Thanks to everyone who joined us on Friday for our first Elementary Recitation of the year. Students enjoyed presenting snippets of what they are memorizing and learning, and everyone did a nice job of being on stage. If you missed it, we’ve posted clips of each presentation on our Vimeo channel to watch and share. Don’t forget to join us for our first Secondary Recitation on Thursday, October 25, from 11:45-12:15 p.m. Pack a lunch and eat with students after!
One of the joys of summer (apart from the school year ending, of course) is the opportunity to walk back through the past nine months and thank God for His blessings, for they are many.
Academically, we saw students at every level work hard, embracing the curricular challenges presented within each new grade and seeking to understand what our teachers so passionately attempted to present and inculcate. Our new Upper School Lyceum presentations from faculty contributed to the weekly intellectual stimulation, as did the many Grammar School field trips and educational festivals highlighting different aspects of our world. We witnessed the manifestation of fruit from our academic endeavors at each Recitation (Grammar and Upper School), by the expression of creative projects hanging on the walls, in the conversations and discussions engaged in in the classrooms (and, I’m told, at dinner tables everywhere), and through our Upper School Thesis presentations – all culminating in our Senior Commencement at the end of the year, in which we graduated 10 students we loved very much.
Artistically, we witnessed the deeper establishment of our music program with our new 4th-6th grade Orchestra joining our dynamic 4th-8th grade Choir for two wonderful Schola Cantorum concerts. We studied many and varied forms of visual art, and learned some of the history of each along the way. We dedicated a full two days to our Upper School Shakespeare Festival, extending our love for the Bard down into our Grammar school in partnership with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and their Montana Shakes! week-long program in which over 40 of our 3rd-6th graders participated. Our Upper School students participated in our first-ever Film Festival and studied three stunning films from Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue project. And, we took a big step in our Drama program, producing a custom version of the theatrical favorite, Meet Me in St. Louis, complete with rousing song and dance numbers performed in front of record attendance numbers – our first foray into the wonderful world of the onstage musical.
Athletically, it was a banner year of spirit and accomplishment: we saw continued improvement at all four levels of our volleyball program, turned in our best JV basketball record to date of 10-3, and won our third state championship in five years in Ultimate Frisbee. Most importantly, we saw the beginnings of an actual fan base – of students K-12 (and their families) attending and cheering on our Griffin teams because they were our own. Our new line of Griffin Gear helped unify our look, and Spirit Days and our new Contio Spiritus pep rallies each month gave expression to our newly-cultivated school spirit.
Of course, if we’re talking spirit, there were our traditional feasts for Reformation/All Saints’ Day, Advent, and Easter, as well as yet another beautiful morning for Field Day, all of which added to the fun. We installed the first elements of our new Grammar playground (with more still to come), our 3rd-6th graders took history on parade, our 7th-12th graders learned about etiquette (and looked great doing so) at Protocol, and we loved hosting our elders for Grandparents’ Day. Finally, our Upper School house system competed – athletically, dramatically, academically, and musically – throughout the year, and we were all reminded of – maybe even surprised by! – the unity fostered by the houses when we retired them for summer at our year-end closing awards ceremony, where we celebrated each other’s accomplishments and cried a tear or two at a powerful slide show summarizing 2016-17.
Administratively, we celebrated our freedom to educate students the way we do during School Choice Week, welcomed dozens of school leaders from other parts of Montana interested in what we were doing, and secured another five-year accreditation from our accrediting body of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. We improved systems (most significantly being online registration), welcomed new Board members, and attempted to lead humbly and with care for each and every student and family. We sought to own our shortcomings and failures, asked forgiveness and took responsibility for what we could or needed to, and worked to view issues as opportunities to get better. Most importantly, we sought God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and remain ever-grateful for what we discern to be His gracious response to us.
Thanks be to God…for 2016-17, and for everything.
Memory and memorization get a bad rap these days. We are told that, in the era of Google, there is no need to memorize anything anymore. After all, the argument goes, why take up personal hard drive space when everything we need to know is somewhere in the Cloud?
It’s an attractive idea, I suppose, as it appeals to our preoccupation with convenience, but such catalogued memory does us few favors when the Internet’s down.
Memory is not merely for the sake of nostalgia—“that memory-substitute that remembers only backward, and selectively,” writes James K.A. Smith in his Comment Magazine editorial, “Memory, Forgetting, and Hope.” He continues:
Nostalgia is the selective memory of traditionalism. Instead of drawing on the past like a well to nourish our imagination going forward, nostalgia mourns a mythical ‘golden age’ while conveniently forgetting the injustices in that history. Nostalgia invokes ‘the tradition’ as a white knight while deflecting your attention from the serfs crushed underfoot. Nostalgia ends up being its own form of forgetting.
Our Petra Recitations are a monthly opportunity for students to recite on our stage a little of what they are learning in our classrooms. The purpose of all the memory work leading up to these recitations is not to demonstrate how amazing our students’ little hard drives are (though they are), nor is it to gather together and warm ourselves by the nostalgic flames of psalms and poetry from better days gone by. Rather, we learn and memorize and recite because, as Smith continues,
In our age, bent on ‘progress,’ remembering is a revolutionary act…We’re convinced that there are all sorts of buried treasures in our tradition that can be mined for contemporary challenges. Nourishing intellectual water lies in the deep wells of Christian heritage—and yet, all too often, we don’t realize we’re dying of thirst even while slurping up any ‘new’ thing. There are bottles of joy and wisdom and imagination in the Christian cellar that prior generations have abandoned.
The psalmist writes in Psalm 71:17-18,
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.
We have nothing to proclaim without the memory of that which we have been taught. At Petra, ours is an invitation (once again, a la Smith), “to take, eat, remember, believe: this is the rite of a stretched people who know how to hope because they know how to remember.”
This is why we gather for our elementary recitation each month, and why we are planning our first-ever secondary recitation later this week. Perhaps one day, we will have a parental recitation (though I fear most of us have given up on the idea and purpose of memory, reducing it to little more than the process of holding a phone number in our heads before transferring it to our phones).
The degree to which words and ideas have a hold on us has much to do with the degree to which we have a hold on them. As our children learn everything from the Scriptures to “The Skin Song,” may they also learn by way of recitation that there is power in memory – not just to remember the past, but to remember the past for the sake of the present and the future.
by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
Having lived in Montana for all of three months now, and having spent the summer hiking and camping mostly around Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley, last weekend was my first opportunity to see more of the Treasure State, as I drove to Great Falls to watch our varsity Griffins play volleyball.
If you’ve made the three-hour drive from Bozeman through Helena to Great Falls, I don’t have to tell you how beautiful it is. If you haven’t, I’m not sure I can adequately describe the vastness of scale, the contrast of colors, or the teeming of the Missouri River through the canyons it carved. I thought about having one of my daughters snap a few pictures with my iPhone, but we all know the limitations of trying to capture God’s grandeur in a viewfinder; it’s not a matter of finding the views, but fitting them that is always the trick.
Just as reading the book is always better than seeing the movie, experiencing the sight is always better than trying to take a picture of it. Personally, I’ve stopped trying to capture life in pictures, and instead just take ones that are good enough to trigger those I took in my mind. Life is more easily experienced than described, which is frustrating when experiencing something you want to share but can’t (or at least can’t adequately).
Which brings me to Recitation Day – one of our attempts (albeit a rudimentary one) to present to parents and grandparents of our elementary students just a hint of what they are learning in their studies at Petra. To watch a child learn is as beautiful and awe-inspiring a sight as seeing the Missouri meander through the Montana mountains; unfortunately, trying to tangibly capture that sight is as great a challenge as any.
But we try. We try to give you a glimpse of how your elementary students are engaging with classical content that has stood the test of time; of how they are forming (and being formed by) a Christian worldview of that classical content; and how they are learning this classical content and Christian worldview from teachers who live joyful lives with a love of learning.
To be sure, Recitation Day is only a partial picture of all that your children or grandchildren are learning at Petra, but we hope this snapshot will be one of many you collect as your student continues through our grammar, logic, and rhetoric schools. Enjoy the views!