The Value of Joy: It’s a Vision Thing

By Sarah-Vaughan Brakman

Recently, I received a call from the sister of a former student of mine. She and her family were moving to the area and she was looking at schools for her child. They had narrowed it down to Holy Child and another co-ed private school on the Main Line. They had toured both schools and her child had visited Holy Child and loved it. While both schools have super reputations for academics, she commented that Holy Child appeared to have a great deal of “hub-bub” going on. She noticed the talking in the hall as students moved through the school and the laughter wafting out of the classrooms. She wondered what to make of this. She was calling me to see why I had chosen Holy Child for my child. Did I love it? What did I think about the hub-bub, especially as an educator myself?

Sarah-Vaughan Brakman

Dr. Sarah-Vaughan Brakman

I began by saying my husband and I didn’t choose Holy Child; our child chose it and from that experience, we learned what was truly important in a lower and middle school experience. We learned that “joy” was everything. Here’s our story:

Ok, first off, lest anyone get the mistaken impression we are laissez-faire parents who live by the whims of a 4 year old…we DID choose Holy Child for PreK for our child. We did so based on academic expectations (and the commitment to “Nurturing Excellence”) and that our child would get a good formation in Catholic faith tradition (the commitment to being a “Catholic Community”). Indeed, our child had an amazing early childhood experience—learning to read independently and to make friends with other children and grow in faith.

As wonderful as her experience had been, our child did not return for first grade since we moved to a home at a considerable distance from the school. Another school with a good reputation seemed just fine, especially given our child was bright and flexible. The adage “bloom where you’re planted” came to mind. However, at the end of first grade, we heard: “This is ok, but everything I learned this year, I had learned in kindergarten at Holy Child.” At the end of second grade we got: “Could I go back?” At the end of third grade the hammer fell: “I was happy at Holy Child and you moved me for reasons that had nothing to do with my interests. I’ll get up at 5:30 in the morning if I have to.” (No lie, exact words.) We returned to Holy Child the next year.

Three years later, what I love about Holy Child is that every day when I pick my child up at school I hear: “I had such a great day learning cool things in crazy ways with my friends.” And invariably every story ends with (and there is always a story) “…It was hilarious!”

I got “schooled” from this experience. I should have paid attention to my child’s sense of being in a community where there is respect for the whole person as well as her being as an independent knowledge seeker. She had been happy at Holy Child and that should have caused more pause on our part. When a child is happy, that child will learn. A significant part of “Nurturing Excellence” is making sure students have opportunities to be expressive and happy.

I also want to make a different and much more important point. Our family discovered  what the Vision Statement means when it says Holy Child is a “Joyful Catholic Community.”  The school is grounded in a culture that has a clear identity and value system, and because of this, knowledge for knowledge’s sake is only part of the educational goal. Knowledge must also be used in service for others, who are also made in the image of God.

When humans (even small and immature humans) are engaging their minds and their hearts in the pursuit of knowledge in an atmosphere of respect and affection with others on the same quest…well, that is just an amazing experience! When that happens, there is joy—joy of learning, of connection, and of being of service to each other. And if this is what students are experiencing day in and day out…their joy is going to bubble over. They are going to laugh in the hall. They are going to get excited in class, and teachers are going to break out in song and dance. There is going to be, every now and then, a little—hub-bub!

So I told the mom who called that I believe at Holy Child, a school with a great academic program grounded in the Catholic tradition, some “hub-bub” is the sign of Joyfulness. This is the mark of a school filled with passionate, life-long learners who already seek the good of others. So, I’m very happy with a little hub-bub—it’s what we love about Holy Child!

One Comment

  1. Sarah-Vaughan,
    You’ve written what so many of us have experienced through our children at Holy Child!! Thank you! Our third son began at Holy Child as a 4th-grader in 2009. At the end of his first week–after a summer of high anxiety about changing schools because it wasn’t his choice to do so–he jumped in the car smiling and said, “Mom, I had a great day. I realized today that the kids in my class actually really like each other!” He was accepted and embraced by classmates from Day 1. That’s such an important part of the Holy Child experience! We are blessed!

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