Each December parents stop me in the hallway to whisper about Santa Claus. Some parents want me to know that their child no longer ‘believes’; a confession representing growing nostalgia as children grow beyond childhood. Other parents want to ask me when they can expect their child to stop believing. Through the years, I have learned that the buzz about Santa Claus speaks to an important stage in a young child’s development that reaches across all religions, languages and nationalities and it touches upon adults’ sensibilities about youth and innocence.
The discussion about ‘believing’ is important in the development of a young child and it is a discussion that consumes and worries parents and teachers alike. To ‘believe’ or ‘not to believe’ is one of life’s greatest teachable moments and offers lessons in optimism, goodness, hope, anticipation and goodwill; all facets of empathy.
A favorite seasonal title to punctuate the feeling of ‘believing’ is the book, Polar Express, (CLICK for Read-Aloud). A story about a child’s imagination which is vividly remembered by the adult who narrates the tale about a trip to the North Pole, jolting reindeer and the magic sound of a bell that only Santa ‘believers’ can hear. The storyteller offers a glimpse of hope that the bell will chime for those who still ‘believe’. As the story goes, adults lose the ability to hear the bell and the bitter sweet memory of its chime is long remembered and remorsefully missed. It’s my favorite holiday story.
For me, the answer to the ‘believing’ question is this: Believing doesn’t stop when the truth about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, super hero strength, princess tales or the impossibility of miracles are discovered and revealed. ‘Believing’, as a child, is sweet and a hopeful gesture filled with anticipation and unquestionable faith. When Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or any other whimsical fairytale character is long gone from the imagination, ‘believing’ does not vanish, it evolves. Though we may become less hopeful when we no longer believe in imaginary figures from childhood, we become more engaged in expecting acts of goodness and we work to be an active part of the goodness. This act from becoming passive recipient to active creator makes ‘believing’ sweeter and keeps the metaphoric bells chiming throughout a lifetime.
My own discovery of ‘believing’ helps me understand this.
I remember exactly what I was wearing and where I stood when Brian Brown told me there was no such thing as Santa Claus. The news didn’t shock me, nor was I stunned. I also don’t remember reliving Christmases passed to link truth to Brian’s conclusion. I simply took his statement at face value. I stopped believing in Santa Claus at that moment. It was a chilly December morning in the school yard on Broad Street. I was 10 years old, in Mrs. Veccionio’s 5th grade class.
I held on to the new truth quietly and regarded it very personal. I had no doubt in Brian’s declaration that day. Remarkably, I understood enough not to share this at home knowing it would upset my mother. I also worried I would ruin the belief of Christmas for my little brother, who was so eagerly counting his “good” chips for the arrival of Santa Claus in the weeks ahead.
A few days later, my mother and my grandmother brought my brother and me to see Santa Claus. I was, inexplicably, angry with my mother and I pouted all night. My mother charmingly reminded me of the adage; “You better watch out. You better not pout”.
The truth was, I couldn’t explain what I was feeling or why. I couldn’t articulate the nuance or the importance of something as abstract as ‘believing’ or ‘not believing’. All I could do was cry right there on Main Street for all to see. Santa was gone from my life and left me wondering for what and to whom to wish. My grandmother whispered to my mother, “She doesn’t believe anymore”. My mother froze in her tracks.
I am sure my mother was sad that a piece of my childhood blew away in the wind that night; too quickly to recapture. My mother, however, recovered quickly and smiled. At that moment my mother began to include me in Christmas secrets about gift giving and planning surprises for my little brother and my father. She also hinted at the promise of surprise that was under the tree for me. I was, once again, filled with the optimism of anticipation, excitement, and wonderment. I also discovered something new that night –though I was still eager to receive, I was also equally excited about the joy of giving.
I soon was embraced by my mother to join the elite and private discussions that built the element of surprise for the people we loved. I joined in the plans for the perfect gifts, planned secret purchases and found perfect hiding spots. I also stayed up late to wrap the gifts that my brother pleaded Santa Claus for. I remember that I couldn’t contain my excitement as I waited until Christmas day to surprise him. It was 1979; until I had my own children, it was the best Christmas I ever had.
What I learned that Christmas was this: ‘believing’ was not a fleeting childhood fantasy that Brian Brown or anyone else could change. ‘Believing’ in Santa Claus (or any fantasy) is an innocent hope in all things ‘good’ in the world as understood in the mind of a child. What I learned that Christmas from my mother and from the comfort of family tradition is that ‘believing’ after Santa Claus-no matter the holiday or the act of celebration- is also about believing in all things good in the world. The difference was, however, I no longer invested holiday happiness on the wishful act of good will from one person. Rather it was about acts of kindness and goodness that I was now a part of sharing. I was happy to receive the joy of a gift, but happier to share in the joy of giving, in hope, in optimism and in the faith in human exchange-believing in the intimacy of giving and receiving. Ever since, I have put my belief in making others happy, and I appreciate how others work to surprise me and give me joy in return. I found a deeper joy in Christmas without the dependency of Santa Claus.
In my role as mother, I have cherished my own children’s belief in Santa Claus and I have worked hard to preserve the mystery of Santa’s miraculous gift guessing and giving. I loved watching the wonder in my children’s eyes each year. As my children grew, and as one by one they gave up in ‘believing’ in Santa Claus, I celebrated the milestone by passing on my mother’s wisdom. I have embraced them in the secrets of gift giving and tradition building and I have watched each grow from hopeful children to people who work to make a difference in the lives of those they love and respect. My youngest held onto to ‘believing’ as long as he could, and his older brother and sister cherished his wonderment and innocence with me; learning how fragile hope is and how deeply responsible we are to preserve it. A few years ago, he grew suspicious, quieter and carefully watchful the weeks leading up to Christmas. His glance had changed from innocent assumption to curious and clever. I found my heart tug; he was just ten years old; hopeful and wise. But, since, I have cherished his plotting and planning in gift giving and watching how he carries optimism with him in the element of surprise and thoughtfulness.
In my role as educator, I love seeing our students at all stages of belief. I wish for our youngest students in Pre K at CAG to hear the sounds of sweet bells and I wish for their hearts’ desires to be fulfilled so they experience the wonder and excitement of magic and learn to have trust and to build faith in the world. I am grateful to play a small role in their happiness and I so much enjoy hearing their holiday stories through their interpretations of Santa’s visit.
As our students grow and give up on the jolly man in the red suit who has been good to them for many years, I find joy in hearing their tales of holiday plans and their ideas for secrets and surprises in the act of giving to others. I find fulfillment in their happiness to bring toys and books to give to children in need, and I enjoy hearing their stories of helping mom and dad find the right present to donate. The element of ‘believing’ at any age plays out in acts of kindness and in shared stories of family pastimes no matter the age. I am proud that ‘believing’ surrounds us at CAG.
For those who have little believers-cherish the moment of innocence and hope. For those who wonder for how long your children will believe, I am confident we can join together to share in the goodness, optimism and faith in mankind for years to come. Together we can instill in our children the desire to make people happy and to receive acts of kindness from others with open hearts and open minds. In doing so, we will all hear the happy sounds of bells in every act of goodness throughout our lifetimes.
I wish all of our students and their families a happy holiday season filled with happiness, goodness, anticipation, hope and faith. We wish you a happy and healthy new year and look forward to sharing in the magic of 2019 with you!
In the spirit of maroon and gray,
Patricia Lee Marshall
The American School of Guatemala
Thanksgiving, November 2018
Like the students at the American School of Guatemala, many of us remember the story of the first Thanksgiving; a story about hardship, sacrifice, goodwill, an extended hand of generosity- an exchange of culture through a plentiful menu of corn, potato, pheasant and grains. A lesson of the rich indigenous culture opened to the European foreigners new and unfamiliar with the western hemisphere.
As the story goes, there was an incredible feast received with gratitude that helped the pilgrims endure a long and tough winter. The generous feast was a lesson on the fruits of a successful harvest and showed the new comers the wealth of their new home---rich in food and kindness.
Today, the story of the first thanksgiving lives in each new generation of American and the friends and family we open our hearts and homes to. But, there is so much more to Thanksgiving than an autumn harvest and delicious food.
The values of the story transcend all nations and all religions. Thanksgiving is about the best of humanity sharing in their successes to help others. It´s about welcoming newcomers to your family, home and community. Thanksgiving is about teaching others the importance of resourcefulness, endurance, and optimism. And finally, the greatest lesson of Thanksgiving is instilling in children these values and the importance of passing them on from one generation to the next- exchanging values between families and sharing them with strangers without judgement, and always with kindness.
Today, as I walk through the halls of CAG, I am reminded that Thanksgiving lives in us each and every day. We see Guatemalans and foreign teachers embrace each other´s cultures and share in each other´s traditions. We see our young students eagerly looking into the eyes of their parents, teachers and friends to celebrate moments of joy and find encouragement and courage to tackle the next big hurdle of growing up. We see big hands extend to little hands helping each other get up after a tumble or setback. We watch our faculty instill inspiration through subject. And always, we watch the CAG community rally to celebrate joys, and come together in hardship to get each and all through a dark and cold winter. We are a Living Thanksgiving.
At the American School, we are also benefactors of generosity from our founders, grandparents, parents and alumni who have selflessly given back to their school to ensure the tradition of CAG lives on in the hearts and minds of our students so that they learn to come back and do the same, . . . keeping the CAG tradition leading, alive, and strong. We are a Living Thanksgiving.
And as a result of the work of those before us, The CAG harvest is seen in each young family´s desire to achieve the best education for their children in Guatemala. In the hopeful and aspiring young faces of over 1615 students. In the peeking roof tops of our iconic campus and throughout the green and blossoming acres of where our school is nestled. From the Founders Library, to the McVean Auditorium, to the Wilson Gymnasium, the scouts´ lounge, the Montanita, our telescope, and strong front face of the School at our front door.
We have received the shares of harvest and our future is bright.
To our students, our faculty, their families and our extended CAG family, we thank you for your gifts and generosity. We find warmth in our CAG home and find strength in the CAG community. We enjoy the plenty from the CAG harvest and promise to pass it on.
Happy Thanksgiving to each and all!
Congratulations to you and our students for completing your first month of school! When I walk through the hallways, around the gardens and enjoy a few minutes in classrooms, I cherish the sounds of happy voices of children asking questions, laughing, and chatting. I have also enjoyed hearing the voices of teachers leading discussions and asking big questions-engaging in the young lives of our CAG students. Our school is filled with life once again after a long and quiet summer- and I am grateful!
Throughout August, the life of CAG has drawn attention. We have been privileged to welcome grandparents, foundation members, alumni reunions (1997 and later this month class of 1968). We hosted college visits, Richard Cullatta from ISTE and, Paul Andersen from NGSS, Former Board members and current, as well as longtime Head of School at CAG Barbara Barillas. We also had the great privilege to be invited to meet with the Minister of Education to share in CAG´s programmatic development and continued commitment to serve as leaders in Guatemala. CAG has also ventured outside of the Gates where teachers participated in volcano relief efforts in Escuintla, visits to UNIS, UVG and 11th graders participating in young business leaders programs at UFM. As always, we are proud to have our students and teachers out and about and to welcome curious community members back to campus to see the great work teachers and students are achieving together! These visits and exchanges are the benefit and responsibility for our school---the benefit as host and the responsibility that we continue to nurture our growth and respect legacy and mission of the school so that we honor 73 years of excellence.
September marks celebrations for Guatemalan Independence. Our APM and parent volunteers will bring the colors and flavors of Guatemala to CAG classrooms and hallways to share in the pride and beauty of this country. The celebration is much about giving our students an experience of traditions that bring their school and their country together in happiness, but it also is a spectacular celebration for us new to this nation. Our employees, led by Middle School students will run through the front gates with a torch-we will be honored by our Marimba Orchestra and student speakers. Our grounds will be covered in the rainbow of intricate carpets of sand and sawdust and we be enjoying endless bowls of the best guacamole you have ever tasted! It´s a treat to share in this celebration, and a reminder of the significant courage and values it takes to achieve, endure and nurture the ideals of independence and what it means for a country and its people. Using the lens of VIDAS and the threads of Character Counts can lead our students through robust conversations about the fundamental aspects of independence as an inalienable right and an inherent responsibility.
What´s Exciting and New on Campus? CAG goes GREEN!
This month, we have been honored by student leadership and direct contribution back to making CAG a better place!
Finally, if you have something to share or want to highlight your students, please pass along. CAG wants to honor student leadership and voice and faculty contributions in the ongoing work to inspire our great community!
A few Reminders for September
Happy September CAG!
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
Dear CAG Community,
Join me in celebrating another great CAG school year!
For over 70 years, the American School of Guatemala has built a school on the pillars of excellence and compassion which has defined a CAG education as bilingual, rigorous and one that models excellence and contributes back to the community in which it was founded.
In fulfilling our mission, the annual tuition is carefully constructed in order to deliver an education that allows for a proven college prep course of study that is complemented with extracurricular offerings and a competitive athletic program. Part of the backbone of this experience is the quality of our international and local faculty who are experienced both in content and instruction. A CAG education also promises a network of national and international memberships, associations, organizations and full international accreditation that benefits our students of all ages, offering them a chance to be competitive in the global community through the duration of their P-12 education as well as prepared for national and international collegiate aspirations.
Throughout the history of the school, founders and trustees have understood that keeping to CAG´s mission requires parent confidence, student performance, alumni pride, and teacher excellence. Providing the extra margin to achieve excellence however, calls for the generous support of donations. CAG has been fortunate to have had the commitment of many leading families and community members invest in the strategic direction and vision of the school since the school´s inception in 1945 through scholarship funds and as evident in the generous land grant where the current campus sits. In fact, fundraising is essential to CAG´s history and to its continued success in reaching its vision to empower and inspire each new generation of student. These fundraising efforts serve as the foundation of our school´s Annual Fund.
Our Annual Fund revenues have the potential to provide the extra margin of excellence that goes beyond the promise of the mission provided by tuition. The Annual Fund is an ongoing fundraising activity critical to the School’s operating income, as such it provides the funds necessary for program enhancements and special projects. And finally, the Annual Fund helps to engage our community in the investment of the school´s future by supporting one of the five areas of excellence;
This year, there is no bottom line goal for CAG in the fundraising process. Instead, we are focused on building confidence among our stakeholders. In doing so, we are strengthening the trust in how the school finances its priorities. Our goal is to achieve the highest levels of participation from our stakeholders for the Annual Fund, and we need your support and leadership to achieve it.
We call upon our community to join me in giving back to the school and to model the importance of making an investment in CAG so its legacy stays strong and bright for your children and their children and so the CAG name continues to stay strong for thousands of alumni past and future.
We encourage you to speak to your family and friends about your commitment. The Advancement Office and I will be happy to meet with you to answer any questions you may have about your gift, including how we will demonstrate use of your investment and how you will know your gift makes a difference. If you are ready to give now, the Advancement Office has created a simple process to pledge. Just click here for more information.
All donors will receive confirmation of their pledge to present to the Cashier’s Office and as recognition of your gift for their records. The Advancement Office will follow-up to confirm if you are interested in participating in the CAG Annual Report, to be published in September.
On behalf of the entire CAG community, I thank you for your support of the school. I also thank you in advance for your investment in CAG’s future by giving now.
Patricia Lee Marshall
Q and A to support your contribution to the Annual Fund
We design our own learning program using a unique curriculum that operate without financial support from federal, state, or local government, and are self-governed. Unlike public schools, which are funded by tax dollars, independent schools rely solely upon tuition and philanthropic gifts to meet operation and capital expenses. Because we strive to manage tuition increases at reasonable levels for the quality of education CAG promises, giving is important to off-set expenses that help us achieve unique and special mission programs and to obtain state of the art resources to enhance teaching and learning.
CAG is appreciative of all donations. If there is something else that interests you and your family to support, please share your ideas with the General Director and the Advancement Office. The only criteria for giving is to ensure your desire to give supports the mission, vision and strategic direction of CAG.
Often, corporations contribute to independent schools by offering matching gifts to their employees' contributions. Families in our school may be able to double their personal contributions through their employer's matching gift program. Please check with your employer to see if such a program is in effect where you work.
Yes! This is a great way to make a gift to the school. In the US, giving appreciated securities provides you with a tax deduction for the appreciated value of the stock without incurring capital gains tax. Our office can provide you guidance with this information so you or your family can make stock gifts. Please let us know what your pledge is, the payment date, or what monthly installments you would like to make.
If you make a pledge today, you have until the end of the calendar year (December 2018) to make your gift.
All gifts are properly recorded in the business office and donation receipts are provided to all donors. The advancement office will conform with you how you want your donations mentioned in the annual report. Family recognition, graduating class collections, memorial funds and anonymity are options.