Head of School Than Healy addressed the school Thursday, April 28, in the annual State of the School presentation on a Zoom webinar. Healy spoke to concerns, goals and highlights from the year so far followed by a three-minute video of clips from classes and various events throughout the year, which Healy referred to as a “video love letter.” The event concluded with a Q&A with Healy and Board Chair Jake Reynolds.
“The state of this school, thanks to the incredible people who are here – trustees, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, most of all our students – is distinctively strong,” Healy said. “This is a powerful, transformative place that is remarkable in its ability to deliver on its promise to graduate into the world students who are prepared to make a powerful impact in the way that they conduct their lives.” Healy credited this strength to Menlo’s culture and the relationships between its community members.
Healy began his speech by discussing current trends in education in America. One trend pertaining to Menlo included increased enrollment in charter schools, Catholic schools and, in some cases, independent schools. For enrollment in the class of 2026, Menlo had a record number of applicants, with just over 500 students applying to the Upper School according to Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Beth Bishop.
Another trend Healy acknowledged was instability in faculty, staff and administrators in both public and independent schools. This year, for example, Menlo lost many important faculty.
Healy also emphasized a shift to treating coaches as educators in addition to athletic advisors. “Often, [coaches] have as much or more influence on a student’s development as anyone who works in the classroom,” Healy said. “And it’s high time that we compensate them in a way that recognizes that and allows us to go out and compete for the very, very best that we could find.”
In terms of education on a broader scale, Healy argued that increased education gaps will lead to a larger socioeconomic gap in America as Menlo students grow up. These educational opportunities vary with income, which is a reason why Healy is proud that the Menlo community supports organizations such as Peninsula Bridge. “While we’re significantly insulated from these trends as a school, we’re not inoculated from them,” Healy said. “We’re paying close attention both for our own continued survival and success as a school, and also because we’re deeply concerned institutionally about the society around us.”
With regards to normalcy, Healy spoke of the school’s ability to host prom, the Middle School dance and the freshman retreat, as well as the recent eighth-grade trip to Washington D.C. – the first since the start of the pandemic. The MTERM Borderlands trips are also resuming this year with select students headed to El Paso, Texas, Northern Arizona and Southern Arizona at the end of May.
Although life seems to be returning to normal, Healy acknowledged that the pandemic will continue to impact students’ lives. “Mostly [our children] need our belief, they need to know that we believe in their strength and in their capacity to grow through adversity,” Healy said.
Healy highlighted the pursuit of “educational and institutional relevance” – which Healy defined as the pursuit of making a positive impact beyond the Menlo community – by producing capable alumni and contributing to the greater good past Menlo. However, determining how to establish these relevances is difficult due to change. “As the world changes, so too, are the needs that we must meet collectively,” Healy said. “Great schools ground themselves in the context in which they exist.”
In terms of community outreach, a summer pilot program called Street Code led by Jamie Formato will kick off this summer. Street Code will provide resources from Menlo’s Whitaker Lab to develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills in kids and adults from underserved communities. In addition to programs like Street Code, Healy hopes that Menlo will also take the next step to explore the possibility of making an even greater difference in the educational challenges of the region.
In addition to an education that focuses on character building, Healy emphasized an increased focus on student mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report, as cited by Healy, highlights the increase in youth mental health struggles and suicide rates in the decade before the pandemic.
Promoting physical health through both exercise and healthy eating, getting enough sleep and practicing mindfulness are known factors to improve mental health that should be practiced more by students, according to Healy. Additionally, Healy asserted that parents should help address students’ mental health struggles by helping children understand and manage their emotions.
Many Menlo students stress about living up to their parents’ expectations. Menlo students participate in the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s Challenge Success project by taking the Challenge Success Survey which asks questions about students’ well-being, goals and how they feel about the environments they are working in. According to this year’s survey, one-third of middle school students and 40% of high school students don’t believe that they can live up to their parents’ expectations.
Later, Healy recognized the recent events that Menlo students have been involved in such as the Voices for Hope and Global Expo. Sean Nesamoney and fellow students organized Voices for Hope which raised money for the Children’s Health Concert and addressed student mental health issues through speakers and student performances. The Global Expo allowed students to share their heritage with peers, and appreciate Menlo’s diverse culture according to Healy.
Healy’s speech concluded by thanking the community for their impact on Menlo and the world. “If you’re a student listening in tonight, thank you for your hard work and care for this place; if you’re a teacher or a staff member, thank you for dedicating your life to the service of children; if you’re an alumni of this school, thank you for pursuing lives of meaning and impact in the world with so much need and if you’re a parent or a guardian, thank you for believing in Menlo and entrusting this school with the education of your children,” Healy said.