by Beth Wittcoff, Principal, Annie Sullivan Middle School in Franklin
Each school year is a new start and a new beginning that I am as excited and nervous about as my students and families are. I think what has struck me most this year as I reflect on our opening, is the importance of established traditions. At Annie Sullivan Middle School our traditions play a pivotal role in establishing and building relationships. Traditions are the lynchpin that define everything you are at your school and everything you want to be. It is important to maintain long-held traditions, but equally important to take a tradition and tweak it or improve upon it. Traditions provide a sense of safety and of being part of a community; key ingredients to building a positive school culture.
The importance of traditions was confirmed for me in a few key experiences during our opening this year. The first was the seventh grade boy who approached me during our Annual Back to School Cookout held on a recent Friday afternoon. He was interested to find out how many years the cookout had been going on and who thought it up, because, and I quote, “It is so cool.” This was the thirteenth year of this tradition which was established during our inaugural school year. It is an important event for us to celebrate the beginning of another school year together as a community.
Traditions also serve to build a sense of ownership and belonging in a school community for students. This was confirmed recently when, on a high school half day, we had thirty plus ninth graders at our front doors waiting to come in to say hello to their former teachers. When I opened the doors they applauded! To me, that spoke volumes. It was clear to us that they came back because they feel that their middle school is a safe place where they are cared for and treasured – a message we work hard to impart during the three years they are part of our school community.
Later in that same day, I was standing in the middle of the Café at our annual Summer Reading Celebration enjoying my ice cream sundae and absorbing the enthusiasm in the room; not only for delicious ice cream but for reading. This is an example of a tradition we tweaked this year by having it after school and serving ice cream. I believe when word spreads that this is the celebration that it may encourage more young readers. The smiles on their faces show that we knocked this one out of the park!
Probably, one of the traditions of which I am proudest is Sully the Husky, our mascot. The husky was chosen as our mascot because four years ago our Student Council led and conducted a mascot contest. An 8th grade student’s submission won hands down. In writing about his choice for a mascot, Alex wrote, “Just like huskies, Annie Sullivan students pull and work together”. And thus, Sully the Husky was born and has become such a pivotal piece of our school culture! He has become so popular that on a recent Friday morning, that just happened to be pajama day, when he was at our front door in his stunning, plaid bath robe, students were popping out of their cars to take “selfies” with him!
I am grateful to be part of a community in which we so clearly understand our mission and our commitment to celebrating traditions to create a warm, friendly, safe and nurturing environment during a child’s middle years. Be willing to create traditions, to add to them, and to improve upon them each and every day, all year long. For the Huskies, from our Opening Cookout to the end of year 8th grade Step Up Ceremony, we have found that each tradition is priceless in building our positive, nurturing school community.
Beth Wittcoff has been the Principal of the Annie Sullivan Middle School for the last thirteen years and had the distinct honor to open the school in 2004. Before coming to Franklin, Beth was principal of Hopkinton Middle School for five years where she also taught for four years. Beth began her career in Natick MA. She lives in Southborough where she served on the Northborough/Southborough Regional High School for sixteen years. Beth can be reached on her twitter account @bwittcoff. You can also check out Sully’s twitter account @sullythehusky. She loves to talk about ASMS and would be happy to share more traditions!
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