Shady Hill and the Spirit of the Season

Mark Stanek, Head of School
In a world consumed with self-fulfillment, it is natural to worry about how well our efforts to raise kind, caring children will fare. The heartening news is that caring and empathy are skills that can be taught, developed, and strengthened, and we are doing so at Shady Hill. 
In their recent article How to Raise a Child Who Cares, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson share research and advice for parents. The good news is that empathy and caring can be learned, even by children who seemingly do not exhibit these qualities. Siegel and Bryson state, “In young children, the part of the brain responsible for empathy is particularly undeveloped.” Although children may at times act selfishly or be self-absorbed, they can be influenced through conversation and by the example that adults set.
At Shady Hill, I am struck by the many ways that faculty foster the skills of kindness, respect, and empathy. From the themes and songs in assemblies, to the literature they read, to their class discussions about different perspectives, students in every grade are asked to step into the shoes of others. In a project earlier this fall, Grade VI students and their teacher, Gradehead Aneesa Sen, contemplated how to improve people’s lives during hot summer days. Using inexpensive materials, creativity, and collaboration, students designed “eco-coolers” to cool a room without electricity. Using soda bottles, they increased the cooling effect of air entering a room. This is one of many examples where students are asked to consider the needs of others and problem-solve to create elegant, unique solutions.

As we go about our errands this holiday and celebrate with family members, let’s also find ways to offer relief to those facing hardship. As Siegel and Bryson write, “empathy reminds us that each person is not only a ‘me’ but also part of an interconnected ‘we.’ Recognizing this connection helps produce an integrated self—a self that, in the process of caring for others, creates a life of meaning, connection, and belonging.”
Shady Hill fosters this important connection. Each year in our annual graduate surveys, high schoolers cite the creativity, imagination, teamwork, kindness, and respect for others that they learned here as the qualities they value most from their education. I am proud that our students are both academically prepared and possess the skills and convictions necessary to be caring human beings.
Wishing you and your family a peaceful, restful holiday season. I look forward to seeing you in the New Year!


Mark Stanek
Head of School
617.520.5260        178 Coolidge Hill    Cambridge MA 02138