I always remember our last all-school, in-person assembly (over a year and a half ago – wow). Dawson faculty, staff, and students participated in some friendly yet competitive athletic challenges. We laughed a lot and had a great time. At the end of the assembly, everyone erupted in our traditional closing song, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. There was a resounding chorus of voices and some hilarious dancing as everyone exited the Gym. It was pure magic.
I cling to that memory now because it was a powerful moment of experiencing a collective sense of joy and belonging. Shortly after, the pandemic hit and challenged our school community in ways we never imagined. We juggled the stress of students’ competing academic, emotional, and physical needs, and parents were placed in the difficult position of having to prioritize between these three needs rather than having the luxury of balance. We were spaced apart, podded, and masked. Some students spent the whole year only seeing their teachers and classmates via Zoom. Nothing was simple or easy, and fear and anxiety were ever-present (and still are) as we grieved the loss of a “normal” school year. In January, we lost a beloved eighth-grader, compounding our shared grief. For many of us, it was almost too much to bear, but we put one foot in front of the other and continued on.
At the end of the school year, we joined together via Zoom for Dawson’s Homecoming Community Event, celebrating our spirited school and showcasing the vibrantly unique talents of our Dawson students in ways that could only be done virtually. It was a big success, and we even sang Sweet Caroline! We followed that with a modified but beautiful in-person graduation ceremony for Dawson’s Class of 2021. No, it wasn’t the huge event we traditionally held in the past, but it was warm, intimate, joyful, and all about our students. During these two events, I could feel some of the Dawson magic returning. Many in our community felt the same way, and it gave us hope and buoyed our spirits.
When I reflect on last school year, the one constant that got us through the collective pain and challenges we experienced wasn’t joy--it was strength. Together, we faced unimaginable adversity, discovered our ability to be agile and versatile, and demonstrated the force for good inherent in the act of treating each other with kindness and care. By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, we came out the other side stronger as a whole community. This unity in strength was the inspiration for this year’s throughline, Stronger Together.
How a Throughline Connects Our Community
Creating meaningful change across a school community requires investment in a shared purpose. Throughlines provide a concrete anchor that links every initiative across our campus, from the youngest Bears through the oldest Middle Schoolers, to a common focus or theme. Everyone can use this throughline as a lens for how we make sense of the work we are doing and, for our students, how they make sense of the concepts they are exploring, the emotions they’re feeling, and the challenges they’re experiencing.
What’s most important is that a throughline brings us together with the reminder that no matter what we are enduring individually, we are not alone. This last point – that we are not alone – is vital. I often talk about the power of belonging because, no matter if you’re a child or adult, feeling a sense of belonging is core to our nature. I also talk about the soul-satisfying work of being part of something bigger than myself. I find my personal strength to lead this community in the security and joy I experience from the collective wisdom of my leadership team, the tireless support and investment of our parent volunteers, and the passion and dedication of our teachers. The diversified opinions and experiences we bring to our work make us stronger together.
I also want our students to stretch themselves beyond their familiar campus community to discover how our throughline integrates into the fabric of greater social and global issues. I want our students to use “stronger together” as a lens for the content they will research during their social studies units, while engaging in service-learning projects, or when working through real-world problem-solving. I hope they can study the features of communities and societies to understand how collective strength in unity and togetherness is the primary component that drives almost all cultural progress and growth.
For our families, I hope they see and feel this throughline in our commitment to keeping our campus safe and healthy, from taking the guidelines in the COVID-19 Shared Commitment seriously to attending Parent University sessions that help all of us support the children in our lives at a time in history when mental wellness is impacting our their developmental journey.
Challenge Success & Stronger Together
Challenge Success, driven by the SPACE framework
, is a core component of the Dawson student experience. There are two ways in which our “Stronger Together” throughline aligns with the SPACE framework.
The first is through Project-Based Learning (the “P” in SPACE). Many of these units involve a service-learning thread and focus on the question, How can we make the world a better place for all people? To tackle the challenges of real-world problems, our students need to collaborate with teammates.
I hope our students experience firsthand the rewarding feeling that accompanies great work and group accomplishments. I hope they learn that “Stronger Together” means battling through productive struggle and social dynamics that often impede progress. I hope they see that by leaning into feedback and tough conversations, they can unleash creative energy and synergy among their group members.
The second is through Climate of Care (the “C” in SPACE), principles that are built upon the premise of “stronger together.” We teach and model for our students that differences should not only be celebrated, but there is a true power in diversity that makes organizations and teams better, more effective, and certainly more interesting. I want our students to recognize that diverse teams are smarter and they experience better outcomes.
When we host special campus events like “Cultural Awareness for Everyone” (CAFE) and “We Need Diverse Books Day,” our throughline serves as the foundation for how students connect with others by understanding different perspectives and listening deeply and with empathy to people’s insight. We do not need to have the same backgrounds or experiences, but the competencies we employ to understand and value each other will help us become stronger together.
Dawson is proud of our promise to cultivate distinctly special relationships with every person on campus, from our faculty and staff to our families and alumni. We welcome and embrace every individual identity and story, and we are lucky to enjoy and learn more from one another every single day. And the most beautiful part is that the magic of our throughlines allows us to connect the dots between our personalized experiences and Dawson’s Mission, Vision, Core Beliefs and Diversity Statement
, granting us the privilege of continuing to grow “Stronger Together.”
By Roxanne Stansbury
Head of School