… true stories from my daily life as principal of Progressive School of Long Island
stories in reverse chronological order (names removed for privacy)
I just got a letter from a parent. Her son showed an interest in film making and we encouraged him to run an afterschool club. Here’s what she told me: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for welcoming my son into your school family for 7th and 8th grade. It was truly a special experience. Your philosophy of teaching and your attention to the individual needs of students are truly special. It has had a great impact on him. He recently graduated high school and is heading off in a few weeks to Ithaca College where he will study for a BFA in film ,photography and animation. He was also awarded the presidential scholarship from Ithaca College! I remember when he came to Progressive, you supported Brian in setting up a film club . Thank you for all you do for the students!”
Today I had two graduates visit, one is going to Northeastern, the other to Northwestern pre-med. They told me about their life in high school. Both had positive experiences, yet both said “There was nothing as wonderful and engaging as Progressive!
I learned that a graduate was just named Salutatorian of her high school! She told me that her expereince at Progressive gave her the confidence to achieve.
Today a graduate, who is in now in 11th grade at St. Dominic, told me that she is the only person she knows who has fond memories of Middle School. She also took one of her only days off from school to come back and visit with her former teachers!
Last year we had 12 students graduate. Today 11 of them came here on their day off to share Thanksgiving with us, uninvited! What does that tell you? Remember this is school we are talking about, a place where we correct them, prod them, teach them difficult information, grade them, etc. I guess we managed to inspire them too!
So, what kind of middle schooler takes his free time to write a letter to his elementary school? One who has something in his heart that he has to say:
I’m writing to thank you for my time at Progressive School.
Now I am in 8th Grade at Woodland Middle School in East Meadow. I’m in all Honors Level Classes and in the National Junior Honor Society. I’m also the Captain of the 8th Grade Soccer team, and last year I was awarded the MVP for the 7th Grade Soccer Team. And even though I wasn’t one of the better players, I made the 7th Grade Basketball Team because according to my Coach, I had a great attitude and was a hard-worker.
I participated in NYSSMA for Singing in 6th and 7th grade. In 7th Grade I joined the Vocal Jazz Ensemble at my School and last Spring I was one of four boys that competed in a singing competition in my School called “Woodland Idol” amongst 38 students.
I think that Progressive School has helped me become a better person, and student. It has helped build my character and will continue to help me throughout my life.
Thank you for all the support and opportunities you have helped me to reach.
A graduate was featured in her high school for balancing athletics with academics. She is now a nationally ranked diver. In her interview, she just had to mention us! “…she turned up on the honor roll at Portledge last spring. She credits diving with teaching her time-management, but is it clear that the mental focus may also help her maintain a solid GPA. She cites The Progressive School in Merrick for giving her a good scholastic foundation.”
Got a letter today from a former parent which gave credit to Progressive for his son becoming Valedictorian of East Meadow High School, getting a perfect score on his SAT’s, being a National Merit Finalist, and being chosen for the All-State music festival. His son was also inducted into the National Honor Society and when he had to choose an essay topic for the induction, he chose to write about his principal in elementary and middle school. Here’s an excerpt from the letter: “Our son competes hard and well, but he’s so humble, sweet and good-natured that administrators, teachers, and students hold him in high regard. The cheers that emanated from many classrooms upon his valedictorian announcement, and the outpouring from well-wishers testify to his popularity. On the verge of applying to colleges and years removed from Progressive, I’d like to take this opportunity to express Betsy’s and my gratitude for all you’ve done for our son and for all you still do in terms of the impact you have had on his and our lives.
Met a teacher who protored the SAT’s. She told me that one of our graduates got a perfect score, a 2400. I met him a couple of weeks later and he told me, “What really matters is what good I can do with this achievement.”
Today I learned that another young lady who graduated in 2009 was accepted into MIT and Brown. Here’s the best part–her application essays were based on this theme: How her experience at Progressive School helped her become who she is today!
What a way to start a Monday! My email contained a message from a graduate who then went on to complete his education at Princeton. Here are some of his unedited, unsolicted words:
“First, I would like to express my immense gratitude for everything you and your staff have done for my siblings and me. Now that we are all young adults, it is clear that the fundamental education we received at Progressive School was the foundation of our academic success throughout each of our lives. The teachers at Progressive taught us early on to be curious and excited to learn, ultimately imbuing us with positive attitudes about school. As a Teach for America corps member, I now witness each day the harm that underperforming schools and teachers can do to their students. I am so incredibly thankful that my parents had the insight to send me to Progressive, and I am extremely interested in learning more about it from an educator’s perspective. In a couple years, I hope to pursue a PhD or D.Ed in education and then work in educational policy so that I can help future students gain access to the incredible education that I had.”
My thoughts: This is exactly what I claim to new families that we do: Create a Character-Based education that develops special qualities which pay life long dividends leading to surprising successes!
I was reading the Long Island Herald and noticed that a Progressive grad was one of five Long Island Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists. Here’s the best part: she did her research on 5th and 7th grade students at Progressive School this year.
Today I had a meeting with the publisher of Natural Awakenings. It the course of our discussion, she mentioned that she knows a few of our students. One of them had graduated here in 2009 and I was delighted to learn that she was accepted into MIT. Another amazing accomplishment from a grad who never lost her motivation to learn.
A parent was driving on a field trip today. When she returned from the trip she told me that her other child, who has graduated two years ago, was taking more AP classes as a sophomore than any child in the history of the Lawrence School District. He was a good student with us, but… we really didn’t expect that level of achievement in his future. “What do you attribute it to?” I asked. “Motivation,” she answered. “It’s just a part of who he is from his life at Progressive”
Another unsolicited message from a graduated family:
I’ve been doing a lot of work over the past 5-6 years with the (#1 NYC high school name deleted) Parent Association, and … what they really need is a dose of Progressive! I heard your middle school is doing very well, and I was so happy to hear it! I hear such horror stories every week about middle schools in general, which remind me constantly what a treasure Progressive is. For certain, Progressive gets much of the credit for giving MY kids the very best possible start in life! (my youngest son has been a model of good behavior for years (LOL) and has been doing work I think he really enjoys, and I’m SO proud of what my oldest son is doing now after graduating Princeton with Teach For America: teaching remedial reading to 9th graders in the Rio Grande Valley. I see the influence of Progressive all over his decision to be a teacher, and it warms my heart.)
Found this in my inbox this morning:
Dear Eric, I want to tell you how glad I was to send my son to Progressive. He is doing very well in (top private LI high school name deleted)! All the teachers at Progressive had prepared him well. He has built a really good study habit. I can see clearer now that Progressive has such an academically high standard, not that I didn’t before. Our current high school is good, but it’s no Progressive. Thanks so much for everything you have done for him, and for making him become such a fine young man. Let me put it this way, I couldn’t stop beaming during the parent-teaching night last week.
Got this note today:
Hi Eric, our family misses you and Progressive so much. We had to move to North Carolina. Progressive is the best foundation for life. I want to help you teach one day. We live according to many of the values and ways we adopted from you and your incredible place for learning. Our oldest boy took us to a clever film, Seven Psychopaths. Ghandi was quoted as saying, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” That was enough for a week’s worth of conversation. Our youngest boy is in the 5th grade and thriving academically and in the arts (acting), gifts he tapped into while at Progressive. Our oldest girl is working at becoming a nurse bs-rn. I’m certain she will touch the world with service and bring along her contagious positive beautiful aura, a true one of a kind. She will spend the month of January in Spain at a home-stay mastering the language. Life and rest are wonderful. Our youngest girl has rediscovered yoga as a teen. Please say hello to Mark for me and the entire school from our family.
A lady of 28 years old came in with her son today. I asked her, “Why Progressive School?” She said, “My son needs to be engaged in learning. I attended here 20 years ago, and I remember it as the only school in my life in which I was totally engaged.” I recognized her name but only had a vague recollection. She explained that she only attended for one year, but remembered it all her life.
A friend from NJ stayed over and took the LIRR home. She wrote to me, “At the Merrick Station I got into a conversation with a man about stress. He said he learned Yoga and Meditation from his brother, and it was the most calming thing in his life. Turns out his brother attended Progressive School …. in 1987!
A young man of 24 came to see me today. He was at Progressive from K-4. He is reentering school to become a psychologist, after leaving high school, starting his own business, then getting his GED. He told me that his only happy times at school in his life were at Progressive. He said that it never felt like school, it just felt like a home. Looking back, he realizes that he remembers every classmate, every teacher, and every lesson, whereas he forgot everything that came after that, including the teaching. It helped me to reaffirm the long-term value of active, fun learning!
You ‘re a Progressive grad going to MIT for your first day. Who do you meet? Another Progressive grad from your class entering MIT also!! Considering that only 12 students graduated Progressive that year, what are the chances? This is a true story that just happened!!!
Met a Progressive School mom at Trader Joe’s. Her daughter attended Hollins University where she won awards for Art and also earned a minor in Creative Writing. She landed a position as a high school art teacher. Mom was very excited to tell me that the younger brother, who also graduated Progressive, would be attending the University of Virginia. This was a big achievement for a young man who did not always show that he would aim high. Another graduate who is reaching higher than what others expected. This is indeed the long term benefit of interactive, applied learning.
Received another unsolicited letter today. Here is an excerpt about two graduates:
“Our daughter has been accepted to eight of the nine colleges she applied to. She also applied for a 4-week medical internship at NYU this summer. We were assured that because of her huge recommendation that she will receive a spot. She wants to be a nurse. Our son was chosen to sing at Carnegie Hall on May 1st with a national honors chorale. We are over the moon.”
Had a brief conversation with a mom whose daughter graduated eighth grade two years ago. “She is doing absolutely fabulous! She has a 95 average, and loves school. I can’t get her to come home before 6 o’ clock any school day of the week because she is so involved in extracurricular activities.”
At Stop and Shop, Eva and I met a mother of a girl who graduated sixth grade before we had a middle school. She told us that her daughter graduated Princeton, and is now on her way to Brazil to do service in the favelas. She had won a grant to do research in these areas, but now that the grant has run out, she is still returning to continue her work.
Another unsolicited letter came today:
“This school week is our first after midterms, so we have gotten most of our grades back. I took five tests, and got four grades back. In Bio I got a 96, and in English, Global, and Math I got three hundreds. I thought you might like to know, considering the Progressive teachers (including you!) taught me so much, a good amount that is still applicable and relevant today. In addition, with your emphasis on study skills, the midterms in general were a breeze. In high school, you truly find out who has a work ethic, and thus who will go further in life. Thank you for expanding mine :)”
Who would expect a student to visit their old middle school, then write a long letter to the principal because they didn’t get the chance to see them on the visit? Well, here’s my letter (names deleted, this is an anonymous blog):
“It’s (grad name). On Friday, January 28, (another former grad) and I visited Progressive. We both wanted to see you and talk to you, but we ended up talking to those we met and, as we had to leave by 1, we couldn’t see everyone. I apologize for this, because I (and she as well) would have loved to see you. I can assure you the next time we visit seeing you will be at the top of our list! Anyway, how are you doing? How is everything going? I’m doing well myself, it’s been a good school year so far. I’m busy most of the time, studying and finishing projects mostly, and have done very well academically (which I can thank you for!). In addition, I’ve made many new friends and have grown in all ways, both in size and in maturity. Thank you for all you’ve done for me at Progressive, because from early morning meditations to the Scholastic News tests in fourth grade, I have learned so much that continues to help me in life and in school. I very much appreciate it. Talking by email is not the same as in person, however, so I intend in trying to get to Progressive very soon. Hope all is well, and I’ll talk to you soon.
P.S. The school looked thriving and great!!!”
Good news! One of our grads was just accepted at MIT. I just saw him at tennis night playing with three of his former Progressive classmates. I wonder if he was calculating angles and probability, or just playing? Anyway, I asked him how high school was treating him (he goes to a very large and extremely competitive academic high school). He replied, “Well, I get four times as much homework, but I don’t have to think about it the way I had to at Progressive School, so it works out about the same.” Typical answer for a mathematician.
I met up with ten graduates, and a few former students at the Tennis Party. Above all I was so impressed to see how kindly they treated me–going out of their way to chase me down in the parking lot to make sure I had enough help or to say good-bye. Each was anxious to share how well they are doing, including one boy who through hearsay I had thought was the only child to have ever had trouble adjusting to high school. In fact, he told me he was doing great at LuHi and was desirous of picking my brain for news of some of his former classmates. Another impressive fact was the gap between those former students who did not graduate, and those who had stayed on through eighth grade. The latter group had so much enthusiasm about their life and accomplishments! One boy has been sending me his English essays, and has now connected with a friend of mine to help illustrate a children’s book she authored. Another grad told me his sister, who also graduated Progressive, became valedictorian of her high school, and now works for GOOGLE, making more money than both her parents combined, and loving it!
Had a great conversation with a graduate who wants to be a teacher. She is now graduating high school and interning at Progressive! “I love it here. This place is so sweet and so much fun. Thanks for letting me intern here.” She is thinking of SUNY New Paltz (my eldest son’s alma mater), or Manhattan College. We had a great talk about colleges and what they offer. She, like many Progressive grads, seems to really understand herself and what will make her happy.
This morning I was interviewed by a student who attended Progressive for one year only as a sixth grader–and graduated with the sixth grade class. She is now graduating Baruch College as a journalism major, and works doing PR for a local company called Four Seasons (sun rooms). She is writing a piece about schools in Merrick and East Meadow, and I will provide the link when it is completed. She was so happy that I met with her, it seems that the other schools would not even speak to her about her project. Although she interviewed me about the school, I also interviewed her! And here is what I learned: She never found a setting either before or after where there was so much love, such caring teachers, and joy taken in learning. She is still in touch with some of the classmates from that one year. She attended LuHi and was disappointed with the emphasis on sports and traditional learning, but in those days we had no middle school to offer. All of us who knew her were so impressed with this lovely, charming, poised, young woman. It was so gratifying to hear once again that even one year at Progressive made a huge difference in her life and is remembered fondly.
Today I got a lovely letter from a parent whose child struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome. He graduated Progressive and we were concerned for his future and ability to maintain the progress he made with us. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
This afternoon I met with three students in their 30’s who attended Progressive many years ago. Two of them had left at third grade, the other graduated in sixth. Is it possible? After all these years they are still friends–even though they parted ways at age 8! The transition for the two who left early was hard. Progressive had less than 50 students in those days, and they had to move on to large, competitive, and unruly districts. They told me that it was hard to get used to not being accepted for being themselves. After all these years, they remember Progressive as the happiest place of their childhood. They could name books, plays, teachers, and lessons that they enjoyed–proving that happiness + learning = long term memory. One of the boys is a vegetarian now, and blames that on me. Their fondest memories were of Quiet Time, and they gave me an intriguing task: Would I start a class of meditation for former students who wanted to relearn it? One of them gave a $100 donation upon leaving, and told me he would never forget the love and kindness he experienced with Eva and myself.
Today I learned that one of our graduates is a finalist in the Sieman’s science competition. She is the only finalist on Long Island who is not of Asian descent. Odd how it happened–I was in a meeting with a group of teachers and administrators from the Lawrence School District. They were discussing with me their plans to start a meditation project in the school district, and were seeking my advice. When I told them that we had two grads in their district, they became curious. Upon revealing the names, they were shocked: “Those two! Well that explains everything. They’re the two best students in the district. They’ve got it all: brains, attitude, character, charm, and ambition.” It was then that I was told that one of them was in the newspaper as a national science competition finalist.
Met a young lady today in Models who I had not seen in 10 years. She had graduated 6th grade with my eldest son. She told me that she had just graduated #1 from SUNY Buffalo, and had a job on Long Island evaluating special ed services. I asked her, “How did that happen?,” not meaning to be rude, it just popped out–she had been a good student, but not in a way that predicted this outcome. Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “I have loved learning since the moment I graduated, and never stopped. This motivation got me there. Now I’m dedicating my life to serving others and to yoga and meditation.” Her mom chimed in, “Sending her to your school was the best decision I ever made.”
I played in the Bronx Open Pro/Am Tennis tournament today. I was invited by a former parent, whose daughter graduated 6th grade with us before we had a middle school. When I asked how she was doing, he said, “She was valedictorian of her high school, and now works for Google. She makes more money than my wife and I put together. Hey, dont’ laugh!”
Do I go shopping to buy things, or to meet up with grads and their families? Today I met a mom of a recent graduate at Trader Joe’s. She always impressed me as a very restrained person, but teared up as she told me that her daughter is class president, on the Dean’s List, etc., etc. I told her that people don’t believe me when I relate these stories, what should I tell them? She said, “Tell them that the confidence and self-esteem that comes from a small, loving environment is worth every penny…and it pays dividends for life.”