Welcome to my blog, a way to present ideas, reflections, and observations with the school community and beyond. I blog on a regular basis, commenting on a thought-provoking experience, a significant development in education, and news of student and teacher work here at Catlin Gabel. My goal is to make you think, provoke a reaction, elicit diverse points of view, and affirm your faith in our school's mission. I hope you'll share with me and other readers any reactions you may have to my posts.
Appreciating familiar shared experiences
Yesterday a middle school teacher sent out an appeal, looking for the missing “Green Oscar.” Colleagues knew it was a reference to the life-sized Oscar the Grouch costume from (Not) St. George and the Dragon. Every December, the madcap wonders of this seasonal tradition take place in the Cabell Theater, to the delight of children and adults of all ages. Oscar and his friends are staples in whatever unpredictable tale is woven each year by the eighth graders.
In this heart of the holiday season, when many folks celebrate religious observances, welcome family members home, and gather with friends, the school is alive with annual traditional events. It is a reminder that as the world changes, the school grows, and we pursue innovation, we appreciate familiar shared experiences that symbolize our values and our community.
In the Upper School, a holiday assembly has taken place for over thirty years in Cabell. Held just before vacation, this event features various student, teacher, and staff performances, unpredictable “acts,” readings or storytelling, and a rock band sendoff. For over fifty years, Upper School musicians have presented a concert in December. This year, the choir, ensembles, and jazz band offered a sprinkling of holiday tunes, classical music, and swing conducted by Mark and Damien.
In a Middle School tradition over seventy years old, (Not) St. George and the Dragon is based lightly on an 18th century Mummers play. (The “Not” adjective refers to the annual gag that the production has been cancelled.) Eighth graders collaborate with their teachers and Beginning and Lower School students to blend the original story line with student humor and pop references to create a unique interactive performance.
In the Lower School, of course, Revels is front and center in December. On the big stage of Cabell, grade by grade, children sing and dance, play recorders and xylophones, engage in swirling swordplay, and charm the appreciative audience of parents, siblings, and grandparents. Led for over thirty years by Peggy, it has become a rite of passage, a shared experience that siblings remember for years.
We know why traditions like these matter in schools. They serve as markers for students; moving up from barefoot first graders to fifth grade sword dancers helps them to see their own growth. They provide opportunities for parents and teachers to join in a shared appreciation for the stages of childhood and remind us of our own youth. They give us a sense of predictability amidst the ever-changing and fleeting nature of childhood. They represent institutional continuity and connect generations of alumni to current students. And the best traditions embed cultural symbols and values that create community and help us to feel we belong.
We cherish our holiday traditions at Catlin Gabel, which is why they are both resilient and resistant to change. These events have withstood the test of time, and to the credit of our teachers, they have evolved as well. Over the decades, music has become more international and multicultural, as our community has become less homogeneous. We have modified some of the more overtly religious features so that we are honoring faith traditions without requiring students to engage in ritual or observance. We have tempered the more ribald humor of eighth graders out of respect for our younger students and their teachers. And we have modified the format, length, and location of events to ensure we can sustain their appeal and include all students.
As we head into a well-deserved winter vacation, we are thankful for these durable experiential education opportunities. In the hours of preparation and practice, children learn valuable skills. Even more important, they learn the value of community and friendship.
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