Update to Academy Families — August 20, 2022
Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,
Welcome and welcome back to the St. Johnsbury Academy community for the 2022-2023 school year, after what we hope was a relaxing and nourishing summer break. Throughout the summer our campus has been humming with activity—adventure camps, youth sports, the AP Summer Institute for teachers—and our Administrative team has been here busily planning for the year. We know your families have been similarly busy with travel, jobs, internships, and other summer activities.
It wasn’t until over 100 returning student leaders (nominated by our faculty members to attend) gathered on campus last weekend for the inaugural “HILLS” Student Leadership Summit, and spread out across campus in the warm evenings to talk and think together about how to be leaders in our community, we all felt how keenly we had missed these wonderful students. As our new Assistant Headmaster for Academic and Student Life, Binaca Hanson, told a gathering of new families last night, “When you return, our purpose returns.”
Over the last day or so, students from around the world have been arriving here in St. Johnsbury. These students, from across the United States, Japan, China, Mexico, Germany, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Ukraine, and many other places—around 25 different countries in all—are being welcomed warmly by faculty, staff, and returning dorm students who are overjoyed to see them. We often remark on how brave our international students and their families are—students coming so far to be part of our community, and parents sharing their precious kids with us. But truthfully, we feel this gratitude for the extraordinary trust every one of our families—whether from down the street or across the world—has placed in us.
This past week we also welcomed our faculty and staff back to campus, and plunged into what feels like a refreshingly normal series of preparations for starting the year. We have talked about some of our priorities for the year and how we can achieve them, including mental health and wellness, helping each student feel they belong here, building a strong sense of community, and seizing the opportunities we have to reestablish connections with one another now that we are able to resume gathering. Important traditions such as Chapel will be critical to building that sense of common purpose and care, as students arrive each morning at 7:50 a.m. to check in with their advisors, make sure they are ready for the day, and hear a common message or have a common experience of music, art, or performance before heading off to their classes and activities.
Most important to us this year will be making sure that we are looking up, making eye contact, making connections and listening and talking with each other in ways that promote understanding. We are hoping that while you can expect we will be taking care to encourage this attention and focus from your students, we can count on you helping us to make sure they are here every day, on time, in dress code, and ready for the day. We love and believe in your students—these young people who have so much opportunity to grow, learn, and develop during this time in their lives–and it is our primary goal to know each of them and support them on their journey, whether that is toward a selective university, a trade, an art, or another unique adventure. Part of that support is the strong partnership between families and our teachers, advisors, and other adults who work with your students—we all want them to be healthy, aware, engaged, and achieving their goals; and they are many times more likely to do that if we are working together. We have a few new ways that we want to promote this partnership and make sure it is genuine and strong, and we will share those in the coming days as we begin our year.
We talk a lot about how special this community is, and I can tell you that it is not bluster, it is real. When we say we’re a community that values kindness and respect for all, seeking first to understand, loving those most who need it most, and facing the world and making it better—we are serious and committed to those things being true.
Next week our orientations begin for new 9th graders (Monday, August 22nd), ALL new students, including 9th graders (Tuesday, August 23rd), and then the whole student body (Wednesday, August 24th), leading up to the first day of classes on Thursday, August 25th. Dress for orientations is casual but appropriate attire that allows for movement: shorts and polo shirts or t-shirts with sneakers; no spandex/yoga pants, short shorts or clothing with holes. Orientation schedules are attached to this note, as is other student life information such as our school day dress code and attendance policy. We will hold a forum for families on campus the week of August 29th, so please stay tuned for more details about that.
Finally, know that we remain committed to the safety and health of our community above all, and that we continue to attend to public health guidance around COVID. Right now, the Vermont Agency of Education and Department of Health do not have requirements, but do have recommendations for all schools that include familiar things such as staying home when sick, washing hands, and wearing a mask if you are immunocompromised. Our Faculty and Staff remain required to be vaccinated. We will monitor that guidance carefully, and communicate with you if there is any change in what looks to be a good trajectory in our area.
Thank you all, as ever, for your trust, your help and your support. Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out to us via email or phone (802-748-8171) if and when you have questions or thoughts.
Dr. Sharon Howell