Cardigan Mountain School A boarding and day school for boys in grades 6 through 9

The Paths Before Us

Aerial view of Cardigan's Academic Quad

Originally published in Fall 2021 in News from the Head of School, Volume 5, Number 1.

Clusters of middle school boys travel from place to place with a great deal of energy and some degree of distraction, finding their way by their own compass. Often they prove unable to stay on paved paths, and we adults tend to see a rejection of authority in their choice to spill over, weave around, or walk alongside the prescribed route.

Yet seasoned faculty member Alex Gray H’12,P’14,’16 once shared an alternative theory, which my quiet observations seem to support: the boys simply like the feel of the edge of the path on their feet, even if it means getting their Buster Browns wet. For them, tactility and sensation will always win over expedience and common sense. I take real delight in watching students walk all around the campus again, making it their own. It is good to have them back.

This year I have loved joining the boys along one particular path: a new paved walkway designed to complement program growth (form follows function at Cardigan!). The “Crigler Path,” as it has been christened, stretches from the Cardigan Commons, past Hopkins-Bronfman and Stoddard, toward Wallach and through the Academic Quad. It leads from one communal area to another, quietly but intentionally connecting the shared experiences that bind our community together. Students now follow it to reach classrooms in the expanded Bronfman Science Center, to maker spaces and art studios in Wallach, and to practice rooms and digital composition labs in the Chapel Music Center. As we had hoped, the Academic Quad has become a vibrant, vital focal point—and is a remarkable testament to the ongoing support we continue to receive from our Cardigan family.

Science students at Cardigan, then and now.

At left, science teacher Sam Hamdan oversees work by Cedric DuPont ’91, Karl Hutter ’92, and Ryan Townsend ’91 in 1991; at right, 2020–2021 science students work in the expanded Bronfman Science Center, as images of cellular models project onto both the wall (and their clothing) for reference.

Not all paths are intended for heavy traffic; some are better savored in solitude and contemplation. Last year, we, like so many others, spent much more time than usual in our own backyard. When we could not line up against Eaglebrook (or any other school) in interscholastic sports, we rigorously explored our 500+ acres of woods and wetlands and took advantage of long weekends, with no scheduled commitments, to expand our trail system. It was a revelation for those in our community who had never before walked, hiked, skied, or biked our miles of trails, or spent time gamboling along the waterfront, observing the cycles of life that Canaan Street Lake reveals to those paying attention. Of late we have been more attentive to those things, and they are precious gifts. Perhaps the gap between our needs and our wants is not as great as we previously believed.

As summer turned into fall and the boys returned to campus, many expressed to me a hope that we would return to “normal,” to familiar paths with well-trodden and predictable directions. But I maintain that none of us will, or should, return to life exactly as it was before. We have learned too much about risk and safety, and about our “wants vs. needs,” to revert unquestioningly to what came before. This fall Cardigan is participating in a New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) self-study prior to our ten-year reaccreditation, and we are also doing the important work of creating a new strategic plan. Both are exercises in building a new path forward. Our journey will certainly include twists and turns that we cannot predict, and recently we have gleaned important lessons about what is precious that we will apply to whatever lies ahead.

Before Cardigan’s campus moved to The Point, music rehearsals and performances were often staged in the living room at the Lodge on Canaan Street (at left, Dick Morrison ’50 accompanies a classmate during his senior year). When the Chapel was built in 1964, its design incorporated what would be the School’s first dedicated music classrooms; classes have since been held in various spaces around campus. At right, faculty member Kevin Franco leads a fall music class in the Chapel’s garden level, renovated this summer to re-establish a music center for the current generation of Cardigan boys.

During the last several years, all of us—adult and students alike—have been facing unexpected and sometimes overwhelming challenges: the incivility of our politics, emerging voices and perspectives urging us to reconsider the status quo, changing weather patterns, the invisible scourge of a deadly virus. We must fight to prevent our view of the world from fading into colorless despair. At Cardigan we combat fears with our own brand of courage: reminders to “help the other fella” and “lift while you climb,” paired with the knowledge that our friends are with us on this path. We may walk along a crowded campus walkway or through the dewy, wet grass on a silent fall morning; we may choose to spill over the edges, weave across the margins, or walk straight down the middle. But we will continue to walk together, in hope and with joy, because that’s our way forward.

And it’s the Cardigan Way.

Christopher D. Day P’12,’13
Head of School

Originally published in Fall 2021 in News from the Head of School, Volume 5, Number 1. Please download the newsletter in its entirety:

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