By Kerin Hughes, Head of School at Palisades Episcopal School
As the head of school for Palisades Episcopal School (PES) since its inception in 2007, I have a vested interest in providing and promoting joy in learning and in life. I’ve experienced two truths in my 18+ years as an administrator, educator, and parent of twins — happy students learn best and happy parents parent better, and though we’ve found ourselves in a pandemic that has lasted most of the year, I’ve realized that joy is actually still all around us. Now more than ever, children and parents alike are needing new opportunities for joyful connectivity, and one focus that has worked well not only for our school’s community but also for my own children who are now college freshman is this – explore new ways to find joy by reconnecting our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Regardless of whether your children are learning virtually, on campus, or both, helping them find their joy is essential to supporting their academic curiosity and instilling a love of learning that lasts a lifetime. Easy ways to support joyful learning is regular parent interest and engagement. Asking specific questions at dinnertime about daily lessons or topics or planning virtual or socially-safe field trips are simple ways to engage students’ minds and reconnect with family at the same time. Other ideas include taking virtual vacations together, like visiting a National Park online. Even though PES students are fortunate to be learning on campus this year, we have had to be creative in how we support joyful learning by providing more outdoor class time, project-based activities that allow for safely-distanced peer communication and collaboration, and a mix of virtual, on-campus, and outdoor field trips with hands-on learning experiences. I’ve learned that children seek out joy even in the most unexpected times and circumstances, and sometimes simply recognizing and acknowledging their joy is enough to not only sustain it but encourage it to spread.
Being mindful parents also involves more than just exercising your brain and embracing or supporting learning. Mindfulness requires a recipe of intuition, empathy, awareness, and acceptance – not only of each other, but also of our circumstances and our potential hidden rainbows.
Current times have certainly caused most of us to see routines disrupted and activities and sports cancelled. However, the shift from some of the more traditional physical activities have allowed new opportunities to surface, pushing children and adults to explore new experiences we might not have considered before. For example, at PES, we have replaced traditional contact sports such as basketball and volleyball with non-contact sports like golf and cross country, as well as continued to offer equestrian. Not only are children able to get the much-needed physical exercise by participating in these varied activities, but they are able to stretch their mental muscles by learning a new sport or skill they might not have attempted before. This year alone, our school had a new golfer score a birdie her first season of playing, a novice cross country runner time his mile runs at under 8 minutes, and a first-year equestrian rider win first place at her first show. Greatness often grows from adversity and change.
Supporting physical health need not be limited to organized athletics. In the past six months, I’ve witnessed families and pets taking walks together, children playing on cul-de-sacs instead of computers until the street lights come on, and a variety of virtual fitness classes from yoga, boot camp, Pilates, ballet inspired-barre, boxing, and dance cardio just to name a few. I’ve seen families turn their yards into obstacle courses and scavenger hunt challenges, and children as young as three learn to ride a bike. And in the midst of all this learning and trying of new things together, I see parents smiling, children celebrating new triumphs, and neighbors reconnecting. In short, I see joy.
Spiritual connection has always been a key part of our school’s mission and curriculum. Our school has continued to offer weekly (now virtual) chapels to connect our students, parents, and grandparents, and I’ve seen many church families everywhere offering similar services and support. I’ve also witnessed a surge in spiritual connections and goodwill that surpasses pre-pandemic times. Never before have I seen more people paying it forward to their neighbors than I have during COVID times. From overwhelming book donations to the free community library box; yard signs expressing gratitude, celebration, and pride; artistic sidewalk love notes on driveways and at schools; inspirational painted rock messages left randomly around the community; costume-clad children parading and waving joyfully (safely distanced, of course) outside the resident windows of nursing homes; birthday and graduation car parades; and worldwide zoom sing-alongs and parties — joy truly has been present around every corner and opportunities to receive it and pass it on to others are limitless and often free.
Despite the pandemic, with a little bit of perception, patience, and perseverance, we can all reconnect our minds, bodies, and spirits by recognizing that joy is more contagious than COVID. My hope for you is that you seek it out, embrace it, and share it – every chance you get!
For more information about PES or to schedule a tour, visit us at pescharlotte.org. For more information about our events, our school, equestrian program, performing arts, or athletics, visit us at pescharlotte.org.