The 2017-18 school year that begins next month marks the 150th year of Brooklyn Friends School’s continuous operation. The celebration of our sesquicentennial year offers opportunities to reflect on the many accomplishments achieved by BFS students, faculty/staff, and alumni over this historical period while also looking forward to our school’s promising future trajectory.
From its very beginnings, the growth and development of Brooklyn Friends School have been directly linked to the Brooklyn communities from which BFS first emerged. The School’s founding year of 1867 proved to be especially significant in Brooklyn’s history.
In April, 1867 – one month after the New York Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends authorized a group of trustees “to open a school as proposed”—the charter authorizing a private company to build and operate an East River bridge (now universally known as the Brooklyn Bridge) was voted through the New York State Legislature in Albany. A month later, John Roebling was named the company’s Chief Engineer.
Many current and former Lower School parents know that a dramatic student presentation of the story of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, particularly highlighting the crucial role of Emily Warren Roebling, wife of John Roebling’s son, Washington, who served as Chief Engineer of the project after his father’s accidental death very early in the project in 1869, forms a central curricular element in the Second Grade’s academic program.
As the first co-educational elementary school in Brooklyn, public or private, Brooklyn Friends symbolized the rising consciousness surrounding gender equality in Brooklyn and beyond. Emily Roebling’s extraordinarily important role in communicating, coordinating, and operationalizing Washington Roebling’s supervision of the bridge construction for many years during which his own health prevented his presence on site was just one of countless examples that led many courageous women and men to recognize, advocate and struggle for gender equality, with the ultimate result being the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920.
The evolving Brooklyn Friends School highlighted gender equality, an emphasis on athletics for boys and girls, a classical curriculum enhanced by an emphasis on science, mathematics, foreign language and Quakerism, early support for racial, religious, and socio-economic inclusion during its first 100 years.
As autonomous Brooklyn became a part of the growing and thriving City of New York, BFS became recognized as an important member of New York City’s independent school community.
Our second century began with the purchase of 375 Pearl Street and its renovation that supported dramatic increases in enrollment in the 1970s and early 1980s. Major innovations that developed and matured in those years included: an open-classroom approach to Lower School; one of the first departmentalized Middle Schools in New York City; and a challenging Upper School curriculum including advanced placement, independent study, computer science, performing-studio-and visual arts, experiential learning, community service, and major growth in student and faculty diversity.
BFS also deliberately strengthened its emphasis on Quaker values and practice during these years. The subsequent opening of the Pre-School in the 1980’s completed the school’s structural and curricular expansion.
In subsequent decades, many of these initiatives were maintained and deepened despite enrollment and facilities challenges. These have been overcome over the past seven years by achieving the goals laid out in our 2008 Strategic Plan and successfully implementing the Upper School International Baccalaureate program. Total enrollment for 2017-18 will exceed the record level of 900 students for the second consecutive year.
Having substantially achieved our growth goals, the challenges BFS faces in the second half of its second century involve mobilizing the human and financial resources to ensure that our school is fully sustainable and that it maintains the ongoing capacity to innovate intellectually, programmatically, administratively, and spiritually while remaining true to its core Quaker values
As we begin our sesquicentennial year, I believe that it’s crucial to revisit these values with an eye towards their long term sustainability. I wish to close this letter by sharing some personal reflections on my own understanding of BFS’ ongoing commitment to our Quaker values propositions.
When we refer to Simplicity, we seek in our students, faculty, and staff a concern for truth, beauty, and harmony that can be expressed verbally, in writing, artistically, and in terms of direct, honest, straightforward action. The Simplicity testimony reflects a willingness to listen to and appreciate mindfully the voices of others and one’s own inner voice. It supports the development of compassionate, concerned loving relationships with other community members.
Consistent with the Peace testimony of Friends, we recognize that conflict is a universal condition of our human species. Our task is to seek non-violent conflict resolution that can address people’s divergent conflicting claims of truth and justice in a manner that seeks equity and reconciliation rather than dominance and destruction.
The ongoing search for Integrity at BFS involves the school’s support for collaborative probing by students, faculty, and staff of questions concerning their evolving personal identities. Valuing integrity involves nurturing each individual’s development of an internalized moral conscience that can define the intentionality with which one acts and makes decisions. In addition, integrity enables an individual conscientiously to understand and evaluate the impact of one’s actions and decisions on others and oneself.
As a Learning Community, Brooklyn Friends strives to provide opportunities for students, faculty, staff and parents to participate in decision-making, information sharing, and collaborative action in a unity-seeking manner that is primarily concerned with serving the needs of all community members in an equitable, just, and friendly manner.
While differences in power, privilege, knowledge, experience, and skill exist in any community, the Equality testimony requires a fundamental respect for that uniquely equalizing element of the divine spirit that lives within each human being and which can guide the growth and development of each member of the BFS learning community
Finally, the principle of Stewardship expects that all community members will care for the well-being of the physical, environmental, human and spiritual dimensions of our School in a manner that preserves, deepens, and refines our learning community’s ability to serve the needs of its members and those with whom it shares the benefits of life on earth.