It goes without saying that students are the soul, the spirit of the Academy. Because we are a PreK-12 school, many of our students are with us for several years and some even for their entire academic careers – what we refer to as “lifers.” And this is one of countless reasons MPA is so special – many student memories are first formed in the early years, right here on campus. I can recall seniors about to graduate, taking a moment to pause for one last turn on the playground because it was there that they first met some of their classmates and forged lifelong friendships.

lessonsfromtheplaygroundsocialmediaSo with that in mind, with this blog, I hope to give voice to student memories because put simply (perhaps even obviously), my time here at the Academy means far more because of the students I have met and taught.

From the very beginning of school, the social highlights of the year were parties: Halloween, Holiday, and Valentine’s Day. Room Mothers would appear, bringing with them never-ending supplies of Kool-aid, cake, and candy. Later on there were sleep-overs, roller-skating parties, and then basketball games. Social life became more significant and the importance of that secret crush seemed huge. Friendships were developed…we counted on them through those crazy times when all the world was a joke, when nothing felt better than to laugh until tears came.

Climbing, reaching, aiming for higher goals. One hand after the other, hanging from the monkey bars, step by step, decision by decision. I look at the ground, at where I’ve been, and fear takes over…dizziness, the height. Will I fall? But I learn to look at my goal…step by step, decision by decision. And I sit on the top, realizing that I’ve made it.

A struggle at first. Pushing, pumping, working hard to get the swing off the ground. A push from a friend gets me started. Going crooked and starting again, just to experience the exhilaration of rushing through the air. And once I’ve made it, nothing can stop me! I have achieved my purpose; freedom is mine.

I can balance the seesaw when I first start. But to continue, another is needed. Both giving and taking, achieving a rhythm. Trusting that the other will continue to play his part, believing he won’t let his end crash and jolt me. The partnership is in jeopardy until we work as one to keep moving.

The seeds of friendship were planted that first year when eyes roamed restlessly to the clock, counting the minutes until the bell would ring, signaling that glorified period in the life of an elementary student – recess. Whether time was spent playing a hasty game of foursquare or going up and down the slide one after another, a love was unfolding – for the outdoors, for physical exertion, for friendship. Energy came from the sunshine, fresh air, healthy exercise, and being together. It was a dynamic originating in the early years of our youth.

Dreams of acting onstage in the spotlight…the love of writing and the desire to see your work in print…an innate talent for music. All of these things began unfolding long ago and became the reality that they are today. A lifetime interest in biology or chemistry for some was sparked by an insect on the playground or the ocean in the middle of Jones Bowl. Others aspired from their earliest years to become teachers. For all of their ambitions, MPA accommodated each young person as they entered each division. These activities not only created drive and spirit in a student, but also provided an outlet for that which was already stirring.

From the first shy “hi” to a strange face, lifetime relationships were established. Sometimes friends were lost, but usually new ones were gained, differences reconciled, and resentments forgotten. Whether a withdrawn, meditative introvert or a vivacious witty socialite, each person grew into the social web of the school.

I have had the privilege to teach students for 41 years and had the opportunity to see our youngest students learning the art of play, our Middle School students solidifying friendships as they move to Upper School, and our Seniors at Commencement become alumni. What strikes me, and what I will remember for many years, are both the stories students shared with me and those that I witnessed  – especially those that started on their very first days here at MPA.

By Thomas Malcolm

Mr. Malcolm teaches Middle School science at Morgan Park Academy