Cultivating Success

Cultivating Success

Posted by Dr. Beth Reaves

We are concerned about our students’ learning.

Let me rephrase and restate that for emphasis:

More specifically, we are concerned about the ongoing challenges that the pandemic has presented to our girls as related to their education.

Last year in August 2021, we were excited about the prospect of returning to in-person learning after having been remote for nearly a year and half. We dubbed the new year as “The Year of the Comeback,” as we readied the campus with strict social distancing measures, put a variety of health and safety protocols in place, and with mask reminders everywhere, opened our doors again on campus. Our students, families, teachers and staff were so thrilled at the prospect of getting back to normal.

For all of our careful planning, there were so many factors that we needed to see and experience first-hand before we could truly understand the impact of the pandemic on our students. Very quickly, we learned that a more apt theme was “The Year of the Pivot.” So adjust we did, assessing the social and emotional needs of our students and creating space for shared growth, shifting our academic support model to meet students where they were, and of course, responding to surges of COVID-19 within our community that changed our plans with little notice. We may have come back on-campus, but the name of the game was adapting and pivoting at nearly each step of the way.

Fast forward to now, summer of 2022. As I reflect on what might be a uniting theme for this school year, with all that we know from last year, Cultivating Success is what comes to mind. The word “cultivate” as defined is to improve, develop, to assist. It is an action word and succinctly frames how we approach our work. What we know for sure is that we need to continue to cultivate success in our students despite all of the many external factors that may present barriers to their education, including a pandemic. It’s our school mission and our clear goal.

We’ve designed our learning environment to cultivate success by prioritizing the following, which we know help our girls learn best:

A structured and predictable environment each school day
Time for them to reflect and nourish their souls
Clear academic success expectations and knowledge that their teachers will support their learning to success
An intentional focus on their emotional health and wellness
Attention to communication and developing healthy peer relationships
Repeated exposure to their future possibilities in life
Classrooms that support, affirm and uplift them each day

These core priorities manifest in so many ways in our classrooms – and I’ve already seen them in practice in just these first weeks of school. We welcomed our students back with a red-carpet celebration that included the encouragement and support of our friends at Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, DC United, and NCNW, who served as both cheerleaders and examples of the successful Black women that our girls will become. Our 5th grade students practice positive self-talk at the “affirmations mirror” when they enter their classroom – I recently stopped by and was directed to visit the mirror before joining in with the learning! We recently welcomed families for our Family Institute – back in person for the first time since 2019 – where we laid out a clear path for student, family, and teacher collaboration this school year. We look forward to expanding our arts offerings through partnerships this school year, and bringing volunteers back into our classrooms. Many of these are ongoing or revived traditions that have been proven to cultivate success.

This year also brings with it some changes. After 17 years, we said goodbye to our Head of School, Brianne Wetzel, as she took on an exciting new role as the Executive Director of the Connelly Center, a Nativity Miguel Coalition school in New York City. With her departure, we restructured our senior leadership team to include a new position, the Director of Student and Graduate Success, and promoted Tracy Johnson to the role. Tracy has been an educator at WSG for 5 years, originally serving as our Reading Specialist and having taken on additional project leadership roles including spearheading our instructional equity initiative last year. Tracy will collaborate with Kelley Lockard, Principal, to further develop the continuum of support for students, families, and graduates. This new structure brings several existing independent roles together on a team with a shared purpose and intentional opportunities to collaborate more deeply.

Our biggest asset is our dedicated teaching staff, who will bring so much of this vision to life this year. At a time when so many educators are experiencing burnout and frustration, and after a year that was challenging for all of us, I’m so grateful that our teachers are ready to continue cultivating success for our girls: 12 out of 13 of our classroom teachers returned to WSG this year. While our students have seen academic growth over the past several years in spite of all the challenges, we know that the impact of learning disruptions will be evident for years to come (note, for example, this year’s third grade class missed part of their kindergarten year and in most cases, the majority of their first grade year!) Creative and flexible teachers are critical as we strive to accelerate learning and make sure all our girls are high school ready.

We hope for fewer pandemic disruptions to a regular school schedule, but we are prepared after a year of many pivots, if needed. We also expect that the clear expectations for ourselves and our students to cultivate those aspects of learning that they need to achieve will always be in the forefront of our work. We can’t wait for COVID to pass; we need to continue to bring forward a strong learning environment now for each student. This year we are cultivating success at WSG.