Malcolm Lester greeting students at NPS

At the most recent NPS Board of Trustees meeting, NPC Senior Pastor Dr. David Renwick was a featured guest. Dr. Renwick has many touchpoints with the school on a regular basis and will speak at the January 11 NPS Parents Association meeting.

He typically speaks to the Board once or twice to year, providing updates about what is happening at NPC and sharing thoughts on the important school-church connection. (I will note that Dr. Renwick is married to an elementary school librarian and one of his three children is an elementary school teacher, so the educational arena is quite familiar to him!)

At this Board meeting, in speaking about his congregation and his vision for the school-church relationship, Dr. Renwick said a few things that resonated with me and others.

"The pursuit of rootedness is prevalent in our society," he said. "People are searching for a sense of family and a sense of connection. People are hungering for it. How do we connect? There are certain things that the school can give families and that the church can give them, things that they may not be able to find elsewhere. Families that look at the school for their children may come in with the question of 'Who will embrace me and my child and keep them safe?'"

Family. Connection. Rootedness. While hard to define—and hard to achieve—I don't think there is anyone who would disagree that these are tenets that are at the heart of an NPS education and the NPS community. We hear time and again, from families looking at the school and those enrolled at NPS, that that is what draws people—parents and children—to NPS, and keeps them at the school, happily, for many years. It was helpful to be reminded of that from our campus's Senior Pastor.

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Two days after that Board meeting, the topic of connection, community, and belonging was at the heart of a conference I attended with seven colleagues from NPS. We traveled to Nashville for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual People of Color Conference. We were among 6,400 educators and high school students who gathered to explore the theme of "Equitable Schools and Inclusive Communities: Harmony, Discord, and the Notes in Between."

It was the third time I had attended POCC, a diverse gathering of teachers, administrators, and students from all backgrounds imaginable. The other times I had participated in the conference, I was the sole attendee from my school (I attended once each at the previous two schools at which I worked). Being at the conference itself is a transformative professional development experience, but to be there as part of a cohort of eight faculty members from NPS—homeroom teachers, specialists, and teaching associates, representing both the Upper and Lower Division and a variety of grades—was powerful.

After attending sessions focused on teaching and learning, student support, governance, parent-teacher partnerships, and many other topics, each of us left the conference with numerous takeaways, all focused on ensuring that we maintain and even strengthen the NPS mission of being a "loving and inclusive community."

A highlight for me was having a front row seat to hear keynote speaker Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund. I took feverish notes, and here are some of the comments of hers that stuck with me:

  • "Teachers, after parents, can be the most important influencers on children. Teaching is much more than a job. It is a calling, the highest calling one could endeavor. And as child advocates, we must always be ready when God gives us an opportunity."
     
  • "Your most important role as educators is in instilling a moral framework for the students in your schools."
     
  • "Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving the community and world better than you found it."
     
  • "You really can change the world if you care enough. You are not obligated to win. You are obligated to do the best you can every day."
     
  • "You cannot fool a child; they know when they are valued."

All of us at NPS—parents, students, administrators, teachers—are beneficiaries of this school that not only "talks the talk" but also "walks the walk." And it does so by having such talented and committed educators who do value children so highly. By doing so, they are "changing the world"—and helping their students grow into young men and women who will do the same later in life.

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Working in an elementary school, you have moments each day when you simply have to laugh. Frequently, our laughter originates from the delightful children around us.

To appreciate what made me laugh in this instance, let me back up: two years ago, during one of my first weeks at NPS, a student walked in with his siblings when I was out front greeting. He was finishing his breakfast as he walked down the steps, gleefully savoring the last few bites of a muffin. Something stuck with me about the smile on the young man's face, his good-natured attempt to say hello while chewing with his mouth closed, and my recognition as a parent of "breakfast on the go."

The next time I greeted, I asked "Do you have any muffins for me?" when this student walked in, resulting in a wide grin from him and giggles from his siblings. Over two and a half school years, there have been other mornings when the student wrapped up breakfast upon arriving at school. And there were even days, a few, when muffins were on the menu. On most days, there was no food, but that did not prevent me for asking for muffins….day after day after day. The answer, of course, whenever I have asked, "You have any muffins for me?," has always been "No!," followed by a laugh, sometimes from both of us.

Earlier this month, as Mr. Nolan opened the car door to let this student out and he began to walk down the stairs, I asked the now-predictable question "You have any muffins for me?" for perhaps the 150th time. Much to my surprise, the student said "Yes!" and pulled out a zip lock bag he had been hiding behind his back and handed it to me. Inside, three warm blueberry muffins, made especially for me.

Upon hearing "Yes!" and seeing the proof, I started laughing and didn't stop, to the point where Mr. Nolan grew concerned for me. When I told him the back story—going back all the way to 2016—Mr. Nolan agreed it was a fine narrative… and then suggested that perhaps I should ask for more items when students walk in to school each day.

It was a priceless moment. To this student, and all of the other students at NPS: thank you for blessing us with the gift of laughter.

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