Lower School Playground: Students Dream Big

An exciting addition is coming to the Lower School: a new playground! Studio Ludo, a well-respected landscape architecture firm with certified playground safety inspectors and vast experience designing play spaces, including those for school environments, has been engaged for this project. As Lower School Principal Karyn Payton notes, “One of the draws for hiring this firm was their practice of engaging teachers and students in the pre-design phase. Studio Ludo and their partners have worked with us to develop their understanding of our Lower School community and play culture, and of our hopes and dreams. They will use the information gathered to inform their proposed designs. Beyond the installation of new play equipment, we are looking for an outdoor play space that reflects our divisional commitment to whole-body health and learning. A space that facilitates and broadens our students’ opportunities for social, cognitive, sensory, and motor growth and development. A space that fosters individual choice, resilience, healthy risk-taking, deepening social interactions, and of course, play, play, play!” 

The folks at Studio Ludo have come to campus several times and have engaged faculty and students in pre-design activities (pictured below; top collage courtesy of Studio Ludo) to help in their understanding of our school culture and to capture the essence of play at Westtown. In the workshop for faculty, teachers recalled their favorite play memories from childhood, then they broke into small groups to gather a sense of what play means in this community. 

Students were asked to draw their ideal play space based on the prompt questions: What kind of adventures could you have here? If you build anything, what would it be? Then there was a design workshop in which each student built a 3D model of their ideal playground. You can enjoy their delightful ideas and imaginative creations here

The goal is for the playground to be ready by the opening of school in September 2024. Stay tuned to eCollections and other publications for updates on this exciting project! 

Shoemaker Visiting Lecturer: Patricia Park

We were honored to welcome author Patricia Park as our first Shoemaker Visiting Lecturer of the school year in September. Park is a tenured professor of Literature at American University, Fulbright scholar in Creative Arts, Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, and author of the debut young adult novel, Imposter Syndrome & Other Confessions of Alejandra Kim, which some students chose for their summer reading. She is also the author of the acclaimed adult novel, Re Jane, a Korean American reimagining of Brontë’s Jane Eyre named Editors’ Choice by The New York Times Book Review; Best Books of 2015 by American Library Association; O, The Oprah Magazine pick; NPR “Fresh Air” pick; and others. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Guardian, Salon, and others.

After an engaging lecture on Monday evening, Park had breakfast with some faculty members on Tuesday morning, then met with students to talk about the book, the writing process, identity, and imposter syndrome. She also met with students in the Asian Student Association and Multiracial Student Union. It was a wonderful visit and we were thrilled to host the Shoemaker Visiting Lecturer Series once again.

See our Community Section below for information about the next in our Shoemaker Visiting Lecturer series.

Independent School Access and Equity Conference and College Fair

More than 300 students and their families attended the Independent School Equity and Access Conference and College Fair. Since 2005, Westtown has hosted this biennial conference and college fair with a goal of creating space for substantive conversations with students and their families regarding issues of belonging, equity, access, inclusion, and allyship. The event had a variety of panel presentations, student-led discussions, and a college fair with almost 100 colleges represented. Thank you to Marje Ireland, Jay Farrow, our College Counseling team, guest panelists, and all who participated making this event such a success! And thanks, also, to student photographer Coco Chen ’25 who captured these images of this special day!

Lenape Elder John Thomas Visits Westtown

On Wednesday, October 11, Lenape Elder John Thomas of the Delaware Tribe of Indians visited Westtown School. This visit was a milestone in Westtown School’s work of healing and reconciliation with the Lenape. For thousands upon thousands of years, the Lenape people lived in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, as well as parts of New York and Delaware. While the Lenape to the North spoke a Lenape dialect called Munsee, the southern Lenape, including those who lived on what is now the school’s land, spoke Unami. The Lenape were driven off this land by European settlers in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds and experienced a series of eight forced removals between that time and the mid-1800s. As they became further removed from their homelands, other groups referred to the Lenape as the Delaware (in reference to their origins in the Delaware River Valley), and they eventually adopted Delaware nomenclature for themselves. While the Munsee-speaking Delaware ended up in Wisconsin and Ontario, the Unami-speakers settled in Oklahoma. 

Today, a number of different groups of people claim Lenape heritage, from communities in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario to communities in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. These communities have different types of recognition–some are recognized at the federal level, others at the state level, and still others are pushing for recognition as tribal entities. Following a process of discernment, Westtown School is primarily engaging with the federally recognized groups, beginning with the Delaware Tribe of Indians, which is based in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The Delaware Tribe of Indians is one of five federally recognized Lenape nations, which also include Delaware Nation (Oklahoma), Stockbridge-Munsee Community (Wisconsin), and in Ontario, Delaware Nation of Moraviantown and Munsee Delaware Nation. 

Elder John Thomas’ visit included assemblies for our fourth through eighth graders and our Upper School students. He spoke about the traditions and history of the Lenape people, including gender roles in a matrilineal society, Lenape emphasis on respecting the Earth, and Lenape customs around storytelling. He talked about his own upbringing, including the time he spent in a residential boarding school geared towards assimilating Indigenous children into mainstream U.S. society. With Upper School students, Elder John spoke passionately about some of his work with the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. He also discussed his current work on NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which focuses on the reburial of human remains that have been in the hands of museums, universities, and private collectors. He spoke, too, about current efforts in the Delaware Tribe to keep Lenape culture alive through teaching traditional language and crafts to Lenape youth. 

Five Indigenous Middle and Upper School students and one Indigenous faculty member joined Elder John for lunch. Elder John also met with Head of School Chris Benbow for conversation and a walk to the lake. On the way, Elder John pointed at a few tulip poplars and remarked, “I see you have a few canoes growing here!” He graciously received several gifts from community members, a few of which included letters from some Upper School English classes that are studying Indigenous literature, and a beautiful book of cyanotypes of native flora, created by Middle Schoolers and Middle School art teacher Marta Willgoose Salo. 

Elder John left campus emphasizing his delight and gratitude for the hospitality of the Westtown community. At Westtown, we are eager to continue building relationships with the descendants of the original inhabitants of the land.  ~Louisa Egan Brad, Dean of Equity, Justice, and Belonging