Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Return of the Horizon - Summer 2021

Scott McNevan

Director of Athletics, Assistant Head of School, Residential Life, and Co-Curriculars

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to become a pilot?

There are different requirements for various types of pilot’s licenses, but to specifically become a commercial airline transport pilot, the FAA requires over 1500 hours of training.  It can take years to accomplish this and there’s good reason for such a significant requirement. 

Commercial pilots must be trusted to transport human lives safely, regardless of conditions, with or without a visible horizon.  

The horizon is an apparent line separating the earth from the sky.  It divides all viewing directions based on whether it intersects earth’s surface or not.  For most of us, that view is important.  The visible horizon provides valuable information about what lies ahead of us.  Without it, we can lose our bearings and drift off course.    

When a pilot ‘loses their horizon’, they simply rely on those 1500 hours of training.  They transition in the cockpit to flying with instruments, able to safely navigate the darkness or cloud cover, continuing on towards their destination with conviction.  In other words, they can make decisions not based on what they see, but on what they know to be true.    


We will all remember the year 2020 for as long as we live.  The year of the COVID-19 global pandemic.  The year all the instruments in the cockpit stopped working.  We were left to fly blind.  

It all seemed to happen so fast last spring.  Travel paused, learning and working from home, no congregating, everything cancelled, masks, disinfecting, distancing…it was surreal.  

And to make matters worse, many of our ‘instruments’, our tried and true decision-making criteria, were no longer dependable.  How could we problem-solve responsibly with so little information?  How could we function safely and know what was healthy with so much changing each week?  For many, many months now we’ve lived in these questions, navigating our pathways carefully, with very little confidence about what lay ahead of us.   

The experience has tested us.  It’s been exhausting emotionally and physically and socially.  It’s forced us to accept and adapt to a new normal that we despise, one that involves morning temperature checks and health screenings and quarantining, one that’s minimized the connectivity our AOA community normally thrives on. 

At times during the past year, we’ve lost faith in both what we see and what we know.  Truly a worst case scenario, even for the most well-trained pilots among us.  


‘If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost.  That is how I look at it.  Keep going, keep going, come what may’  -Vincent van Gogh

We have kept going.  We’ve put one foot in front of the other, day after day, all doing the best we could, embracing the ambiguity, betting on ourselves, and believing we would come out of this stronger as a school.    

There’s something happening now.  We’ve trusted the process and it’s finally paying off.

After a full year of adjusting to protocols, working together through the remote and hybrid learning, dealing with the disruptions and contact tracing and zoom meetings...our flight instruments are coming back to life. 

Sure it’s currently February and freezing outside, but the promise of approaching spring weather and sunshine and warmth is comforting.  Welcome thoughts about baseball,  softball, tennis and fresh air and getting back outside are coming alive in our minds.  Vaccinations are becoming increasingly available and will continue to roll out to the public more each month.  Regaining some sort of our normalcy, which once felt like a dream, is starting to feel more and more possible. Optimism is growing.   


Sunday, June 20th is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Each year, this June solstice occurs, marking the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere.  It is a day many look forward to annually, but this year is different.  

It’s not just about enjoying the sunshine or the longer evenings outside.  This year it will be about something much more important.

Summer 2021 is about the return of our horizon.  

It’s about getting back on course, finding our way again, and re-calibrating our path forward.  It’s about taking what we’ve learned and making plans safely and responsibly to reconnect with our community again.    

This summer at AOA, our students will have a full menu of safe, fun camp options to choose from.  Reconnect with us.  Plug back in.  We can’t wait to see your student in June.

The horizon has returned. 

AOA summer camp details will go out early March in the school newsletter and on social media.  Registration will soon be available on the school website.   


Monday, December 14, 2020

Three Degrees of Separation: Sharing the Gift of Giving

 Maureen Ischay

Chief Development Officer 

As we near the end of the year, many of us will ask, or be asked, “What did you get?” The act of giving and receiving is, in itself, an offering that strengthens the relationship between giver and receiver. When we take a moment to focus on the recipient, we are allowing ourselves to reflect on the bond we share and show the recipient that you were thinking of them.

When we give to others, it benefits not only the recipient but also us as the giver. Giving connects us to others in a very special and unique way and, quite honestly, makes people happy! Too often we may be tempted to say “I don’t need anything” when asked. In fact, I said this just the other day within my own family. But, upon reflection, I realized that I was depriving that person of the joy that can come from giving – I was potentially taking away from him the opportunity to say, “I care for you so much that I wanted to give you something that would let you know.” Don’t worry, I quickly gave him some suggestions the next day

Did you know that the act of giving can spread by up to three degrees? That means, when you behave generously you can inspire others to behave generously later – from person, to person, to person, to person! Wow! What a gift that is! It’s nice to think that an act of generosity can have such a ripple effect within a community!

There are many ways to give and not all of them revolve around money. You can give of your time; you can give your warmth and friendship; or, you can give a listening ear or shoulder to lean (and who couldn’t use THAT this year!).

Over the years it has been obvious that the families, alumnae, alumni and friends of Andrews Osborne Academy are gift givers. I was amazed, during my first year here, how quickly people would ask faculty and staff “what can I do?" or “what do you need?” Whether it was planning and executing “Night at the Races,” volunteering many hours to construct the sets for “Mamma Mia,” or donating food refunds back to the school, the AOA community always rises to the challenge and exhibits countless acts of gift giving! Last year, as everyone’s lives were turned upside down in March on the front end of a national pandemic, your generosity allowed us to surpass our annual fund goal for the first time in several years.

It is far too easy to become cynical today and think the gift we offer will have no impact. But, I would encourage you, as we try and put 2020 behind us, to remember that through giving you have the power to touch the life of another person and you can affect them in ways you may never completely be aware of. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself benefiting from a large measure of happiness in the process. 

I wish you all a peaceful and healthy holiday season spent with those you cherish doing things you love!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

College in the COVID Era - Why it's not all bad news!

Melissa Nipper

Director of College Counseling

“ Mrs. Nipper, I feel like my college plans are all over the place!” This was a conversation I had with one of my seniors while we reviewed their common application and college list this past week.  What this student is experiencing, having plans seemingly ‘all over the place and with no obvious order,’ is EXACTLY the right way to look at the college process in this year like no other. Here’s why. 

The Class of 2021 watched closely as they saw their peers in the Class of 2020 get excited about their college acceptances while making plans for where they would be in the fall of 2020. The underclassmen also watched as more and more colleges announced they would be closing residence halls, move to on-line classes or offer a hybrid learning style. They watched as more of their peers decided to take a gap year, or remain at home while all their newly bought dorm items sat, packed away, untouched. And, they watched as so many of the Class of 2020 forged ahead with optimism at the hope of the world returning back to normal and in turn, being able to have their expectations of a traditional experience college realized. 

The Class of 2021 is going about the college search process in a much different way this year. They are still looking at their dream schools. YES- STILL APPLY I tell them. But, they are also cautious about not knowing just what life will look like on May 1st of 2021, when they have to commit to a college. So, they are also looking at more options closer to home, adding more state schools to their list, and even considering two year community colleges as a backup ‘just in case’. So, while their college application list may not be the traditional cluster grouped in specific desired locations, the Class of 2021 is on their way to being the best prepared graduating class in terms of planning for the future and all the scenarios it may bring. 

How students are creating their application list is not the only area to be impacted by Covid. While spring of the junior year and summer before the senior year are the optimal times to visit colleges, these visits had to be put on hold or cancelled all together based on college regulations. Although unfortunate, this has had an upside. The inability for students to visit college campuses has forced all colleges to create and improve upon their virtual content. Where visiting a college in California may not have been very economical for a junior from Ohio, now, there are live virtual tours, student led panels, increased opportunities for interviews and so much more - allowing these students to increase their ability to ‘visit’ and learn about so many more colleges than what previously was available. Does this replace the feeling of seeing a school in person, no, BUT, it does give context to students and parents until visiting live is a possibility again. 

Let’s talk about testing policies. SAT and ACT tests have gone hand in hand with college admissions since 1959! In the past decade, some colleges and universities have moved to a test optional policy. However, for the Class of 2021, over 70% of all colleges and universities in the US are test optional or test blind. This number changes almost on a daily basis while many colleges have altered their testing policies even beyond the current senior class to extend to the class of 2023. For colleges that have not made specific determinations about their testing policies going forward, they are saying that this admissions cycle will lead them to determine what additional changes will be made for the upcoming years. Imagine a world without the stress and anxiety of taking a 4 hour test early on a Saturday morning. I for one think that is pretty awesome! 

College admissions counselors admittedly confess that they are still learning too. In a recent NPR interview, Jeff Schiffman, director of undergraduate admissions at Tulane University, said with a sigh "I don't even know where to begin," "We're going to have to hit the reset button hard on this one. It's going to take a complete retraining of how we review applications and what we're looking for. We're kind of figuring it out as we go." While November and December are the months when the early action and early decision 1 applications get read and reviewed, I am confident that college admissions offices will determine what they need to do moving forward in the years ahead. 

Here are a couple articles that I have found very interesting about College in the COVID Era:

How the Coronavirus has Upended College Admissions

High Stakes College Recruitment Goes Virtual- and Zoom Fatigue Sets In

So, although college admissions in the Covid era is far from normal, I remain optimistic about the process, the choices, and the grit and resilience of our students. Yes, when putting a college list together, students  may be ‘all over the board’ and to that I say- GOOD FOR THEM! 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Who Moved My Theater?

Darryl Lewis

AOA Music Instructor and Theater Director

In 2005, I stood backstage at the original Dobama Theater. Before Dobama moved into their beautiful Cedar Road location they were located in the dusty basement of the Winking Lizard on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. My lines were memorized, I was in good voice and, with the help of Joseph Hammer, our Director, I felt good about the character that we created. 

It was Friday, opening night and there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere in the theater. It was pitch black backstage but I could hear the patrons talking as they waited for the show to begin. I positioned myself just barely off stage so the audience could not see me. I was nervous and excited at the same time. This was my very first acting gig with no singing.  At any moment I would hear a recorded message reminding audience members to turn off their cell phones, the stage lights would change and that would be my cue to enter and start talking. It was the regional premier of the award winning play, The Exonerated, written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, a married couple who are both actors and writers. Written in 2002, this award-winning docudrama was culled from interviews with more than forty former death row inmates nationwide, as well as from public records, that included legal documents, transcripts and letters. The Exonerated premiered in Los Angeles in 2002. During the course of the run, many big-name actors, including Richard Dreyfuss, Mia Farrow, Gabriel Byrne, Jill Clayburgh, and Sara Gilbert, appeared in the play. Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Aidan Quinn, and Delroy Lindo starred in the adaptation of the play for Court TV. For the Cleveland premier, I would soon be surrounded by audience members on three sides. Those patrons in the front row could stretch out their arms and touch me if so motivated. This was “in your face” theater and it was showtime. I heard all of my cues, entered a bare stage with my tweed cap, hit my mark and said the following:

This is not the place for thought that does not end in concreteness;

        it is not easy to be open or too curious.

It is dangerous to dwell too much on things:

to wonder who or why or when, to wonder how, is dangerous.

How do we the people get outta this hole, what’s the way to fight,

might I do what Richard and Ralph and Langston’n them did?

It is not easy to be a poet here, Yet I sing.

I sing.

I played a character named Delbert Tibbs and functioned as a sort of Chorus, fading in and out of the action. A black man in his late fifties with a personality like an old soulful song: smooth, mellow, but with a relentless underlying rhythm. He has a great sense of humor. He’s from Chicago and he was on death row. All of the main characters in this play have spent time on death row for crimes they did not commit. Delbert speaks in poetic phrases and spells out a warning. He is thinking out loud about the best way to approach the problem. When he refers to Richard and Ralph and Langston he is referring to African American authors who speak out boldly in their works about racism. Other characters would soon join Delbert on stage. Each taking their turn, telling their individual stories that landed them each on death row. It was a powerful, moving evening of theater when audience members realized that none of these individuals were actually guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. They are The Exonerated.

The original Dobama Theater had one main entrance, so patrons and actors often mingled when exiting. On my way out of the theater a young lady stopped me at the doorway to share  congratulations and say thank you. She said that this play had caused her to re-think her prior thoughts on capital punishments. She had no idea that so many innocent people were incarcerated, and some executed. She was having a change of heart and I was proud to have  something to do with that change. I was learning that the best art can do more than entertain us. It can engage, enlighten and challenge our points of view.

Theater has long been a place where one can advocate for social awareness and giving voice to the invisible. Today at Andrews Osborne Academy in the school year 2020/2021,  we will lean into the many challenges before us. Acknowledging that we are living with formidable circumstances for public performance and safety. We have been working through the summer to figure out how to best serve our student performers, designers, technicians, and our entire AOA community while preserving a real performance experience through Music & Theater. While our emphasis remains on safety, we are continuing to move forward with productions that are exciting and challenging to both our student population and our patrons. We will build on the groundwork laid by past AOA productions of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank and Laramie Project. Productions in the year 2020/2021 will undoubtedly look, sound and feel different, but we will embrace technology. We will follow all CDC and AOA guidelines. We are a creative force and we will adapt, re-imagine and grow into this new normal. My personal passion of giving students a world class theatrical experience is still alive. So we will challenge ourselves to be innovative and look for new ways to create and protect one another. This is a time for us to learn new ways to express ourselves and forge ahead into the unknown showcasing our passions with renewed vitality. Like many who have trod the boards before us, we have something important to say and the time is now. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements from AOA Music & Theater 2020/2021.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Finding My Way

Larry Goodman, Ph.D.

Head of School  

2020 has been a very jarring year for me. It began with the spread of the coronavirus that grew into a full-blown global pandemic - one we continue to struggle with today. The virus is at once ravaging - having killed more than 880,000 people worldwide already - and beguilingly mild - medical experts estimate that somewhere around 40% of infected people have no symptoms whatsoever. Here in America that has meant that there has been a persistent difference of opinion as to whether we should protect ourselves from the serious and deadly potential of the virus - or go on with our lives without much fanfare since the consequences for the vast majority of people are mild at worse. And as we Americans love to do, we politicized this difference of opinion. So in addition to not really KNOWING what to do, we added the pressure of political rhetoric to shame the people doing the “wrong” thing.

Fortunately, the coronavirus is a biological phenomenon and so science has, over time, helped us to know how to behave and what to think. While the political nonsense continues, rational people know that we should wear masks when indoors, maintain 6 feet distance between us, etc. I was very confused about what to do in March and April - but every month since then I have felt less “at sea” about what to do. While I am aware that we are sailing through “uncharted waters” by remaining open during a pandemic, I feel like science has given me a compass of sorts - a way of knowing what is true, what is not true, and what remains unknown at the moment.

If COVID-19 were the only jarring event in 2020, I suppose I would be giving a very different talk today. But a few months after we had to close school and shift to remote learning, a second event shook America. On May 29th, the police in Minneapolis murdered a black man named George Floyd. This was by no means the first time such a tragedy had occurred - a black person being killed by the police. It hadn’t even occurred that long after another black person, Breonna Taylor, was killed by the police in Louisville, Kentucky. In fact, it was really only the most recent instance of such tragedy in a long and ugly line of black people suffering from - perhaps even dying from - police brutality.

But for a variety of reasons, George Floyd’s murder behaved like a fuse to a bomb. And after that fuse was lit, the outrage, sadness, anger, frustration, and disillusionment of an entire nation exploded. The Black Lives Matter movement, which began as a hashtag following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, sprang to the forefront of the American Consciousness, as millions of Americans rallied together to insist that this trail of abuse and death had to end. In our Student Union you will see a display students put up in the name of just a few of the victims of police abuse.

And, as your Physics teacher will tell you, every action gives rise to a reaction. As one large part of America was rallying around the Black Lives Matter movement, which certainly placed blame for the abuse and deaths on America’s system of policing and on police officers and police departments, another part of America rallied around those very police officers and departments and the system of policing. You may hear people supporting this point of view countering the Black Lives Matter movement with the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” (blue being the color most closely associated with police uniforms). Still others choose the rejoinder, “All Lives Matter.”

The problem with both of these responses to Black Lives Matter is that they seem to be motivated by a misunderstanding of the message. The phrase is “Black Lives Matter” - NOT “Only Black Lives Matter.” Black people comprise roughly 13% of the population in the USA and about 12% of the police force. And so All Lives and Blue Lives can’t matter UNLESS Black Lives (also) matter. The Black Lives Matter movement is not saying “Black Lives Matter more” - it is, instead, a reaction to centuries of Black Lives NOT mattering as much as White Lives. Much as we may not want to acknowledge that fact, even the most basic history of America certainly shows that Black Lives have not mattered as much as White Lives. Hundreds of years of enslaving black people, followed by decades of outright efforts to deny Black People equal rights, which not surprisingly led to racially unfair practices in large institutions like banking, education, and employment, have ensured that Black Lives mattered less than White Lives. Trust me, I am not saying anything that is debatable in any way shape or form.

But that is what is most jarring. After George Floyd’s death and the ensuing months of protesting, no rational person can make the case that Black people have been treated fairly in the United States overall.

Unfortunately, whereas science has provided a compass of sorts for helping us figure out how to contend with COVID-19, there is no such compass here. Once we acknowledge this fact - that Black Lives have not mattered as much and that we have to change that immediately and ensure that our society considers Black Lives to matter as much as White Lives - what is the correct course of action? We can’t simply say “do over,” and decide to live a life in which Black Lives matter as much as White Lives - there has been too much damage to simply start over. If I were to get caught lying to my parents, repeatedly, I expect that their expectation of my future actions would be tainted by my past actions. I know that I would need to earn their trust back. What’s more, if I had become accustomed to lying to them to get what I want, I might also find it is difficult to change my ways - when I get caught in a sticky situation, I would probably be tempted to lie again. Learning to tell the truth may well be more difficult than simply saying I will tell the truth from now on.

And that is where we find ourselves as a society today in America. For hundreds of years Black Lives have mattered less. We know that is wrong. Some are trying to simply deny accountability by saying that others have done this and so only they are responsible. But because the ways American society has treated Black people for so long has become “baked into” our systems of power - like the police departments - this point of view does little more than ensure that Black Lives will continue to matter less.

Well, then, what IS the correct response? I wish I could answer that question. I cannot. With the coronavirus, I have found science has given me a dependable partner for knowing how to act. But with respect to the embedded racism that I know has infected our society, I have not yet found that reliable partner. As a white man in a position of power, I know that I have a responsibility for figuring this out. I know that this is an inflection point - a point at which things must change - and I must be part of that change. But what does that mean? What does that look like?

I was born in 1965 and grew up during an era in which it seemed - to white America - that race relations were improving. I was convinced - as so many of my white peers were - that there was a straight line from Rosa Parks, a black woman, refusing to give up her seat to a white man in 1955, thereby igniting a powerful wave of Civil Rights advocacy, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. harnessing that wave to declare that all people must be treated equally in the 1960’s, which played a large role in getting the government to establish the Civil Rights Act in 1964, to the election of a black man, Barack Obama, to two terms as president, from 2008 - 2016. I knew - and know - that America is flawed. But I believed that we were making steady progress toward a society in which Black Lives mattered as much as White Lives.

But the tumultuous protesting following George Floyd’s murder and the recounting of all of the ways in which Black Lives continue to matter less in America TODAY has compelled me to see that I was wrong. There may be fewer instances of blatant person-to-person racism (though some would disagree even with that statement), but the ways that racism has become embedded in our systems of power has ensured that Black Lives continue to matter less. 


As I said earlier - I am very uncertain about what this means for me, personally. But another term that we are hearing more and more about - “anti-racism” - is helping me start to find my way. I recently watched a short video that explains this anti-racism in a simple and straightforward manner:

Over the summer I wrote to the AOA community and pledged to make it one of our top goals for AOA to work toward becoming an anti-racist school. I know this will be difficult. I realize that this will require a great deal of hard work by everyone in the AOA community. And I accept that the road will be bumpy. No doubt I will make mistakes along the way, as will everyone else. But I do not believe that we have any choice. Until Black Lives matter just as much as White Lives, we can’t truthfully say “All Lives Matter.” And that is the goal - to behave in such a way that we get to the point where we can truthfully say “All Lives Matter.”

I believe Black Lives matter because I believe All Lives Matter. But - and this is crucial - I now recognize that in America Black Lives are not valued as highly as White Lives. I DO believe that many, many people are with me in aspiring to a world in which All Lives Matter - but we have a lot of work to do before we get there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How Can We Build Community?

Jim Mrozek

History Teacher
Upper School Dean of Students

Over the summer I had the opportunity to work alongside some of my colleagues to collectively develop a new course. Students who are in the 10th grade would be required to complete the course in order to graduate from AOA and it would involve students taking a deeper and meaningful look at the core values of the school: Community, Creativity, Diversity, Global Awareness, and Leadership.

I was tasked with developing the sessions involving the core value of Community, which was awesome because I love any opportunity to engage students in discussions about the topic. During my research I came across a story about a local entrepreneur and community advocate by the name of Brandon E. Chrostowski. The article profiled Mr. Chrostowski and an establishment located in Shaker Square by the name of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. Mr. Chrostowski opened the restaurant in 2007 and the organization offers formerly incarcerated adults free culinary arts and hospitality management training over a six month period. Students “graduate” with state licensure as well. As part of EDWINS mission it states that they “strongly believe in second chances and strive toward making this a reality.” To me this is a prime example of community. It not only offers a service, but it embraces all members of the community. I LOVE IT!

Back to the Core Values course…

As I prepared for the sessions I tried to focus on how to build community. A necessary skill for young people to develop. This led me to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an advocate of equality through non-violent methods that King often spoke of building community. His vision was the idea of what he termed the “Beloved Community.” In King’s eyes, to achieve the beloved community it required three things. First, it has to be all inclusive and can not be exclusionary. This is a cool notion because it can apply to others and yourself. Secondly, the differences of members have to be embraced. This is something that gets overlooked sometimes because we tend to think about a community as being comprised of people that are similar to us. Lastly, Dr. King mentioned that we need to work for justice for ourselves and every member of the beloved community. EDWINS seems to embody these 3 things.

In the most recent session of our series on community I showed the students a short clip of a TEDx talk that was given by Doug Shipman who is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. During the talk he discusses the “secret to creating the beloved community” and builds upon King’s ideas. The students were soon discussing ideas of Shipman’s interpretations and they identified four main points that are excellent examples for building community.

First, Shipman mentions that engagement is key to building (beloved) community. Our activity in the session was to make an action plan of how to become more engaged with the school community. One of my favorite plans was that a group of students discussed the creation of a “sharing station” in which students can utilize an honor system to lend materials, help, offer friendship or give advice to fellow students in need.

Another thing that Shipman mentioned was that you can’t consume to build community. It’s not a numbers game, rather, it involves something that King describes as “qualitative change within our souls.” This implies that we must be willing to accept change within ourselves.

The last two ideas were also important lessons for the students to receive. Engagement needs to be ongoing. Community building is always evolving and requires a commitment to fostering the necessary attention for progress. The last lesson from Shipman was that sometimes community building has to occur on other peoples’ “turf”. Through discussion the students came to realize that sometimes you have to go outside of where you are comfortable to embrace the differences of others. Once you are able to do this, it becomes easier to build towards the beloved community. After examining Shipman’s points, I asked students to identify communities that they felt they belonged to within the school and the results were not all that surprising. The constant theme is that students seemed to be aware of what communities they belonged to, however, most of them fell into a very “comfortable” place. This meant that students needed a little nudge in the direction of going outside their comfort zone to other peoples’ “turf”.

To get the students out of their comfort zone I had them stand up and make a circle in the middle of the room. We then participated in an activity that is called “Appreciation, Apology, Aha”. The concept is rather simple. Each person shares an appreciation for someone in the class or can apologize to the class for something or shares an “aha” moment in which they came to a realization about something. After each person shares, the group snaps their fingers to show an acceptance of the person. It truly helps to build community because it offers a way of immediate engagement and cultivates a sense of support, which is the first function of community. I have also implemented this into each one of my classes because it keeps the engagement ongoing (one of Shipman’s ideas to help build community).

In the first session of our series on Community we set up a late night talk show, sort of like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. I was the host and our guest was a guy named Jeremy Langham. He is an active community builder and the current Vice President of Engagement and Organizational Capacity at Passages Inc. in Cleveland. He also serves on the board of trustees for EDWINS. During the Q & A period a student raised their hand and asked Jeremy how to get involved in Community and he said something that I thought was pretty profound.  “Embrace your weirdness and authenticity and allow that to be your path toward what your community is”. So in a nutshell, if you want to build community you can do so in these ways. Find your community. Go out and find where you feel a sense of belonging. You can also create your own! Embrace the differences that you encounter. Think about the beloved community for this one.  Most importantly…...Engage in it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Why Kids Need the Community of Sport

Scott McNevan

Assistant Head of School
Residential Life & Co-Curriculars
Director - Athletics

You remember it.  

It was the awful feeling that you just didn’t fit. 

It was like you were on the outside of things and no one understood. 

We were all there at one time or another as young people. 

Was it your first day of third grade at the new school?  You were the new kid on the playground, friend-less, and feeling as if everyone was staring at you. 

Perhaps it was in middle school.  What are these new social rules?  Why wasn’t I invited to the sleepover this time?  How come those kids are laughing over there?  Are they laughing at ME? 

Maybe it was a high school moment.  You felt adrift, without a place, without an identity.  They tell me to just ‘be myself’ but...who am I?   

For some, that lonely ‘fish out of water’ feeling is an isolated bad memory from childhood.  It lives in a back drawer of the memory bank, able to be recalled but buried under the sediment of many years.  For others, this feeling was so significant, so enduring and terrible, that it negatively shaped social and emotional development completely.  It can be the root cause of adult anxiety and present personal challenges deep into adulthood.
Regardless of what level or frequency of loneliness we experienced as young people, we can all agree that it was negative.  It stunted us.  It prevented us from being our best, from feeling the electricity of being plugged in to something, from feeling known. 
We are undeniably at our best as members of a community, connected with others for support, care, health, and well-being.  Communities bring people together, often striving towards a common goal or mission.  As adults, we understand this.  We choose to join clubs, groups, and organizations of all kinds for their numerous benefits.  However, kids often lack that initiative.  Slowed by natural insecurity and doubt, they don’t always seek out community for fear of rejection.  They need the community brought to them.
At AOA, ‘Community’ is one of our core values.  We bring this to our students in many ways, at many levels.  The dorm is a community unique to its residents, the middle school division is a community unto itself, the ‘Star Wars Club’ that meets weekly during morning mix is a community to its members.  There are endless examples of community connection available for an AOA student. However, I’d like to highlight an offering we bring to students that has been a life-altering source of community for many young people for generations and is, I believe, more important than ever. 

The community of sport.      

If you were a fly on the wall of most admissions conversations with new families, at some point you would likely hear a statement like this, ‘If there is a sport that Jenny has even mild interest in, we really encourage her to give it a try here.’
This wise encouragement is grounded in years of successful stories.  A typical story usually goes something like this.
-Jenny is a new student who knows no one, is quiet, unsure, and reluctant
-Jenny joins the volleyball team
-Within one week, Jenny is known by coaches and a team of players
-After several weeks, Jenny feels connected and affiliated while walking the hallways of school
-After a month, a more confident Jenny has forged new friendships and social roots
-By season end, the volleyball team has become a community Jenny undoubtedly belongs to 


Sport (both team and individual) instantly provides a young person with connection to a community.  Relationships naturally develop and confidence inherently grows as they share the ups and downs of a season with their teammates.  They push each other to new boundaries in practice.  They experience the thrill of victories and the agony of defeats during competition.  They laugh out loud during bus trips and share inside jokes that only the team would understand. 
For many individuals, sport has provided that ‘aha’ moment in their young lives.  The traction they had been lacking takes hold.  They belong to a group now.  They feel a part of something. 
They no longer feel alone. 
There are unspoken boundaries that all adolescents learn to understand.  For instance, you might be able to sit and socialize with Jordan in the student center after lunch. definitely cannot sit near Jordan and his friends in the hallway between 5th and 6th period.  That is a no-no.  Everyone knows that.

Cliques and exclusive social circles abound.  That group by the pool table?  All seniors.  If you’re an underclassman, you do not go over there.  Those kids sitting outside every day during lunch on the picnic tables? Lifers.  They’ve all been here since Pre-K together.
Social media is hard.  I want to ‘like’, ‘friend’, or ‘follow’ the right people, the cool people.  I mean...I don’t want to seem over-eager, but I do want that attention.  While I think Bernard is kind of funny, most of my friends think he’s a dork.  So, I can’t follow his posts.  It wouldn’t be good for me. 
These sorts of dynamics in a young person’s landscape are very real and always seem in play.  They create pressure and social obstacles that hinder community building in many circumstances.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the community of sport is that it cuts through these dynamics and provides a safe bubble for young people where those unwritten rules lose their power.  Friendships form between grades, backgrounds, and socio-economic status.  Comradery develops amongst the group that can feel family-like. When you’re on the team, you can safely go where the team goes, sit where the team sits, or speak with a team member in the hallway.  
There is a support system within the community of sport that transcends.          
Relative to our size, we offer a wide range of sports to our students at AOA each year.  There is a long list of reasons why you, as a parent, might want your child to get involved. 
Earn a college scholarship?  Perhaps, although the statistics are not in your favor.  (only 2% of high school students earn an athletic college scholarship each year)
Get exercise and stay fit?  Of course!  With obesity rates amongst young people soaring and the digital age supporting a more sedentary lifestyle than ever, this is an excellent reason. 
Stay out of trouble?  Sports will definitely consume a lot of your student’s time during the course of a season.  There will surely be less opportunity for shenanigans if they are practicing and competing daily. 
These are all standard, sound reasons to support a student’s participation in sports.  However, think even bigger!

Participating in sports is joining a community.  It is feeling known and supported. It is membership in a tribe and learning to contribute towards the common goal.  It is a breeding ground for connectivity and confidence.  It is a safe haven away from the pressures and turbulence of today’s adolescent landscape.   
Kids need the community of sport more than ever.