A Visit to St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju
Message from the headmaster
This morning I visited Chapel in South Church, as I try to do once a week, with our 9th graders, soon to be 10th graders. It was a typically various start to the morning; we had announcements from Student Body President Rory Higgs, then I recognized the “CTE Students of the Quarter,” those career and technical education students identified by their teachers to receive special accolades.
Then 9th grader Emma Putnam read (beautifully) an original poem, an intense implication of women’s history into her own life and knowledge of her growing identity. Her classmates gave her a standing ovation.
Chapel always comprises a diverse mixture of voices, and rings with the many different pursuits, achievements and interests our students and faculty bring to the table. As a way to start the day, it is pretty extraordinary.
Before dismissing faculty and students into their days, I told them that I am leaving tomorrow for Jeju, South Korea–and paused to ask them if they knew why I might be going there. One student raised his hand and asked tentatively “Do we have another school there?”
Indeed, we do.
Students (and a few newer faculty members) listened in some surprise as I described St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju, which was opened in 2017 on an island sometimes called “the Hawaii of Korea,” as part of a “Global Education City” which currently also includes companion boarding schools from the US, Britain, and Canada.
It is a little uncanny to see this version of St. Johnsbury Academy in another country–it can seem to be in an alternate universe. SJA Jeju was conceived and operates independently on the model of SJA in Vermont, with the same mission and Three Promises, the same “Hilltopper” identity, the same ethos and mottos, including “Character, Inquiry, Community,” emblazoned across the edifice of their glass and steel performing arts center. Besides the architecture, the biggest difference between our schools is the fact that Jeju serves students K-12, so there are elementary school and middle school divisions in addition to the high school. But otherwise, the school’s goals for academics, character, and community life are the same.
This spring semester, we are hosting five students from SJA Jeju, and being in the United States and part of our community is opening their worlds and ours in wonderful ways. I am hopeful that with good efforts to connect and collaborate with this amazing companion school, we can engage substantively in robust exchange for the sake of our Vermont students as well. I’ll be meeting with school leaders, students, and teachers, and observing the daily life of the school, and I am so eager to see what it’s like.
I’ll be traveling with Jeju Board members and staff including Jack Cummings, who has been there around ten times, and SJA Board member Bruce Buxton; and also Academy alum and Johns Hopkins Lecturer and South Korean business consultant and the SJA Jeju Board chair, Kelly Hur ‘02.
There is so much possibility in this relationship–to broaden our educational and cultural reach and expand the impact of an SJA experience for students. Associate Headmaster John Lenzini has begun chairing a joint committee of our faculty and staff with administrators and teachers from Jeju, and they will be both thinking about the potential for connection and about concrete ways we can make that connection happen.
So as I finished explaining St. Johnsbury Academy Jeju to our 9th Grade Class, I could see them mulling over what this could mean to them, and somewhere in that audience, there were very likely students who will spend a semester on Jeju Island in South Korea at SJA Jeju. I can’t wait to see who those students will be and what we can make possible for them as their journeys unfold.
Dr. Sharon L. Howell