Back to School

So I have a new job.

Like the previous one, it involves teaching English. To boys. At an independent school. In Virginia.

Outside of those similarities, however, the differences are numerous and sometimes vast. I've spent the last twenty years at Woodberry Forest School, a traditional, well-endowed college-preparatory boarding school founded 125 years ago and set in a bucolic 1200-acre campus far out in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Starting next week, I'll be teaching at Richmond's Seven Hills School, which is far newer, less married to tradition, and thoroughly urban, a middle school set in a handful of converted public works buildings hard by Interstate 95.

Here, let me show you. This is Woodberry's library, Hanes Hall:

Woodberry library.jpgThis is Seven Hills' administration building:

DSC02677.JPGIn short, there is at the very least a slightly different aesthetic on display. While I enjoyed and often treasured my two decades at WFS, there were definitely times where I felt frustrated by what seemed to me a lack of pragmatism. Too often function was sacrificed to form, with something that helped the boys or the school as a whole being sacrificed because it didn't look "appropriate." I had issues with the sheer difficulty of defining that word--or even specifying who the judge of propriety might be--and sometimes found my old Tar Heel motto (Esse quam videri: to be rather than to seem) at odds with whatever words the Woodberry authorities lived by.

At Seven Hills, by contrast, form seems to play a decided second fiddle to function, but that's not an implication that form is not important; you can see by the photo above that appearance matters there. (And I am, I should note, quite pleased to be working at a place with a mural containing barn swallows and portraits of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.) But there's no hiding the fact that these are old industrial buildings, with loading ramps and block-and-tackle setups visible to all. Better still, there's no intention of hiding it. Instead, Seven Hills celebrates these old buildings, using them as a canvas for the school, rather than having its buildings express only the architect's vision; and the murals, not to mention the interior walls covered with stencils and drawings and paintings by students, do give me hope that the overriding purpose here is to engage the students, and to inspire them, and to help them create their own designs.

It's an exciting prospect. I'm looking forward to getting spattered with paint.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 22, 2015 12:57 PM.

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