On certain Thursdays in the fall, Admissions Director Mary Lou Lacina schedules tour days for parents who are looking for a school for their children. Most parents at Peninsula visited the school for the first time during a tour day. While the visiting parents wait for Mary Lou to begin the tour, in my role as the Head of School I provide them with a bit of history about Peninsula, some context about progressive education, and a sense of Peninsula School’s unique residence in the range of independent school choices in the area.
It’s challenging for a parent to choose a school based on what one experiences during a brief open house or tour, so I try to prepare them for what will be evident to them as they walk through the grounds, classrooms, and Big Building. More importantly, however, I tell them that during their tour, as our News Notes readers likely know, they WON’T be able to see the most essential things Peninsula provides for students.
Among many great things at Peninsula, it’s easy to see our excellent teacher to student ratio, with enthusiastic head teachers and teaching assistants collaborating in their work with small groups of children in classrooms. Visiting parents will most likely see children happily playing on the grounds or edging the Big Building because we are intentional about providing children with lots of time to play. They will see buildings and grounds that are intentionally rustic to ensure that children feel comfortable in their environment, that no area is too precious for their hand and foot prints or their joyous voices. And as they visit classrooms, visitors will see student-centered classrooms with kids engaged in lots of challenging, hands-on activities.
Less perceptible during a visit to Peninsula are the myriad ways we inspire kids to be active participants in their learning or how we nurture their curiosity and passions. During their tour, visitors won’t see how abundant freedom and responsibility for students fosters autonomy and develops instincts and self-knowledge. Visitors can’t possibly witness the thousands of conversations teachers have with students that build deep and trusting relationships and social and emotional skills.
Invisible to visitors is how we engage students in learning through trust and respect. It will take more than this one visit to understand how we use the democratic process in classes and during class meetings to help students learn about diversity, community and individuality. And on their short tour it will not be evident how our teaching harnesses inquiry and critical thinking to stimulate intellectual curiosity that lasts a lifetime.
As Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”