A Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 12 co-educational independent day school in Westchester, New York

Upper School Principal Column: A Letter About Gratitude

By Jon Leef, Upper School Principal

At the end of each class, as my students head toward the door, many pause to say, “Thank you, Mr. Leef.” I have been fortunate to teach at schools where this is the norm. It does not happen everywhere, but it happens at Rye Country Day. I wonder how many of you parents and guardians know about this community norm. 

At times this fall, it has been easy to get wrapped up in the day’s urgencies. Reimagining school at one level or another can be all-consuming, but reminding ourselves to be thankful for the opportunity to reimagine school is good for the soul. Each week that we are on campus working with our students is a blessing, and I hope it can continue.

Besides my time in the classroom, some of my favorite moments during the day—moments for which I am grateful—occur at lunch. This has less to do with my substantial appetite than with the opportunity that I have to interact with or observe our students. Because we all share the same lunch period, the opportunities are practically limitless. Checking in with a new student, discussing menu choices with a hungry adolescent, or watching our students chatting with each other sitting at the edge of a field while Lower Schoolers revel in their P.E. class have all been regular highlights for me.

I have also been thankful for the leadership that our students have shown. One of our seniors has devoted herself to making our community members better at having difficult conversations. Her brainchild, the Coalition of Differences, was an important component of our orientation and election preparation programs. The effort even made it to the Middle School. Just two weeks ago, a group of students devoted their Saturday to a beach clean-up. They removed over one hundred pounds of garbage. Members of our student government decorated the Pinkham Building for Halloween. All of our Upper School community members enjoyed the cobwebs, skulls, ghosts, and lunging spiders.

Upper School Students Volunteer for Beach Clean-Up at Edith G. Read Natural Park


Student-Led Coalition of Differences Hosts Conversations about the Election


It is impossible to overstate the gratitude that I have for my colleagues. Throughout the fall, they have developed new pedagogies while prioritizing relationships. They have worried about the health and well-being of themselves and their families, while communicating unconditional concern for their students and advisees. They have supported one another while carrying out their own responsibilities as absolute professionals. It has been said that, “No one stands taller than the person who kneels to help a child.” My colleagues are standing tall.

In the face of unprecedented challenges, our students, faculty, and staff are trying hard to push forward. It is not easy, but the students still pause to say, “Thank you.” It is not easy, but our faculty and staff still prioritize their charges ahead of all else. I have a great deal for which to be thankful.

Enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving Break with your family. Be well, and let’s count our blessings.

In partnership,

Jon Leef
Upper School Principal

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