The Importance of Women and Sports

This past Saturday was a historic day for Foxcroft when we held our ribbon-cutting for our new turf fields. By saying it was historic, I do not mean that this day will go down in Foxcroft’s history as a turning point in our athletic program even though, certainly, our beautiful fields will help strengthen four of our interscholastic sports: field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and softball, and will allow us to offer a new sport, track and field.

I mean that athletics has been a part of Foxcroft’s history from the School’s inception. Long before science confirmed the positive correlation between physical fitness and learning, our founder Miss Charlotte Haxall Noland knew the benefits of exercise and competitive sports. The motto she selected, Mens sana in corpore sano, meaning a healthy mind in a healthy body, reflects her belief. During a time when most girls did not play competitive sports, Miss Charlotte formed the Fox/Hound teams and held an annual basketball tournament. Well Miss Charlotte understood that being part of a team would teach character, determination, and sportsmanship as well as be a fun tradition for her students.

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Today, The Girls and Sports Impact Report, surveying more than 10,000 girls across the country, shows that sports have a positive effect on young girls and their perceptions of themselves. Girls who play sports seem to have stronger friendships with other girls. They are 10 percent more likely to say they trust other girls and 7 percent more likely to get along well with other girls. Katy Kay and Claire Shipman, co-authors of The Confidence Code, write that for girls, sports can be a major confidence builder, something that women need at all stages of their career. “Playing competitive sports embodies the experience not just of winning, but the experience of losing. The losing is almost as critical,” says Kay. “When you’re playing sports and you do badly, you have no choice but to pick yourself up and carry on. That process really builds confidence. It’s an incredibly useful proving ground for business and leadership.”

Indeed, women who have been athletes in high school generally earn more when they enter the workforce, according to research by Betsey Stevenson, former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. Athletics may foster the development of attributes that “include the ability to communicate, the ability to work well with others, competitiveness, assertiveness, and discipline.”

An EY/espnW global study of senior women executives shows that sport is a positive determinant of leadership and achievement. The survey linked women in senior management positions to experience in sport, finding that 94% of women in the C-suite play a sport and 80% of Fortune 500 female executives played a sport in their earlier years.

Ellen Kullman, Former Chair and CEO of DuPont said, “What I think team sports do is teach you how to be a team with a very diverse group of people….Team sports really teach you how to collaborate across a broad spectrum of personalities or individual talents, and learn how to get the most out of what you have.” We certainly know this is true at Foxcroft.

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We aspire to utilize these fields not only to benefit our own students’ experiences and to help them develop skills, confidence, and courage, but also to enhance the lives and opportunities of athletes in our region, particularly young girls, through making our facilities available to our community. It gave us great pleasure to welcome to campus the Hill School field hockey tournament, which included about 90 girls from five middle schools, when heavy rains made Hill’s fields unplayable a few days after these fields were completed.

Finally, I believe that these fields will be history-making because our students themselves will make history. They are young women who dare and do, and they are part of a larger Foxcroft network of women who for over a century have been trailblazers in what they accomplish in their professions, in their communities and around the world, and through their leadership. We know that their playing team sports sets them up for greater success. Now we have the facility that will allow our students to play their best game on the field and in their futures.

Sources:

Girls & Sports: A Girl’s Index Impact Report, Ruling Our Experiences, 2018.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The confidence code: the science and art of self-assurance — what women should know, HarperBusiness, 2014.

Where will you find your next leader?: EY and espnW explore how sport advances women at every level, EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW, 2015.

Betsey Stevenson, Beyond the classroom: using Title IX to measure the return to high school sports, NBER Working Paper 15728, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2010.

 

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A lifetime of friendships, global connections, and other thoughts…

When Carol Huo ’10 arrived at Foxcroft, Grace Zhang ’08 was her Old Girl, and a deep friendship formed between these two young women, who had journeyed far from their home in China to go to high school in Middleburg. This March, they reunited at our Foxcroft reception in Shanghai. Grace, now an architect, even made the trip from another city to see her Foxcroft friend Carol, who was visiting Shanghai from her home in New York City, where she works in HR for an international company.

Joining them on her semester “abroad” in her hometown of Shanghai was a young alumna, Chloe Xu ’17, who was Student Head of School my third year at Foxcroft and who currently attends NYU’s Stern School of Business. The three of them had much to talk about, comparing stories of Foxcroft and of college.

(In Shanghai: Seated front from left to right: Carol Huo ’10, Grace Zhang ’08 and Chloe Xu ’17)

I love seeing the instant connection that happens every time Foxcroft alumnae come together. It happened in Seoul when Foxcroft alumnae from the ’90s met alumnae from the ’10s at the dinner we hosted. Past parent Jean Kim met current parents Joong Ahn and Kyoung Kim and shared how helpful her daughter’s advisor, Gary Cox, had been to Hannah Kim ’16 as she applied to art programs. Older alumnae couldn’t believe how much more “cosmopolitan” and global Foxcroft had become as Semin ’21 explained fun weekend activities and the International Student Ambassador program.

(In Seoul: from left to right: Jean Kim, Read McGehee, Michelle Lee ’11, Yeri Jeong ’02, Cathy McGehee, Semin ’21, Kyung-sook Bai ’03, Sydney Kim ’12, Rebecca Wise, Kyoung Kim, and Joong Ahn)

Our Foxcroft alumnae from Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing also loved meeting our current Foxcroft students in attendance at our events and peppered them with questions about life today on campus. (Read more about how Director of International Student Services Rebecca Wise and I walked in our students shoes on “It’s Academic.”)

Our current students and their parents also got to meet these incredible role models and to gain a view into what their daughter’s futures might hold. In Beijing, Jenny Guo, mother of Isabella Zhai ’16, helped explain to new Foxcroft parents how the college counseling process works, underlining how helpful Barbara Connor was to her daughter.

(A large group gathered in Beijing, including current students on the front row: Florence ’20, Maya ’20, Catherine ’22, Scarlett ’21, Finny ’23 and their parents. One little brother also had fun!).

These alumnae truly care about the School that played such a pivotal role in shaping their lives, both academically and professionally, and they care about the current and future students who call Foxcroft their home. When one of our freshman, Sabrina ’21 bravely helped translate my welcome remarks to the crowd, Chloe stepped in to help explain what an “Understanding Heart” means to her own experience at Foxcroft and how she learned valuable leadership skills. At the end of each event, everyone scanned QR codes on “WeChat” and made promises to stay in touch. We still have much work to do to find “lost” alumnae, whose contact information is out of date, but we have a start and a road map, and much enthusiasm to keep in touch. (If you want to follow Foxcroft on our newest social media account, WeChat, click here.)

We made our first trip to Asia in order to meet with alumnae and explore the possibility of forming an Asia Chapter of the Alumnae Association. We also went to meet our students’ parents, many of whom visit campus only at their daughter’s graduation. We shared the message that we want all members of our Foxcroft community to feel a part of the School. We left having been treated with such hospitality, having a greater understanding of how to communicate effectively across borders and cultures, and, most importantly, having witnessed in real time Foxcroft’s promise of a lifetime of friendships and global connections. I can’t wait to continue our international journey in the coming years!

What “College-Prep” Should Mean and Other Reflections on College Admission

When the college admission scandal (Operation Varsity Blues) broke in the newspapers, bringing criminal indictments against parents, counselors and coaches alleging fraud and bribery related to admission to selective universities, I was saddened but not totally surprised.

As the competition to get into all colleges has increased, anyone who works in high schools has seen the rise in stress and anxiety among our students and in what once was described as “helicopter parenting” but is now more aptly described as “snow plow” parenting. (Want to read more? Click here and here.)

According to Joyce Smith, CEO of the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC), “This case also sheds light on what some have called the ‘commodification’ of higher education, where gaining admission to a selective institution becomes the goal itself, and prestige and status matter most of all — and where securing bragging rights becomes more important than finding the college or university that is the best fit for the student’s life and career plans.”

Of course, the colleges aren’t helping, and few pieces I’ve read about the scandal in major newspapers have pointed out the sinister role that the college rankings have played in this madness we’re witnessing, driving up applications and selectivity and ramping up parent and student fears.

In her new book, Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives, author Rachel Simmons calls the admission process, “The College Application Industrial Complex.” Many students are selecting classes or joining extra-curricular activities, not because they are truly interested in a subject but because it will look good to a college. Or they are taking on impossible commitments and responsibilities, which create schedules with no time for sleep much less time with friends and family, or heaven-forbid with unstructured time to, well, just sit and daydream. When their efforts don’t pay off, they feel they are failures. No wonder we’re seeing increased stress, anxiety and depression.

In the process, educators, I among them, have seen a general change in students attitudes towards school and learning. In his March16 column, Frank Bruni summarizes the problem aptly: “For these kids, education isn’t an opportunity to wring more meaning from life and make a more constructive impact on the world. It’s transactional. It’s a performance. If the right audience doesn’t clap, there was no point in even taking the stage.”

Perhaps even worse, the process today sends conflicting messages to young people about what values count. Bruni cites a draft of a new report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, which advocates changing the college admission process: The current system, “corrodes the development of core aspects of young people’s ethical character, often fueling their self-interest, compromising their integrity, and depleting their capacity to either know themselves deeply or to authentically articulate their identity.”

All of us, educators at the secondary and collegiate level, students and parents, need to reassess our goals and reset.

Thankfully, at Foxcroft, we are guided by our mission and values. Yes, Foxcroft is a college preparatory school. That preparation is about providing academic, organizational, and study skills, but also independent thinking, curiosity, effective communication, empathy and collaboration –all skills needed in order for a student to be successful in college-level classes. Ours is not a focus on preparation for college admission at a specific list of ranked colleges.

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That is not to say that we do not support our students through the admission process, nor that our students don’t gain admission to wonderful colleges that are a great fit for them. Foxcroft’s College Counselors provide a highly individualized process, which at its core helps students to know themselves, their interests, and their future learning goals and to identify the many colleges that would meet their individual and family needs. To read more about Barbara Conner’s “Five First-Choice Colleges Philosophy,” click here.

In addition, Foxcroft has joined the national discussion about how we might measure and report students’ learning and socio-emotional development through our membership in the Mastery Transcript Consortium, an organization of more than 200 public and independent schools, who are working with colleges to create a high school transcript that reflects the unique skills, strengths and interests of each learner. The vision of the organization is to “re-invent how students prepare for college, career and life.”

Indeed, our mission does not stop at preparation for academic success in college. Foxcroft helps every girl “explore her unique voice and develop the skills, confidence, and courage to share it with the world.” Our mission focuses on self-actualization and life-long learning, Further, our mission is grounded in our values: respect, integrity, kindness and service, values we practice in real time each day living and learning with girls from all over the nation and the world. Altogether, the Foxcroft experience prepares girls for healthy, happy and fulfilling lives, lives of purpose that make a difference to others. Our alumnae are examples of our mission realized.

More than 100 years ago, our founder Miss Charlotte wanted to create a school “where girls wanted to come and never wanted to leave,” a place where learning is joyful. She believed in “good hard work, and much fun.” Her vision for what school should be remains relevant today.

As I reminded our faculty after spring break, if we stick to our mission and values, Foxcroft can be a beacon for our students and their families as we try to make sense of this college craziness all around us.   

 

And a Little Child Will Lead Them: Lessons and Carols Reflections 2018

One of my family’s favorite traditions is to watch Christmas movies, especially “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Even though Eliza and Jane are grown women, the four of us still snuggle up on the sofa and watch this show every year. You gotta love Pigpen as the Innkeeper with his “dust” falling everywhere; or Snoopy’s imitation of the manger animals; Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree that blossoms into a giant, sparkling fir at the end; Lucy who casts herself as the “Christmas Queen;” and my favorite — Linus, using his trademark blanket as a headdress and playing the role of shepherd. It is his character who reads the Christmas story and it is Linus who reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the Peanuts version of the Christmas Pageant.

Foxcroft students present the annual Christmas Pageant in the Athletic/Student Center on the Foxcroft School campus on Sunday, December 2, 2018.

Foxcroft just had our own Pageant, and we, too, have our cast of characters and animals that bring the story of Christmas to life and which bring so much joy to members of the Middleburg community. I sat next to a woman who had been coming to the Pageant since she was a little girl, and she brought her niece this year to be part of the holiday spirit.

Whether you see the Pageant as part of your faith tradition or as a work of literature, I’d like us to pause and consider who these characters are who gather at the manger, and what theme we can take from this story to enlighten our lives this season and throughout the year to come.

First, there are Mary and Joseph. Sometimes I think we forget how scared Mary must have been. She’s a teenage mom who is engaged when she gets pregnant. What would her parents and her neighbors say? How alone must she feel? Then, there is Joseph, really a stepdad-to-be, with a woman who is pregnant with a baby that is not his. Mary is far along “with child,” and they are travelers, refugees compelled by powerful forces to journey from far away, and their method of transportation is a donkey, a humble and sometimes stubborn beast. They are from a good family “. . . the stump of Jessie,” but not wealthy enough to get a room in the inn.

Then, there are the Shepherds, among the lowest rung of society. They are common laborers, uneducated, poor, marginalized in their society. They stand side by side with the Magi, wise men, who are wealthy and educated and powerful.

And then there are the “Heavenly Hosts,” angels or spirits, heralds of “good news of great joy,” from those who have gone before us connecting the physical and the mystical.

All these figures come together in the tableaux at the manger. Why? To see a baby: for some a great leader who will change history, for others, a savior who will redeem the world. And he appears, not in a glittering court, decked in gold and silver, or as a fierce warrior ready for battle, but as a newborn in a humble manger. What is at the center of the pageant scene is a leader who comes in the most innocent and powerless, and vulnerable form, but also in the purest form of an infant, not corrupted by the world around him, a symbol of the essence of goodness. As the prophet says, “And a little child will lead them,” forever changing the definition of leadership and power. If you study Jesus’s leadership, it becomes about service and outreach, about healing and uniting, and about humility. “Power over” others becomes “power to” others.

Above the manger is the Star, a promise of light and of a new way where peace and love reign and where divisions among people cease: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” Surely the divisions of age, family background, circumstance, education, wealth, nationality, ethnicity, and power are all represented at the manger. I think there could be no better metaphor for us today in our own lives if we remember that everyone is included at the manger; everyone, no matter where they come from, is united around what is good and pure and peaceful.

Could we solve some of our most pressing problems — violence, abuse, harassment, hunger, poverty, the environment — and could we find healing in this broken world and in our own lives, no matter where we are on our own personal journeys, if we welcomed EVERYONE into our hearts?

As Linus says at the end of his scene, “And that’s what Christmas is all about.” And then the entire cast of the Peanuts pageant takes the little scrappy, needle-less Charlie Brown Christmas tree out into the cold night under the stars, and it blossoms into a full and shining evergreen, nourished by the love all around it.

My wish for us this holiday and throughout the year is that we may be nourished by the love that is within us and all around us, and watch it grow.


Another part of our tradition is for the Head of School and the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors to serenade the seniors at our Holiday Banquet. Here’s what I sang to them! 

Discovering Your True North: Convocation 2018

At this year’s Convocation, I asked the students to identify the women in a photo taken of Serena Williams accepting the 2014 WTA Finals cup from Billie Jean King. Quite a few hands went up, and a student correctly identified one of the women as Serena Williams.

I went on to share what I learned about Williams: that she holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players. She has also won four Olympic gold medals, one in women’s singles and three in women’s doubles—an all-time record shared with her sister, Venus. The Williams sisters have been credited with leading a new era of power and athleticism on the women’s professional tennis tour. Earning almost $29 million in prize money and endorsements, Williams was the highest paid female athlete in 2016 and 2017. Further, since her return after having a baby, Williams has been an advocate for working mothers.

Then, I asked if anyone knew who the other woman was? Very few hands went up, but one brave sophomore correctly identified the other woman as Billie Jean King. What follows is the rest of my Convocation talk:

….By her own right, Billie Jean King is considered one of the best tennis players of all times, and she is known for defeating Bobby Riggs (a top player in the 1930s and 1940s and Wimbledon champion) in 1973 in an exhibition match, winning $100,000. Riggs had claimed that the women’s game was so inferior to the men’s game that he, a middle-aged man, could beat the current top female players. Indeed, he did beat Margaret Court. King took on the challenge, as well as the media frenzy that pitched the match as the “battle of the sexes.” Riggs said many demeaning things, not only about King but also about women in general.

Billie Jean King defeated Riggs in straight sets: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. I remember my parents and I gathered around the television to watch this historic event. I recall jumping up and down with excitement at her victory, feeling a barrier had been broken for her and for all women.

This summer, several Foxcroft faculty and I had the privilege of hearing Billie Jean King speak at the National Coalition of Girls Schools Global Forum. King was one of several featured presenters, all of them professional leaders and activists, and in many cases pioneers. The lineup included Azar Nafisi, Author of Reading Lolita In Tehran, an autobiography which tells of her courage to teach literature to seven women in her home after the Leading Party in Iran closed the universities, banned western books, and placed strict restrictions on women’s activity; Halla Tomasdottir, a business leader and 2016 Presidential Candidate of Iceland, who defied conventional wisdom about how to appeal to voters, not by acting like a man but by being true to herself and her values; and Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, among others; and the highlight, Billie Jean King!

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Photo provided courtesy of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.

King is, indeed, a pioneer in women’s sports. She had lots of firsts in her professional tennis career. Her “battle of the sexes” victory over Bobby Riggs garnered greater respect and recognition for women’s tennis overall. But her motivations were not merely related to winning tennis tournaments. King challenged the elitism and exclusion that prevailed in tennis and worked to professionalize the sport. She embraced the cause of equal pay for women. After she won the US Open in 1972, she was paid less than the men’s champion. She declared she would not play the next year if the prize money was not equal. Because of her advocacy, the US Open became the first grand slam tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.

And lest you think this issue is history, note that the US Women’s Soccer Team is suing for pay equal to the men’s team.

The list of King’s accomplishments is too great to include here. In hearing King speak, I was struck by how her life’s work has been about values-based leadership. While her early career was focused on individual successes through fierce training and competition, she took her hard-earned success and made a tremendous difference for the overall sport of tennis, for other women, and for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society at large.

Business leader Bill George, professor of management practice at The Harvard Business School and former CEO of Medtronic, would certainly call King an authentic leader. According to his definition, authentic leaders

  • Pursue purpose with a passion; authentic leaders are motivated intrinsically more than extrinsically to achieve their purpose. Extrinsic motivation is about winning, power, title, public recognition and social status. Conversely, intrinsic motivations come from a desire for personal growth, from satisfaction of doing a good job, from finding meaning from efforts and from making a difference in the world.
  • Practice their values, especially integrity. At their core, they are honest, trustworthy, and humble. You do not know what your true values are until they are tested under pressure.
  • Lead with the heart, having compassion and empathy for the people they work with and courage to make difficult decisions.
  • Demonstrate self-discipline, working hard, learning from failure, and accepting responsibility for outcomes
  • Establish enduring relationships with people who support them in their endeavors, but also motivate others to be their best selves (George, Bill. True North. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons, 2007).

Billie Jean King is just one of many authentic women leaders. This summer, our community read about four pioneers -Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Alice Waters and Jane Jacobs, whose purpose, principles, compassion, courage, and perseverance changed the way we see our relationship to our environment, to animals, to food, and to our neighborhoods. Their impact is evident in current events and discussions our society continues to have today. (Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet, 2018)

Last week, the world paid tribute to the life of Aretha Franklin, the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, whose cover song “Respect,” transformed the song and music history and became a rallying call for the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement and now the #METoo movement. Throughout the year, we will continue to discuss women trailblazers in classes, in morning meetings and advisory, and through speakers and field trips. It’s going to be an enlightening year in “herstory”!

To our new girls and their parents, today, you are joining a special community dedicated to girls’ education and women’s empowerment. Foxcroft’s mission is to help each student explore her unique passions and purpose; to develop skills through hard work in order to be successful in college and in life; to go forward with inner confidence and external courage, guided by our shared values of respect, integrity, kindness and service; and to lead and serve her community and make a difference in our world.

Students, your time at Foxcroft is part of your journey towards your “True North,” a time to expand upon what your life and leadership are all about. You bring with you the foundation your family has lovingly laid, and you will embark on your own path. This can seem a scary time for you and for your parents, but you have many tools and resources.

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This compass is a wonderful metaphor for your successful journey, one guided by your values and the values of the Foxcroft community, by your intrinsic motivations, and by the alignment between your public or school life and your personal or inner life.

As George writes, “Just as a compass points toward a magnetic pole, your True North pulls you toward [your] purpose…..When you follow your internal compass, your leadership will be authentic…and though others may guide or influence you, your truth is derived from your life story, and only you can determine what it should be” (George, Bill. True North. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons, 2007).

Your teachers and I are here to help you on your journey: we are your support team in the classroom, on dorm, on the field or stage, and in the ring. But so are your friends part of your support team. Living and learning with girls from all over the world will provide you with some of the deepest and most loyal friendships of your lifetime, and I encourage you to take every opportunity to nurture relationships that encourage one another to be your best selves. A good friend wants you to be successful and to build you up.

Also, as you enter the Foxcroft community, you become a member of a network of 3,000 alumnae strong, graduates of Foxcroft who support the school today and care about your success now and in the future. Today, you join their ranks by supporting Foxcroft’s mission through your words and actions; today you become part of something bigger than yourself.

At Foxcroft, you will be surrounded by faculty who work to advance girls’ education here and around the world. The optimism, faith and promise we hold for you, the young women who will be our future leaders, is palpable. As Megan Murphy, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls Schools, said, our goal is to help our students become “the women our world needs now.”

You are those women, and it is my honor and privilege to lead and support you on your journeys.

 

A Time for Reflection on our shared Values

A day after the one-year anniversary of the tragic events in Charlottesville and a rally in our nation’s capital, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect on Foxcroft’s shared values — values that unite our entire community. In 2016, the Board of Trustees adopted the following statement on Diversity and Inclusion as central to our educational mission:  

Foxcroft is a community of “understanding hearts,” where each girl is known and valued as an individual. Our core values of respect, integrity, kindness, and service to others guide us as we learn and live together within a community comprised of students and faculty of different backgrounds from all over the nation and the world.

Central to the boarding school’s educational mission, we prepare students for success in college and beyond. Our students will live and work in a global community, where cultural competencies, collaboration, empathy, and inclusion are essential skills. In our curriculum, our co-curriculum and our residential community, we encourage all members to pursue knowledge, recognize their personal biases, view a topic from multiple perspectives, and demonstrate respect for diverse viewpoints. We believe that respect requires a willingness in students and faculty to get to know one another — to inquire, to challenge, and to consider thoughtfully new perspectives without judgment.

Our community welcomes and celebrates the diverse histories, experiences, and identities of each of its members, and we believe that shared experiences — formal and informal — within a diverse community foster authentic human relationships and growth. Further, Foxcroft girls are inspired to recognize, reflect upon, and compassionately respond to the diverse needs of others outside of the school community through service learning opportunities.

We support teachers and students in their journey towards greater human understanding and personal development through a variety of courses and topics studied throughout the curriculum and through programming, student organizations, leadership development, and professional development opportunities.

As we prepare to welcome our newest Foxcroft students to campus, it is my promise to keep our goal of greater human understanding at the forefront of our interactions within our own community and with the world outside our campus.

 

Why Summer Reading?

“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away.”
— Emily Dickinson

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested.”
— Francis Bacon

Why read this summer? The answer seems so obvious, and yet it has never been so important. In fact, I have been writing about the topic of literacy for most of my career with growing alarm. According to a 2016 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, the percentage of the U.S. population reading literature has dropped since 1982 by almost 14% from 56.9% to 43.1% (www.arts.gov/artistic-fields/research-analysis/arts-data-profiles/arts-data-profile-10). Even more distressing is that literary reading among young adults has fallen 17% in the 18-24 age group over the past decade.

I won’t go into depth about the reasons offered by the experts; most explanations, predictably, are related to the new technologies that vie for our time, that give us instant information in easily digestible bits, and that have changed our ways of processing information away from text and toward graphics. While my parents used to have to tell me to turn off the television, parents today must monitor how much time kids spend on social media, on downloading videos, and on binge watching entire seasons of a favorite show on a laptop.

Other reading experts discuss the growing difficulty both adults and children have with the act of reading because “the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “When we read online…we tend to become ‘mere decoders of information.’ Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.” (quoted in https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/).

Foxcroft assigns summer reading in the spirit of keeping books in students’ hands. Summer reading is important to us on three broad levels:

Reading is a skill:
As such, reading is like any other skill: it improves with practice. Reading helps us be better readers, thinkers, and writers. Reading familiarizes us with rhetorical strategies: How does one idea relate to another idea? What are the basic patterns of language? What do these words mean? Reading teaches us to have patience, to anticipate, to deliberate, and to evaluate. Also, the correlation between avid readers and higher scores on standardized tests is measurable.

Reading is at the core of the academic experience:
Summer reading introduces students to themes, time periods, and styles that will be covered in the curriculum and gets students off to a running start at the beginning of the year. (Click here to read more about our All-School Summer Reading on trailblazing women).

Reading creates empathy:
Reading keeps us company; it transports us to other places in time and space; it engages the imagination, introduces us to great beauty and great pain, enlarges our sympathies, and helps us to be fully human. It stirs the soul.

Of note, many of our students do love reading. Foxcroft’s Next Chapter Book Club draws a diverse group of young women from different grades and experiences. What they have in common is the desire to read for pleasure and to share what they read with others.

We’d love nothing more than to expand our community of readers at Foxcroft. Everyone has a role to play in modeling reading as a life-long endeavor. We hope you’ll join us in our efforts!


 

My Summer Reading List