Of Poetry and Adolescence

Middle School girls enjoy ice cream at the start of the school year.I know that I am not the only educator who turns to metaphor when I talk about our work. There is something about the process of education, and the powerful feelings it engenders, that leads me and many colleagues to look for comparisons and themes from other contexts. We talk about trees and roots, gardens to be cultivated, metamorphosis and transformation. As a lover of poetry, I am often inspired by powerful verses as I observe the joy and growth of our Middle School students. 

Lately, I’ve been finding meaning in the idea of education as a path that can wind in many directions. At a school like Dana Hall, girls arrive from a variety of starting points and join their classmates on a journey of discovery—of themselves, of new skills, and of deeper understanding. When Walt Whitman wrote “Song of the Open Road,” he gleefully celebrated the “long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.” When we welcome Middle School students to Dana Hall, they are somewhere along that path, and the options that become available to them can be wide and liberating. 

You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here, I believe that much unseen is also here,” Whitman continues. Indeed, for girls entering our program, the options may seem boundless: academic classes they have not experienced before (Latin! Algebra! Science Lab!); sports choices that are entirely new (rock climbing, volleyball, fencing, squash, riding), clubs and activities (gardening, debate, creative writing, coding); field trips and adventures…There is vigor and vibrancy everywhere. Girls are challenged in new ways, and offered opportunities to discover or expand skills and knowledge. 

From all that has touch’d you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,” the poet observes. Here at Dana Hall, girls are embraced into a community of tradition. Our youngest girls are immediately surrounded by older students and guided through annual events, celebrations, and unique experiences. In the first week of school. 12th graders invite 5th and 6th graders for a “playdate” in the gym, where small groups of older and younger girls get to know each other and build cross-graded friendships. A sense of sisterhood permeates our campus. Each student walks her own path, but she is accompanied by others who can help her find her way. 

”I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me, I think whoever I see must be happy.” Our girls are champions for each other in every other aspect of their journey at Dana Hall. Through the collaborative, team-focused approach to our math curriculum, girls work side-by-side to solve challenges. In their humanities classes, they learn to build perspective and appreciate different points of view. In their athletic and performing arts experiences, they support one another and strive to be their best. 

Middle School girls arrive at Dana Hall ready to pursue a path that will lead them in many directions, and they join a long tradition of navigating the way: “I give you my hand! I give you my love more precious than money…will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”


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About Lauren Goldberg

Lauren Goldberg is Director of the Dana Hall Middle School. She joined the school in 2018.

4 Replies to “Of Poetry and Adolescence”

  1. Absolutely beautiful post, Lauren! Thank you for inspiring us with your love of poetry and its connection to life in the Middle School.

  2. I love thinking about how Walt Whitman would feel, knowing that his poem was still being read over 160 years after its publication and that it was being read as a metaphor for the education of middle school girls. Thank you for sharing this.

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