This week happened to include two events I look forward to every year. On Monday, our third graders worked in pairs to each present a researched PowerPoint presentation of a country in Africa to their classmates and parents. On Tuesday, our fourth graders presented regions of the United States in various forms to their honored guests, as members of groups that have been researching and creating collaboratively for the past 2-3 months.
When I think about the ways in which an Agnes Irwin girl’s Lower School experience helps her to become a confident young woman, the goals of helping each girl find her voice and teaching her to think critically and analytically come immediately to mind. While one is able to recognize the first of these goals pretty easily in events such as those that took place this week, the second is not so easy to discern. This week, parent after parent commented on how easily each girl seemed to stand before a group of adults and share what she knew about Kenya, or the Midwest. There was little observable anxiety and a great deal of quiet assurance in her knowledge as she read her report or spoke from memory about what she had learned. This should not be a surprise, given that our girls begin learning to speak publicly as soon as they become members of the Lower School community regardless of age; I think, however, we recall our own insecurities and worries as youngsters and are surprised at the lack of similarity in that area between who we were, and who they are.
The second goal is trickier to identify, primarily because the evidence is more in the process that takes place on a day-to-day basis and less in the outcome. In order to complete their Regions Fair project successfully, for example, girls needed to be able to:
- Read non-fiction for key information effectively
- Use technology to summarize and document their learning
- Write an individual report that effectively communicated what they learned
- Cite sources appropriately
- Analyze information learned about different states to find themes and similarities
- Organize and manage their learning in a way that made completion of the project easy and possible
- Work collaboratively with group members to share leadership responsibilities as well as work responsibilities
- Use the leadership traits discussed all year to work through issues that arose in the group dynamic
- Employ technology to create videos and brochures that reduced the summary of information into even smaller bits of information for an end product
- Creatively design a poster that would represent the commonalities of their assigned region and serve as effective communication of their knowledge to their audience
- Use their knowledge of maps, fractions and scale to represent their region visually
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. None of these objectives is particularly flashy or full of bells and whistles. They each involve hard work, stretched out over many school days, for little if any of this work was completed at home. The ability to effectively complete every single one of these tasks is important, however, for success going forward at Agnes Irwin and in the work world in which our students will eventually find themselves. Every single one.
I am proud of the fact that we create an environment in our Lower School where girls are given the opportunity to practice (and sometimes fail at) these life and work skills at a young age. It is the “value added” in their education that makes this place so special. I wonder how we would have been different—how our world would be different—had we had the benefit of such an education when we were younger.
We will never know. But I have great hope for the future because of what we are able to provide your girls with your support, and I thank you for believing in the importance of giving your child the opportunity of an Agnes Irwin Lower School education. Next week we will be hosting a spring Admission Open House on Thursday, April 24. I hope if you have friends or colleagues with elementary aged girls that you will invite them to join us and see why you believe in us. In the meantime, enjoy the spring weekend!