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Dear Putnam Valley Community:

The Thanksgiving holiday provides a moment to express appreciation to our dedicated Putnam Valley educators who are continually seeking new ways to engage students in learning and developing cognitively and emotionally. We know that in order to become active and responsible citizens, students need practice in academic attainment and empathy toward others. As we look forward to our Thanksgiving holiday, I want to convey once again special appreciation to our high school musicians and poets for conducting their fourth annual Gratitude Festival at the Tompkins Corners Cultural Center at the Tompkins Corners Cultural Center.  This event has become a highlight of the year for many, as the students are performing from the heart, choosing their own work and often creating compositions for the occasion. For anyone who teaches or who works in any capacity for a school, the magnet and purpose of our calling exist in the students we serve and their natural exuberance and engagement in learning and expression. Many of us missed the festival this year because of the conflict with the Board of Education meeting that was postponed due to the snow last week, but the delight and appreciation remain.

The Gratitude Festival allows the community to experience the wonderful inner life that our youth shares with us during these student directed events. They are rare occasions granting us a window to delight in student energy and creativity, to hear their voices and share their camaraderie. The supportive environment and collaboration reflected in the student productions inspire hope for the future, and a sense of optimism. I urge us all to pause for a moment and listen to our students, their songs, their voices, and their music as they seek to connect with each other and with the adults around them, elders who are so eager to hear good news, positive and happy choruses, and count their blessings.

It is instructive to recall that it was President Abraham Lincoln who conceived of a Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday even in the throes of the suffering in 1863 during the Civil War. He wanted the nation to focus on our exceptional gifts, our democracy, our rule of law, our resources, our humanity, all that we are grateful and willing to fight for.

I wrote much of this message last year, but in reviewing the sentiments I tried to convey, I feel the need for a reprise. In fact, this year we are focusing as a District on student voice and ways to provide students with a sense of agency and instrumentality. This theme was discussed in a recent newspaper article referencing the fact that our refreshed high school library was designed with input from the students. By listening to their voices, we demonstrate our respect for them as the agents of their educational process. Another opportunity for them to share their ideas has been initiated through a “One Act Play” contest that will allow students to write a play and then produce, direct and cast the play to be presented in our high school library performance space. An additional example is the Science Research Program that provides an avenue for students to follow an inquiry and a passion through developing a three-year research project with a mentor. That same process is the core of the IB (International Baccalaureate) course of study that the high school will be implementing soon.

In each of our schools, we are finding new ways for students to share their ideas and put them to work. Once a student experiences success in a challenging endeavor, the conviction of efficacy lasts a lifetime. We have much to be thankful for during a time when there is a great deal of suffering in our own country, and in too many places in the world.  In that light, we are humbled by our abundance, and grateful to all who have contributed to our happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving Wishes to All!

Dr. Fran Wills
Superintendent of Schools