College Preparatory School for Girls Grades 3-12

Head's Notes - Community

com·​mu·​ni·​ty | \ kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē

As I imagine you know, we are focusing on community as our theme for the year. As I have said in several different venues, including convocation, we are doing this because, while we know that students continued to learn and grow during virtual and hybrid learning, a strong sense of community proved hard to maintain under those circumstances. We did better in some parts of the School than others, but in general not being able to gather in-person challenged the sense of community for the school at-large. As we focus on community, we want to be clear about what we mean by that word and, as I said at Convocation, think about how we intentionally strengthen it.

Community actually has several definitions, which makes sense when you think about it. Webster’s synonym for community is “neighborhood” and community means, among other things, a group of people who live near each other or who share something in common such as a profession, ethnicity or religion. A school, by definition, constitutes this kind of community.  However, while the first definition may be apt, we are emphasizing parts of the second definition: 

  • a: a social state or condition 
  • d: social activity : FELLOWSHIP

Interestingly, Webster’s uses a school in its example for definition a: “The school encourages a sense of community in its students.”

Of course, the first kind of community (“neighborhood”) can lead to the second (“a social state”). People in a neighborhood may develop relationships beyond simply the fact that they live in the same geographic place.  Some places let that happen naturally, while others create structures that encourage it such as providing a community center with activities or even, familiar to many in our area, a neighborhood pool. Some have formal traditions such as block parties or maybe families just gather for Friday night pizza. However formal or informal a neighborhood’s structures are, creating a social-type community depends on a person or persons making some effort to nurture that kind of community. 

Size also influences the nature of communities. Obviously, senses of community are different in a neighborhood consisting of just one or a few blocks as opposed to a town or city. Some of you may be familiar with Dunbar’s number, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which argues that humans are capable of maintaining no more than about 150 relationships. While not everyone agrees with this hypothesis, as a rough estimate, it makes sense, especially if you understand that those relationships vary from fairly casual or not strongly maintained (such as some high school friends for adults) to people with whom we spend the majority of our time. In the context of community, it means that groups larger than 150 (which obviously includes Holton-Arms), require more intentionality to create community. 

A variety of characteristics help groups build a sense of community, while also ensuring that as new members join the community, they will support its ethos. Clearly articulated goals, purpose, and mission along with an expectation of support for them represent some of the most important of such characteristics. At Holton, of course, our mission is to “cultivate the unique potential of young women through the ‘education not only of the mind, but of the soul and spirit.’” Embedded in our mission is a commitment to educating girls specifically, to recognizing that each of our students is unique and deserves to find ways to develop her individual potential; and an understanding that good education embraces more than just the academic side of school. Today, we realize our mission through Learn Well, Live Well, Lead Well (LW3), our educational philosophy:

With LW3, Holton-Arms employs a comprehensive, multi-dimensional philosophy of education. 

  • LW3 embraces excellence in academics, the arts, and athletics in concert with health and wellbeing, global competencies and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

  • LW3 ensures that our students reach their full potential and receive the preparation they need to become leaders who will change the world for the better.

In sum, through LW3, we aim to educate the mind, the soul and the spirit.

More specifically, as you know, we have developed eight schoolwide goals that we integrate into all aspects of a Holton education. These goals flesh out the LW3 philosophy and establish what we expect a Holton graduate to be able to do when she graduates. They are:


    • We understand and care for our physical and emotional health.


    • We understand the dimensions of our own identity and how it intersects with that of others. 


    • We recognize and appreciate diverse perspectives and abilities.


    • We communicate and connect across differences, develop healthy relationships, and accept responsibility for our role in community building.


    • We persevere through creative problem-solving and critical-thinking. 


    • We cultivate curiosity, embrace ambiguity, and exercise discernment 


    • We engage actively with local, national, and global communities in informed ways. 


    • We advocate, act, and lead with empathy, compassion, courage and integrity to promote justice, environmental sustainability, equity, and peace. 

To build community, we need to do more than just talk about the mission, the LW3 philosophy, and the schoolwide goals. We need to integrate these into the student experience, making it a cohesive shared experience.  For this reason, all departments and programs do just that. You can see specifically how individual departments accomplish this integration here (see left navigation bar for departmental goals and competencies).

As most of you know, Seminar represents one of the key elements of LW3. It is here that we bring together the eight schoolwide goals in a developmentally appropriate way beginning in third grade and progressing through every grade through eleventh (next year, we will add twelfth). Students explore the eight goals, learning concepts and skills that can both stand independently and that they can apply in their other classes, all aiming to help them realize our expectations that they will be competent in these areas by the time they graduate. In this way, Seminar plays an important role in developing community. For one, it provides an LW3 foundation as well as a springboard for the eight schoolwide goals and therefore helps us realize our mission.  In doing so, the curriculum helps to develop shared understandings, vocabulary, and experiences across all students -- all of which build community.  

When we hear students reference LW3 in speeches, when a fourth grader can recite her eportfolio competencies which grow directly from our school-wide goals, when job applicants remark on the cogency of how people talk about our programming, we know that we are creating a community grounded in a shared mission and goals.  

Ultimately, as we apply Mrs. Holton’s words about educating “the mind, the soul, and the spirit” in a 21st century context, we aim to develop leaders who will make the world a better place. We measure what we do and what our students do against that yardstick. In the 1920s, an alumna observed that “Holton-Arms is not an end in itself but a School from which young women graduate with a definite desire to make an active contribution to life.”  This was a direct result of Mrs. Holton’s influence and her expectations for her students. The through-line from Mrs. Holton’s quotation in the mission to the characterization made by that alumna to our work today creates connections over time that also help to enhance community. We are very conscious of Mrs. Holton’s legacy, and I believe she would be proud of the work we are doing today to graduate leaders who will make the world a better place.  

Stay tuned for more thoughts about how we build community in my next column.

~Susanna A. Jones