A Private School, A Public Purpose

Shark populations are being decimated worldwide with over 100 million being killed annually largely due to commercial fishing. The Bahamas, with its perfect underwater habitats and ban on long line fishing, is an Eden for sharks – at least for now.

As stated in the School’s mission, Waynflete intends to encourage in our students “responsible and caring participation in the world.” On Tuesday evening, April 8, a key method of doing so was on display:

Institutional Modeling.

You might be wondering how an image of a white tip shark swimming up ominously behind a man is related to institutional modeling of a core value. That image, which was taken by photojournalist Brian Skerry and first appeared in the National Geographic, was one of the many spectacular images shown by Mr. Skerry to an audience that overflowed Franklin Theater into Sills Hall one evening in the spring of 2010. We learned in that presentation, contrary to what you might think as you examine the photograph, that it is not the man who is endangered by the approaching shark but rather the shark and millions like it that are endangered by the human activity that has decimated the world-wide population of sharks at an alarming rate.

Courtesy of David Gallo

Courtesy of David Gallo

Mr. Skerry’s presentation was the first in Waynflete’s State of the Ocean Series, an annual event featuring a presentation designed to engage the audience with wonder about and understanding of the world’s vast ocean. It also features an opportunity for ocean related organizations to put their missions on display.  Each year the State of the Ocean Series has filled Franklin Theater and attracted more and more organizations as co-sponsors.  This year the outer gallery and arc hallway were packed with displays by 14 different organizations.  For a list of organizations present, click here.  For a list of State of the Ocean Series speakers and presentation topics, click here.

Map of Atlantic Ocean Plastic Debris Concentrations

Map of Atlantic Plastic Debris Concentrations

This year’s State of the Ocean Series event featured Dr. Kara Lavender Law, who spoke about plastics in the ocean.  Her talk could not have been more timely as it followed stories about the challenges posed to those searching for the missing Malaysian plane by the abundance of plastic ocean debris in the Indian Ocean that appeared on major news outlets and in a National Geographic article.  To read that article, click here.  To read the USNOW article introducing this year’s talk by Marine Biology teacher David Vaughan entitled Does the Ocean Matter?, click here.  To see a picture gallery of the event, click here.  To read an article by Waynflete student Laura Vary ’15 reflecting on the talk that first appeared in The Flyer, the Upper School newspaper, click here.

The State of the Ocean Speaker Series is part of a larger initiative by the School to promote the health of the ocean, which makes a great deal of sense given our proximity to the ocean and our mission to educate.  In 2010, together with the Speaker Series, Waynflete launched Sustainable Ocean Studies, a four week summer program for high school students from across Maine and the nation that is now co-sponsored by Waynflete and the Chewonki Foundation.  For information about SOS, click here.

Photograph by Brian Skerry

Photograph by Brian Skerry

In addition to the tireless work, knowledge, and skill as an educator of SOS Director David Vaughan, this institutional effort to promote the health of the ocean has been made possible by the vision and generosity of an array of individuals and organizations.  An anonymous donor from the Waynflete community provided start up funds for SOS, without which the program would not exist.  Various individuals, foundations, businesses, and banks have contributed funds each year to ensure that every eligible student has been able to attend, regardless of the ability of the student’s family to pay.

In short, we know that a powerful way “to encourage (the) responsible and caring participation in the world” in our students is to be a responsible and caring participant in the world as an institution.  If the packed houses at each State of the Ocean event, Laura’s thoughtful reflections on the most recent event, the increasing number of organizations co-sponsoring the event, and the eager participants each summer in SOS are an indication, Waynflete is indeed doing important work in the world.

In fact, this particular effort is just one of countless ways across divisions that Waynflete routinely reaches well beyond its immediate self-interest and fulfills its commitment to the larger community, acting as a private school with a public purpose.  Such efforts not only benefit the communities in which we live but also deepen and enrich the educational experiences that we provide.  All of us in the Waynflete community should be proud of the good work that we do as an institution and grateful for the opportunities that our responsible and caring participation in the world creates for our students.