The Promises We Make to Each Other

September 23, 2021

Head of School Allison Gaines Pell standing in front of the Wheeler main building in Providence and smiling at the camera.
Allison Gaines Pell is Wheeler’s Head of School

On Monday night, I had the chance to speak with a lively group of assembled new parents and guardians for the first time in a very long time. It was so heartwarming to hear about their experiences with their kids’ first days at Wheeler, and I shared a story, as well as my own thoughts, about what it means to join the Wheeler community.

In the year before my arrival as Head of School, I talked with a Wheeler alumna. We spoke about her Wheeler experience for a while, and then I asked her some questions about how it might be for my kids to transition from New York to Rhode Island. That’s when she said something I haven’t forgotten: that she didn’t feel like she grew up in Providence or Rhode Island, but at Wheeler. It was here she formed connections she hadn’t lost, found out who she was, and had incredible highs and hard lows.

Some of our new parents will be here for four years, and some will be here for 14. Regardless, what does it mean to “grow up” at Wheeler?

We know that you signed up for a school – and its exceptional academic, artistic, and athletic programs, which we will deliver. But our mission, “To learn our powers and to be answerable for their use,” which was Mary C. Wheeler’s ideal, means something more for all of us. For your children who are our students, it means that we will help bring out their excitement, curiosity, and passion. Sometimes that will be easy. Sometimes hard. Sometimes it will take some time; sometimes you and they will wonder if it might not ever come. It also means they will need to be accountable, develop self-efficacy and resilience, and delve into a search for their purpose. As they grow, they’ll be asked to consider hard questions and, as I said to them in my opening remarks this year, never settle for the easy answer. We’ll ask them to advocate for themselves and find ways to advocate for others–those they know and those they do not. We’ll push for productive struggle in their classes; things will be challenging at times.

For us, as your faculty and staff, it means we’ll work in partnership with them and with you. As we know with any partnership, it will have easier and harder patches. For us, our mission means that we are constantly growing and evolving, studying new ideas, tweaking older ones, and giving our best to our students.

For parents and guardians, it means that you are joining a group of other adults who believe in this mission and who have also chosen to be part of it. In this way, we have chosen each other. It means that there are people here who will be there when your student takes the Aerie language class that changes their life or finishes their paper on The Catcher in the Rye or Their Eyes Were Watching God. They’ll be there when your student encounters the end of 10th-grade inquiry science final; memorizes the famous “to be or not to be” in senior year; is exposed to robotics for the first time; gets a part–big or small–in the play; or make a new time in cross country or scores a goal in soccer. They will be there when you get ready to send them off to college. Take advantage of this community–we have come through and will continue to come through good and hard things together. Over these years, I urge you to turn towards one another. Let’s use the great strength of our community to be answerable for our own strengths and for the privilege we have to be here together during this window of time in our lives. Wheeler is not a destination; it is a launchpad for good work.

With that, I want to share a list of promises we make to you and a list of responsibilities we ask of you as we join together to raise up your children:

  • We promise to put our 130-plus years of experience as a school to work every day to provide your child with a world-class education.
  • We promise to know, see, and appreciate your child as an individual.
  • We promise to value and respect your family’s culture and background.
  • We promise to work with you and your child when times are good and when they are hard, and we know there will be both.
  • We promise that you will always be heard.
  • We promise that we will not always be perfect, but we will always be learning.

In return, we ask that you hold some responsibilities and promises, as well, to do the following:

  • Remain informed. Read what we send you, and use the tools at your disposal, such as the parent and guardian portal, This Week at Wheeler, and other communication tools.
  • Bring any problems you have to us directly. If something is wrong, we want to hear from you. If your child is with us for any length of time, things will surely come up. Contact us directly when they arise so that we can work together.
  • Support our community with your philanthropy. Tuition only covers 80 percent of what it costs to educate each student, so we rely on everyone to contribute to the Wheeler Fund at whatever level is comfortable. You will hear more about the Wheeler Fund later this fall, and when you do, I hope you will join our community of supporters.
  • Support our community with your engagement. We rely on the talents of our families to contribute to our school’s positive growth. Our parents association–WSPA–is a great way to start. Go to games and events and volunteer at the Clothing Sale. These are great ways to get involved.
  • Support our community with your stories. We continue to attract the region’s top students through your word of mouth and the Wheeler experiences you talk about with your friends and neighbors. Share your stories with others.
  • Believe in shared growth: Just as we have, commit that while we won’t always be perfect, we’ll always be learning.

With that, I welcome our new parents and guardians not only to this year, but to the Wheeler journey and to what will be a foundational part of your child’s growth and development. We are so glad you are here and look forward to the many years ahead of us to get to know you, to see your child grow, and to see them stretch for all that is possible in a Wheeler education.