The Promise of the New School Year

Each new school year brings with it feelings of excitement mixed with anxiety, opportunity coupled with trepidation. Boys see so many possibilities, yet they often feel overwhelmed. Fessenden offers an incredibly rich experience for students. During elementary and middle school years, boys pass through a variety of particularly uncertain and vulnerable moments in their development, and they benefit greatly from the patient guidance and understanding of trusted adults. Historically, a “Fessenden education” involves more than just an excellent scholastic preparation. Our focus on building strong personal relationships with our students has its roots in the founding principles of the School.

One hundred and fourteen years ago, a young teacher named Frederick Fessenden and his wife, Emma Hart Fessenden, started a school for boys with a cohort of eleven students. They taught them not only grammar, composition, arithmetic, and Latin, but also how to make their beds, the importance of dressing properly, and the formation of good table manners. Their approach was a form of “whole child” education, decades before that term became an educational buzzword. Attending to each child’s needs with a firm, but caring, touch gave the boys a sense of assurance and responsibility. The Fessenden home became a school or, more accurately, their school was a home that nurtured young boys while preparing them academically for the challenges to come in their educational future.

As we begin the 2017-18 academic year, we remain committed to the belief that the strong personal connections your son develops—with teachers, coaches, advisors, staff, and fellow students—are at the heart of an excellent learning environment. In her rousing and inspiring 2013 TED Talk, educator Rita Pierson celebrated the importance of building strong relationships between students and teachers in order to inspire learning and promote confidence, rather than simply dishing out content. She states that, “Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.”

Frederick and Emma Fessenden knew that nurturing boys and making them feel safe and cared for is the first step to preparing them for true learning. That initial class of eleven boys in 1903 has grown over the years to a population of over 500 boys, from ages four to fifteen. Finding that personal touchstone with each of our students in this fast-moving, tech-driven, changing world remains the goal of each Fessenden teacher every day.

So, as your son begins this leg of his educational journey, know that his academic experience will certainly be challenging and productive. But, even more, know that the bonds formed with his teachers and coaches—through such daily interactions as the advisory system, Responsive Classroom techniques, and relationships with dorm parents—will continually enrich him, allowing him to become a confident young man who is ready to reach for his potential as a self-reliant, resilient contributor to our school and to the world beyond.

About the Author: Dan Kiley is a frequent contributor to our Inside Fessenden blogs. He writes from the perspective of thirty-five years as an administrator at Fessenden, including twenty as Assistant Head and a year as Interim Head of School, as well as teacher, coach, dorm parent, director of plays, and parent of three graduates. 

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