In my twenty five years in education, I never thought I would see the day when our country was at such unrest. In every corner of the world, there seems to be chaos. The health and well-being of our neighbors, along with the major shutdown of our country is a stark contrast to what it was this time last year.
In California, besides the highly publicized health pandemic, ongoing civic unrest and unsettling political climate, there are wildfires which have compromised the air quality and forced families from their homes, at times more than once. As a school, we have had to hold steady and be a source of strength to the families.
I can’t imagine being in any other teaching atmosphere than the Episcopal School. More than ever I often stand in moments of gratitude and get very quiet with myself. These moments help me to counter feelings of despair that can naturally occur throughout leadership. As I reflect I can see clearly that the core tenets of an Episcopal education are at play stronger than ever and I am thankful that I can lean on the principles of school worship, community life, religious formation and study, and social justice. These principles ground me in my work as a head of school and give me a path through which I lead our community.
The Episcopal Church motto is “All are welcome.” The church is accepting of all people. While going through a time like this there isn’t any us and them. The church is a great equalizer. When we have large groups of people in pain or anxious, the space feels like they are concerned for no matter who you are. School is a safe haven, but usually in language only and not in experience. The experience in Episcopal Schools is that it is soothing and is a huge refuge for those who feel alone.
The values of an Episcopal faith-based school—inclusion, critical thinking, informed action and tolerance for others—cultivates a space to reflect when challenging matters present themselves. The same values that our students hear about in weekly chapel are the very same ones that are studied in class and lived out every day. We take the time and space to reflect and our students have that capability. We don’t just keep going but ask, “how we can make change and impact others positively”? We set the course this way and we are able to be part of that change immediately, because our students have that skill-set in place.
By inviting cross cultural and interfaith learning, our students are taught the value of personal integrity and respect for all of humanity. And when supported and celebrated by the community at large (peers and adults), students feel empowered to try out new ideas, speak up, listen thoughtfully and pass kindness and respect forward.
We know that the Episcopal foundation supports our various school missions. However, it also affects policy and how we make decisions as a school. In these challenging times, I rely on this.
I feel grateful for the National Association of Episcopal Schools community of diversity practitioners, chaplains, and school heads. I also appreciate NAES leadership for creating a safe space for all of us to share and grieve and be thought partners in this work of leading schools.
As we all work to support our students in the creation of authentic lives of purpose, service and meaning, the Episcopal school foundation is a lifesaver. During one of the most difficult times in our history, the guidance, support, love and strength of our schools are needed now more than ever. I am eternally grateful I am here.
Khadija Addel Fredericks is Head of School at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Saratoga, CA.