COLLECTING HISTORY AS IT HAPPENS: ADDING YOUR STORY
The Esther Duke Archives at Westtown School is collecting personal stories documenting how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of all those in the Westtown School community – students and their families, faculty, staff, and alumni. Please add your voice now to history! This collection of stories will be a valuable resource to future students, historians, and scholars who will be interested in this extraordinary time.
Please share your story through writing, photographs, or audio or video recordings – either single accounts or compiled over time. Poetry or works of art are also ways to describe how your life has been reshaped by the pandemic, both practically and emotionally. Future historians will want to know how the pandemic impacted your daily life – your education, your professional work, and how your life has been affected by physical distance from Westtown, your community, extended family, and friends.
Families – particularly those with younger students – are encouraged to record their story as a family during the summer. Keep a family journal, create a photographic essay of one day, or record family members talking about what has changed during the pandemic.
Please visit this special page on the website for more information on how to participate in this project. If you have questions, please contact Mary Brooks, Archivist.
PARTNERSHIP WITH CHESTER COUNTY FOOD BANK
In this time of particularly high need, Westtown School has continued to support the Chester County Food Bank (CCFB) in its commitment to serving the hungry and food insecure in Chester County. The CCFB farms about five acres of the land that Pete Flynn of Pete’s Produce rents from Westtown, resulting in about 150,000 pounds of produce annually. Additionally, our own organic farm supplies produce for the CCFB.
With approval from Westtown’s COVID-19 team, food bank volunteers have been coming to the farm on campus property for the planting season and will return again in harvest season. All volunteers observe strict protocols put in place by the CCFB, including: volunteer screening; hand washing stations; mandatory face coverings; sanitizing tools between shifts; observing extra social distancing (more than six feet); and coming to the farm in groups of ten or less to do their work. We are thrilled to continue to partner with CCFB and support serving our community.
ENGAGING IN NONVIOLENT ACTION
By Marissa Colston, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion
I want to offer ways we can engage in nonviolent action as a community, in response to the violence of systemic racism that we have recently witnessed these past weeks. As a woman of color, I have been re-traumatized by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. I have felt despair and am still working through my own pain and anger at how black and brown lives are not valued or protected. I know I am not alone in these feelings and I want to offer suggestions in ways to heal and take action. Some of the suggestions will be for people of color and some will be for white people. The way in which this kind of violence affects people of color and white people are different and so require a different response.
For People of Color:
Find ways to rest and heal. As people of color, we can experience this violence very personally. It is critical to our healing that we take time to rest our bodies and minds. We hold stress in our bodies, and need to release that stress. Release can come from talking with loved ones, journaling, exercising, creating art, listening to music, meditation. Dedicate time on a regular basis for your resting and healing. Some resources I have found useful are the Nap Ministry, Blackness and Belonging, and the book My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem.
Find affinity spaces. When we experience trauma, we must remember the importance of grieving and moving through the pain. We can support each other at such times. Look for or create opportunities to be in community with your affinity group. Another message will come soon about opportunities to be in affinity space with Westtown colleagues in the coming days.
For White People:
Listen to people of color. When people of color share their experiences and truths with you, listen and believe them. This is the most important step to building allyship, and the only way white people can begin to dismantle white supremacist ways. White supremacy doesn’t allow people of color agency or voice over their own stories, lives, or bodies. You can help to change that by listening with humility and open-mindedness, and believing what people of color have to say.
Continue to educate yourself. If these recent events are shocking to you and you don’t understand that they are part of an ongoing, predictable pattern of violence against people of color, take the time to continue to educate yourself on the history of systemic racism in this country. There are many resources in our library as well as podcasts and films that can help. A shortlist of resources can be found here. If you have suggestions to add, please share so I can add them and the list can continue to be updated. I highly recommend the book Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi and the Film 13th on Netflix produced by Ava DuVernay.
Recognize and use your privilege. As white people, you have privileges that systemic racism has afforded you. Recognize this, and use your privilege to help dismantle systemic racism and work towards an anti-racist society. If you are able to, donate to the families of victims of racial violence. If you are involved in nonviolent protest stand in solidarity and follow the leadership of the black and brown bodies who are by your side. If you are in all-white spaces, speak the truth about racism and address bias and racist ideas that might emerge in conversations. Here are some resources to learn more about white privilege in your engagement as a white ally for racial justice.
Continue to engage in your white identity. Acknowledge your pain, guilt, or other feelings. These feelings are part of the journey. Don’t hide from them, but use them as opportunities to reflect and discuss with people you trust. Ultimately, your reflections will help you to build a healthy racial identity. Consider watching this TEDx Talk by Ali Michael on building a positive white identity.
Learn about and engage in local politics. In order to bring about changes legally, we need to engage politically. What legal changes can you support that will help dismantle systemic racism and build more authentic and inclusive community relationships, including relationships with police and local government? Reach out to your local politician and ask if there are efforts in your area or district to end police brutality. Also, check out Campaign Zero if you want to learn more about how to engage in ending police brutality.
If there are ideas you have that were not mentioned, I invite you to share them with me.
Please continue to take care of yourselves and one another. In closing, I offer this poem.
We Look with Uncertainty
By Anne Hillman
We look with uncertainty
Beyond the old choices for
To softer, more permeable aliveness
Which is every moment
At the brink of death;
Something new is being born in us
If we but let it.
We stand in a new doorway,
Awaiting that which comes…
Daring to be human creatures.
Vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.
FROM A DISTANCE
When Westtown closed its doors as a result of the pandemic as we headed into spring break in March, administrators, teachers, and staff got to work imagining how curricula and community could be delivered online. From learning new technologies to rewriting curriculum suited to at-home learning to reinventing spring sports and community events, every department dove into the work of problem-solving, of supporting students and colleagues, and of maintaining our treasured community feeling — of creating Westtown Distance Learning (WDL). The aim of WDL was to maintain curricular continuity, foster academic growth, and to maintain a focus on community and relationships. It was guided by the same treasured principles that are the foundation of on-campus learning. This was a tremendous and hurried undertaking. It was not always easy nor was it without growing pains, but for our teachers and staff, a way opened, as Quakers say.
These pivots to curriculum and community life took many forms, from the focus of the Advanced Scientific Research class (see below); to the 7th and 1st grade book buddies project; to the yoga and fitness classes offered by the Athletics Department; to Zoom Meetings for Worship; to cooking lessons by kitchen staff; to the car parades for graduates, among so many more. We encourage you to visit the Westtown Distance Learning website which provides a vast array of examples of WDL, and showcases the creativity and dedication of our faculty, our students, and our community.
Over the summer, as the community prepares for the possibilities of both on- and off-campus learning, WDL will continue to be refined and enhanced, and faculty are engaging in professional development to deliver the best possible educational experience for our students.
Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
May was Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and although the Asian Student Affinity (ASA) group couldn’t host the assembly and the fun on-campus activities they had originally planned, they created newsletters, shared student stories, and discussed the discrimination that Asian communities face, especially amid the pandemic. They also shared news, their poetry, articles, and a movie/TV show watch list. Because Westtown often lacks Aisan voices in racial justice conversations, they made a video to help the community get to know more about the Asian students at Westtown. Enjoy the video!
Scientific Research Class and COVID-19
One of the interesting curricular changes during Westtown Distance Learning happened in teacher Mariska Batavia’s research course. She explains: “Advanced Scientific Research is a yearlong course, during which Westtown’s most accomplished science scholars pursue independent, original research projects in the biological sciences. This spring, upon the closure of school and the necessary suspension of most projects, this group of nine seniors turned their attention to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we watched the pandemic unfold through the scientific literature, students found themselves frequently interpreting complex studies and relaying essential findings and information to family and friends. Realizing a need for the wider release of clear, scientifically sound information, they have authored a variety of resources that will speak to multiple age groups in our community.”
In addition to the introduction video below, here are some of the resources the students in this class created for our community.
For Lower School:
For Middle School:
For Upper School and the adult community:
The students recorded their thoughts and reflections about this project and learning this way and you can view their videos here.
Senior Art Show
No studios? No gallery? No problem! The pandemic wasn’t able to hamper the energy of our arts faculty nor the creativity of our students. They made wonderful works of art at home. Unable to present the culmination of their work in the Art Gallery this year, they took the Senior Art Show online. You can view these amazing pieces here, along with the students’ reflections on their pieces. Check out the whole arts website while you’re there!
Alexis Rogers ’21, one of next year’s Student Body Presidents, was featured on Fox 29 news discussing race and police brutality alongside her father, a former police officer, and shared her amazing artwork that centers on these topics. We include one of her paintings below. The news segment, which aired on June 3, 2020, can be viewed here.
PMEA Honors Jake Richards ’22
Jake Richards ’22 had quite a spring in the PA Music Educators Association Honors Festival! In February, Jake participated in the District 12 Symphonic Band Festival at Radnor High School as one of the top clarinetists in Southeastern PA. There, he auditioned for and was selected for the Region 6 Symphonic Band Festival which marked him as one of the top clarinetists in Eastern PA. Jake has now been placed into the All State Wind Ensemble, the top performing ensemble for wind, brass and percussionists. This means he was recognized as one of the top ten clarinetists in the entire state of PA. Join us in congratulating Jake!
Our spring sports season was cut short, but many of our varsity teams continued to stay in touch as a group and keep their skills sharp with at-home training programs. We can’t wait to get back on the field, track, and courts next spring, but we found new, creative, and exciting ways to keep our community active, engaged, and informed throughout this lockdown. We also worked with our new eSports league administrators to provide our students and student-athletes with some form of competition through the use of eSports. We used the #WesttownATHome to promote all of the activities we offered throughout the spring. Here are a few things the Athletics department did this unusual Spring Season!
Workouts with Coach Bob
The department worked closely with Strength and Conditioning coach, Coach Bob Rosato to produce at-home fitness videos and workouts to help our community stay active while they stayed at home during the lockdown. You can visit the Westtown Athletics’ Instagram page to access these workout videos.
Yoga with Elle
The school nutritionist and yoga instructor, Elle Clark, to provide yoga classes/sessions for our community members. The zoom classes occurred every Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m live on Zoom. These classes were recorded and the videos were posted to social media. The classes were a huge success!
Westtown eSports League and Tournaments
Another very engaging aspect of the #WesttownATHome campaign was the creation of an eSports League. Throughout the quarantine, the Athletics staff organized online tournaments on Xbox, Playstation4, and PC. Primarily student run, the eSports tournaments provided our students with competition, fun, and community. Four students served as Directors of Competition; it was important that the students’ voices were present in decision making and implementation. The 2020 eSports Directors of Competition were: Zach Weisman ’21, John Graff ’20, Sam Brenner ‘21, and Nick Hanchak ‘20, who dedicated time and energy to making the tournaments a success. Two faculty members, Nate Vanditta and Mauricio Torres ’08, served as gaming co-commissioners. The championship games were streamed live on Twitch and commentary was provided by one of our gaming commissioners and student directors. In each Livestream, alums joined in as guest speakers. The games also included pre-game and post-game interviews. After the interviews, Paul Lehmann ’99, Co-Director of Athletics, congratulated the winners and informed them that their names will be placed on a banner in the Athletic Center.
Athletes in the News
Franck Kepnang ’21: 247 Sports Player Ratings
Honoring Nancy van Arkel
“In 1937, my dad, a child of immigrants who was not a very good student at the time, was encouraged to spend a post-graduate year at Westtown. He always felt that year – and the generous support of the family who encouraged him and financially supported his time at Westtown – changed the course of his life in ways he could not have begun to imagine. Education was always a priority in my family growing up. My parents lost a child to crib death early in their marriage, and I can remember conversations about their desires to honor her memory by providing an education for someone else. That idea came to fruition in 1995 when they established the van Arkel Fund at Westtown. The van Arkel Fund is intended to provide scholarship aid to students who might otherwise not be able to attend Westtown. In my 33 years as a teacher and administrator at Westtown, I have witnessed first hand how Westtown’s faculty create a safe and healthy community in which students can experiment and take intellectual risks. This has not changed since my dad’s experience in 1937: a Westtown education is about discovering and becoming one’s best self, about learning that you can do the thing that felt impossible, about taking that knowledge and confidence out into the world to make a difference. I am grateful to know that the van Arkel fund will continue to give future Westonians the opportunity to have their lives transformed, just as my family was transformed by a Westtown education.” ~ Nancy van Arkel, Middle School Principal
If you would like to contribute to the van Arkel Fund in recognition of Nancy’s retirement, please click here.
Virtual Parent Speaker Series: Managing the Social-Emotional Needs of Your Family During COVID-19
In case you missed it, check out the latest in our Parent Speaker Series. Our team of school counselors talk about managing the social and emotional needs of your children and family during this global health crisis. They present a lot of helpful information and good advice, so we encourage you to watch or listen. It’s well worth your time!
Just because we haven’t been at school doesn’t mean we can’t still exchange Kindness of Bearer notes (KOBs)! Don’t know what KOBs are? Visit the KOB webpage to learn about the history of this beloved tradition at Westtown from Archivist Mary Brooks, and how to fold one from Whitney Suttell. Most importantly, you can leave a KOB for a student, teacher, staff, or community member as well. Remember to include your name, class year, and/or connection to Westtown on your message. Enjoy!
Making a Difference
The Abbott family has been an integral part of the Westtown community for over three decades. All of the Abbott’s sons —Tres ’01, Tylee ’03, Max ’05 and Cody ’08 — were Westtown “lifers.”
To say that the Abbotts have been active members in the life of the school would be an understatement! From Middle School Parents’ Council members and Upper School Host Parents to hosting sports banquets and parent of alumni events in their barn, Franny and Franny have done it all. Franny-she was a member of Westtown’s General Committee and its Advancement Committee from 2001 to 2008. Franny-he is a member of Westtown’s Athletics Advisory Council, and they received the Outstanding Contribution to Westtown Award from the wrestling team in 2007.
Both of the Frannys were volunteers for the school’s Bicentennial Campaign and have continued to support many of the school’s priorities. The Abbotts recognize the importance of building for the future and the impact that excellent facilities have on school programs and the community’s quality of life. They have been leadership donors to the Athletic Center, the Science Center, the lake renovation, and the future Oak Lane Athletic Complex. In addition to facilities, the Abbotts support the Westtown Fund and have been members of our 1799 Society and the Lifetime Granolithic Society members for 22 years.
Their dedication to and involvement in Westtown School is unparalleled. Head of School Tori Jueds says, “The Abbotts are an extraordinary family. They are talented, kind, and unfailingly generous. Their commitment has strengthened the Westtown community and is evident every day — perhaps especially on Halloween, when Franny-she brings an extra dose of awesome to the Lower School Parade by coming in costume!” Co-Director of Athletics, Paul Lehmann ’99 agrees, “Honestly, when I think about Westtown I almost immediately think about the Abbott family. My history with the entire Abbott family runs deep, so from a personal perspective they have played such an important role in my life at Westtown. When you consider everything they have done in support of the school, and the athletic department in particular, it’s hard not to get emotional given the love, care, and support they’ve shown the Westtown community. I consider myself lucky to call the Abbotts my dear friends.”
Franny-she says, “Westtown has been a tapestry of events that have guided our sons into being the wonderful humans that they are today. The teachers, the care, and the support were all part of their Westtown life. Athletics played a very large part of their Westtown life also and not just the winning but how to lose with grace and dignity. The Quaker values of being truthful, kind, and generous of spirit and yourself play vital roles in their lives today. Westtown will forever be part of our lives. We plan on being on campus a lot more when our grandkids are there!”
Tres, Tylee, Max, and Cody are all doing well. Tres and his wife Rachel have a son, Ford Abbott, and live in Chadds Ford. Tylee is a Specialist in American Art at Christie’s in New York City, and he and his wife Katie will be first-time parents in October. Max and his wife, Adele Carr Abbott ’04, live in Los Angeles and just welcomed William Osgood Abbott (“Ozzy”) on 6/10/20. Cody married his wife, Liza, last summer and they live in Bozeman, Montana. Westtown is extremely fortunate to have families like the Abbotts, who believe in our mission and continuously seek opportunities to improve the school experience for generations of Westonians. Thank you Franny, Franny, Tres, Tylee, Max, Adele, and Cody for all that you do for Westtown School! We are forever grateful for your incredible and generous involvement and commitment.
Honoring Marion Henderson
For the past 16 years, Marion Henderson, parent of India ’17 and Lena ’20, has been a pivotal leader for Westtown’s Families for Multicultural Community (FMC). Marion created many opportunities for Westtown to learn more as a community and, through her leadership of FMC, supported authors and speakers to share their wisdom and experiences around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Marion also helped launch the Multicultural Student College Fair and Conference (which has become a signature event in our region) and welcomed and connected new Westtown families of color. We would like to celebrate Marion’s service to the school by purchasing books in her name to be placed in the Lower and Middle School/Upper School Libraries. If you would like to make a contribution in honor of Marion, please click here. Many thanks for helping celebrate Marion’s legacy!
~ Marissa Colston, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion
VIRTUAL ALUMNI WEEKEND
With the Giant watching over the Clerk of the Westtown Alumni Association (WAA) Board Dina Schmidt ’84, Westtown alums gathered just as they have done every May for decades. They gathered to relish in memories of days gone by and reconnect with the spirit of what it means to be a Westonian—this time in small Zoom boxes—from living rooms and back decks all over the world. Across continents and time zones, Westonians showed what this school means to all of us by logging in and joining Virtual Alumni Weekend events over the second weekend in May. There was no shortage of testimonies, updates, powerful ministry, and amazing performances.
Over the course of the long weekend, there were over 1,200 attendances of live events and more than 2,300 later viewings of spirited events like the Alumni Association Annual Meeting, Open Mic Night, Saturday and Sunday Morning Meetings for Worship, and more. At the close of festivities on Sunday evening, over 400 alums joined various social meetups to celebrate reunions, to network, and to share affinity spaces.
While this was certainly a far cry from the Alumni Weekend we had imagined celebrating earlier this year, this experiment affirmed the facts that our love for Westtown triumphs over adversity, that the campus truly has no borders, and that the chance to be present with those who share our experiences is always worth it.
(Pictured below: Kaiyana Cervera ’15, one of the Young Alum Changemaker Award recipients; Dina Patukas Schmidt ’84, Clerk of the Alumni Association; and, Eddie Montilla ’77 and Robert Roche ’08, both of whom performed)