News & Views

Board President: Belonging is a Continuous Act of Community

by Sarah Irwin; P'25, P'25

When I’m asked what makes Country School special, I often point first to our deeply held value of community. 
At the heart of the NCCS mission is a belief that children learn and grow best when they are rooted in an unshakeable sense of belonging. Country School students are fully seen and known, valued for all they are and can become, and surrounded by adults who inspire them to reach their highest potential.
Of course, those adults also thrive when they can bring their whole selves to work in a learning environment that values them. At its best, a flourishing school community includes everyone -- students, faculty, staff, families-- in a culture of belonging that respects and honors our individual differences.  
Like everything that happens in schools, this requires significant energy and intentional effort. Truly strong and inclusive communities grow through collaboration, coupled with a healthy dose of self-awareness and a continuous commitment to learn and do better. 
With this mindset, I recently joined a “pod” of 15 NCCS delegates (along with pods from many local independent schools) for Connecticut’s first Pollyanna conference, titled “Advancing our Climate of Belonging.” The structure of the conference brought together a cross-section of the NCCS community (students, faculty, staff, parents, recent alumni, and trustees) to discuss how our school and its policies can be more inclusive. It also offered the opportunity to connect with those who wear similar constituent hats in peer schools. 
Like Dr. Bettina Love’s rousing keynote, which urged educators to center the idea that “justice is about joy,” the conversations of the day were invigorating and ultimately hopeful. Over the past year, as many independent schools have experienced painful reckonings with racism and other forms of bias within their communities, all schools have learned valuable lessons and feel a renewed commitment to delivering on the promise of the mission for all. 
Among fellow Connecticut trustees, I heard consensus that working to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities will be essential to the success of future generations of students and to the long-term strength and financial sustainability of our schools. I also heard candid acknowledgment that this mission-aligned work is not simple; it requires schools to make room for reflection, honor diversity of thought, and find common ground if it is to be meaningful and lasting. 
In a fitting testament to the strong sense of voice Country School fosters, our pod’s youngest members, eighth-graders Penelope Arredondo and Daniel Marin, were a highlight of the conference. Their wise insights inspired all and exemplified NCCS’s positive impact in the world. As the group suggested positive action steps, shared commitment to the future of all our school’s students propelled the discussion. 
The conference was a powerful reminder that, as NCCS students experience on campus each day, our strength resides in our differences even more than it does in our commonalities. When any cross-section of our community comes together, every individual brings uniquely valuable skills and viewpoints to bear, and we all benefit. 
After all, a true culture of belonging is not a fixed endpoint, but a continuous act of community. Like many of the things we value most at Country School, it is something we can only create -- and keep creating-- together.
New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.