Once all of our preparations for the school year were done and before kids returned, I delighted in taking what has become an annual week at my family’s house in the wilds of Southern Vermont. Though I sure cherish that week of disconnection, I was drawn back here on the final Friday of my week away for the closing ceremony of the New Hampshire Student Leadership Program – a watershed event on our campus that proved to be profoundly meaningful.
The New Hampshire Student Leadership Program emerged as an idea during a lunchtime conversation in Estabrook just last winter. A conversation during which we sat ruminating on a host of facts:
- too few kids have the chance to stay in the opportunity pipeline in New Hampshire;
- Brewster, as a private institution with roots in the broader Wolfeboro community, has a responsibility to act as an agent of change;
- too few public-private partnerships exist in service to pressing needs;
- we have under-exploited talents here that should be employed in broader service.
To Brewster’s credit, a conversation over sloppy joes in February led to a fully-fledged, extremely well-executed program this summer. In June, Brewster received a grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation to support the inaugural year and provide an additional challenge to encourage others to follow in their path. Led by our own Michelle Rafalowski and AK Walker, a well-respected counterpart from Seabrook Middle School on the seacoast, the program attracted, selected, and brought 18 promising rising 7th graders from our surrounding areas to campus for an expansive and effective week of self-awareness and leadership-based endeavors; their endeavors took them from our campus to the Brown Center at UNH, to the White Mountains, and back to campus in a whirlwind of activity. See photos from the 2018 Student Leadership Program.
Sitting in the back of the closing ceremony, I was moved in listening to student after student reveal impressive joy and self-awareness, gratitude and grace – and awed by the reality that they were 12 years old. I was moved in watching proud parents watch and cheer as their own children told their truths. I was moved watching Brewster graduates Greg Luber, Kelsey Hammond, and Zoe Rafalowski speak about their charges, for our graduates’ words showed that they were shaping their impressionable charges in ways akin to how they themselves were shaped as Brewster students: with care, and humor, and love, and honesty.
Just the other day, the same original lunch group gathered for another meal – just as we did last February. After going over the details of how this year’s cohort of New Hampshire Student Leaders would continue their work for three weekend visits back to Brewster and some mentoring in between by our very own Brewster students, we turned our attention to next summer. Questions abounded:
- How can we scale this program?
- Could we possibly build partnerships with other New Hampshire boarding schools and get them engaged?
- Could we ever get all nine other New Hampshire boarding schools involved over the next few years?
Our minds went farther afield: if this program proves potent in keeping promising students who might not otherwise have access to such resources in the opportunity pipeline, could we have started a pipeline to college for some of these kids? If we scale this program significantly, wouldn’t the world be all the better if the potentially hundreds of kids who could enter this program do so and ultimately find their way to college and lives of purpose beyond? Questions now--and as is typically the case at Brewster – answers to come. Stay tuned.