At Miquon, We Believe in Children
By Julia Finney, Principal
It has been such an exciting several weeks here at Miquon, and I am so very thrilled to know that Susannah Wolf ’81 will be our next Principal. I met Susannah professionally a couple of years ago and was deeply impressed by her thoughtfulness, experience, and vision for Progressive education. It was a treat to see her here, in person, on the campus she loves, and to feel her warmth for the students and staff, and her passion for our mission. All of us at Miquon join together in our extra enthusiastic welcome “home” to her.
Having guided Miquon through a Principal transition and a period of healthy self-examination and growth, I firmly believe that Susannah’s character and qualities will carry Miquon’s vision of becoming a Progressive school leader to realization. On the day-to-day level, she will be a wise mentor to teachers, relate empathetically to parents, and be a passionate advocate for our Progressive practices. Susannah will strengthen Miquon’s identity within our own community, as well as with wider and wider audiences of prospective families, donors, and education leaders nationwide. Her expertise in teaching mathematics and engendering social justice also bring great depth to our already strong programs. It is quite thrilling to know that Miquon will be in her hands – we have so much to look forward to in her leadership.
Several years ago, I quizzed long-time master teacher and curriculum coordinator Joan Ranere about what she believed was unique about Miquon. Without hesitation, she said, Miquon students know themselves and what they are passionate about. It is a stunningly bold statement to make about 12 year olds, but it rings true–especially as we hear back from so many alumni that their college education is, finally, like what they experienced as very young children here at Miquon. Once again, they are encouraged to exercise choice in learning what is meaningful and helpful to them, and they feel their own capacity to influence and responsibility to improve their community. College professors and Miquon teachers respect students in similar ways, I think, relying on and challenging students to shape their learning and to participate fully.
Since that conversation, I have been working backwards, trying to identify the professional practices and beliefs, along with that special secret Miquon ingredient that creates very young children who are so self-aware, poised, and confident about their strengths and uniqueness. Here is what I have found:
At Miquon, we believe in children. Children’s feelings, experiences, and stories are trusted. Teachers are incredibly patient at offering non-judgmental observations and bringing young people together to reconcile differing accounts and conflicts. We model, over and over again, that everyone makes mistakes and we can work in community to repair harm without shame. As a result, children learn to trust their inner guidance and sense of justice.
We believe children can take on real responsibility. At Miquon, children run monthly Good of the School meetings, as well as weekly Good of the Group meetings in their classrooms. They identify real problems, that matter to them, and work collectively toward solutions. Their jobs in their classrooms and around campus have a real and noticeable impact that makes our daily lives better. And, perhaps our most unique, and, possibly most misunderstood, practice, is allowing children to play outdoors independently. There, they work out the rules of the game and determine who will have which role in the fort. There, when they authentically believe things are “up to them,” they practice critical social and organizational skills. It is outdoors where they can test their minds, emotions, and physical selves against complex challenges–and experience deep joy and full-body thrills. As a result, children become confident–while at the same time, learning and understanding the weight of the responsibilities that accompany freedom.
This year, the teachers and the Board have spent a lot of time, thought, and energy planning for updates to the Clisby Library and the space around it. At a few different points, we have had to defend our efforts, especially because, in the age of information and technology, many school libraries are being replaced with laptops and wi-fi connections. At Miquon, we want curriculum to emerge from and be shaped by the children’s interests and issues they care about. Teachers, therefore, must be ready resources for all sorts of hands-on studies, whether it is the Nursery’s drive to learn about Mars, the 1st Grade’s response to the destruction of forests around the world, or the 4th Grade’s questions about the point of taxation. Our library (and librarian) must be responsive and nimble, inviting and engaging, and, multi-sensory and multi-modal, so that our children find themselves there, literally and figuratively. We think of the library as the heart of campus, where the first glows of children’s blazing passions—so often articulated during their Miquon graduation speeches—are kindled. Because children and their interests are always reflected in what they are learning at Miquon, they believe their ideas are worth pursuing—now, and years from now.
Teachers work tirelessly to create an atmosphere where inquiry flourishes and respectful discourse is encouraged. That kind of intellectual risk-taking requires a safe platform. Our staff is constantly working to create safe space for ethnic, religious, cultural, and gender differences in our students and our community. At the February in-service, teachers participated in a gender expression and identity workshop—presented by the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia. The workshop shed light on societal perception and perspective, as well as the struggles some children may face when dealing with gender questions at a very young age. Recently, several of us also attended a conference featuring University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Howard Stevenson, who shared his research on developing racial competence to better navigate stressful situations and build confidence and efficacy. These professional pursuits help us see our blind spots, as we strive to stretch ourselves and our classrooms, to ensure that each child is seen and celebrated and that all Miquon children come to know the value of their beautiful, unique identities.
I am proud that, as a school, Miquon’s identity is as strong as it is unique. The clarity of our practices and purpose will usher in a healthy transformation as we welcome a new leader. Each time a child flashes me a proud gap-filled grin—challenging me to notice the new loss of a baby tooth—I am reminded that change is not only necessary but also exciting. It is a wonderful moment for Miquon and the children we love who bring our community to life.