The Friends Council on Education (FCE) is celebrating its 90th Anniversary with events over a twelve-month period, from April 2021 to April 2022. The two founders Hadassah and Morris Leeds are pictured above.
Friends Council launched the celebration in April during their spring annual meeting. Their QuakerEd Talk series is a continuation of the commemoration. Throughout the year FCE is lifting up the voices of national leaders and individuals who have been influenced by Quaker education. This exploration of the important issues of our time and the future of Quaker education has broad appeal and is open to all Friends, Friends educators, and members of the broader community.
The September 22nd event, ‘Sources of Light Moving Forward‘ will feature Darryl J. Ford, Head of William Penn Charter School and alum of Friends Select School, Keisha Hutchins, Singer-songwriter, Friends school educator, alumnae of Germantown Friends School, and Cydney Brown, Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate 2020, Abington Friends School senior.
Below is an interview with the Friends Council Team — Drew Smith, Executive Director, Deborra Sines Pancoe, Associate Director, April Diop, Office Manager and Tech Coordinator, and Elisabeth Torg, Director, Development and Communications — on the subject of FCE’s work and the 90th Anniversary celebration:
Q. Today, Friends Council on Education (FCE) has a clear purpose, mission, and scope of services to schools as well as workshops, affinity groups, and networking opportunities. How has this changed from 90 years ago?
Friends Council on Education’s size and scope of services has expanded dramatically from 90 years ago. At the time of our founding in 1931, two Friends, Morris and Hadassah Leeds invited 90 educators to form a Council on Friends Education.
Representatives from three yearly meetings, Friends General Conference, twelve secondary schools, thirteen elementary schools, and three Quaker colleges founded Friends Council on Education. Today, 90 years later, we have 76 schools in 21 states and we serve just under 5,000 Friends School faculty and staff and just over 1,000 school trustees.
At the start back in the 1930s, we had one publication and offered one peer network — for Upper School religion teachers. That peer network, now called Spiritual Life and Religious Studies Peer Network, still exists, and now we offer over 10 additional peer networks. We now offer our publications electronically and have a much wider mailing list for sharing news and information about Friends education. We have come a long way in 90 years.
Friends Council now offers a Quaker Self-Study as part of each school’s Membership Renewal Process for Friends Schools. We administer a national tuition aid program — National Friends Education Fund (NFEF) — distributing tuition aid to Quaker children in Friends Schools across the country. Last year through NFEF we served 191 Quaker students in 37 schools across the country.
We also offer a thriving Institute for Engaging Leaders in Friends Schools (IELFS) for educators called to leadership positions in Friends schools, and the Spirited Practice and Renewed Courage (SPARC) program for school leaders who are interested in deepening the spiritual aspects of their schools. Friends Council’s focus on supporting schools in bringing Friends’ testimonies to action includes an ongoing focus on racial equity and justice work as well as environmental sustainability.
Today Friends Council serves as the essential connector for Friends schools and Friends school educators. We are so grateful to Morris and Hadassah Leeds for their vision 90 years ago that has led us to this vital and vibrant work. We’re also grateful to be connected with their daughter Esther Cooperman, a true friend of Friends Council.
Q. What would you say are your three primary areas of focus today?
FCE’s three areas of focus are:
- Supporting Friends schools in deepening and strengthening their Quaker identities and commitment to the principles and traditions of the Religious Society of Friends. Friends Council nurtures the spiritual life of Friends schools and guides educators to provide spiritual nurturing for their school communities.
- Strengthening the connections between Friends schools and to serve as the national voice of Quaker education.
- Providing consultations, programs, professional development, peer networks, and publications to promote Quaker philosophy of education and enrich Quaker testimonies in school life – especially in this time of pandemic. Connecting schools especially with racial justice work and environmental sustainability is one example of grounding our work in Friends testimonies and core principles.
Q. As you celebrate 90 years, there is one particular year that we’ve all endured together – the pandemic year. How did FCE shape Quaker schools’ responses to Covid? What worked, and what did not work in terms of online-only programs?
Thank you for asking about the pandemic.
Surrounded by the intensity of needs and uncertainty of schooling during this ongoing global pandemic, Friends Council continues to focus on its central purposes: maintain a strong network of educators in Quaker schools, help ground their work in matters of the Spirit through Quaker practices, and explore more deeply the matters of inequity and racial justice that the pandemic has laid bare.
The COVID 19 global pandemic has had a dramatic impact on those served by Friends Council on Education: educators, administrators, and boards in Friends schools across the country.
In March 2020, as Friends schools pivoted from in-person to virtual schooling, Friends Council expanded its reach via video conferencing and offered more ways to support Friends school educators. In addition to offering a virtual meeting for worship, that spring Friends Council provided more programming in three months than we usually do in an entire year.
That summer educators barely got a summer break as they planned multiple scenarios for a fall 2020 semester of toggling back and forth between in-person, hybrid, and virtual learning. Friends Council supported Friends school educators as they worked to keep Quaker principles and practices alive in this difficult environment.
One example out of many is that we offered a “Think Tank” peer network gathering of Quaker and Spiritual Life educators focused on “Keeping Quaker Practices and Spirit Alive and Vibrant.” Now, 18 months later in the Fall of 2021, our schools are still dealing with the ever-changing pandemic, facing new questions and challenges due to the Delta variant and the varying recommendations about booster shots. From what we know schools are open in person, and are drawing on a full year of experience with COVID mitigation techniques to keep their school communities as safe as possible.
Throughout it all, we’ve witnessed educators keeping their students at the center of their focus. Friends schools and Friends school educators are adapting; they are staying nimble, focusing on the health and safety of students and faculty, and using continuing revelation and other Quaker principles and practices to maintain community and reach for a transformed and equitable society. Meeting for worship and the spiritual foundations of FCE member schools provide a grounding, a touchstone to continue navigating through the COVID pandemic and act for racial justice.
We feel it is essential to lift up that the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn the world’s attention to inequity in our country, placing a glaring spotlight on what some are calling “the pandemic of racism.” So while navigating the COVID 19 pandemic, Quaker School educators are also supporting one another in addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within their school communities and in their commitment to transforming the wider world.
Quaker school communities recognize the need to challenge structural racism; to raise awareness of white supremacy, as evidenced by police brutality, racial inequity in the U.S. healthcare system, and disparities in schools across the country; and to transform systems and counter injustice to support Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
This focus on racial justice work is not new for Friends school educators. Friends school mission statements testify to a collective commitment to greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Many Friends schools have dedicated funding and faculty to direct this work, putting the words of their mission statements into action. Open to continuing revelation, this learning is continually evolving.
In support of Friends Schools, Friends Council has expanded its already existing diversity work by convening several forums on diversity, equity, and inclusion entitled “Quaker School Pathways toward Racial Justice: Awareness and Action—What Comes Next?” In partnership with educators in Friends schools, Friends Council has been reaching the wider community through convening Community Conversations on Race (CCOR), ongoing now yearly since 2017. What started as a film screening of I’m Not Racist . . . Am I? at the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania 7 has grown into regular gatherings of Friends school educators and community members who engage in often difficult and courageous conversations on race.
In terms of online programming, Friends Council has found that our peer network programs work well virtually and we plan to continue to offer them virtually again this year. And, with the virtual format, we are finding some peer networks are meeting more frequently.
Last year, our Performing Arts peer network met six times, our heads of schools met weekly for a total of 49 meetings, and this year our Upper School Division Directors plan to meet monthly. While focusing on core Quaker principles, each network group connects around unique tasks. In times when education is challenged or undergoes upheaval, Friends school educators turn to Friends Council for guidance and conversation with peers in other Friends schools.
What hasn’t worked quite as well as we hoped is offering our 2-3 day, retreat-style programs in a virtual format. So, this year we are offering those in a variety of adjusted in-person formats, drawing on COVID risk mitigation techniques to keep educators as safe as possible. For Educators New to Quakerism, Friends Council will go to individual schools to offer this program for new faculty. For SPARC we plan to convene that small group of participants in person. For the Leadership Institute, we are postponing in-person gatherings until the spring.
Q. How are the celebrations around the 90th anniversary folding in Poet Laureate and Abington student, Cydney Brown? What does it feel like to have Philadelphia’s poet laureate come from a Quaker school?
Friends Council is excited to be holding our September QuakerEd Talk — Sources of Light Moving Forward — An Evening of Poetry, Music, and Thought on Wednesday, September 22nd at 7 pm via Zoom.
We are honored to have Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate for 2020 and Abington Friends School senior Cydney Brown as a central part of our program on September 22nd. Cydney will use her powerful voice to perform a poem commissioned by Friends Council on Education for this occasion! We just heard her recite this work for the first time this week and the beauty of it was such that there was nary a dry eye in the Zoom room.
Quaker schools are known for providing an environment where students learn to recognize their gifts and to “Let their Lives Speak.” Friends school students and alumni do this in many ways; Cydney is “letting her life speak” through the arts and her poetry and we’re proud that the City of Philadelphia recognized her for her gift of words. We’re thrilled to have her as part of our upcoming program!
Friends Council on Education’s 90th Anniversary celebration is more than a one and done; we are offering a series of experiences over the course of a year – April 2021 through April 2022 with the theme “The Road We are Traveling.” Central to this celebration are our new Friends Council QuakerEd Talks; we held two last spring.
The first was COVID, Health Care and Social Justice with Crissy Cáceres, Head of the Brooklyn Friends School, interviewing Dr. Frederick, President of Howard University and a surgeon, to explore the intersections of the pandemic, our healthcare system, and the renewed energy in our nation to live into the values we espouse. The second was a conversation between author and former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas and Sidwell Head of School, Bryan Garman. We are continuing our QuakerEd Talks this year and look forward to sharing future program plans for the coming winter and spring with PYM.
Q. Which other Quaker School leaders or teachers are being featured in your September 22 event with Poetry, Music, and Thought? Is this event open to the public?
First, yes, absolutely, Sources of Light Moving Forward — An Evening of Poetry, Music and Thought on September 22nd at 7 pm is open to the public! All are welcome. Information and registration are available. We hope PYM members will join us for this uplifting evening of inspiration and hope.
Two additional Friends School leaders — both Friends school educators and Quaker school alumni — are being featured on September 22nd. Darryl J. Ford, the head of William Penn Charter School and an alum of Friends Select School, is our keynote speaker. Darryl is a highly respected independent school leader who is revered for his clear and visionary thinking, his ability to create transformational change, his commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and his eloquent public speaking. Darryl offered poignant remarks to our Friends Council community just before the pandemic hit and we are looking forward to hearing what he has to say now.
Keisha Hutchins is a singer-songwriter and a Friends school faculty member (and parent!) at Abington Friends School. A graduate of Germantown Friends School, Keisha’s contributions are informed by the Quaker ethos, principles, and practices she was exposed to at Germantown Friends School and by the continued work and commitment to social justice as a Quaker school educator and member of the Abington Friends School community. She has made a conscious decision during the pandemic to use her gift of song and songwriting as a platform for social justice and change. PYM can learn more about the program and Cydney, Darryl, and Keisha here.
Q. How can monthly meetings connect with Quaker Schools? Are there any programs for Friends who want to be in supportive school relationships?
There are many ways Monthly Meetings can connect with Quaker schools. There are so many, in fact, that Friends Council has an entire publication about this — The Care Relationship: Friends Schools and the Religious Society of Friends. So the answer to this question is not short and simple! For the purposes of this story, Friends Council shares a few strengthening practices for care from Meeting to School here and we invite PYM members to explore others in The Care Relationship.
- Relationship building is key; and one of the most important is the relationship between the Clerk of the Friends Meeting, the Clerk of the School Committee or Board of Trustees, and the Head of School. This triad plays a vital role in connecting Quaker schools and Quaker Meetings.
- Invite the head of school from your Meeting’s local Friends school to visit your Meeting and talk in the adult religious education program.
- Invite new faculty and new school families to a special Meeting for Worship with orientation. This could be on a Sunday or on an evening in the Meetinghouse.
- Encourage Meeting members to volunteer to serve the school in such functions as school library volunteers, office help, field trip assistance, or for special class presentations.
- Encourage Meeting members to attend the school’s Meeting for Worship.
- Invite a representative from the Friends Council on Education board or staff to speak about the big picture of Friends education as a First Day school topic at Monthly Meeting.
Again, there are many other strengthening practices beyond what we have shared here. For those interested in this, we encourage PYM members to visit our Friends Council bookstore where they can find The Care Relationship available for purchase.
Q. What do Quaker schools have to offer students and families?
A basic tenet of Quakerism is that truth is continuously revealed and is accessible within a community of seekers. At Friends schools, this belief is reflected in an open-minded approach to curriculum and teaching and a student-centered developmental approach to children and learning. Students learn to practice truth-seeking and know the various ways this can be accomplished – through inquiry, scientific investigation, reflection, creative expression, critical thinking, dialogue, worship, and service.
Friends schools create an environment within which students and staff alike can continue to mature as companions in a wide range of experiences. These experiences, both outward and inward in nature, may bring forth in each person a deepening awareness of the “Inner Light,” which leads to faith in the ability of every member of the school community to reach his or her full potential.
Children grow and change in an environment that nurtures their spirits and challenges them to develop inner resources for discipline, respect, compassion, and achievement. They are encouraged by word and example to respect a variety of perspectives in a diverse learning community, as they engage in a cooperative search for knowledge, insight, and understanding.
Q. We noticed that a number of PYM Friend schools have new heads of schools. Would you like to share their bios with the PYM community?
PYM members may be interested in the wide variety of backgrounds from which Quaker schools draw their heads. We encourage members to explore individual Friends school websites to learn more about heads of Friends Schools. Friends Council has an online Directory of Schools to assist in locating Friends schools and their websites and our 2021-2022 e-directory will be posted to our website very soon. This year FCE has welcomed 13 news heads of school in 2021-22 and PYM members can read new head of school bios in our Featured News section of our FCE website.