Joyful Learning Leads to Happy Hearts at PFS

Angela DeGraff
I was speaking with the mother of two Princeton Friends School students recently. She shared that on a drive to school one morning, her youngest daughter, a rising first grader, surprised her with an unexpected comment. She declared, “My heart is happy when I come to Princeton Friends School each day!”

That simple comment provided me with food for thought – our Central Study Theme for the year. I began to ponder, “What is it about PFS that contributes to a child’s happy heart? How do we cultivate a sense of wonderment and joy in our children’s learning experiences at PFS?
The purposeful ways in which we work to achieve our mission provide some clues.  At PFS, we nurture the intellect, the heart and the light in each child. We fully embrace our responsibility for facilitating the development of intellectual, physical, artistic and life skills. Our cherished traditions of Settling In, all-school singing, and folk dancing fused with place-based scientific investigations, literary workshops, and solving of the Problem of the Week are essential to our mission. These programmatic elements help to develop creative, critical and independent thinkers who analyze literature, nurture wonder, immerse in nature, find and express their voices, and sustain a vibrant, caring growing community. In sum, learning at PFS is robust and joyful, which leads to happy hearts.

One example of how we further our mission and ensure robust and joyful learning is through Central Study. Our commitment to social, emotional, and academic inter-connectedness manifests as we weave together inquiry and learning across grade levels and across the disciplines. Students of all ages and teachers across the school are engrossed in similar quests to explore and learn through the lens of the year’s theme. Whether we are discovering the role of food in exploration, nation building or as a symbol of national identity; learning about pollination before enjoying a beekeeper’s visit; or gaining knowledge about fermentation from a neighboring master chef – we build a community of learners who contribute to each other’s joyous learning experiences, thus making our hearts happy.

I suggest that another contributor to joyful hearts is our students’ engagement as good stewards of our environment and the fulfillment of their roles as servant leaders in our school and the broader community. During this school year as in year’s past, our students prepared more than 500 bag lunches people experiencing homelessness, organized the Walk for the World to raise funds for charitable causes, conducted compost and recycling campaigns, organized a seed sale, cultivated vegetables in our garden, and performed random acts of kindness for each other.
My heart was happy and filled with joy this fall when I watched our youngest children bring in their piggy banks to donate money for the Wilmington (NC) Friends School, which had been damaged by Hurricane Florence. The sight of our young ones emptying their savings into a big collection jug was a true testament to their selflessness and concern for others.   The smiles of satisfaction on the faces of our students that resulted from giving to a worthy cause were reflected from many happy hearts at PFS.
As a faculty, we strive to develop a deep sense of responsibility for self and others through our own modeling, by planning meaningful outreach activities, and by encouraging volunteerism. We do so because it is in keeping with our core values – Respect for all, Lifelong Learning and Responsibility in the World. In this way, our own modeling of stewardship prepares our children for the world that is and for the society they will one day help to create.  

It is a privilege to lead such a wondrous school! It makes my heart happy to come to PFS each morning, too! I work with talented teachers, devoted families, and with scholars engaged in robust learning. Our wonderful school nestled in the woods on historic land continues to fulfill its mission with a little help from our friends. With your support, our world has 140 more happy hearts. Thank you for your contributions to PFS. Because of you, we continue to inspire, teach, cultivate and nurture healthy, happy hearts.
A progressive, Quaker day school welcoming students in Pre-K through 8th grade to our historic Princeton campus nestled in the woods.