From the moment that I first stepped into a classroom as a teacher, I have had the privilege to continually watch students transform in the independent boarding and day school environments. This past year has been unique and hard for many, however, I am honored to say that it has given me the opportunity to see our community rise up and show an incredible amount of flexibility, creativity, and compassion.
On December 11, 2020, we ended our first semester of in-person learning in the midst of a global pandemic. I couldn't be more proud of our community - students, families, faculty, staff - for all that they have done to get us to this point.
Diligence, Flexibility, and Belief
From March, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that we had a plan and that we followed to ensure that our community remains as healthy, happy, and safe as possible. It has been stressful at times, but it has also been successful. We have demonstrated that with diligence, flexibility, and a belief in science that we can do this. We opened safely in September and then were able to stay open because of the commitment and dedication to our protocols by our students, employees, and families.
Maine continues to be one of the safest places in the United States. While our COVID-19 rates have gone up, they remain at one of the lowest levels in the United States. In addition, Maine is and will continue to be one of the safest states in the country to live in.
A Creative Approach to the Student Experience
Perhaps what I am most proud of is how our faculty and staff have not only made it through COVID-19 but have made our school stronger. Academically, despite all the changes and guidelines, we have continued to grow our 4D academic curriculum. This year, we added Project Based Learning units to each course after doing an initial professional development workshop in August. Additionally, in the spring, we thought it would be impossible to deliver “hybrid” learning to students both on and off-campus, but our teachers were able to successfully accomplish this and best meet the needs of all of our students, whether on campus or remote. It wasn’t easy, but my weekly conversations with our students from China indicated that their experience was very positive (despite going to school late into the night).
Outside of the classroom, we have expanded our club and leadership offerings as well as improving our weekend activities. We have over 30 clubs for students to participate in. Some are traditional, like Student Council, Peer Advisors, School Newspaper, and Dorm Proctors, while others like the S.L.O.T.H (Slow Listening on the Hill) Zoom Radio Show, Model UN and Debate, Community Wood-Fired Oven, eSports, and Female Fitness Club, reflect what students are interested in and care about. Hammockville, the Adirondack Village, and tents across campus were also popular places for students to hang out and be together. When students wanted to be active outdoors on our 400-acre campus they had opportunities to access close to 20 miles of trails and an amazing private waterfront on Lovejoy Pond.
Compassion and Belonging
Maybe most importantly, we have strengthened our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Belonging. All of our faculty and staff participated in multiple professional development workshops prior to the start of the academic year, and we recently engaged a consulting firm to conduct a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Climate Assessment. This will help us both assess where we are and where we need to go in terms of becoming an anti-racist school. The launch of the PEAK (Principles, Ethics, and Action at Kents Hill) program also allowed our students and faculty to engage with challenging issues and topics. This fall, we focused on the election and how we could better listen and engage with those who do not share our views. I believe that these important initiatives are essential aspects of a 21st Century education and are things that Kents Hill values as we seek to provide a transformative educational experience for our students. At Kents Hill, we know that “one person of principle can always make a difference.” This has and always will be true.
In closing, I couldn’t be more proud to be the Head of School at Kents Hill School. This is a school that values each student and their personal journey and emphasizes personal connections between and amongst faculty, students, staff, and families. This is what makes Kents Hill a special community and one that whether during COVID-19 or beyond, is always #strongertogether.
I hope that you enjoy your introduction to our community, whether it be virtual or in-person. I am confident that there is a place just for you here on The Hill.
Christopher S. Cheney
Head of School