13 years and counting

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13 years and counting

Adam Fife

Adam Fife

Adam Fife

Samuel Keimweiss, Staff Writer

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When Destiny Wright-Butler (12) leads prospective families around campus as a Student Ambassador, she has an interesting fact to share with them. “I tell people ‘oh, I’ve been here for 15 years,’” she said. “I literally am a product of the school.”

Wright-Butler is a “Lifer,” someone who has attended the school since kindergarten or nursery. Lifers make up a significant portion of the school community, with 55 graduating last year out of a class of 183, according to The Mannikin.

“Spending nine months out of the year together for 13-plus years now, there’s this unspoken pact or bond that ‘I’ve known you since I was five years old,’” Adam Fife (12) said, who came to the school in kindergarten.

The school becomes a second home for students, Director of Middle Division Guidance Wendy Reiter said. “They feel very anchored to the culture of the school and the expectations and most importantly the relationships that they create over the whole timeline,” she said.

Sophia Friedman ’17, who also entered the school in kindergarten, said that “shared memories” help Lifers bond. “All these specific memories come to mind when you’ve been at Horace Mann and you have that sense of what all the traditions were in each grade,” she said.

The Lower Division emphasizes the “Rules We Live By,” Associate Director of Middle and Upper Division Admissions Robin Ingram said. The values–Show Kindness, Be Polite, Don’t Be Hurtful, Listen Respectfully, and Take Responsibility–are interwoven into all divisions of the school, Ingram said.

“It’s a really intimate, sweet Lower Division that takes really good care of you and really prepares you well for Middle School and Upper School,” Ingram, who was the MD Head for 14 years, said.

One of the things that the school emphasized throughout the years is the importance of that community, Chloe Bown ‘18 said. “It makes me think critically about everything I want to do to make a positive impact,” she said.

“I was always prepared to work hard, and I was always taught to respect my peers,” Zarina Iman ’18, who came to the school in Kindergarten, said.

Ben Rosenbaum (12) had a different experience in Lower School. Faced with bullying and body shaming, he became numb to students who did not reflect the school’s values, he said. “It’s very difficult for students to create safe spaces and be considerate and care for other people,” he said.

Most of the time, however, being a Lifer allows students to form strong friendships. Friedman met her best friend, Sasha Bader ’17, in Lower Division. “I have that long time I spent at Horace Mann to thank for that friendship,” Friedman said.

Fife also met his closest friend, Gavin Delanty (12), when they were in kindergarten. While they were friends from the start, Fife said, some of his other LD friends have grown apart over time. “People change. There was never any big fight, just some people whom I used to be super friendly with I’m now kind of friendly with,” he said.

Although students usually have expansive friend groups, “very frequently there is always that small core group of their friends that they may have met all the way going back to nursery years, kindergarten, first, or second grade that remain a constant for them,” Reiter said.

“When you’re younger, you just grow really close to someone and over time you just keep building on that foundation,” Morgan Joseph (12) said. “It’s more of a sister kind of thing as opposed to a friendship.”

Joseph, who came to school as a three-year-old, has been close friends with Bebe Steel (12) for her entire time at the school, she said.

Friedman credits the school for making sure she understood the privilege of being a Lifer. “Having the opportunities that I had from a very young age because of Horace Mann is something that I have not taken for granted and that I hope to have acknowledged at each step of the way,” Friedman said.

“It’s been a privilege for my kids to be here, for them to go to a private school like this, and I think they realize that now the more they get older,” Admissions Associate and Physical Education teacher Rawlins Troop P’06, P’07, P’10, P’18, P’21 said.

Joseph has occasionally felt pressure from her parents to use the privilege she has in a positive way, she said. “It’s like, we’ve invested in your education so show us what it’s really like, what you really learned here,’” she said.

“As a Lifer, you’ve had more opportunities to take advantage of all the opportunities here,” Friedman said.

The privilege of the LD experience can be negative for self-esteem, Friedman said. On occasion, being the student who did not have to take a difficult test to get into the school made her feel like she was not as smart as a newcomer, she said.

“Being someone who has been here for a long time and got in when I was way younger, I had felt, many years ago, that maybe I wasn’t good enough to be in this new part of the school, this new middle school part,” Fife said.

Though he occasionally had the same thoughts, Weber disagreed with the idea. “The Lifers, by the mere fact that they’re still there, means that they are just as skilled as the people who come in in sixth or ninth grade,” he said.

“If they didn’t belong here, we would have let them know that,” Ingram said. “If a student wants to be here but it’s going to be really hard work for them, they just have to be aware that that’s going to possibly change their quality of life in high school,” she said.

Troop, who works in admissions for sixth grade, said that newcomers are helpful to the older students. “It picks up the whole grade to be better,” he said. In addition, the strong friendships that students form in the LD help them navigate the move to the MD, he said.

Often, sixth grade provides students with the opportunity to grow developmentally and socially, Reiter said. The social challenge of new students allows Lifers to “become inclusive, rather than exclusive,” she said.

“I could not rely on an older group of friends,” Jivan Khakee ’18 said. “I ended up making a lot of new friends in sixth grade, and some of those have remained my friends throughout the rest of high school.” When Khakee moved up to sixth grade from the LD, two of his best friends left the school, forcing him to make new friendships, he said.

“Another way to look at Lifers is that sometimes when they transition to middle school, they are looking for new friends,” Reiter said. Although most students remain close to their old friends, they take the opportunity granted by the influx of students in sixth grade to form new connections, she said.

For some Lifers, the length of time at the school can create a feeling of monotony, Jane Frankel ’18 said. “Some of my peers, they definitely felt the hardships of being in the same place for too long and getting tired of it,” she said.

Rosenbaum felt this way at times and is ready for a change, he said. “I’m incredibly grateful for all the resources the school has offered me, but I’m ready to move on,” he said.

Wright-Butler seriously contemplated leaving the school, she said. “I was having a lot of issues at home and there was a lot of work put on top of that,” she said. “I don’t think I could have ever followed through with that. I don’t think that I could leave something that I had been a part of for so long.”

Being at the school for so long can make it hard to leave, Friedman said. “Horace Mann is kind of a bubble and having spent a really long time there you get used to the routine of things,” she said.

“You’re going to get out of the hilltop schools and it’s going to be so different,” Fife said. As a senior, Fife believes that he is more nervous about the transition after HM than other people might be because he has been in one place for so long, he said.

“I think I was nervous about transitioning because I had never transitioned schools before,” Weber said. “I think that’s part of the reason that I decided to take a gap year, which made the transition to college a lot easier.”

Leaving the school is also sad, Friedman said. “It took a lot of time to process leaving this place that I had been at for 13 years.”

Faculty and administrators talk constantly about how to best help students in both the LD and the MD, Ingram said. By looking at test scores and talking about each student individually, the school makes each Lifer’s path smoother, she said.

The education extends beyond the classroom, Joseph said. “Our dialogue outside of the classroom is equally as important as the things we learn inside the classroom. I don’t think other schools are talking about stocks in their free time,” she said.

Lifers have also had the opportunity to observe many of the school’s changes over the years, Wright-Butler said. “To be able to say that I’ve been here that long to see a lot of changes that the school has gone through, I think that’s very cool,” she said.

“We’ve focused on diversity a lot more in the past few years,” Joseph said. “When we were younger it wasn’t really a conversation, but now in the Lower Division they’re having more conversations about diversity, inclusion, and thinking and talking about different types of people.”

The school isn’t the only thing that changes, Frankel said. “I got to see my grade evolve into people, not just kids. I saw them change and grow up, and we grew up together.”

As Wright-Butler gives tours as a student ambassador, she is doing more than showing people around her school. She is showing them around her home for the past 15 years. “I’ve established myself not only physically but also in the community,” she said.

“The foundation of my life came from Horace Mann,” Friedman said.