Coming Back to Hackley: An Alumna Reflects

Hackley Perspectives: By Krysta Dudley ’01, Lower School Teacher: I often reflect on my four years spent in Hackley’s Upper School as some of the best years of my life. In fact, I loved my years as a student there so much, that I decided to return to the Hilltop to continue my career as an educator. A driving force behind my return was because Hackley was monumental in shaping me into the person that I am today.

These statements are very grandiose and while they are easy for me to make, I have not had much time to think about the “why” behind them. What was it about Hackley that made it so special to me? The incomparable education provided by top-notch educators is at the top of the list, as is the serene and beautiful campus, and of course, the days that we had tortellini for lunch.

But when I think back on my experience, I realize that the interpersonal relationships that I formed -- with my peers, teachers, and coaches -- are truly the “why” behind what makes Hackley such a unique place. I remember heated debates in my Upper School history classes, with everyone’s opinion encouraged, valued, and respected. Attending art shows, plays and coffee house evenings, observing with pride all of the individual talents that my fellow classmates had to offer. While I often can’t remember what I wore a few days ago, I still recall one liners from freshman year Anthropology, the perfect circle drawn during a Geometry lesson, and the main arguments of my Senior Year Utopia paper. Hackley, as a community, works to intrinsically inspire each individual student to be the very best version of themselves that they can be.

That experience I had at Hackley, and the teachers who helped foster it, propelled me into the field of education. I knew that I wanted to inspire joy and love for learning in others, while simultaneously creating a classroom community that felt safe. A community where differing opinions and backgrounds were respected and encouraged. A community where working hard and putting forth your best effort were paramount.

I had an extremely fulfilling career as a kindergarten teacher at an independent school in New York City. However, when the opportunity arose to teach in Hackley’s Lower School, I knew that it could not be ignored. While I was not actively looking for a change, I was filled with curiosity. Was Hackley’s Lower School reflective of my personal Upper School memories? Were there the same values that I held so dear as a student and now as an educator? There was only one way to find out. I arrived at campus with the warm feeling that I have felt every time I visit. Upon walking into the Lower School, an unfamiliar territory to me, I saw the motto, “Enter Here to Be and Find a Friend,” and was filled with wonder and anticipation.

The minute I stepped foot into the kindergarten classroom, I “found and was” just that, a friend. The students were actively engaged in differentiating between fiction and nonfiction. They were debating, questioning, and expressing their opinions, and were respected for doing so. They immediately welcomed me, engaged me in conversation, and asked for my opinion in return. It was exactly as I had remembered: passionate, articulate, and comfortable, even at just five and six years old.

Now that I am teaching at Hackley, this passion for learning is evident every day with my first graders. Hackley’s Lower School curriculum is infused into all subjects. Just the other day, while we were learning about directionality and “north, south, east, and west,” on a map, the first graders couldn’t help but gleefully start singing the song they are learning in music: “Fifty Nifty United States,” and I couldn’t help but join in.

This is the Hackley I remember, and the Hackley that I am proud to be a contributing member of today. And as an added bonus, tortellini is still on the menu.

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