Challenges, Risks, Mistakes, and Letting Go…

In less than one week, seniors throughout the country will hit “send” on their college matriculation choices. At Bush, many of our students have already decided which campuses they will spend the next four years on as they mature into adulthood. They will soon bid adieu to the hospitable confines of our six-acre campus, and will depart for Los Angeles, Palo Alto, New Haven, Charlottesville, St. Paul, Walla Walla, Chicago, Providence, New York City, and beyond. They’ll take with them the skills, knowledge, wisdom, and confidence to face the challenges ahead. These include not only the rigors of calculus, organic chemistry, and global environmental history, but how to make beds, manage schedules and food budgets, and begin a conversation with someone who wears a t-shirt representing an opposing viewpoint or political party.

As we’ve learned from books like Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult, not all parents trust that their children can face these responsibilities on their own. At Stanford, Lythcott-Haims “saw students rely on their parents to set up playdates with people in their dorm or complain to their child’s employers when an internship didn’t lead to a job. The root cause was parents who had never let their children make mistakes or face challenges.” As partners in helping Bush students become adults, I appreciate that our parent community trusts The Bush School to create opportunities for our students to make mistakes, face challenges, and take risks that will help prepare them for certain and uncertain emotions that lie ahead—like feeling lonely, homesick, and perhaps adrift in unfamiliar environments.

Bush intentionally places students out of their comfort zones beginning with overnight trips in the Lower School, continuing with E-Weeks in the Middle School, and culminating with trips such as solo senior projects in the Methow Valley or participation in international programs like Passepartout. Students learn about the world outside of our campus in Madison Valley/Denny-Blaine, and, more importantly, learn about themselves, become more independent, and develop a sense of agency. Placing students in situations of discomfort—but not peril—challenges them to stretch their thinking, preconceived ideas, and apprehensions. In these situations, they discover that they are capable of doing more than they imagined or expected.

Even if you don’t have a graduating child whom you are tearfully, yet joyfully, ushering off to college and life in the fall, start thinking about what you can do next year to help your children make mistakes, face challenges, and take risks. Start small. Have your children wake up on their own or make their own breakfasts or manage their homework on their own. Consider hosting a world language intern—a great way to prepare your children to talk to someone with different experiences and perspectives—or choose an E-Week or Cascade that allows your children to practice intercultural fluency with students and activities that are novel and transformational.

Setting up situations of perceived risk is the best way to foster children’s independence. Start early.

Let Faith Unite Us: A Response to the Tragedy in New Zealand

Dear Bush Community,
I was tremendously saddened to learn this morning of another religiously-motivated crime–the mass shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Unlike attacks in the United States, mass shootings are rare in New Zealand; prior to Friday’s attack, the country’s last mass shooting occurred in 1990, killing thirteen people in Aramoana. One horrific aspect of this recent tragedy is that the victims were targeted because of their faith, and the gunman’s vile feelings of mistrust, anger, and hatred at the worshippers and other Muslims.
Our prayers go out to our families and friends in the Muslim community—on The Bush School campuses, in New Zealand, and beyond. We know that this tragedy, although continents away, affects you, and will leave Muslims everywhere shaken, frightened, and searching for answers in the weeks and months ahead. Please know that the Bush community stands with you and against these despicable acts of violence, terror, and intimidation.
As Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern stated, “We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”
Many of our students have become inured to reading about shootings here and abroad. They may feel helpless in preventing these acts in the future. However, theirs are the clearest and most resonant voices leading the efforts to end racism, homophobia and transphobia, anti-semitism, and anti-Muslim prejudice. They understand that there is far more that unites us than divides us. This is evident in the response by faith communities to the two recent religiously-motivated hate crimes. You may remember after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, Muslim groups raised more than $200,000 for the Pittsburgh shooting victims. Now, The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is reciprocating the generosity it received from the Muslim community by collecting donations for the victims of the Christchurch, New Zealand tragedy. May this example of compassion through action guide us all.
Please join me in supporting the Muslim families at Bush and around Seattle. Let your children know that we will be here for them when they return to school, eager to hold their hearts.
Peace be upon you,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

2019 Reading Recommendations

Waking up on Christmas morning, I didn’t always appreciate seeing the small rectangular boxes under the tree. It was a clear indication that my parents had opted to give my sisters and me books rather than the drum set, Atari 2600, or dirt bike that we hoped would be awaiting us. As I grew older, I thanked my parents for giving us a portal to worlds of discovery, adventure, imagination, and wonder in the pages of those books.
My own children have grown accustomed to receiving books for birthdays and special occasions. Sometimes they react as I did, but more often they unwrap books with a look of excitement and anticipation for the adventures that await them.
Over the break, I will indulge myself by spending days reading in the California sun, relaxing with a great story, consuming new information, and learning new ways to approach my work at The Bush School.
Below are a few recommendations for you to consider over winter break or to usher in 2019.
Seattleness: A Cultural Atlas by Tera Hatfield, Jenny Kempson, and Natalie Ross
After four-and-a-half years in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve thrown away my umbrellas and purchased a Subaru, which can only mean one thing: Seattle is home. Seattleness is a look at sites around Seattle, familiar and peculiar, that will make you curious about the city and fall in love with it all over again.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Francesca Cavallo by Elena Favilli
In my travels over the break, I am bringing this lovely children’s book with me to read to my nieces and nephews. It is filled with over 100 bedtime stories about extraordinary women who made history, left a legacy, and/or changed our world. These learned, intrepid, and talented women sought out a path to greatness, often defying odds, and paved a path for those who would follow.
The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything by Bob Johansen
I had a chance to hear futurist Bob Johansen speak at a conference in October, and was impressed with his approach to decentralizing authority in organizations. Johansen understands that we live in a VUCA world—one filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity—and that for organizations to thrive, leaders must embrace new ways to strategize, engage, and plan for this new reality. He encourages us to forecast likely futures, decentralize authority when possible, learn to lead even when you’re not physically present, and keep personal energy high and transmit it throughout your organization.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I have been looking forward to reading this book since it was released in February. Westover’s memoir is the story of her journey as a young girl who was kept out of school, and, after leaving her survivalist family, went on to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. I am intrigued by how the lessons learned in her childhood drove her to embrace formal education, and how her upbringing impeded—and perhaps, contributed to—her success.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
A classic that is now being made into a major motion picture, Baldwin tells the love story of Tish and Fonny, whose love overcomes a wrongful imprisonment. It is the truest of love stories, filled with despair, anguish, passion, and triumph. I loved this book when I read it twenty-plus years ago, and I don’t know if I can stand to see it on the screen.
On the theme of books, please read about this year’s Book Fair which raised money for Bush’s need-based financial aid program and provided books for classrooms at Bush and Madrona Elementary.
I would love to hear about the books that are on your bookshelves, your bedside table, or tablet that you are excited to begin over the break or in the new year.
Hoping you have a safe and restful break.
Warm regards,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

Reflecting on the Experiences of People of Color in Independent Schools

This year will mark my eighteenth year attending the National Association of Independent School’s annual People of Color Conference (POCC). The conference is in Nashville, Tennessee, and the theme is Equitable Schools and Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord, and the Notes in Between. I am eager to learn, with the other 6,400 educators and students in attendance, how we can find common voices in times of discord. Joining me at the conference are Priyanthi Alahendra, Jay Franklin, Jabali Stewart, and Ray Wilson (Administrative Group); Anna Belknap and Cecily Metzger (Lower School); Michael Heald (Middle School); Maria Mathiesen, Kelsey Medrano, emily warren, and Jim Sargent (Upper School); and six Upper School students.
As I was preparing this week for the trip to POCC, I was reminded of a difficult time in my tenure at Bush. In February 2015—the winter of my first year as Head of School—an anonymous letter was sent to a Bush Trustee expressing disappointment with the Board that I was selected as the school’s ninth Head. The author felt that parents wouldn’t speak up “for fear of blowback in making it an issue of race rather than competence”, adding that the promotion of people of color in leadership positions to “make it appear progressive is working against the interests of the school”.
The letter was not only hurtful and factually inaccurate, but it sought to co-opt the school’s values by intimating that diversity and inclusion were new ideals, and not aligned with our mission. Upon sharing the letter with the Board, the Trustees unanimously denounced the sentiments expressed, and supported me and my family, thus avoiding what could have been a crisis in the middle of my first year. They understood that this voice was not representative of our community.
The letter is a powerful reminder of how people of color experience independent schools differently than their white peers. It was not the first mis-characterization, false assumption, or questioning of credentials I had experienced because of my race since beginning my career in education in 1992. It was also not my last. I recall thinking that if, as the leader of the school, I could be made to feel that I didn’t belong, I could only imagine how our students, parents/guardians, and faculty of color might feel.
We know that successful schools foster environments in which students of diverse backgrounds and talents learn from and with others who speak with different voices and have unique experiences. We can only prepare students to solve the big problems they will confront in the future if they collaborate with teachers and peers who will challenge them to think differently and act courageously. Our mission calls on us to do this work—to spark in students of diverse backgrounds and talents a passion for learning, accomplishment, and contribution to their communities.
I know that there is still critical work to do within independent schools generally, and at Bush specifically, to ensure that we become a truly inclusive community, one in which all of Bush’s students, whether white, Jewish, Latinx, gender non-conforming, Muslim, etc., can participate fully without others questioning their right to be here. Our founder believed in developing strong, educated women leaders at a time when society marginalized them and tried to silence their voices. Helen’s leadership created the opportunity for their voices to be heard. I am committed to supporting inclusivity at Bush so that we create smarter, kinder, and more thoughtful places in which every student is valued, seen, and heard. There is no place for misogyny, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, or bigotry at The Bush School. We must move beyond discordant threats to unite our voices in harmony.
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School