One of the many unique qualities about Wood Acres is our approach of looking what our eldest students should know, see, say, and do and then backward map it to our youngest students. It is a strong belief of our Head of School, Judy Thigpen, and one that has resonated with me throughout my tenure at WA.
Before I fully transitioned into a leadership role, I knew there was something I needed to accomplish first. I needed to teach in our Upper School. All of my prior teaching experience was with children in grades K-5, and my daughter at the time was in our Early School. I felt confident about what Early and Grammar School students should know, say, and do, but that understanding wasn’t there for me when thinking about an older student. How could I possibly lead without an understanding of our oldest students and program?
Like all other ages and stages of a child’s development, it was easy for me to fall in love with our tweens and teens! They were independent, respectful, kind, intelligent, motivated, and capable students. All of their years at Wood Acres among passionate and caring teachers, involved parents, and a supportive yet rigorous school environment prepared them for this pivotal moment. They fully applied their learning and enjoyed it, developed a strong sense of self, and added to our community in so many meaningful ways. It was a joy to be in their company and I can say even in my current role, it still is. They are comfortable to share a thought, an opinion, an idea, and I couldn’t be more honored to be that person. They keep me grounded and focused on what is important.
With this clarity, I look at our younger students in new and different ways. I see the twinkle in their eyes and wonder in their play and can picture their more grownup self. I see interests and strengths and how that will help grow a solid foundation both academically and emotionally. I work with teachers and parents about how to encourage developmentally appropriate high expectations no matter the age of a student. I am better equipped to instill confidence to our families, teachers, and our students that through this thoughtful journey with a stay the course approach, our students will indeed soar when it comes time to graduate.
I do not wear a white coat, nor do I have an entourage of eager interns following me, but I do “make the rounds” to check on the pulse, the heartbeat of the Woods, every day. It is my favorite part of the day because it is all about the children, teachers, and staff on this special campus. It frees me from the paperwork on my desk, the emails to be read, the books to be reviewed, and the other sedentary duties that are unfortunately too common to administrators who are in this role.
My daily rounds are full of those sightings mentioned in Mrs. Thigpen’s current HEADlines. I spend time in dozens of classrooms filled with eager students engaged in reading, math, science, or art. I talk with students as they walk the campus to recess, PE, or Spanish. The Early Schoolers will offer me a shovel to dig for dinosaur bones or ask me to push them on the swings while our oldest students always want to schedule time to speak with me about an idea for a service project or an upcoming school trip or assignment.
These sightings ignite my senses to the rhythm to the day, the “feel” of our campus, and the learning that is occurring. I also touch base with our talented teachers, our watchful security team and dedicated office colleagues. I take notes to follow up with everyone with thanks, compliments, and suggestions once “rounds” are completed.
The heartbeat of Wood Acres is strong and healthy. My diagnosis is that teaching, learning, and caring (TLC @ the Woods) is alive, well, palpable, and hearty. How fortunate we are to be in such a healthy thriving environment as this.
At the conclusion of each academic year, we graduate our stellar eighth graders in a special ceremony that honors hard work and a commitment to excellence. This is the speech I shared with our proud students this May.
Good morning graduates, parents, faculty, students, and special guests. It is my pleasure and honor to welcome you to the 8th Graduation of the Wood Acres School.
This spring, you may have heard that we traveled to Spain. Lucky me! I had the pleasure and privilege to accompany our graduates. And to be honest, I don’t know what took me so long to go!
But I do know I will be going again.
Seeing as I was the only non-Spanish speaker on the trip, I wanted to model what that looked like for our students. I wanted to show them to be brave in a new place and how exciting it is to immerse yourself in the language and culture when you travel.
Well, as soon as we landed in Madrid, I couldn’t wait to soak it all in. And, of course, it was easy with such wonderful fluent people to travel with in the most beautiful of countries…and when you enjoy traveling as I do!
During our time in Spain, I noticed though that some words were easy to latch onto. My ears kept perking up when I heard these words and before long I found myself asking about these words and eventually using these words.
Using these words made me feel part of the club and I loved it. I couldn’t get enough. I felt Spanish!
What is also interesting about these words, is that they all represent advice and teachings I would like you to take with you, graduates as you move onto high school and beyond.
And so I’d like to present some of these to you. Are you all ready to travel with me to Spain? Can you guess which of my favorite words are on the list?
This is by far my favorite. I know the students know it. Tranquillo.
Just say this word and you know the meaning. And I also love Sra. Thigpen’s accompanying hand gesture with this one. Tranquillo. Sometimes calma is used as a substitute. Tranquillo. Calma. Don’t you feel better after saying these?
Everything in Spain is tranquillo. How wonderful would it be if we applied this feeling and way of life to our hectic and crazy lives. It just means slow down. Tranquility. Be calm. Hakuna Matata. No worries.
You are late. tranquillo. Not feeling well, tranquillo. Having a tough day, tranquillo. And to our graduates, feeling anxious? Tranquillo.
All will be good, I promise. You have the tools you need and you are ready for this next step.
This one seems easily translated, right? It should mean clear. But what is great about this word is that it means more than that. During many conversations, I would hear someone reply, claro. And this prompted me to ask for clarification.
Claro means, I understand you. I understand your story. I understand your situation. I understand what you are going through.
Oh how I wish all of us could have someone say that in return to us. We all need to be understood. We also need to always seek to understand. Claro.
This is a break or a rest.
The image of this word just makes me happy. Each morning the students would take would take a descanso.
It is a ritual. It is a time to stop and savor a snack with friends. No to go cups. No paper products. No standing and gobbling. Just conversation and something to nibble on and sit on proper dishes. No rushing. Just enjoying.
We all need a moment sometimes to pause and rejuvenate.
These are seat belts! Every time we would get on a bus, the adults would cry out “cinturones” which would be immediately followed by followed by 11 clicks. Wearing seatbelts in Spain is mandatory.
Graduates, buckle up for safety. Buckle up for an adventure of a lifetime. Buckle up for all of the great moments headed your way. It’s going to be quite a ride.
Mismo. The same.
As in I’ll have what she’s having. This was a great one to know when ordering in a restaurant.
But this word is so much greater than that. How about remembering that we are all more same than different. El mismo. There is a great song by Jennifer Lopez called El Mismo Sol. And yes, I learned about it from my bilingual daughter. We are all under the same sun. What a great thought.
This is a funny one. I first learned of this word in a text from Sr. Thigpen to me and Sen. Boyle. We were going over details of the trip the next before our flight and Sra. ended the text with vale.
I quickly turned to my daughter for help. What is vale?
It means ok. Ready to go…Vale! See you tomorrow….Vale! Ready for summer…..Vale!
I love this one.
This is one we all know! Say it with me. Gracias. Gracias means thank you. Graduates, remember to always give thanks and say thanks.
We heartily say thank you to our families and to our students for all of the memories and lessons you have given us.
As in Let’s go! Come on!
In the words of Dr Seuss from one of my favorite books “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. This copy was given to me from my high school English teacher upon my graduation.
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
Graduates, I hope you will keep these words in your heart and place them in the vocabulary of your daily life. Thank you for teaching me that this is possible. Congratulations to all of you.
Greetings and welcome to this unique school called Wood Acres. It is my second home, my joy, and the place I come everyday with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. As a teacher for many years in many different states and settings, once I found Wood Acres, I knew this was the place for me.
I was born in New York, and my husband and I relocated to East Cobb in 2000 where we were anxious to put down roots and stay awhile. After an interview with our Head of School, Judy Thigpen, I quickly realized I wanted to teach and learn along her side, under her tutelage. Her passion was inspiring, her creativity boundless, her extraordinary way of looking at teaching, learning, and education was unique and intriguing. I was professionally eager to learn and grow as I reflect on my early years as a teacher, and every day since then and I have had the honor to work with her now as my role as principal.
The Wood Acres School has a heart. Its beautiful beat is strong and steady in this community of children of all ages, teachers, and parents who care deeply about this amazing place. The joy, wonder, and magic is palpable if you just look around our campus and take note of all the ah-ha moments whether large or small.
A Wood Acres education is decidedly different. In a world filled with a lot of noise and uncertainty, we hold a few things dear that have guided us for almost fifty years. Children always come first. All children deserve a superior, thoughtful, and rigorous curriculum. If it is good for children, let’s do it. Prepare each child for the path rather than the path for the child. Character counts. These are simple ideas, but for us at Wood Acres, they are everything.