Summaries of the Student Leader Breakfast (Upper School event) and the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast were presented by two PCW Board members. The featured speaker for the Spring Representatives Forum was Mr. Harry Murphy, the Dean of Students of the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland.
Molly LaRochelle, President of the Parents Council of Washington, welcomed all of the Parents Council of Washington Representatives to this year’s Spring Forum. She presented an overview of the various events that the PCW has sponsored during the 2010-2011 school year and thanked the Representatives for their participation and support.
Two important PCW events, the Student Leader Breakfast and the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast, have been very informative and have highlighted the success of the PCW this year. The Student Leader Breakfast is held annually for Upper School students who attend PCW member schools, while the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast was held for the second time in April following its highly successful pilot program in 2010. Molly LaRochelle asked two fellow PCW Board members to present summaries of these programs to the Representatives and to then lead a follow-up discussion on the significant topics that were addressed in the two sessions.
Shelley Gunner, PCW Board member, gave a review of the Student Leader Breakfast that was held on February 8, 2011 at the Georgetown Preparatory School and hosted 55 students who represented 28 member Upper Schools. These students were either juniors or seniors who had been selected to attend by their Deans. Mary Cohen, PCW Board member and independent school teacher, was the moderator of this program. Ms. Cohen emphasized to the student delegates that this Student Leader Breakfast was an opportunity for each of them to share their thoughts and ideas in a totally anonymous setting. Although detailed notes from the sessions would be shared with the Deans of the various PCW Upper Schools at a subsequent Deans Luncheon, no students would be identified by name or by their school. It was important that the students be frank and honest, and most importantly that they listen to one another during the sessions. The student delegates discussed a wide variety of issues including academic integrity, stress management, the college selection process, the impact of technology and social media and the changing social norms within their student communities. In their evaluations, the students emphasized the importance of meetings such as the Student Leader Breakfast, as they provide forums for students to exchange ideas and recommendations on a host of topics.
This summary was followed by an overview of the Middle School Student Leader Breakfast which was presented by PCW Board member, Anna Pfeiffer. This event was held on April 12, 2011 at the Potomac School and included 52 Middle School students representing 26 PCW member schools. These students were primarily in the seventh grade and together they discussed important topics such as cliques and bullying, stress, technology, homework and athletics. During the student sessions, the adults who accompanied the students to the Middle School Leader Breakfast participated in various discussion groups and leadership programs.
PCW President, Molly LaRochelle, then introduced the featured speaker for the Spring Representatives Forum, Mr. Harry Murphy, the Dean of Students of the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. Mr. Murphy began his remarks by noting that most of the independent schools in our Washington, D.C. area claim to provide a “rigorous academic education.” In his opinion, independent schools are in fact businesses, and each school needs its customers. Referring to the earlier conversations regarding the amount of homework currently required of Middle and Upper Schools students, Mr. Murphy questioned whether or not parents truly want to send their children to schools that do not give daily homework assignments. Although there are studies that describe the potential dimishing returns of excessive homework, most area schools establish homework standards to enhance the classroom learning process. Further, Mr. Murphy noted that it is essential to consider not just the overall amount of homework for a particular course load, but also the homework cycle by which the homework is administered. On occasions, the homework load can be relatively light, and then when the end of the marking period arrives, students can be overloaded with tests, quizzes and project assignments. The Administrators need to listen to the parents in their school communities who are in essence their customers, and together work collaboratively with faculty and staff members to find an effective balance that serves the needs of all of the stakeholders. Parent surveys can be an excellent method for schools to gather both quantitative and qualitative assessments on the level of homework that is assigned by grade levels. Yet, Mr. Murphy noted that schools cannot please everyone, for as one family will report that the homework load is excessive, another family will complain that the required homework is insufficient and does not adequately reinforce the classroom instruction.
Mr. Murphy recommended that “parents need to step back and kids need to learn how to fail.” Parents should remain interested and engaged in their school communities, but they must not go so far as to do their child’s work for them. Those parents who are exceedingly hands-on during homework sessions risk jeopardizing their child’s confidence in his or her own ability to master the workload. However, Mr. Murphy noted that based on his many years of experience, he has found that those parents who are interested and know what is going on in their child’s classroom generally have students who are more successful in school. Parents also need to set boundaries for their children, such as limiting the use of cell phones. They also need to talk with other parents to encourage consensus building as an agent for constructive change.
In closing, Mr. Murphy indicated how valuable the transcripts and summaries of the Student Leader Breakfasts are to the area independent school Deans. During the Deans Luncheon, where these summaries are presented and discussed, Mr. Murphy recalled that the Student Leader Breakfast transcripts are much like “gold.” The Deans Luncheon offers an opportunity for administrators to learn more about what is on the minds of their students. It also affords moments for personal reflections, granting time to stop and think about these issues that are very important to the students.
Questions and Answers:
Question: With technology becoming such a significant part of the students’ lives, how do schools deal with issues that happen outside of the school, such as cyber-bullying and Facebook postings?
Answer: Now that technology has created a 24/7 environment, the Deans have seen increased instances where the influences of online social media are spilling over into the school day. The arm of the school is much longer than it used to be and administrators are constantly struggling with events that happen outside of the school that directly impact school events as well as individual students.
Question: What to the Deans do with the information they receive from the PCW Student Leader Breakfast?
Answer: The answer to this question depends entirely upon the individual Dean. At Landon, which hosts the Deans Luncheon each year, Mr. Murphy develops a list of Action Items that he wants to address, and he then works collaboratively with the Administration to see how to best share this message with the Deans, faculty and school community.