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A Letter from Head of School Rich Schellhas

Dear GA Students, Families, and Colleagues,

Today more than ever during this pandemic, I wish we could gather together in person. Some issues are far too big and vital to be discussed via email, Zoom, or phone call; in times of crisis, we need to look people in the eye to try to understand what they are feeling and to grapple with the complexities of an issue like racism in the United States, an issue which predates even our founding by centuries. 

Not just our city but our entire country finds itself in a crisis within a crisis. My heart breaks for the senseless, violent murder of George Floyd, as it does for the countless others who went before him. My heart breaks for those injured or violated as a result of important protests gone awry in Philadelphia and other cities. Heartbreak, however, doesn’t overcome injustice. What can we do? What can you do? 

Over the past few years, GA has expanded diversity education and leadership across our school in order to try to meet the needs of every student and employee. We have worked hard to expand our Civility Pledge so that it, like our Mission, becomes internalized by our whole community. Sometimes we take steps forward; often we take steps back. We are imperfect. We are striving to do better and to be better. 

First and foremost we must be a school where students can be safe, and where they can learn the facts of current events in developmentally appropriate ways. In the Middle and Upper Schools on Tuesday, I have asked our Diversity and Community Life Coordinators and Counselors to set up two optional Zoom meetings in order to provide students a chance to discuss the recent tragedies and to give them an opportunity to share their thoughts and worries. This situation requires the thoughtful facilitation of discussion in affinity groups; in both Middle and Upper School, we will offer one session to students who identify as Black or African-American and then a second session open to all students. In addition, I have asked Middle School and Upper School history teachers to pause their regular instruction in all grades during their classes on Wednesday and Thursday in order to engage with their students around these pressing national events. In the Lower School, our administration will partner with our Diversity and Community Life Coordinators to offer an age-appropriate affinity gathering this week for Black and African-American students. 

We all come at this work with different experiences and backgrounds, privileges and biases. My own work has guided me to think in these directions: 

  • Rather than leading with ‘How can I help?’, how might we proactively find ways to make a difference individually? What can we offer before even being asked?
  • We all have different spheres of contacts, from friend groups to places of worship, from work to political connections. How might we leverage these networks to lend support and become part of a solution or a path to justice?
  • How can we avoid collusion through silence and instead find our voices, in our own way, to advocate for and actively sympathize with threatened communities?
  • How might we support each other through open and vulnerable conversations in which we share our fears in affirming spaces?

Ultimately GA is beholden to our aspirational Mission. We are driven to consider how, in times like these, we might help shape compassionate, collaborative, and honorable students and citizens. We need the help of every parent and employee to do so. I thank you for your partnership in this vital work. 




Rich Schellhas

Head of School
Germantown Academy

A Letter from Interim Head of Upper School Mike Torrey

A Letter from Head of Middle School Jonas Jeswald

A Letter from Head of Lower School Sue Szczepkowski