Our National Blue Ribbon School
The path to becoming a National Blue Ribbon School is a long one, but I believe Carden’s journey may have been the longest. Our road to the National Blue Ribbon Award did not begin last year when we started this process. It began over eighty years ago, in New York, where a woman named Mae Carden opened her first School for Young Children.
Her mission was clear, and may sound familiar to you – because it forms our school’s foundation:
“The school provides the opportunity for the natural unfolding of the mind, personality, and capacities of the child. It assures each child a harmonious adaptation to his environment in an atmosphere of happiness, encouragement, and freedom with guidance. Individual attention is the keynote. Each child is given a thorough command of scholastic subjects; is awakened to a realization of the beauty of nature and art; becomes conscious of his social responsibility; develops mental, emotional, and physical stamina, and attains the freedom of a well-adjusted personality.”
Her methods were so successful that in 1949 she closed her school and began traveling the country, teaching other schools how to implement the Carden Method into their own schools. Because of her tireless efforts, and thanks to the establishment of the Carden Foundation in 1962, there are now Carden schools throughout California, across the country, and even around the world.
Students, staff, and parents, we have the great privilege and the important responsibility of carrying on Miss Carden’s legacy. She knew – eighty years ago she knew – that her instructional methods worked. As we celebrate today as one of only fifty private schools in the nation to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award, and can tell you very clearly: Her methods still work.
As a private school, we sometimes find ourselves in a position of defense – we are the different ones, we are the ones with a unique curriculum and we are the ones who take specific, Carden-based training. So it’s natural that people want to know, why are you doing things that way? Why are there no pictures in your primer books? Why do the students take French from the time they are four years old until they graduate, and why in middle school do they then pick up Latin? Why do you continue to emphasize music, and not just performance but theory, how does that help the students? And what exactly are Carden controls?
Many, many questions. And yet when you visit the classrooms, when you watch a second grade student analyzing sentences, when you listen to a fourth grade student recite poetry at Peach Blossom, when you come to our graduation ceremony and hear the eighth grade speeches, you begin to understand that it all works together for the benefit of the children. You learn that without pictures in the young reader books, the students learn to develop a dynamic imagination and a strong mental image. Their memory is sharpened. You discover that the students who study French and Latin not only learn new languages but develop greater command of English. You see that students who study music may grow as musicians or singers, or they may not – but they all gain a better understanding of reading and math. Over time you even grow to appreciate those Carden controls, not as extra pieces of knowledge, but as essential tools that help students improve in reading and spelling.
And if you do not understand these things, that is all right – because the children do. That may have been one of Miss Carden’s greatest contributions to education. She designed a curriculum expressly for children, written toward the developing mind of a child, in language he can understand. For this reason, our students learn advanced techniques and acquire vast knowledge at an early age, and they love it. In the elementary school you will see students immersed in their lessons, learning new information each day. In the middle school, you will observe the students now applying their knowledge in formal writing assignments, speeches and debates, and science projects.
The curriculum works, this school works, the staff and the students are achieving incredible goals. The first cutoff in the Blue Ribbon application process is standardized test scores. An Exemplary School must score in the top 15% nationwide in reading and math. We scored in the top 10%. Last year, every one of our 8th grade students scored at post-high school levels on their standardized tests. The students who graduate are entering their high schools prepared not only for the rigor of freshman year, but prepared to thrive at all levels. They enter high school with poise, self-confidence, and perseverance; all of which they developed in their formative years at Carden.
However, simply having a strong curriculum will not lead to an exemplary school. Miss Carden recognized this herself, which is why she worked so hard to train other teachers. The teachers are the ones who present the material, but it is more than that – the teacher is with your child every day, nurturing him, developing his stamina, encouraging him, helping him reach his full potential. I see it every day – these teachers love your children. To work in education is truly a calling; our staff members make daily sacrifices so that the children here will grow up in a loving, kind, respectful environment, and so the children will have every opportunity to succeed. Our Carden staff truly embodies a spirit of service; they give and give of themselves, of their time and their talents, and for what? For that moment of inspiration, that breakthrough, a lesson understood, an obstacle overcome. So we have a strong curriculum, we have caring, motivated, professional educators. What about the students themselves? How do they fit into a Blue Ribbon School?
Students, you are the heart of our school. Your education and development as young people are at the center of everything that we do here. This is your school. And let me pause for a moment here to say how very proud I am of you. I walk this campus and observe you applying yourself to your studies. I see you playing at recess, and including everyone who wants to play. I see friendships develop and grow over the years. When I walk into your classroom, and you stand to greet me, that is a great honor. And junior kindergarten, and kindergarten students, every day I walk by your playground and every day at least five of you run to the gate to say hello.
Every time! I can walk past you ten times in a day, and every time you greet me with the same warmth and enthusiasm. Honestly, what else can a person ask for than to share his time with such remarkable young people?
You are hardworking, you are kind; you are courageous. Just this year we watched boys in grades 4-8 come together to form the first football team in over 10 years here. A parent made the astute observation that you never see that happen anywhere else. When I was in 4th grade, there was no chance that I was going to know the 8th grade boys, or even the 6th grade boys! But this is a special place. It speaks to the character of the school, to our commitment to character education in addition to academic excellence.
During the application process, I wrote about all of these elements: the curriculum, the classes, the staff and the students. But then I was asked to name one area that stands out above all the rest, one thing that truly sets us apart. I had no hesitation. It’s us. It’s our community, the families who work together to make this place our place.
Parents and friends, I need you to know that without you, we would not be earning this award. Without you, this school would not function. The generosity that exists at this school is something that I have never witnessed before. And you serve not only our school, but the greater community as well. Carden Cares has been a part of so many outreach, volunteer, and service projects over the past several years – when the school is in need, or when the community is in need, we give. It’s instinctual. That is who we are. And let me tell you, these students are watching. The behaviors that you model for them will be inspirational as they grow. Carden is truly an exemplary school. It started in 1934 in a small school in New York, and look at where we are now. Look at how much farther we can still go. I want to celebrate today with all of you, but I also want to impress upon you that this is not the end. We have challenges still to overcome, and we will need to rely on each other as much as ever before. So let me leave you with these thoughts. Achieving success in life really comes down to having two qualities: faith and forgiveness. Think of Miss Carden opening her first school, and then closing it to spread her curriculum across the country. She needed exceptional faith and conviction. She knew that she had the key to educating children, and her faith guided her through every challenge. Faith gives you endurance. If you believe in yourself, in others, and in your life’s work, you will never quit. It is only when you lose faith that you begin to weaken. Be strong and courageous, and you will achieve every goal.
Yet we must temper that faith with forgiveness. We make mistakes. We fall short. We must develop mercy, grace, patience, respect, we must have the wisdom to forgive others when they step wrong. We must have the humility to admit our own mistakes, and then we must be willing to forgive ourselves. Miss Carden did not instruct her teachers to coddle students, or to tolerate poor behavior. She did instruct both teachers and parents to hold very high standards for children, but to be patient as the children worked to reach those standards.
As we look forward to the next stage of our development, we must all remember to have the faith to take chances, to try, and the forgiveness if we do not immediately succeed. And then we must try again. Miss Carden opened her first school over eighty years ago, and now here we stand as a National Blue Ribbon School. We are all part of an ongoing story, we are part of Miss Carden’s legacy. We are leaving our own now as well.
Congratulations, Carden staff, students, and families. Today, we celebrate the excellence of our school. Let us leave here remembering the words of Aristotle:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Every day, strive for excellence. Every single day. If we can remember that, there is no limit to what we will accomplish next.