It’s been two and a half years since I left Chicago, and I still miss Morgan Park Academy and think often of the students, families, and colleagues who defined my nearly 30 years there as a teacher. As time passes, my appreciation for them increases.

Since my family and I moved to Arizona, I have worked as a teacher in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, teaching students who are juveniles remanded as adults.

Every day, I wonder how many of my current students would not be in jail or headed to prison if MPA had been a part of their lives. (You’ll notice that I do not say “MPA or a place like it,” because there is no place quite like MPA.)

MPA is great, I believe, in large part, because its people are a community where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Those parts are several and each plays a vital role in shaping the community.

Possibly the most important part are the parents of MPA students. The most important formative years in a child’s life are those when parents are the dominant influence in the child’s life. MPA is blessed to have an amazing group of parents who support their children and their education as well as their character development.

Next is the school itself. Of course, there are idyllic buildings and grounds creating a real sense of community and academia. Beyond that, there is the overall program, both curricular and co-curricular. The large majority of MPA students play at least one sport. That experience enriches their lives. We can say the same for drama, music, and art. What a tremendous benefit to the MPA community.

So next time you see the Lower School students performing, smile a little wider, laugh a little heartier and even sing along – but not too loud, please – because you have a deeper appreciation for the impact of these experiences in the life of the community.

Of course, the students are a key component of the community. They are, in fact, the reason the community exists at all. Being a PreK-12 school further enriches the lives of the students. When students of different divisions interact, all benefit.

Students also encourage their teachers. Teachers are inspired and motivated by their students’ embrace of new challenges — so much so that teachers seek new ways to challenge students and, consequently, enrich their lives.

The MPA faculty, which I was very proud to be a part of for 28 years, is second to none. Many of the current faculty members have no idea who I am, but I know them. The fact that they are on the MPA faculty tells me they are true professionals and deeply concerned not only about the curriculum, but also, and mostly, about their students. I know they are not afraid of long hours or hard work.

I will warn those faculty members that you come to MPA as one person, but you will not remain that person. The culture of the school is such that it molds and shapes you into someone else. Speaking for myself, I can say that this transformation is for the best and allows you to give even more to the community. In turn, you will reap benefits as well.

The administration, staff, and Board of Trustees, often working behind the scenes and receiving little thanks, are as vital to the function of the school and community as the engine, transmission, and wheels are to a car. In essence, without then we cannot move. The commitment of these people is a major reason MPA is what it is and, therefore, the foundation of all the good that goes on at the school.

Furthermore, there are the alumni and former students who left their mark on MPA primarily by establishing and embracing the traditions and culture of the community. They may have moved on but their impact remains in a lasting and positive impact on the current and even future students.

I am thankful to have been a part of MPA and still consider myself a member of the extended school community. I enjoy my job here in Arizona and working with my current students; however, any success I have can, at least in part, be attributed to MPA and its influence on me.

By Tony Churchill

Mr. Churchill taught and coached at MPA from 1984-2012.