Every fall, the Upper School gathers for the Honor Code Assembly during which all new members of our community sign the Honor Book and pledge a promise of integrity and respect for others. Because we can't gather in large numbers, this year's assembly was held on Zoom with the book-signing to follow in advisory. But that's not the only change to come for the Honor Code this year. Following a brief introduction by Upper School Head Mr. Steve Soden, Student Council President Daniel Babalola '21 called upon his peers to consider why Severn has an honor code and how we can use this unique time in our school's history to rewrite it. The following is an abridged version of his remarks.
With so much going on in the world, acceptance is necessary to get through the day-to-day. But accepting change is only one part of the process. At a morning meeting Zoom last week, representatives from our annual Leadership Lab Retreat urged the entire Upper School to move beyond acceptance and embrace change. That means using creative thinking, perseverance, and inclusive leadership to make the best of what we have now and improve our school community for years to come.
COVID-19 has impacted every part of our lives — how we work, how we interact with others, how we teach and learn, and more. From the rapid transition to remote learning this past spring to the uncertainty of fall, preparing for both in-person and remote learning, our teachers have navigated uncharted territory for months. But one constant is their steadfast commitment to providing a safe learning environment where every Admiral feels a sense of belonging and is known and valued. Leading with that promise, our teachers spent the summer in remote professional development workshops, classes, and conference sessions to help their students thrive in this time of tremendous change.
mySevern is the online hub of Severn School. It is designed to make teaching, learning, and communicating easier by connecting all of our digital tools and resources into one interactive platform — everything from academic classes and advisory groups to clubs and counseling services. For families, it is also a central location to submit forms, access grades, manage accounts, and stay up-to-date on school news and events. And this past spring, when our campuses closed due to COVID-19, mySevern enabled us to hit the ground running during remote learning.
The end of the year is always a busy time at Severn. As students finalize projects, take exams, give presentations and get ready for the next big step, our faculty and staff plan celebrations to mark important milestones in our students’ lives. Each ceremony gives our community a moment to reflect on all that we have accomplished this year and in years past. Although unable to gather physically due to the COVID-19 shutdown, we recreated these occasions on Zoom with every resource possible, including student performances and speeches, heartfelt messages from faculty, and even an in-person (properly distanced!) diploma ceremony for our seniors. Things looked a little different, true. But the unfaltering love for and from our community couldn’t have shined any brighter.
Through the Van Eney ‘09 Fellows Program, select seniors take on a year-long project with the potential to reach beyond our community and into the future. Outside of the normal curriculum, these projects reflect our students' growth, maturity, and thirst for learning. Last week, program director Ms. Mary Ellen Carsley hosted a Zoom for our 2020 fellows to share their experiences with families, teachers, and peers. As we watched each student take the screen, speaking eloquently and with true passion, we were impressed by the incredible work our students are capable of when given the time, freedom and support to dream big.
Being part of an athletic team at Severn is about much more than playing a sport. It's about learning how to keep going in the face of adversity with the support of your teammates to pull you through. Last week, Severn’s athletic department hosted our Senior Athlete Recognition Assembly on Zoom. With opening remarks from Athletic Director Mr. Julian Domenech '84, the presentation included touching speeches from every coach, highlighting team perseverance and camaraderie — that Admiral spirit we see on and off the field. Although the 2020 spring season was cut much too short, we are grateful to all of our student-athletes for their contributions to Severn’s programs over the past four years.
It has fast become a tradition for our kindergarten and first-grade students to visit Teel Campus and deliver homemade letters of advice for seniors during their last few weeks of school. It is a beloved event for our community — a bookend to the year that begins with those same students paired together for Convocation. And although we are in remote learning mode, the tradition carries on thanks to our dedicated faculty and students. This past Thursday on Zoom, we watched the kids’ faces light up as over 160 Severn Admirals joined our virtual celebration — we are grateful to each and every one.
The visual and performing arts at Severn are more than outlets for creative expression. They provide a lens through which to view our world with both self-awareness and empathy for others. The ability to express oneself in unique and creative ways is a skill our students need perhaps more now than ever. Held this past Friday through Zoom, our annual Fine Arts Assembly was a chance to celebrate the achievements of our student-artists, together.
Fitness is a big part of daily life at Severn School. From PE classes and recess to sports teams and clubs, being active and outdoors is something we greatly value in every grade. In addition to the proven physical and mental health benefits of exercise, fitness teaches lessons in character, teamwork, perseverance, safe risk-taking, self-confidence, and more. And although we are not physically on campus together, our values haven’t changed. Severn teachers, coaches, and athletic trainers are keeping us healthy and active during remote learning, raising our collective spirits with creativity, commitment, and love for the kids.
Sophomore year is a sweet spot for upper schoolers. They’ve moved past the nerves of freshman life. They have yet to reach the peak of academic rigor typically associated with junior year and college application deadlines haven’t quite come into view. That makes it a great time to think more purposefully about college. To help our students and their families make the most of this time, our college counseling department introduced a new seminar program for all 10th graders this year. The goal is to empower our students with the information they need to make the best choice when the time is right.
Is there any problem or crisis that wouldn’t benefit from simply slowing down and taking a breath...or five? Increasingly, we point to mindfulness as a powerful tool to help students manage stress and reduce anxiety — whether nerves about an upcoming test, an issue with friends, or adjusting to changes in the world around us. But how does it work? Before spring break, our Upper School biology classes conducted some interesting and strikingly relevant research by putting mindfulness and meditation to the test.