What does it mean to be an Episcopal school?
Breck has been an Episcopal school since its founding in 1886, and its ties to the church continue to be strong. But how the school lives out its daily mission as an Episcopal school is a question that Upper School Director Tom Taylor has often considered.
Earlier this summer, Taylor returned from a trip to Ghana with the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES). “There were three major areas of focus for the trip,” he explained: “To understand the role of Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD), the service outreach wing of the Church, to understand NAES and look at Episcopal schools in another country, and to understand what the transatlantic slave trade looked like in Ghana.”
To learn more about ERD, Taylor and the nine other school administrators, chaplains, priests, and development professionals from across the country visited a town in northern Ghana. There, they saw the results of ERD programs that support malaria eradication, sustainable farming, women, and microfinance. They visited with women who have started subsistence farming ventures and basket weaving operations as a result of microfinance.
Next, the group visited schools across the country, from the rural northern area to the metropolitan areas of Accra and Cape Coast in the south of the country. Anglican schools in the country are public; they’re supported structurally from the church but don’t receive much money. Though each student has to take a national test in technology, the schools don’t have computers for students to learn on. Instead, notes Taylor, teachers will draw photos of computers on the blackboards. And on the subject of teachers, Taylor was struck by how much joy, enthusiasm, and love the students had for their teachers: “The teachers were like absolute rockstars to them.”
Finally, the trip culminated with a look at the country’s past as a funnel for the West African slave trade. Captives would be brought from surrounding countries to camps in the north of Ghana where they were sold and brought to the slave “castles” along the southern coast. For Taylor and undoubtedly the rest of his traveling companions, this was the toughest part of the trip. The architectural beauty of the castle’s exteriors cannot forever hide the horrible atrocities committed within the walls of the castle dungeons where slaves were held before being sent to the Americas.
The overarching theme of this visit, Taylor reflects, was the idea of contrast: joy amidst hardship, beauty amidst pain and horror.
But as much contrast as there may be, there is also so much more similarity. “There’s something really reassuring and powerful,” Taylor says, “that all across the world, 10th graders are 10th grades, that kids are kids are kids.”