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explore our CAMPUS

What's cool about our campus is that it's spread out over seven acres in Philadelphia's historic neighborhood of Germantown. The buildings are an eclectic mix of old and new, a unique look and feel more consistent with a college campus. With three gyms, three auditoriums, a student center, numerous open, green spaces and nine classroom buildings, it's a place worthy of adoration and exploration. The Meetinghouse, at the center of it all, provides a beautiful and spiritual focal point.

1. Main Building 2. Meetinghouse 3. Sharpless 4. Hargroves 5. Wade Science Center 6. Alumni Building 7. Admissions 8. Living Graveyard 9. Dead Graveyard 10. Loeb Performing Arts Center 11. Smith Gym 12. Cary Building 13. Friends Free Library 14. Field House 15. Scattergood Gym

we have deep roots in this place

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The Pillars of A

Quaker Education

At GFS, students and teachers gather in Meeting for Worship once each week. This is a time for shared, silent contemplation. Anyone who feels moved to speak may rise and do so. It is a simple formula, and can be a remarkably powerful experience.In these days of constant connectivity, the ability and opportunity to sit in silence have special value. Meeting for Worship is a cornerstone of the GFS culture that many come to cherish throughout their lives.

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speak the truth

We strive to deal fairly, equally and honestly with everyone. We aim to do as we say, reflecting our beliefs in our actions. even when it is inconvenient or challenging, we stand by our convictions, striving to lead lives of integrity.

Shine Together

We are all blessed with remarkable gifts. We are equally qualified to seek truth and to hear the voice of God. Every person deserves equal respect. For these reasons, we work against prejudice and discrimination and for equality.

stay connected

"Alone we can do little; together we can do so much."* We know there is strength in cooperation and wisdom to be found when many perspectives come together. We believe in the power of community.*
The words of Helen Keller.

keep it simple

In every way we can, we try to minimize the distractions that can draw our attention from the important things in life. This means not becoming overwhelmed by the busyness of daily routine. It means seeking balance. It means embracing simplicity.

care for all

This planet we inhabit, the talents we've been given, the community of which we are a part- all hold remarkable value. We must be responsible, imaginative and proactive in protecting these gifts and caring for the world and people around us. We must exercise good stewardship.

promote peace

We believe each life is precious and unique. We stand against war and violence and work to eliminate their root causes, including ignorance, racism, hatred and oppression. We are committed to creating peace.

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Writing for Thinking Notebooks: Continuing Revelation in the Pandemic English Classroom

By Rachel Reynolds, Middle School English Teacher, Germantown Friends School

If adolescence is marked by a quality of unknowing — of curiosity and uncertainty, a sense that anything might be possible — then to be an adolescent during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to experience this sensation writ large. Thrown into an ephemeral landscape of blue-lit boxes, straddling the world of home and school without preparation or prior experience to rely on, middle schoolers (like the rest of us) suddenly found themselves everywhere and nowhere at once in spring of 2020, meeting people who otherwise would never have set foot inside their houses within the confines of their bedrooms and sharing meals in their kitchens with people they couldn’t touch. While as an adult, I still exercised some control over my days — I had lessons to prepare, meals to cook for my child, reading up to do on the latest in virus information — I was struck by how haunted students seemed by the sudden disappearance of school as a physical site and community. If school opened and closed with their computers, then was it even really happening? With the floor dropped out below them, the task for me as their teacher became to answer that question in the affirmative, and then to prove it.

Once the initial whirlwind of shifting to remote instruction subsided, we had the opportunity at my school to hunker down with our teaching teams (shout-out to Chelsea Koehler and Sara Primo) and to work with a mentor from Global Online Academy (GOA). As my colleagues and I considered what questions we wanted to bring to our mentor, we kept going back to paper, to proof: We wanted our students to come out of their eighth grade year with evidence that it had really happened; we wanted them to hold their own accumulation, to offer a counterbalance to so much existing in the elusive space of the internet. And we wanted to continue to keep our school’s Quaker roots at the forefront. We decided we needed a notebook.

I brought this nascent notebook idea to our GOA coach, who helped develop it into sections: prompts, cool words, and questions. From there, we added another section — writing territories — and embraced the idea that we could use these notebooks to center the idea that you don’t have to know what you have to say in order to write. Instead, you can write to think, writing can be a tool to process and move towards clarity. In a time riddled with uncertainty, and standing on the already shaky ground of early teenage-dom, it felt like a balm we could offer our students was a fierce embrace of unknowing and a commitment to introspection and a steady practice of curiosity. With that, Writing for Thinking notebooks were born.

“WFT notebooks are one of my favorite parts of 8th grade English. It gives you a place to dump your thoughts and ideas in whatever (hopefully a bit organized) way you want. It is nice to have a space that is purely your mind without much interruption. My personal favorite section was the Writing Territories section. I loved seeing all the lists of responses to the prompts and to look back on what was on my mind. Also I loved decorating mine and making it my own.” — R.C. (8th grade student)

Prompts

On one hand, the prompts section of our Writing for Thinking notebooks — or, WFT notebooks, as we’ve come to affectionately call them — is a space to prepare for the class to come. It’s a sneak peek of where we’re headed and an invitation to get your head into that space. While the above prompts were part of a unit on the personal essay and generated material that was thinned and narrowed into the world of one piece, what exists in student notebooks is also a record of themselves in this moment. If they open to that page, what they’ll find is a reflection of their interior as it existed on a certain morning this past fall. The lists they’d write today would overlap, but they wouldn’t mirror the original exactly; and in this way, the list becomes a pin on the map of their journey through this year.

Cool Words

As English teachers, we are convinced that words are cool. They are one of the most useful tools we have for communicating, after all, and one of the building blocks we turn to for making sense of the world. Middle schoolers, however, are ready skeptics. Words are something to be quizzed on, corrected about, to struggle to find. With the Cool Words section of WFT notebooks, we wanted students to take language into their own hands, to feel themselves in the driver’s seat of making meaning. If they felt limited by the world, we wanted them to recognize language as a site of expansion, of agency and curation, of connection and even delight. With the top entry, we aimed to combine a love of language with love for the self, to affirm language as worthy of adoring and, in finding this language within their own writing, to have students affirm themselves in the process. With the entry that follows, we asked students to examine their relationship to making meaning, inviting their attention towards their own process and, in doing so, nudging them to consider their orientation to authority and authorship. While some students went to the dictionary, others crafted idiosyncratic definitions for their names that spoke to who they are and/or how they hope to be seen in the world. Always, in our notebooks, we are practicing noticing, pulling out small threads of ourselves to turn them over in the light.

Writing Territories + Daily Diaries

Inspired by educator Nancie Atwell, we wanted to periodically invite students to pause and reflect on the stories closest to their hearts. What stories are they uniquely poised to tell? What are the stories they keep going back to, the ones that hold keys to something essential and their own. As the days blurred together, we wanted students to pause and notice themselves, to find depth by turning inward when so much on the outside was out of reach. Writing Territories held space for this process.

Our approach went something like this: We would offer a category — pets, then and now; itches; costumes — and students would put pen to page and write, crafting a list in response. The rules were loose; the aim was for kids to see where these tiny categorical prompts took them if they just kept writing. At the end, we’d share. The array of responses that emerged was breathtaking: how unique we all are, how much we have in common.

When we reached our poetry unit, we borrowed an idea from author Lynda Barry and tasked students with daily diary entries. They were to use their notebooks on a daily basis, breaking the page into quadrants. In the top left, they were to note 7–10 things they’d done that day, while in the top right they noted 7–10 things they saw. For each of these quadrants, students were challenged to spend two minutes a piece, challenging themselves to identify things for their list that were unique to their day or their lives. In the bottom left corner, students had 30 seconds to jot down something they’d overheard in their day; in the bottom right quadrant, they had another 30 seconds to draw a quick picture of something they’d seen.

On one hand, daily diaries were a way to practice specificity with writing, honing students’ attention to images and details and helping them tease out those things that capture the essence of an experience. On a more pressing level, though, the diaries were an invitation to look beyond their screens, to disrupt the sameness of life in quarantine by insisting on differentiation across their days and tasking them with practicing noticing it. We wanted to help kids round out their lives, to see how much was happening and to step into their power as authors of the story of their days.

Questions

If WFT Notebooks are a space for embracing uncertainty, then the elevation of questions seems like an essential facet. The last section in our notebooks, students wrote questions from the last page inward, slowly bringing their wonder toward the center.

Sometimes we gave students prompts, as in the above example, which we used in our poetry unit. More often, though, we began class with a question dump, dedicating a few minutes for students to empty their brains to the page with every question, big and small, milling about their minds. Anything was fair game: What’s for dinner? Why did I pick that fight with my sibling? Can we save the planet from global warming? The goal was to help them get things out, to find a bit of peace by putting the nagging bits on the page where they can look at them. It was also to help them see themselves. We each have our own haunts, our own curiosities, and setting them before us is a way of deepening our understanding of who and how we are in the world. As much as we are guided by what we feel we know, uncertainty also informs our path — we hoped through this practice students would start to see theirs more clearly. With regards to more formal writing, our questions also offered points of entry as students were empowered to identify questions they felt inspired to follow more deeply.

“I liked how my WFT notebook was a safe place where I could process and collect my thoughts. When people shared their ideas, it helped me think more deeply about the prompt.” — M. G-Y (8th grade student)

Site of Possibility

As the pandemic tossed everything we thought we knew about school into the air, we were forced to prioritize and to articulate what mattered most in our classrooms. As we made peace with the fact that we would not be able to do everything we’d done in the past, my colleagues and I found ourselves recognizing a site of possibility: What did this mean we could do instead? While the landscape of remote and hybrid teaching continued to fluctuate, we knew we needed an anchor, something concrete to return to time and again, no matter what form our classes took. We also knew that we were uniquely poised to help students document their experience of this unusual year, thanks to our curricular investment in writing. From here, Writing for Thinking notebooks were born. This pandemic landscape isn’t where they end, though; instead what crystalized for us along the way is that WFT notebooks are a tool that speaks to the needs of our students and that helps us teach holistically, centering the entanglement of the self with our texts and curriculum and guiding students to embrace their unique generative capacities in the process. No matter what is happening in the world, 8th grade is a time of transition, a moment when students step starkly into themselves as they settle into being teenagers and begin envisioning themselves as high school students and beyond. WFT notebooks hold space for them to pause in this process, to reflect and move forward intentionally, all while supporting their connection to class material. The challenge for us as teachers is to deepen their use in our classrooms. After navigating a pandemic, that is a most welcome exploration.