It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap.

One of the blessings that fell into my lap last week was the chance to listen to our High School Singers at the first All-School Chapel of the year. What a gift their performance was to all of us there. Their sound was impressive—by any measure, but doubly so when you recall that they’d just returned to school and so barely had time to rehearse. But the gift was more than their sound. It was the reminder that Grace is a school where students take contagious delight in working, playing, and performing together. There’s a joyful spirit here, and this is one version of what that spirit sounds like:

Many thanks to Mr. Leonard and the High School Singers for their chapel debut. We look forward to hearing much more from you this year!

Something Insists We Forever Begin

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending

that always seems about to give in

something that will not acknowledge conclusion

insists that we forever begin.

Those lines are from the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, whose poem “Begin” has been stuck in my head this weekend.  The news this summer, the news coming hourly as I type, is indeed the stuff of nightmares:  Charlottesville, Houston, Irma, Jose.  Disasters manmade and natural—though that dividing line grows blurry.

It’s more than the calendar that “insists” that this school year begin.  Talk to the Grace teachers about how they see their work at the school, and you’ll catch a contagious delight as they discuss their academic disciplines.  But it won’t take long before you hear them describe seeing their job as being about so much more than conveying knowledge.  They work at Grace because their guts tell them that this stormy world needs the sort of students the school attracts and seeks to form:  students engaged with the world and with their roles in it; students eager to do good and not just well; students whose experiences of joy, curiosity, hard work, and engagement in our classrooms fuel a sturdy sense of purpose for their lives outside of them.  This is the high calling of teachers at Grace, and even a newcomer like me can spot the ways it permeates our programs, curriculum, and culture.  It’s part of the spirit of the school, which can see the challenges in the world around us and insist that we forever begin to educate students till they’re well equipped to address them.

Our prayers this weekend are with those facing these disasters and those responding to them.  The storms are too big for there not to be Grace families affected by them, and we hope you and those you love stay safe.

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Dispatch from the First Day of School

Tell me I can only keep one holiday a year, and I’ll toss out Halloween in a heartbeat and stuff my Thanksgiving turkey back in the fridge.  The greatest holiday on the calendar is the First Day of School.

We’re in the midst of a string of first days here at Grace.  On Wednesday morning, I walked down the center stairs at 86 Fourth Avenue as the middle schoolers were climbing up for the first time this year.  All summer long that stairwell has been unsettlingly quiet.  Now, a rising tide of hope, expectation, nerves, and delight worked its way up the building, which—strange as it may sound—seemed happy to have its students back.

Certainly the teachers are thrilled to see their students return and to welcome those new to Grace.  Our Early Childhood and Lower School divisions had their first day on Thursday.  Classrooms were abuzz with excitement as students, and teachers tried out the rituals that will so quickly become the daily routines of the school year—those handshakes, greetings, calls-and-responses that, in the strange alchemy of school, are made more meaningful by repetition.

Things are humming at 46 Cooper Square, too, where our high schoolers have been in and out of the building for orientations.  Their official first day is Monday.  Mine, too, or so it will feel when I teach my first class at Grace.

I’m itching to go.  I spent most of the summer building the daily schedule for our three youngest divisions, moving around Post-It notes on a wall, trying to design days that feel balanced for students (and for their teachers).  I wasn’t alone.  There were plenty of folks here throughout the summer, chief among them our dedicated maintenance team working to spiff up our spaces.  But schools don’t feel like schools without their students, and Post-It notes are poor companions.

With the first day of school here, it’s finally time to begin again.  I’m happy to be doing so with you.