Although tonight my family and I are in Baltimore celebrating Christmas Eve (that is another story), the annual ritual of welcoming in a new year is fast approaching. I don’t really understand what all the hype is about. The sun always sets on December 31 and rises on January 1, whether or not we stay up past midnight to usher in the new year, champagne flute raised, searching for someone to kiss, while stating our resolution. For me, and for all educators, the new year really begins in September.
So why doesn’t the academic year begin in January? Historically, farming and feeding the family (and community) took precedence over everything. The school schedule followed the seasons of fall harvest, winter hibernation and spring planting so that during the summer growing season, all hands would be “on deck,” or in field.
The winter is an excellent time for school, because no outdoor farming can be accomplished – although amazing cooking and feeding certainly happens. When Kent School students return to class next week we will enter a long stretch of deep learning uninterrupted by holiday breaks. I am always amazed at the growth that happens in students during the winter months. What seems to us to be a dark and dormant time of year is actually a time of great awakening in students. Connections are made and maturity is gained. The blooms appear in the spring – but I am getting ahead of myself.
With a nod to my roots and my Boston family, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to pass a compulsory education law in 1647, when it was still a British colony. A similar law was again passed in 1852, which required every city and town to offer primary school, focusing on grammar and basic arithmetic. The first secondary school opened in Boston in 1861. With a nod to my Maryland family and friends, Washington College was “the first college chartered in the sovereign United States of America” (washcoll.edu) by the Maryland legislature in 1782.
These milestones are significant because they clearly illustrate that education at all levels has been highly valued in our country since its inception. Thankfully, for each of us. Whether the academic year begins after Labor Day or after New Year’s Day is irrelevant. We have a school year, and for that we should be eternally grateful. It would, however, be a lot easier if it did not straddle two fiscal years!
That said, imagine our country with no formal education. It is impossible. Although I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, I do have one this year, and it remains unchanged from the prior two years – to continue to enhance the Kent School educational program in our unparalleled environment for learning. Grateful to begin 2019 in the Chestertown and the Kent School communities.
Happy New Year!
Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.