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Together 3.24.23

March 24, 2023 | Nancy Van Epps

by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi

Celebrating the Lenten Season

Mustard Seed photographs, particularly historic images, often depict large groups of students in perfectly synchronized choreography to a song at worship or positioned around an iconic landmark to commemorate a field trip or service project. While a valuable chronicle of events, those pictures belie the individualized nature of an education at our school.

Our solemn observance of Lent provides a case in point. We love celebrating at Mustard Seed! As discussed in an article entitled, Joy + Rigor in our 2021-22 Annual Report, some children find special joy in this quiet, introspective season amidst the hustle and bustle of our celebration schedule.

On Ash Wednesday, Kindergarten to eighth grade students are each gifted with a personal journal. Students are encouraged to record their thoughts and drawings every school day in response to visual and story prompts in readings from the Bible in worship. Preschool students receive clipboarded paper at the end of worship to “draw their prayers.” This year, we are focusing on the Gospel of John. Because we have intentionally curated the paintings and wood block prints showcased during our celebration of Lent, students experience artwork depicting stories of Jesus’ life from artists around the world.

“I like having the quiet space to draw and write every day,” says fifth grade student Kira. “I like to see new artwork that I haven’t seen before. My favorite so far is The Good Shepherd where the found sheep is draped across Jesus’ shoulders. But you don’t see it at first because it looks like it could be a halo.”

“I enjoy copying the paintings into my journal. I like to use that time to clear my mind and copying the painting helps me to do that,” says fourth grade student Addison.

For several minutes at the end of worship during Lent, the lights are held low and a silence is observed. A few of the students, particularly older MS students, choose to use this time to think without making meaningful marks in their journals. They engage in that activity without admonishment from their teachers. As agents of their own learning, they know that they are trusted to use their time wisely, and reflection’s presentation can be deeply personal.

An awareness of self-direction, first established in the Reggio-inspired environments of our Preschool, continues to express itself throughout the student’s academic journey. For example, fourth and fifth grade students traveled on a field trip this week to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan. In addition to completing assignments while viewing the artifacts of standing exhibits, they were also given the opportunity to explore the museum’s interactive imagiNations Activity Center. On four occasions, including at the end of our session to the whole group, the museum guide complimented the Mustard Seed students’ model comportment and engagement level. 

Accustomed to pursuing their curiosity in an academic setting, each child was actively drawn to and fascinated by objects in the Center that interested them. A keen observer would notice student eyes perusing the displays of innovations of indigenous people even as the guide made her opening remarks about the attraction. This hands-on museum setting was right up their alley and they knew well how to plan the best use of their time there.

Our students are known and loved as individuals by their teachers. Perhaps more importantly, they are given space to know and love themselves, and assign high value to their own curiosity and capabilities.

Thank you parent and chaperone, Laurie G., for one of the photos!

Nancy Van Epps

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