Thirteen years ago, I went looking for a school for my four-year-old daughter, Darla. Like any parent, I knew her to be a brilliant, extraordinary child destined for greatness. My hopes were for intellectual and academic challenges in a kind and supportive environment.
What Fayerweather gave her was much more – and very different – than I had anticipated.
As Darla progressed through the grades, she learned math, science, and history. She learned to write a research paper and to love poetry. She found a second home in the Fayerweather library. She designed a city, wove a wampum belt, inhabited the persona of Emily Dickinson, and fell in love with Shakespeare.
Her lessons looked very different from my own early education. Many of the things I learned and read were not part of the Fayerweather curriculum. And I spent years fielding questions from grandparents who wanted to know how her grades were, never quite understanding why there were no report cards.
I watched her work to find her footing, not always knowing how to navigate the increasing complexity of middle school social dynamics. Over the years, many teachers offered loving support in ways she didn’t even notice – deliberately crafting lunch tables and project groups, subtly prompting conversations about shared interests. So much of what Darla gained from Fayerweather was offered up in nearly invisible ways, seamlessly woven into the fabric of classroom life. It took me years to realize the skill and time it takes to accomplish that.
More than anything, I watched her get up every morning, excited to go to school, and I took it on faith that everything would come together in the end.
Somewhere around 7th grade, it did. Darla made deep friendships that have lasted well into high school. She grew in independence and self-assurance, genuinely enjoying performing in The Tempest, showing tremendous poise and humor in her graduation speech. And I have never been prouder to have a Fayerweather kid than when she stood on the steps of Cambridge City Hall and gave an impassioned speech during the Love March.
Another moment of trepidation came when Darla transferred to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, her first foray into a large public school. But, again, we made the leap and were gratified to see how that independence and self-assurance played out in real life, serving her well as she registered for classes, communicated with teachers, and found her tribe of kind, supportive, fun, and quirky friends. And the resilience Darla learned at Fayerweather saw her through academic struggles during remote learning – she was overwhelmed. Still, she never doubted her ability or that there was a way back.
When we first walked into the school, I had no idea what Fayerweather would provide: a bedrock sense of identity and self-efficacy, an understanding of herself as a learner and a citizen, an empathetic commitment to social justice, and the confidence to advocate for these principles, even if it means disagreeing with authority or even friends. Fayerweather gave Darla what I didn’t even know I wanted for her – and I am grateful.