It’s no secret that winter in the Northeast does not generally bring the blue skies and sunshine that so often fill me with energy and excitement. However, as the winter solstice drifts closer and the hours of daylight get shorter, I am reminded the season of gratitude is upon us and during this season, I strive to take a few moments of each day to pause, reflect on the beauty in my life, and express gratitude for all the things that bring me hope and joy.
This season, I feel immense gratitude for having the privilege of working with our bold partners at NewSchools Venture Fund to support more than 60 school leaders across the country in pursuit of an expanded definition of student success. In my 4th year of working on this project I have an immense amount of gratitude for the relentless work I have seen dozens and dozens of school leaders put in to ensure that the young people in their respective school communities have an opportunity to experience their academic pursuits as a whole child. I have seen these school teams persevere time and time again in the face of challenges while always keeping the needs of their students and school community at the front. These school leaders model authenticity, purpose, and vulnerability in ways that I hope will be a model for our nation’s education system for years to come.
I also feel a deep sense of gratitude for residing in a state in which so many school districts have also made a commitment to supporting the whole child. Around 40 districts are engaging with our organization in the integration of social-emotional learning whether that be through the exSEL network, the Social Emotional Learning & Mental Health Academy, or individual partnerships and I know there are many, many more in the Commonwealth that are taking this journey in their own way.
However, having the privilege of walking alongside these ambitious school and district leaders on this journey does not come without its hardships and expressing gratitude is an important mechanism for coping with stress in healthy ways. This season, I will spend a significant amount of time away from my family and, above all else, I am grateful for the hero’s welcome I receive every time I walk in the door. My 2 muñequitas each grab hold of a leg, smile up at me, and laugh while my wife, who makes incredible sacrifices for me so that I can engage in this work that I love so much, looks on approvingly.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not name that this season of gratitude comes at a cost of the original inhabitants of the stolen land on which I now reside. In Massachusetts, the original inhabitants are the Wompanoag people and in the 1600’s their population was around 6,600. In 1615 they were decimated by an epidemic brought on by European presence and then later killed in King Phillip’s War or sold into slavery in Bermuda, the West Indies, or here in New England. In 1677 it is estimated that there were only 400 Wompanoag on the mainland of Massachusetts. Nearly a century later in 1770 as war with England became evident, a Wompanoag man named Crispus Attucks was killed by British soldiers and historians agree he was the first person killed in the American Revolution. The complexities of a Wompanoag man being killed by a British soldier while standing shoulder to shoulder with American colonists on land stolen from his people a century prior is not lost on me. Yet, despite generations of genocide and cultural erasure of their people, the Wompanoag still live here in Massachusetts and since 1993 there has been an effort to revive the Wôpanâak language.
While we are unable to change history, we are able to honor those that came before us by learning about their history, culture, and language and in this season of gratitude, I would be grateful if you explored this website and started to honor those that came before you by learning who originally inhabited the land you now call home.