My days at Benchmark begin with a front row witness of our children’s entry into their schoolhouse. Through this ritual I have come to see that each child has a unique “signature” as they take these first steps across the bridge from home to school.
There’s thirteen-year-old Lilly, always a little grumpy, who grudgingly pauses to allow me to ask her how she imagines her day will unfold. She manufactures an intentionally neutral response—an authentic adolescent reticence to be forced to reveal that her school is a place of predictable comfort for her.
There’s seven-year-old Otto, always the first off his bus, who rumbles toward me, bubbling with a story that begins with his bus driver and continues with me, a lovely stream of consciousness. The plot line really doesn’t matter. The message is clear: Otto’s life flows easily into his school.
There’s eleven-year-old Raine whose quiet reserve precedes our handshake. I work to match her cautious way. For if I do, I have learned that she’ll reveal a gentle smile. I know her well enough now—several months in—that she is gearing up to apply her well of determination to her learning. She brings purpose to her day.
And then there’s seven-year-old Micah, dear Micah. Unlike most others who descend from car to sidewalk on their own, I know to open his car door. You see, Micah is a contemplative sort whose pace matches this marker of his identity. At age seven, an “old soul.”
“Hello, Dr. Wales,” he responds with a philosophic tone. I don’t correct him with regard to my level of education (I don’t have a Ph.D.) because I don’t wish to interrupt his reverie.
“It’s a little cold today. Do you want to put on your coat?”
“Yes, I think that’s a good idea,” he responds as he climbs down to the curb. “I don’t want to get too chilly.”
We work together to get his jacket zipped and his backpack—nearly as big as he is—strapped on.
“I love you, Micah,” says Mom.
“I love you, too,” he responds over his shoulder. He’s on his way.
He knows, his Mom knows, and I know that his day will be full of wonder.
Each child’s pattern is uniquely theirs. It’s a reflection that I benefit from witnessing each day since it serves to confirm that we are walking our talk.
If our mission is in fact being met, a child’s nature should be present at the start, at the school door. That would be our hope for it reveals that we are a safe space, where a protected posture is not required.
It is our responsibility, as parents, teachers, and staff, to make and sustain the atmospheric conditions where our guard is down—our children’s and our own. It is in this state of “full reveal” that a child’s mind, heart, and hands will capture the full benefit of a central truth: lasting learning is an absorbed experience, not manufactured or forced.
Benchmark is a place where curiosity and relationship mesh to make the mixed feelings that often attach to “school” melt away into the best definition of education: an experience where, again and again, a child is able to apply their full, unadorned self to the joy of discovery and gain the earned satisfaction of accomplishment.
I am grateful for the privilege to be in this remarkable school.
Interim Head of School