State College Friends School
Admissions work is my favorite part of what I do around here, and I love it when prospective families visit the school. It’s interesting to hear them describe their child, and interesting to hear what they’d like that child’s school experience to be. I love hearing their questions and seeing what they focus on during their tour. People go about choosing a school in so many different ways and you can learn a lot about them by their process. Are they counting computers or library books? Do they look delighted or uncomfortable when a 5-year old wearing cat ears gallops up to them on all-fours and neighs? Does a misspelled word written during a Writing Workshop session make them cringe, or are they captivated by the creativity of the story surrounding it? Do they smile at the middle-schoolers’ hats, the fourth graders with wheels on their shoes, and first graders in the enormous animal slippers, or do they ask about our dress code and the lack of uniforms? Have they noticed that this small school has somehow collected the 134 most beautiful children on the face of the earth? I usually point that out to them pretty quickly, but they get extra points if they notice it first. (That’s artistic
license on my part. There’s not really a point system.)
We’re at the peak of admissions season right now and we’ve had a lot of visitors recently. Your children, in addition to being stunningly beautiful, are really wonderful when I walk into their classrooms with newcomers. They continue working if we arrive during a lesson, but if we come during a transition time, they will frequently stop by to say hello, explain a project, or
answer a visitor’s question. When that’s happening, I consider taking a coffee break. Our students are the experts on Friends School and I’ve learned to move out of the way when they expound on it. Visitors often remark on the friendliness and warmth of our students, and the ease with which they converse with adults. If they don’t, I usually point that out, too.
Because I want prospective families to get an authentic picture of our classrooms, I don’t expect teachers to design lessons for visitors to see. We’re nice to visitors, but we don’t bring out the good china. This means that they get a better sense of whether Friends School is what they want and whether it will be a good fit for their child. It also gives me a chance to predict whether they’re going to be happy with our everyday dishes.
Last week I had a very nice pair of parents visit who were looking at kindergarten options for their little girl. We spoke in my office for a bit and then went off on the tour, beginning in Teacher Dorothy’s room. The students have been studying deserts and they’d all made models of desert animals out of clay, painted them, and were just beginning to discuss the creation of their desert museum. One student interrupted Dorothy’s directions for some clarification --- “What’s a desert useum?” She told him she’d explain that to him in a minute, but was going to finish with the other children first. This was a curious little person, though, and he continued on, mumbling mostly to himself --- “But what IS a desert useum? I know we’re going to make one. We’re going to put our animals in it, but what’s a useum? I don’t even know what a usuem IS. How am I supposed to make a useum?” But, the visitors were impressed by the opportunity for our 5- and 6-year olds to become curators, and not too worried that vocabulary development remained in progress.
We also visited in Teacher Bailey’s room during a 6th grade science class. Not just any 6th grade science class. This group has been studying reproduction. They started with worms and frogs and fish and spiders and cats and who knows what else. This puts the eventual introduction of human reproduction into a sensible context (rather than the context of the approach of the first 9th grade dance which is when my school thought it made the most sense). I arrived with my visitors just after the introductory remarks on human reproduction and the distribution of the anatomy handout. The class was giggling uncontrollably about prostate glands. Everything became even funnier because I’d brought guests to witness them giggling uncontrollably about prostate glands. But, after an appropriate period of hilarity, Bailey steered the class back to serious business and they followed. My guests were impressed by the level of discussion among sixth graders, and by the fact that this material was being presented to boys and girls together, rather than in separate gender-defined groups. They got two points for their reaction, because I’m sure they can’t really believe that their angelic looking 4-year old daughter will ever be discussing prostate glands.
Then we moved on to Teacher Bobbie’s classroom. I’d already spent a good amount of time explaining the school’s Quaker values and our commitment to non-violence. So, I had an interesting moment when we entered to find half of the middle schoolers energetically practicing kicking and punching on the rug. Now, it was really a Life Skills class, and one component is that each student teaches one class on his/her own. As a topic, they choose something they know how to do, and then they teach, or demonstrate, that to the rest of the class. The last one I’d seen was on how to make pizza, so the flying fists and feet surprised me. But, it was a Tae Kwon Do class, being taught by an eighth grade student who’s been studying for years. I know that everyone tells me that martial arts aren’t really violent, and that they’re really exercises in control and discipline and goal-setting and hard work. You’ll understand, though, that the kicking and punching parts confuse me sometimes. But, my visitors were impressed by this opportunity for students to teach, by the chance to showcase their expertise, and by the attention and respect that was accorded to the young teacher-of-the-day by the other students. I guess I took all of that for granted and was overly-focused on the kicking…which really demonstrates control and discipline, you know.
Useums, the prostate, and Tae Kwon Do kicking? Well, I received their application a few days later and immediately gave them seven points.
Beloved assistant head of school and child whisperer, Mary retired in 2015. She is missed every day at Friends School.