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

Exercising the Right to Vote

If watching, reading, and listening to politicians, pundits, and pontificators over the past few years has taught us anything, it’s that the volume of opinions, angry tweets, and spurious Facebook posts have left many registered voters feeling overwhelmed and apathetic about politics. We spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing the impact of elections and precious little time actually voting. Since 1960, the percentage of the voting-age population that cast ballots in national elections has exceeded 60% only three times—in 1960, 1964, and 1968. Conversely, the percentage of eligible voters who have participated in midterm elections has failed to reach 40% ten times. (Source: United States Elections Project)
As parents, we talk with our children often about our values. In my family, we discuss how to ensure that our values our represented through the political candidates we select. Sadly by the time they turn 18, many of them have become too apathetic to act on their convictions. I am encouraged by the sense of agency and political mobilization that I’ve seen among students at Bush. In fact, a senior conducted a campus-wide effort to register all eligible students before the 2018 elections. Efforts like this demonstrate how our students embody important pillars of our educational foundations—ethical judgement and action, and local and global citizenship.

 

When my children were younger, we used to bring them with us to vote purely out of convenience. As they got older, we did it because we felt understood the importance of ritualizing the experience, and to make sure that they understood that democracy only works if you participate. (Candidly, dropping a ballot in a mailbox doesn’t have the same dramatic effect as closing the curtains behind you in a voting booth.) We’ve discussed that my parents’ ability to vote was determined primarily by virtue of geography; they spent their adolescent and young adult years in Los Angeles. Had they remained in Mississippi and Texas, they would have been subject state-sanctioned voter suppression efforts, intimidation tactics, or regionally enforced poll taxes. And, my children are incredulous—although they don’t use that word—when they learn the years in which women earned the right to vote in western democracies like the United States (1920), France (1945), Italy (1946), Belgium (1948) or Switzerland (1971).
Rather than debating each and every divisive issue, one way to create an sense of urgency is to remind our children of the responsibility that comes with living in a democracy—to remain informed, to participate, to be active and accountable, regardless of the issue. Ultimately, we decide how we’re governed. When we fail to exercise the right to vote, we embolden those pundits, politicians, and pontificators who may appeal to our most base, emotional fears, but ultimately are counting on our apathy.

 

Regards,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School

Welcome Back to School 2018

Dear Bush Community,
The first day of school reminds me of the first day of spring training. The rookies—understandably nervous about finding a place on the team—roaming the locker room, trying to blend in with veteran players, coaches, and managers. Their tough exteriors masking their fears and insecurities. Sporting freshly pressed uniforms, polished shoes, straightened bills, and bleached socks, they take the field looking for new friends and mentors. For veterans, spring training can mean a fresh start—the chance to prove oneself again after a debilitating injury or a subpar season—or a time to set new goals, to recast expectations. It is a time of bright beginnings, measured optimism, and infinite possibilities.
As teachers, we love to welcome the students to school and connect them with friends who share common interests, passions, and talents. This beautiful alchemy makes the first weeks of school so vibrant and exciting. As I walk around campus during the early weeks of September, I like to observe and document students’ questions, observations, and comments.  They are a mix of exuberance, reticence, and innocence. They are sweet, funny, curious, and remind us why we cherish our jobs. Over the past years, this is what I have overheard:
  • “Where’s the bathroom, and what happens if I don’t make it in time?” —Lower School Student
  • “I know like half of the state capitals already.”
  •  -“Well, I don’t know half, but I know most.”
  • “I feel like I’m totally lost.” —Sixth Grade student
  • “This is totally our year!!” – Eighth Grade student
  • “Can I sit here next to you?” – Kindergarten student
  • “Oh, thank goodness, school started” – Seventh and Tenth Grade parent
As my fifth “opening day” at The Bush School approaches, I am excited to welcome your children—new and returning—during Convocation on Wednesday, to see their faces, to hear about their summers, to discover what they’re excited to learn, and to meet their enthusiasm with my own hopes for them.
And just like in baseball, the start of the year brings with it boundless hope. I have no doubt that this year at The Bush School will be the most beautiful ever. Dare I say, a homerun.
Welcome. It’s a great year to be a Blazer.
Sincerely,
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School