengthening Community: Sports and electives were exciting opportunities to have fun and meet classmates. Students had two Meetings For Worship that allowed for quiet reflection. Last week, advisory lessons focused on “what you want our school to be like.” Students contributed ideas for the MS social contract, which will be finalized this week. The theme of strengthening our community will continue in future advisory lessons. The launching of affinity and alliance groups in the next few weeks will offer another opportunity for students to strengthen connections.
Upper School (Grades 9-12):
Building Connections & Getting Acclimated: In the Upper School, students participated in two full days of orientation that focused on learning about their classes and schedule, team-building activities, get-to-know advisory games and activities, and the “not to be missed” Frazzleerham tournament. Students had grade-level meetings with the counselors to hear about the counselor role, ask questions about counseling in general, and share hopes/ needs as well as fears/challenges for the year.
Additionally, all US students attended the Club Fair to learn about and join extracurricular activities. Athletics and Intramurals have been another opportunity for students to make connections. This week, freshmen began their 9th grade seminar focusing on the social/emotional curriculum, taught by the counselors and including regular meetings with the Assistant Director OIEJB on belonging.
As the year progresses, we look forward to offering many additional opportunities for students to to develop those deeper relationships with classmates and faculty through division-specific and school wide initiatives. We will continue to be mindful of how students are feeling and coping with challenges. In partnership with families, we want to make sure all students feel cared for and supported.
For additional strategies on how to support your child, please see:
- Preparing Your Child To Go to School In Person
- Teenagers and Back-to-School Stress
- How to Help Your Child Prepare for The Return
- Covid 19 Guide for Parents
If you have concerns about how your child is doing, these articles may be helpful:
- Recognizing Mental Health Concerns in Kids and Teens
- Mental Health During Covid
- Covid Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think
As always, the counselors are available to support your children and provide resources to families. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your division counselor: Joel Gunzburg, firstname.lastname@example.org, LS counselor, Erin Rose, email@example.com, MS counselor, Elizabeth Billett, firstname.lastname@example.org, US counselor, and Beatrice Adewole, email@example.com, US Counselor. We look forward to working with you this school year.
Joel, Erin, Elizabeth and Beatrice
At a time when children and teens are already anxious, let this 20-year commemoration of 9/11 be an opportunity for connection and equipping our youth to move more compassionately and bravely through our complex world.
- Thoughtfully consider what you believe are the most important lessons of 9/11. This will help you frame and ground whatever conversations you have.
Begin with questions before offering information. Ask questions about what your children/teens know, beginning with “Have you heard of 9/11?” “What questions do you have?” This will help you meet kids where they are at. Focus on clearing misconceptions.
Keep the conversation age and temperament appropriate. Prioritize processing complex emotions over teaching children details they may not be developmentally able to process. At the same time, do not avoid difficult questions or de-emphasize the impacts of 9/11.
Curate documentaries and literature that are created with children and teens in mind and engage with them together. Limit exposure to traumatizing images and video.
Model healthy engagement. Avoid watching too much coverage and watching endless “expert analysis.” Both adults and children need to be able to process the images and information they are taking in. Overconsumption interferes with integrating information and emotions.
Discuss behaviors people engage in when they are afraid. Discuss the enduring harm of Islamophobia and the scapegoating of Arab-Americans.
Build empathy. Read and listen to stories of people who lived through/were impacted by 9/11. Discuss the long-lasting impacts (both negative and positive) that can come from violence. Make empathetic connections to victims of terror outside the United States.
Focus on the helpers. Talk about the creative ways helpers show up to provide support during difficult times. Make the connection between their own gifts/abilities and ways that they can and do actively support others.
Co-create a ritual that helps children connect emotionally. Consider a word/art collage, creating an altar, utilizing a grief bowl.
Together, choose an organization that is doing positive work in response to 9/11 and support it as an annual act of remembrance.
Revisit the conversation. At a later date, ask them if they have any more feelings, questions, or thoughts they’d like to share. Remind them that you’ll make yourself available when/if they do have more to share. Continue to make connections as they arise.
Resources for further learning:
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility
- Learning for Justice
- Rebuilding Hope new documentary for children