Hudson Scholars: Helping One Another To Be Good

Perspectives Fall 2016-17 By Steve Bileca, Assistant Headmaster:  In 1904, Hackley’s First Headmaster, Theodore Chickering Williams, wrote that he had hoped to create a school “where it should be easy to be good.” Generations of Hackley students, teachers and families have felt drawn to the Hilltop by that beautiful aspiration ever since.

Chickering Williams wrote, wisely, that it should be easy to be good -- but not that it is easy. It rarely is. We all face daily obstacles. We are all tempted by shortcuts. And we all receive -- and sometimes send -- mixed messages about what is worth valuing. So how should a school impart lessons that encourage students to choose goodness over expedience, kindness over indifference, moral courage over timidity? How do we maintain a culture that makes it easy to be good?

The short answer is -- it needs to be in everything we do. In the way teachers model dialogue and debate in the classroom, in the way we foster student leadership, in our language and approach to redirecting students’ -- and our own -- inevitable mistakes, in the texts we choose for our curriculum, in the range of our assemblies and invited speakers, in the multiplicity of perspectives we encourage, in the way we listen to each other, especially in the caring relationships we cultivate. Not least, it needs to be in the opportunities we create for teachers and students to look beyond Hackley’s hilltop, to engage with the world, and to transform and be transformed by the experience.

Hudson Scholars, an enrichment public partnership program that Hackley piloted this summer, is doing just that. Under the leadership of Upper School teacher and dean David Sykes, and with the support of an outstanding group of Hackley teachers and Upper School students, Hudson Scholars provided two weeks of a camp-like academic experience for promising middle school students from the local community who qualify for free or reduced lunch. In early July, 16 students from Tarrytown’s Washington Irving Middle School arrived on the Hilltop for their first day as Hudson Scholars. By all accounts, the experience was magical -- for everyone involved. Science teacher Melissa Boviero observed, “The scholars came to class excited and curious. In my class, we used Hackley’s campus area to gather rock samples. Our scholars honed their observation skills, created Venn Diagrams (which they learned about in Math class) to differentiate and classify their samples, and learned how to safely use rock hammers, streak plates, and glass plates to gather data about their rocks. We had an incredible time exploring the Hackley woods and gathering beautiful rocks from all over our campus.”

Over the course of two weeks, students engaged in challenging and fun courses in English, Math, Science, Drama and physical education while learning leadership skills and values such as hard work, integrity and community. Dave Sykes observes, “The connections and bonds between the scholars and the student volunteers was one of the outcomes we most appreciated. You could see in the scholars’ faces just how much they wanted to grow up to be like the bright and big-hearted Hackley students who worked with them. And the student volunteers, at the same time, were inspired by the energy, passion and curiosity the scholars brought to campus each and every day.”

Student volunteer Roya recalls, “It was either on the second or third day when Mr. Sykes asked the kids what comes to mind when you think about the Hudson Scholar program. Several hands shot up into the air. The first response came from [a boy] and all he said was, ‘family.’ I knew in that moment that this was special.” At the end of the two weeks, each scholar was asked to make a presentation about a community he or she belongs to -- and over a quarter of them chose to talk about their newfound connection with the Hackley Community.

For the teachers, it was an opportunity to see their familiar places and programs through new eyes. Math teacher Dianne Fahy says she was “so glad that the Hilltop could give roots to all of us in expanding ourselves and allowing each of our talents to be funneled into this incredibly enriching program. It was as enriching an experience for me as my trips to China, New Orleans, and Nicaragua with the Casten Trip program.”

Julia, one of the student volunteers, reflected that the program offers Hackley “an important opportunity to uphold the mission statement and spread these values of growth and learning from one another.” She observes, “The character and actions I saw in the Hudson Scholars probably embodied the mottoes “united we help one another,” “enter here to be and find a friend,” and “unreserved effort” as much or more than in any other group of students I saw in my thirteen years at Hackley. The program renewed my appreciation for learning and for the power of reaching out to forge connections with others.”

On the final Friday of the program, as the scholars and their families gathered for a barbecue before the students’ overnight campout on Akin Common, they completed a survey on their experience. As successful as the previous two weeks had seemed, we were overwhelmed to read how profoundly the experience on the Hilltop affected the scholars. Their feedback captured the extraordinary sense of community they found, the excitement for learning, the confidence and leadership skills they gained, and the new-found understanding that each of the students could go on to college. Everyone, including the Hackley student volunteers, expressed desire for the program to continue next summer and perhaps even grow. And already, a current Hackley student, herself a Washington Irving alum, has begun making plans to create a Hudson Scholars Club that will deepen these relationships throughout the school year and beyond.

It’s true -- a tremendous amount of hard work went into making the Hudson Scholars program a success during this pilot phase. For Dave Sykes, it’s been a labor of love that brought together former Hackley parents committed to local community service efforts, a team of teachers and student volunteers at Hackley, administrators, teachers, parents and students from Tarrytown’s Washington Irving School and Hackley’s administration. Hard work, yes. But then, it is not always easy to be good. When programs such as Hudson Scholars take root -- when those who volunteer and those who are served each feel they have learned more from their counterpart than vice-versa -- we come very close to a place where it is, indeed, easy to be good.

Iuncti Iuvamus: United We Help One Another