by Jennifer Martin
In 2013 I taught at a new classical school that had just opened. I remember the mixed feelings of excitement and anticipation on the first day. I had twenty-five sixth graders on my roster but no desks or whiteboard. I wondered what they would think when they walked into my empty room. Would they trust me when it looked like I didn’t have it all together? They came in, sat on the floor, looked nervously around at one another, some probably thinking, “What did I get myself into?” My headmaster walked in and said, “Welcome pioneers!” He spoke to them about the great privilege it was to be the first to step out in faith and chart a new course for future generations. He encouraged the students to look beyond the barrenness of the classroom and look inwardly into preparing their souls for this exciting endeavour.
Within the next few days, desks came, white boards were installed, and we assimilated into our new routines. But for years after, those students always talked about what it was like during those first days: “Remember when we sat on the floor for a week? Remember when we stapled butcher paper onto the wall so we could diagram sentences?” They would laugh about it until they were seniors. I had expected embarrassment because, frankly, I was embarrassed. But they talked about the days of newness and the days of uncertainty with pride. They overcame a situation that many would look at and say, “I’ll wait until they have it all together.”
I taught those same students in ninth grade where we read Vergil’s Roman epic, The Aeneid. We talked about how we could relate to Aeneas, the Trojan hero who had lost his home after the Trojan war. As much as he longs for the comforts and constancy of his old home, he carries forward, guided by his piety to the gods and his piety to the people he leads. For his courage, he is rewarded with founding a new city, the future Rome. His son Ascanius reigns for over thirty years after him, leading to a generation of successful leaders.
The families and students who joined with us that first year felt an immense rite of passage as they watched their children form into young men and women, while the school was also forming its identity. As students and teachers, we formed lasting relationships because we had all grown together. Students graduated with confidence, knowing that pioneering wasn’t for the faint of heart, but that we had practiced the very virtues we believed in: perseverance, piety, and hard work. I still keep in touch with many of those students, who are now successfully thriving as college freshmen in the midst of a pandemic. When I asked one of these students about her experience as a sixth grade “pioneer,” she said:
“Being one of the school’s first students, my viewpoint and mind has changed drastically since then in what I think a good education looks like. I have always been a very social kid so the idea of going to a smaller school after only attending public schools was terrifying to me. But I ended up getting so close to everybody in my grade that it was an incredible experience.”
We know it takes a special kind of person to pioneer a new path. It isn’t easy. There will be mistakes and unknowns. But there will also be milestones, lessons that breed character, and a feeling of joy when you see the new endeavour come into fruition. We are looking for pioneers to apply to Anthem next week. We ask families to trust God in the unknowns and rejoice in the certainties. We know for certain that students will learn excellence and virtue while being nurtured by a caring faculty who will help students experience Christ as the author of all knowledge.
To quote Aeneas, “A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this. Through so many hard straits, so many twists and turns our course holds firm” (Book 1.240-241). We hold firm in our work and our beliefs at Anthem, knowing that God will work through our students to bring a generation of leaders who are pious, generous, and brave.
We invite you to pioneer with us. Raise the Anthem!
Title: The Fleet of Aeneas Arrives in Sight of Italy (Aeneid, Book III)
Artist: Master of the Aeneid (active ca. 1530–40)
Date: ca. 1530–35
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue