Old and New Traditions

Being an eighty-six-year-old school, Archmere certainly has developed a number of traditions – customs and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. Schools like Archmere develop unique cultures based on these beliefs that are manifested in practices each day and events that punctuate the school year.

On Friday, September 14, the opening school Mass took place, which, in recent years, has been held on this date to commemorate the first day of school in the Academy’s inaugural year, 1932. At the end of the Mass, the student body, along with special guests, moved outside to the entrance of the theatre, which was transformed over the summer to a special place on campus to remember especially three individuals: Jerry Ambrogi ’76, Mark Dombroski ’17, and Anthony Penna ’19.

The Ambrogi Gates and Garden” were created over the last several months to remember and honor alumnus, coach, parent, and friend, Jerry Ambrogi ’76. The plaque on the gates explains:

Originally installed to the southeast of this spot during the construction of the Patio in 1916-1918, these IRON GATES were removed from their former location to widen the exit lane. They have been restored here to symbolically welcome new students into the Archmere Academy community and to bid farewell to newly graduated alumni following Commencement each academic year.

 Our LABYRINTH is modeled after one installed in the early decades of the 13thcentury on the floor of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres in Chartres, France. St. Norbert of Xanten established his monastery at Prémontré 100 years earlier in 1120 some 115 miles south-west of Chartres. Walking a labyrinth facilitates prayer and meditation and can represent the medieval practice of undertaking a religious pilgrimage.

Water gardens have been installed and tended to by various cultures around the world for millennia and a water feature is traditionally a part of the cloister in Norbertine abbeys around the world. The KOI POND in this garden is to be a place of gathering for quiet reflection, meditation, and prayer and provides the opportunity to appreciate the wonders of God’s creation.

And so, a new tradition was born with the Class of 2022 and transfer students who walked through the gates to the theatre on their first day at Archmere. The next time they will walk through the gates is on their graduation day. In the meantime, the Class of 2019 will begin the graduation tradition this coming June.

Father McLaughlin blessed the gates and garden area, as well as two benches, one each in memory of Mark Dombroski ’17 and Anthony Penna ’19. Among the guests were Mark’s parents, Anthony’s parents, Mrs. Kristy Ambrogi, Jerry’s wife, and other friends and family. The blessing ceremony, which we have often celebrated on campus for a number of memorials and remembrances, is another Catholic Christian tradition that offers meaning and the assurance that those who have left us will be remembered and honored by the Archmere community.

Last Spring, our alumni, parents, and then freshmen, sophomores, and juniors responded to surveys that are helping us gather information to develop the Academy’s next strategic planning cycle. The responses were consistent and overall very favorable about the Archmere experience. The long-standing tradition of “academic excellence” was clearly valued, with “curriculum,” “academic challenge,” and “reputation,” garnering scores of 4.5 to 4.7 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, from 343 students (100%) and 154 parent responses (42.8%).  While these responses certainly underscore the strong academic program of the Academy, we also heard from some students and parents that “school-life balance” could be improved.

Students can feel overwhelmed by their academic schedules, combined with their sports and extra-curricular schedules, let alone their outside-of-school commitments and family obligations. Our students want to be academically challenged, such that they take multiple honors-level or advanced placement courses at the same time. The amount of homework generated from these course loads is a persistent issue for some students and an intermittent issue for others. One possible explanation for the variety of experiences might be due to the fact that we customize students’ schedules to match their learning and development in core disciplines. While this can be an advantage, it also creates multiple schedules for students, who are often grouped together in a variety of ways, making it a challenge for a coordinated pacing of academic content across disciplines.

I have begun a new tradition – a monthly “Coffee and Conversation with the Headmaster” program. Open to all students, for the first meeting in September, approximately 15 students spent about 45-minutes in an open-ended discussion on a variety of topics of interest to them. I also asked them, based on the student survey responses, about their feelings around workload and their school-life balance. Most acknowledged that the academic program is challenging and that they have to manage a rigorous workload. They said that the secret to success at Archmere is time management and organization. They also inferred that students need to be strategic about what they choose to do and schedule. One student offered the perspective that the academic schedule is fine, but when adding to it sports and extracurriculars, it can become overwhelming at times, and that is why time management, organization, and making choices are crucial skills.

I am confident that these constructive conversations around curriculum will be helpful in developing strategic initiatives that will enhance an already strong program offering. Dialog between students, parents, teachers, and administrators will insure that our alumni will continue to report how well-prepared they were for college and what an exceptional experience they had at Archmere, embracing revered traditions and helping to create new ones.