Lower School Director

Joel Hawes

As the current school year unfolded, Amy Smucker and I reviewed the Spring 2017 Independent School Management (ISM) Parent Survey with the Lower School faculty. While we understandably have areas in which to grow and concentrate, we were, overall, quite pleased with last year’s survey results. The highest Lower School rating was a 4.86 average score (out of a possible 5.00 high) for “faculty care and concern for my child”, while “my child’s satisfaction and enthusiasm” was a close second with a score of 4.71 (out of 5.00). I’m grateful to be part of this caring community!

And on that note, it’s a pleasure composing a 1791 Letter based on a sense of gratefulness, as on any typical school day, that’s the most common feeling that comes my way. I am grateful for my position as Lower School Director and part-time science teacher; I am grateful for working with an amazing group of faculty and staff; and I am grateful for the dedicated and enthusiastic students and families that make up our Division.  

In fact, gratefulness crossed my mind as I taught two consecutive science classes on the day that I began this essay. I love being an administrator and a teacher. I gain so much from both ends of my job description. I respect the given challenges, yet truly appreciate the well-roundedness of my role. 

Berwick Academy is built on 225-plus years of tradition, but it is also an appropriately progressive school. As I taught these two consecutive third-grade science classes, I considered that point along with the following… The science classes were studying Berwick’s woods and trails as part of a combined science and social studies unit. Knowing that students typically acquire more from integrated learning than from isolated endeavors, I was grateful for the collaboration with the homeroom teachers around this particular unit.

These two weekly back-to-back third-grade science classes are 60 minutes in length, allowing us to take extended walks and make thorough investigations on the campus trails this fall, and as the year progresses, allowing us longer hands-on activities and experiments within the classroom. I am grateful for the flexible approach to student learning that is accomplished, in part, due to a Lower School schedule that allows for varied lengths of time needed to meet varied programmatic needs.

Both of the above-mentioned classes consisted of ten students. The one-to-ten teacher-student model helped us accomplish a great deal within those two particular classes. I was grateful for a grades two and three Flex Model approach that allows for a number of different (yes, flexible) approaches to the instructional day, including sectioning the third and second graders in grade-level Exploration classes in such small numbers.  

In these two particular classes, the students were divided up into three groups (two groups of three students and one group of four students). In order to accomplish three different activities within each class period, the students rotated between the activities within their groups. As I observed the varied interactions, I was grateful for our wellness classes and teachable moments, as they promote social-emotional growth and thus the foundation for students working in small groups such as this science class scenario.

The three activities (through which the students rotated) consisted of the following:  
  • An activity in which the students recreated the campus trails on our interactive (topographical map projection) sand table, which helped highlight the topo features of the trail system.  
  • An activity in which the students made meaningful use of distance data that we had gathered for the length of the various trails.  
  • An activity in which the students read about trees and studied various forest-related vocabulary.  

In reviewing the three activities, I am grateful for last year’s parent donation of the interactive sandbox that supported the first activity; the sense of comfort around numbers and math explorations that led to success within the second activity; and the reading and study skills that provided the foundation for the third activity.  

More than my appreciation for those particular classes or our well-rounded program, I am grateful that my colleagues, within their own respective job descriptions and within their own respective approaches, have the opportunity to experience their versions of gratefulness on a daily basis within the Lower School. This connectedness leads to students feeling cared for and to students feeling a sense of enthusiasm for their school, as pointed out by data points from last spring’s ISM survey.  

As we boldly combine 225-plus years of school tradition with 21st century instruction and learning approaches (within Curriculum 2020 approaches or otherwise) that grounding around sense of self and sense of enthusiasm serves as an appropriate program starting point. 

Serving Maine, The Seacoast of New Hampshire, and the North Shore of Massachusetts

Berwick Academy, situated on an 80-acre campus just over one hour north of Boston, serves 600 students, Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12, from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Deeply committed to its mission of promoting virtue and useful knowledge, Berwick Academy empowers students to be creative and bold. Berwick strives to graduate alumni who shape their own learning, take risks, ask thoughtful questions, and come to understand and celebrate their authentic selves.  Founded in 1791 and rooted in a tradition of college preparation, our culture of innovation prepares students for a complex and dynamic world.