On August 27th I had the pleasure of participating in Ancona’s Farm Raising. From hauling lumber with a three year old, to shoveling soil into garden beds with grown-ups, I had the opportunity to speak with the entire spectrum of the Ancona community. While talking with a new parent at Ancona, I was struck by his enthusiasm and joy for our school. Even when the conversation led into other areas of our lives, he always brought the conversation back to Ancona and what an amazing connection his family felt with our community.

With so much stress in our lives, I am always happy to hear that Ancona brings joy into parent’s lives by providing an excellent education to our students. This education goes beyond the academic and brings the whole world to the classroom. An Ancona education intentionally fosters community, tackles issues of social justice head on, and brings student voice to the forefront of any discussion.  From day one, our teachers are educating our students to bridge the gaps that society has made. Where society separates, Ancona unites. As we start this school year,  I would like to take this opportunity to share how community, social justice and student voice are present at Ancona and why these hallmarks make us shine so brightly in Chicago.

This is a learning environment for children to learn who they are as individuals, who they are as a member of a group, and who we all are as a community. Children call their teachers and administrators by first names. They begin each day with a handshake as they enter the school and over the course of the year this tradition allows them to get to know all of our faculty. Advisors start each morning with a group conversation that establishes a sense of camaraderie that feeds into the learning for the rest of the day. This commitment to the joy and fellowship in learning is seen across the school. A long-time teacher once chided me for wearing a tie because the teachers here must always look ready to get on the floor and play with children on their level. While I’ve come to learn how to incorporate my tie into play, the sentiment from that conversation has stuck with me: educators at Ancona are fully present.

It is through this lens of community that our students understand social justice. Ancona educates children who will defend human rights in the face of a society that seems to revel in dismantling of them. Throughout my time here I have seen students march for equal access to healthy water, participate in reenactment scenes from the civil rights era, and research gun violence statistics. Last year, after researching water access for the Social Justice Data Fair, one of our eighth grade students became passionate about helping with the crisis in Flint, Michigan. With the help of family and friends, he created a campaign to help bring water to families in Flint. Classmates collaborated to design posters, family member drove the water out, and donations were secured from every quarter.  Parents at Ancona marvel at how their children’s learning is so often tied to illuminating greater problems in our society. Our student’s assign their imaginations to contemporary problems and their solutions fill us with admiration and hope.

Both community and social justice at Ancona are grounded in the elevation of student voice. When children choose their own work, they enact their best learning. The dignity of work is a Montessori principle: Children choose their work in a classroom according to what fulfills them. As they grow, they choose a balance of things that help them mature as learners. From engineering sound amplifiers, to building model bridges, to forming government policy recommendations, teachers provide complex sophisticated problems with multiple outcomes and students extend themselves to apply what they know to design solutions. Ancona students are innovators, collaborators, researchers, designers — they are problem solvers, they are “workers,” creating and fulfilling their own vision, then sharing that work and fulfillment with everyone around them.

What we want for our children is what we want for society – to feel supported by a community, to share in the work of equity and engage with life’s puzzles by leading solutions. Ancona is proud to be a space that fosters this hard work and acts as a “third place” — a place between home and work where your family learns and grows together. Thank you for becoming, being or remaining a member of the Ancona School! We are powered by the genius of children. We are powered by you. We can’t wait for this great year ahead!

Ari Frede 

Head of School