School NewsAug 31, 2020

updated Jul 20, 2021

Starting the new school year — together

Head of School Julia Heaton offers some thoughts on what it’s like to start school at this moment in history and how we can move forward together

Remarks by Head of School Julia Heaton at the start of the School’s 123rd academic year — August 31, 2020.

This is a new year for all of us. None of us have done this before. We are all beginners today.

School President Hannah Holt ’21 and Vice President Chelsea Canal ’21 are your elected school leaders, strong and confident and compassionate leaders who care deeply about MHS. But they have never been school leaders during a pandemic, never conducted Student Council meetings via Zoom, and never led Community Meetings from their living rooms and bedrooms at home — and the previous leaders never did either!

The Proctors have been training all weekend about how to support and guide the student body this year. The Bigs have been getting ready to welcome new students and help them understand our community values and expectations. But, even with all of their training, these students don’t have all the answers; in fact, they probably have a lot of their own questions, too.

I know that this year is different from what we would have wished for. The world is different from what we would have wished for. I choose to be hopeful about the year ahead, and the change we can make together.

Head of School

The MHS faculty and staff are the most dedicated, compassionate, and skilled educators I know. They are committed to making sure that every student feels that "Miss Hall’s Magic," that every student has a meaningful, innovative, equitable, joyful, and connected experience. The adults at MHS are incredibly talented, all experts in their fields, but this year is all new for them, too. They have been working all summer to reimagine every aspect of school — from schedule and curriculum, to health checks and new safety protocols, to how we move about the building, where we eat our meals, and how we honor our most important school traditions.

This is a new year for all of us. None of us have done this before. We are all beginners today.

I am a beginner today, too. This is my 23rd year in education, my 7th year as Head of School, but I have never led a school during a global pandemic and never experienced a year like this. I have spent almost every minute of my life in schools — first as a student, then as teacher, administrator, parent, Trustee, and Head. I have grown accustomed to the rhythms of the school year, the ups and downs of each season, the familiar sights and sounds and routines. This year, the rhythms and routines will be different from before, different from what we might wish them to be. I wish a lot of things, and I bet you do, too.

I wish that the world was not in a global pandemic, that so many people were not suffering, that every single person in the world had access to adequate, quality health care. I wish that travel restrictions were lifted, that the global community could unite across borders rather than build walls. I wish that in the U.S. our laws protected everyone equally, that we would see an end to violence against Black people and people of color and a new era of social justice. I wish I could do the things that I enjoy most, that you could do the things you enjoy most, without worry about my health or the health of others. I wish we could all be together in person today in Centennial Hall, greeting each other with hugs and handshakes and high fives. I wish that Zoom would let us sing in unison, without it sounding like garbage, because singing Happy Birthday is a big deal at Miss Hall’s. (New students, you will learn this soon.) Most of all, I wish that I could make this year perfect for you. I will do my best.

Some of our community expressing joy during one of our first all-school meetings of the 2020–2021 school year

I know that this year is different from what we would have wished for. The world is different from what we would have wished for. I choose to be hopeful about the year ahead, and the change we can make together.

So I am going to share some of my hopes for Miss Hall’s new year, 2020-21:

  • I hope we can be patient. We are all beginners, and beginners need to ask a lot of questions. There will be more than a few mistakes as we all learn the ropes. Let’s give everyone a little bit of grace and space, as we all figure things out.
  • I hope we can be present. There will be many things that distract us, concern us or pull us away from life at MHS. When we are in class, in a community meeting, in a hard conversation — let’s give each other full and true attention — it is a powerful gift.
  • I hope we can be bold. It would be natural to approach this year cautiously, to stick to what we know. In terms of health and safety, I want you all to be careful, of course. But, in areas of learning, intellectual risk, curiosity, and advocacy, I hope you will be bold and creative, as our mission says. In a year where everything is different, why not experiment, try something new, and share your authentic voice? “Show them who you are.”
  • I hope we can be together… in spirit. There will be many barriers that keep us physically apart this year, but that does not mean we are not a community. Now, more than ever, we need to unite around our core values — respect, honor, authenticity, and growth. We are all beginners, and we are in it together. We will help each other, share the load, maybe even share a laugh. This community has proven again and again that if we work together, we can emerge stronger together.
  • Finally, I hope we can be grateful. There will be moments when we feel disappointed, confused, angry, or scared, when things are just hard. Let’s be real — there are going to be parts of this year that are just going to stink. But, in these moments, there will also be someone at MHS who cares deeply about you, who believes in you, who would do just about anything to share the load and make things stink a little bit less. Let’s be grateful for the people who love us and have our back, no matter what. Let’s say thank you, often. In fact, let’s start right now. “Thank you.” If you want to say thank you to someone in the chat, please do so. Say it in your own language, in any way you like.

Hope is a powerful thing. In the words of poet and activist Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Another better world is on her way. And, we will make it so, together.

Welcome to the new year!