The lights go off and the room falls silent. Around the perimeter of the Multipurpose Room, one hundred and thirty-eight Lower School students sit with their backs against the wall and their legs outstretched. In the contemplative silence, some have their eyes closed while the unfocused gazes of others rests on a random point in the room. Occasionally, amidst the jumbled array of grades and genders, the diminutive form of a third grader can be spied resting shoulder to elbow with a lanky sixth grader. For almost five full minutes, this group of nine to twelve year-olds will sit quietly without a fidget or whisper, until Head of Lower School Lainie Schuster brings them out of the silence with three cleansing breaths. This is Wednesday morning in Lower School, and this is Lower School Morning Meeting.
Each of Fay’s three divisions has their own distinct Morning Meeting tradition that anchors their weekly schedule. While Primary and Lower School meet once each week, Upper School gathers three mornings a week. Uniquely different, each Morning Meeting reflects the characteristics of its division while manifesting the common core values that are woven throughout the Fay experience.
A Time to Connect
Every Thursday morning, Primary School gathers in the Multipurpose Room for their morning meeting. “This is where we develop an awareness about who we are as a community—a Primary School community, a Fay community, and members of the world community,” says Head of Primary School Katie Knuppel.
Katie often incorporates music into the meetings, and on any given morning, students could walk in and hear a classical sonata, a Brazilian children’s song, or the strains of a female a cappella group. Sometimes, students provide the music, such as when second graders who were taking private music lessons performed for their classmates this year.
Primary School meetings often begin with Katie reading a story that introduces a larger theme. Over the winter, for example, Katie read The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Wallace and then organized students into mixed-grade groups to create their own quilts. Each student wrote on a colorful square about a kind act they had performed or witnessed, and the squares were displayed in two quilt-like grids on the walls of the Primary School Commons. Kindness and effort are also recognized at Morning Meeting when Katie awards commendations to students for acts, both large and small, that demonstrate empathy and grit.
Morning Meeting presents an opportunity to connect Primary Schoolers to the Fay community and the world at large. As the leaders of the Primary School, second graders performed skits in September for the younger students that illustrated Fay’s core values. For Earth Day, Lower Schoolers gave a presentation about the damage plastic bags do to wildlife, and Katie showed students how they could repurpose plastic bags to make a jump rope. Upper School students visited to talk about Civil Rights leaders who have had an impact on their lives, and this past fall, several Chinese students taught students about the Harvest Moon Festival in China.
Faculty members also present throughout the year. World Languages Chair Kara Mertz visited Morning Meeting to talk about the importance of bees to the environment; art teacher Cathy Gruetzke-Blais shared the story of how she became an artist; and Director of Innovation Steve Jensen visited on Veteran’s Day to talk about his service with the U.S. Air Force. Head of School Rob Gustavson, Associate Head of School Stu Rosenwald, and Director of the Educational Program Julie Porrazzo are also frequent participants in Primary Morning Meeting, listening to a speaker or joining in an impromptu holiday-themed flash mob. Katie Knuppel notes that their presence “elevates Morning Meeting in terms of its importance to the community: it says that this time together is important, and the kids sit up a little straighter!”
A Time to Take Time
Life gets busier in Lower School, but when the lights go off and silence falls, the Multipurpose Room becomes a sacred space. “Morning Meeting teaches kids how to be reflective,” says Lainie. “That’s an important life skill.” Once everyone is settled, Lainie asks the students to share “I wonder” and “I notice” statements. A student
might point out a visitor to the meeting, a trend within the community, or pose a question that has been perplexing them. “Those statements are always so insightful and so developmentally appropriate,” says Lainie. “I like that I can hear a third grader’s voice and a sixth grader's voice, and that each is given equal weight and respect.”
Starting with third grade, students volunteer to share what they are working on in each grade. Upcoming quizzes, field trips, and special projects are shared. For some students, these mini-presentations provide a glimpse into their future at Fay. For older students, it’s a chance to reflect. “This sharing helps to build the shared experience of Lower School from year to year,” says Science Department Chair and Lower School science teacher Tim McCauley.
Special presentations are often shared in Morning Meeting, and the One School, One Book event—where all students in grades three through six, along with their families, read and discuss the same novel—is heavily anchored in Morning Meeting. Lainie usually reads the first and last chapters of the book aloud to the group, with some discussion of the book taking place each week. “I love hearing how everyone interpreted the chapters we read the night before and all their thoughts and comments on the book,” says sixth grader Josie Davis. This year, social studies teachers Jess Girouard and Bruce Chauncey used Morning Meeting to establish the historical setting of this year’s book Stella by Starlight with a presentation on segregation and the Great Depression. When an activity calls for it, students are divided into mixed-grade “tribes” with student-created alliterative names like the Stinky Sandals, the Terrific Tuxedos, and the Dramatic Dresses. Many presentations are also student-led. This year, a group of sixth graders used Morning Meeting to announce the winners of a paper airplane contest they had organized.
Lower School Morning Meeting begins and ends in silence as students link hands and send a squeeze around the room. “There is something sacred about that squeeze,” says Lainie, noting that everyone sits calmly and patiently until the squeeze has traveled around the entire room. The final student in the circle has the honor of sending everyone off with, “Have a great day!”
A Time to Learn and Grow Together
There’s an element of surprise to Upper School Morning Meeting. “Some days, we’re just sharing announcements. Other days, we’ll have a student performance or a slide show presentation, or we’re talking about something important going on within the community or the world,” says Head of Upper School Sarah Remsberg. “I like that you never know what to expect during Morning Meeting,” adds White Team Color President Orville Amankwah ’19. “It’s a time when we can focus on our school community and why we are so lucky to be a part of it.”
Upper School Morning Meeting takes place on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings in Harris Theater. Students sit with their advisors, providing a chance to check in about a test or a sports practice, or to just connect with a casual conversation. Although Sarah runs Morning Meeting and faculty members often make announcements, it’s student voices that are most consistently heard. This year, Student Council President Erick Obukhanich ’19 and Vice President Toby Chan ’19 often led morning announcements, Color Presidents Orville and Chloe Lewis ’19 announced color team events, and team captains rallied the crowd by announcing upcoming games and sharing post-game results.
Morning Meeting is also a time to recognize talents, interests, and experiences within the Upper School community. This spring, Alexandra Wang ’19 shared a funny presentation on Latin poetry. “Every single student was listening intently and sincerely cheering for her at the end,” says Sarah.
Frank Zhou ’19 started a popular Tech Talk series where he shared news about science-related current events like self- driving cars, 5G technology, and Queen lead guitarist Brian May’s second career as a noted astrophysicist. On the first morning of exams this spring, Christopher Shia ’19 soothed nervous jitters with his piano performance of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. Faculty members also present throughout the year. Spanish teacher David Olano shared a presentation with students about the lessons learned from failure, and music teacher Jay Besch spoke about finding transcendence and meaning.
Morning Meeting is also a time to celebrate academic achievements, and students who receive effort and academic honors as well as Primus are celebrated each term. “The culture of recognition at Fay is rewarding and impressive,” says Frank Zhou ’19. “It shows Fay’s commitment to both the individual and the community.”
As students move through Fay and beyond, Morning Meeting memories become a touchstone for the special experience of progressing through each division. “There have been so many speeches, performances, announcements, and class projects that we talked about and laughed over,” says Chloe Lewis ’19. “The best thing about Morning Meeting is that when something eventful happens, our community gets stronger because we all share the same experience. We don't just laugh, smile, learn, or appreciate it alone. That memory is a common thread that binds the whole school together.” Reflecting on four years of Lower School morning meetings, Sydney Robinow ’22 adds, “I’d do it a hundred times over again if I could.”