"The challenging class"

Posted by Linda Bryant - 07 June, 2011


They heard it throughout the years that they were students at Randolph and they heard it a lot in the week leading up to graduation: They were a challenging class. Amazing, talented, competitive, and accomplished, they were a force to be reckoned with. Linda Bryant, just completing her 20th year of service to Randolph, our Assistant Head of School and the mother of Cole '11, has observed the trajectory of this remarkable class. She shared her observations at Baccalaureate. These are excerpts from her remarks.

The year was 1999. You arrived and we gladly welcomed you with open arms, the Class of 2011. You were 5- and 6-years-old, precious and curious, with your neatly combed hair and bows, with inquisitiveness in every thought. We saw you as you see your kindergarten buddies now: with affection, anticipation and hope for all that they can be. The parents and teachers were really excited about the possibilities within you.

Forty-one percent of this class attended Randolph since K or 1st grade. By the 1st grade, the boys outnumbered the girls two-to-one.

As we got to know you better, we realized that your class was unique, composed of many strong-willed, bright, highly active children, the likes of nothing we had really seen before in complexity and dynamics. The combination and chemistry of this class was, quite frankly, over the top.  Individually manageable, but, collectively, an explosion. We were unprepared for a class with so much unharnessed potential.

You tested us. We had to develop totally new ways of teaching, organizing, presenting, managing and thinking about what we do and how we educate. But, after all, no one is at Randolph because it is easy. We are here because we want to be challenged, to learn and to grow whether as a student, teacher or staff member. We are here for the relationships that result in rich rewarding experiences.

In 6th grade your math teacher, Mrs. Yeager, described your class as so strong and such a force that when you came in the classroom it was as if a burst of air pressure entered the room and would cause her to step back. She said that teaching this class was like trying to shape a balloon. When she thought she had one area in place, the other side would pop out. She found it challenging.

Mrs. Cobbs said the teachers thought of you as a litter of puppies: young, busy and nipping at each other constantly. She and the teachers lamented long and hard on how to improve the learning experience, how to compose the classes to better manage the dynamics of so many boys, so few girls and such strong personalities. And it wasn’t just the boys that had strong personalities and dynamics.

They tried one all-boy class and two more balanced, mixed boy/girl classes in the 4th and 5th grades. Some things worked and some did not.

I traveled with you in 4th grade to Williamsburg. It was an amazing trip, going back in time and watching history come to life. We listened to Mrs. Wright’s stories, cooked in the Colonial period, watched iron being forged and glass bottles being hand-blown. During the day, you were hands on and attentive and showered with compliments from the guides for asking incredibly rich questions.

The class size grew and the number of boys grew. In 5th grade there were three boys to every girl.

In the 6th grade, Mrs. Harriman was unprepared for the challenges of your class. She seriously came close to quitting and then came the last day of school. It was that day the students learned that Robert Walker’s older brother, William, had lost his long, long battle with cancer.

William would sometimes eat lunch with the class and everyone knew what an incredibly special person and wonderful brother he was to their classmate, Robert. Upon learning of William’s death, every person in the class rallied around Robert. Nothing else mattered to any student except comforting Robert and trying to heal the pain that he felt and that they felt for him. It was selfless and beautiful.

Middle School brought raging hormones and roller coaster emotions. Considering the class dynamics, it’s no wonder that you brought Mrs. Robb to tears and continued to challenge every teacher and administrator in a new and different way.  When I would hear comments about how difficult the class was, I used to privately cringe and think to myself, “You don’t understand. These are the leaders of the future!”  I believed there had to be something special in all of that energy!

Your class was like a herd of wild young horses, strong and constantly jostling for position in a small corral.  Many times students were very physical. PE became a time for serious contact sports whether that was in the planned curriculum or not.

In the 7th and 8th grades Mrs. Sharma and Mrs. Allen put your memorization, writing and study skills to the test. But little could prepare you for the requirements of Mrs. Wright’s 9th grade history class.

I remember traveling with your class in 9th grade to Chicago and being impressed with how much you had grown since Williamsburg. The observations you made about the art, architecture and theater were clearly thoughtful and advanced beyond your years.  You were starting to show your true potential.

The next year, during college night, Mr. Allen showed the parents and students that this class had some of the strongest test results that the school had seen in over a decade. The value added of the Upper School experience was predicted and historically known to result in exceptional college entrance scores on the ACT and SAT. Clearly you had the ability to excel at Randolph and beyond.

You moved to the new Garth campus in the 11th grade and the spaces were just what you needed to capture your interest and spread your wings.

Even now you have found ways to channel your energy.  This senior year has been tremendous fun with games of table tennis and Nerf gun wars. You have come together and connected with one another in a way that can only come from the years of growth and overcoming adversity.

The majority of you are strong-minded, independent thinkers with take-charge personalities. Interestingly, I believe the ones who were not originally of this mindset actually benefited as much or more from the constant competition for a place at the top. These students became stronger and more confident in who they were. Students learned what their strengths were and learned to stand up for themselves and what they believed in.  You had to do this to be in this class.

Today you remain a group of students with varied interests and unique talents. There is intelligence, humor, grit and kindness within you. You celebrate these qualities and embrace each others' uniqueness. You actually like one another, which is wonderful when you think about the cat fights and scuffles along the way. But I guess what is particularly nice is that you are quite close—much like a family.

There is tremendous heart and compassion in you.  You have shown that you want to be part of something bigger than yourself. You proved this during the year through a number of acts: taking the initiative to rally behind the wish of a terminally ill child, building homes for local families without shelter, raising money and painting the facilities for the Boys and Girls Club and, recently, performing disaster cleanup for the tornado victims in our area.

We have watched you play fiercely competitive games, matches and contests and perform captivating concerts, plays and monologues. Your writing is creative and your designs are innovative. Your artwork is rich and provocative.  Your accomplishments are impressive.  This class, the challenging class, your class, has:

  • talented artists, singers and musicians
  • Superior Award winning band and choral members
  • an always smiling and lovely Miss Teen Alabama
  • a gifted and talented dancer who moves so fluidly the audience is caught in the moment
  • actors who receive standing ovations for every performance
  • four members who were part of our first-ever girls state soccer championship
  • soccer players who pulled together despite significant injury and led a team to play their hearts out and go to the boys state finals
  • five senior basketball players who led a team to fiercely compete and win the first area tournament in over a decade and go on to compete in regional
  • the fourth place winner in State swimming last year
  • seniors who led a cross-country team to win their sixth consecutive state championship
  • the generosity to forgo a trip to Six Flags in order to volunteer to help tornado victims
  • thespians who have led the troupe to win and go to their ninth consecutive international competition
  • the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in both Trumbauer and State Thespians competitions
  • supported a Science team winning the state and regional competition and going to the nationals this week
  • a first place runner who earned the 3A state title in both the 3200 meter run (~2mile) and the 1600 meter run (~1mile run); who was one second shy of the state record
  • the NSCAA Scholar All American award, one of only 38 in the country
  • received millions in scholarships
  • 13 National Merit Semifinalists
  • a Presidential Scholar, one of only 144 in the nation
  • been given extraordinary opportunities from teachers, coaches and sponsors that challenged and loved you.

Find your passion. Follow your dreams. Show the world your true potential and, more importantly, your true character. Take the initiative to work hard and to stand for what you believe. Remember who you are, part of us and part of something bigger than yourself, willing to give back and make a difference.

And thank you for challenging and teaching us.

Topics: 12th grade, 4th grade, 6th grade, After, character, graduation, Kindergarten, lifers, Lower School, Middle School, teachers, Upper School

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