On June 3, the high school gathered in the School Center for what, in years past, has been the departmental awards ceremony; instead, the audience witnessed the first iteration of a Celebration of Learning.
In the assembly, a video was shown with pictures of students in different learning environments throughout the school year. Following that, Student Council President Celia Mitchell (’15) and High School Principal Jack Phillips took turns delivering a speech, citing examples of times throughout the school year when students succeeded in learning.
Then selected student representatives from different subcommunities within the school took to the stage to share moments of learning they appreciated during the year. The student representatives then encouraged others in the audience to do the same in an “Open Mic” session. Upon the conclusion of the open mic, note cards were handed out to the audience, and they were asked to share a hope for the next school year with regards to learning. These messages were then read out by members of StuCo as well as Phillips and various teachers involved in the planning of the celebration.
Phillips, who played a large role in devising the celebration, called the meeting a success. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was a success. It wasn’t perfect because we discussed it as a draft,” he said. “It was a success in that we shifted the emphasis from individual awards to really a recognition of learning for its own sake and that happens in lots of different ways.”
The meeting elicited a largely negative reaction from the student body, though. In a survey of 188 High School students, more than 60 percent felt that the Celebration of Learning was unsuccessful. Additionally, more than 78 percent of the same students would support a decision to reinstate the departmental awards.
Fox Abrahams (’16), one of the students who did not feel the celebration was successful, questioned the logic behind the meeting. “I think once you give everyone an award, then it becomes less special. If I receive an award when only one other person does, I feel on top of the world; if I receive an award when everyone else does, it just becomes pointless – when everyone is unique, no one is,” he said.
The original goal of the assembly was to include every member of the community and to honor a shared learning experience, as opposed to the previous departmental awards which focused on individual students’ successes.
Once the decision for change was made, a committee was assembled comprised of teachers and students who volunteered their time to plan the celebration with the aim of making a more inclusive and holistic ceremony.
Science Department Head Bill Kenney, who was part of the organizational committee for the celebration, described a “groundswell of support” for the change to the departmental awards.
Phillips also noticed a call for change. “The genesis of this was that, overwhelmingly, the faculty wanted change in departmental awards. It felt like it wasn’t aligned with what we really wanted education to be,” he said.
Zoe Barnes (’15) believes that this view is misguided. “I think departmental awards would have been better because, even though there are many people who don’t get awards, we should be able to recognize our peers’ efforts as well as our own,” she said. “We should be able to acknowledge that there are students in the high school that go above and beyond in some classes.”
For some, like Student Council representative Ariadne Papamarkakis (’17), the informal setting of the meeting undermined the message. “I think the Celebration of Learning was fine, but I still would have liked a more formal ceremony,” she said.
Kenney reiterated Phillips’ point that the Celebration of Learning is a work in progress. “I think it was a good first step, it wasn’t entirely successful, there were some things I would’ve liked to have seen go a little differently,” he said.
While Kenney remains supportive of the celebration, he is open-minded about future change. “If everybody suddenly wanted to reinstate the awards ceremony, then I’d support it,” he said.
Sarah Dolan (’14) would welcome a reversion to the old setup. “I didn’t see the point of it [Celebration of Learning],” she said. “The point of the awards ceremony is to acknowledge those who achieved excellence in a certain department or departments.”
Regardless of the negative feedback from students, Phillips continues to support the celebration as opposed to the departmental awards. “I understand that change is hard … [The mission of the Celebration of Learning is] we want everyone walking away feeling proud, feeling like they’re part of the community, and, in an ideal world, inspired,” Phillips said.