Headmaster's Blog

  • Notes from the Head of School
Reflections For The New Year
Dr. Steve Bellis

Recently I was given a copy of a booklet entitled, You, Me and Us, which was published by the Pembroke Hill Parents Association in 1986.  As I read this guide, written over 30 years ago, on how to successfully parent and support the social and emotional health of children, I was struck by how little the nature of growing up has changed.  I was equally impressed by how much the infusion of technology, media options and unfiltered information into the lives of our students has made a difficult task more challenging than ever. These circumstances make the healthy partnership between home and school, which was stressed by the booklet’s authors, grow in importance.

As we begin 2018, we find ourselves living in a world of change, conflict and uncertainty. In just the last several months, events in places like Charlottesville, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernadino, Southerland Springs, Charleston and others have put horrific scenes and troubling ideas in front of our students.  This fall, individual names like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer have done the same.  And, as if this national pain is not enough, we have experienced the local shootings in Olathe and at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.  It is unsurprising that our children feel the anxiety of our times.

In addition, information access through the television media and the internet allows students to explore an unprecedented range of ideas, often with little context or adult interpretation.  As our students learn to better understand who they are as individuals, wrestle with insecurities and identity, and tentatively grow into their best true selves, they are easily exposed to ideas about gender, race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship status and gender identity that may be harmful or even dangerous.  Social media (e.g. Snapchat) provides the opportunity to use these ideas quickly and broadly. Posts are easy to send, and their impact cannot be undone. The effect on an individual student, or on class dynamics, can be severe and lasting for both the sender and recipient. 

None of this is new or unique to Pembroke Hill.  This environment is why our school chooses to strongly emphasize our values of respect, compassion, scholarship and integrity. This environment is why programs like Core Values in Action on the Wornall campus and guest speakers and advisory discussions on the Ward Parkway campus are an essential component of our curriculum. This environment is why we now have three counselors leading comprehensive and integrated health and wellness programs. This environment is why a school like Pembroke Hill, with our deep relationships with students and close ties with their families, has never been more important.

We are committed to continuing to make our values a priority on a daily basis while augmenting that work with special programs.  I wish to share three of them with you.

Big Sonia - This extraordinary film about Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski (https://bigsonia.com/) will be shown to all middle and upper school students and faculty on Jan. 10.On Jan. 16, Mrs. Warshawski, joined by her daughter Regina Kort, will speak with them in person.

Dr. Natasha BurgertOn Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m., in Centennial Hall, the Parents Association will present Dr. Burgert’s talk, Raising Resilient Kids, Parenting in the Digital Age. This is a timely look at how families can support the wise and healthy use of technology. It will be followed by optional grade level parent discussions the next week.

Merritt Benz ’95 - Feb. 7, 8:15 a.m., Location TBD - Ms. Benz is a licensed clinical social worker. She is a certified Daring Way facilitator, which is based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown and focuses on shame resilience skills and developing daily practices that transform the way we live, love, parent and lead.  Ms. Benz led an effective and well-received parent discussion following the release of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why last year.  Her presentation will be followed by optional discussion groups at a later date.

In addition to these special opportunities there are several ways you can help your child grow in these areas:

  1. Talk to your child about these topics, especially exploring ways in which he or she can be a positive leader and bridge-builder among classmates and a friend who helps those in need. Dinner hour is a great time to gain an understanding of what students are learning in school in order to add your own perspective to the topic.
  2. Pay attention to the amount of time your child spends online, gaming and watching television, as well as to the content being consumed.
  3. Join your 280 fellow parents who have already participated in the highly successful Parents Association Dinner Circles.  As one participant wrote to me, “We came as strangers and left as friends.”  Widening your circle is a great thing to model for your children.
  4. Make sure your child, or you, inform a teacher, principal or me if something happens that is not consistent with our values.  It is our unwavering, and most important, goal that every student feels like this is his or her school and feels valued, respected and appreciated.  As a school, we have no tolerance for any activity that targets another student or makes him or her feel less a part of this community. Any and all instances are handled with the immediacy and seriousness the topic requires.

The principals, faculty and I look forward to continuing to make this school the best place for children that it can be.  Please let me know if you have any ideas, questions or concerns.  I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you directly.