Back to School Message from Head of School Jeff Zemsky
Dear Moravian Academy Students, Families, Faculty, and Staff,
The start to this school year feels like a particularly exciting and momentous one. After more than 20 back-to-school seasons as an educator, I still get those waves of excitement as anticipation grows at this time of year. It’s all part of seeing the promise and the potential that lie ahead. Welcome back to school!
Every year Moravian Academy launches initiatives to invest in the school experience and improve the outcomes for all students. This year’s initiatives have developed out of a new strategic vision that aligns our annual, incremental improvements to a consistent vision from the Board of Trustees about what Moravian Academy and our students need to prepare for and thrive in a dynamically changing world.
A Culture of Curiosity
Our community’s commitment to Moravian’s traditions and legacy is exceptional, and I know you care deeply about the steps we take to secure, to strengthen, and ultimately to distinguish the future for all Moravian students. The faculty and many students and parents have already contributed to this strategic vision and, starting this fall, we want all of you to learn about and be a part of this process. You will have several opportunities to learn about Moravian Academy’s vision, which we call A CULTURE of CURIOSITY, and its four focus areas: the mission skills, personal learning, collaboration, and sustaining connections.
For students and faculty, you will be participating in assemblies and discussions over the next several weeks as we go deeper inside the culture of curiosity vision.
For parents, we are planning several discussion sessions for you to learn about and engage in this multi-year process of strengthening and improving our school. The first opportunity just for parents will be the Parents Association meeting on September 13.
You can read the headlines about this year’s new initiatives below.
I am excited about this moment in our school’s history, and am particularly inspired by Moravian’s dedicated students and creative educators. You bring our school to life and I am eager to see you at the Back to School Picnic on Sunday, August 26th and in these classrooms and hallways in just over a week.
Head of School
More Personal Reading Instruction
Reading is the gateway into the culture of curiosity and to lifelong learning. Children take multiple paths to reading and especially to becoming expert interpreters, creators, and synthesizers of ideas through texts. The Lower School faculty recognize the importance of personal learning in reading instruction and are implementing an individualized and systemic approach to reading instruction. It starts with benchmarking and setting growth goals and leads to Lucy Calkins’ readers and writers workshop model, a research-informed and school-tested approach from Columbia University Teachers College. The new reading specialist, Mrs. Shea Andriko, and the pilot team of teachers in the Lower School will share more about this in the weeks ahead.
Over their four years in high school, students should become the executive directors of their own learning, but how do they get started? A new program for ninth grade students helps prepare them by combining a human-centered approach to personal learning with digital technologies for researching and synthesizing information. The Freshman Interdisciplinary Research Experience (F.I.R.E.) is a new, joint effort of the science, history, and English departments to help prepare students for the Comenius Program in Upper School and to hone their research skills for the rest of high school and beyond.
We are pleased to expand the student support department at Moravian this fall by adding a dedicated counselor in the Lower and Middle Schools and increasing the school psychologist’s time at the Upper School. We know each child’s learning is influenced by a wide range of personal factors and student support professionals help the School integrate cognitive, social, and emotional instruction to be most effective for students. Dr. Elizabeth Zhe, school psychologist, is opening an office at the Upper School and is looking forward to being more available for all students in grades 9-12. In the Lower and Middle Schools, Mrs. Carissa Casey begins her work as a counselor and learning support team leader, who will work directly with students as well as support and coordinate personal strategies with teachers, families, and the rest of the department
The culture of curiosity vision focuses on how we prepare students with the timeless personal skills needed to thrive in the face of change and uncertainty. As generations of Moravian students have learned from our school’s mission, success depends on developing the sound habits of mind, body, and spirit. We call these the mission skills and the faculty and I have selected four discrete skills that we know students can develop over time and that are critical for success: curiosity, perseverance, empathy, and creativity. Starting this year, you will see faculty highlighting these mission skills in the curriculum and weaving them into the school experience.
We want our students to see themselves in a lifelong network with the larger Moravian Academy community, which is an essential part of sustaining the learning and the benefits of being a Moravian student. We are launching a new online platform powered by Graduaway this year called MoravianConnect,which offers Upper School students, parents, and alumni a trusted, dedicated space to connect with others inside the Moravian community of lifelong learners. We plan for professionals to help open doors to current students, who in turn will build and expand their personal learning networks with other Moravian Academy community members. After a soft launch with alumni in the spring, MoravianConnect is already home to over 250 members and we are excited to open it officially to more people in the months ahead.
Moravian understands both the necessities and complexities of providing a safe learning environment for all students in today’s world. This is why we have engaged an expert safety and security consultant, 911 Consulting, familiar with several independent schools in our network, who has audited the school’s facilities, protocols, and practices. This summer we’ve begun enhancements which include, installing new hardware on doors, updating security protocols that secure access to our campus, and increasing professional counseling for students. The security consultant will also provide ongoing training to staff. We will also hold community information sessions for you to learn about these ongoing security enhancements and updates. Mrs. Ann Mindler, Assistant Head of School, is overseeing this important multiyear effort.
The success of the vision requires examining how we teach the mission skills in a consistent fashion across all grade levels. We’ve chosen to partner with Developmental Designs to provide ongoing professional development with our faculty. The “DD” program is founded on research-informed and school-tested practices about cognitive, social, and emotional learning. These proven techniques for group facilitation and personal instruction will help the faculty and the school to better meet the needs of each student.