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March 4, 2020

By Julia Sonenshein, Assistant Director of Communications, Marketing

Between 8:00am and 8:30am on Friday, February 14, parents and guardians mingled, sipping coffee and munching on snacks in the Fieldston Lower Cafeteria. It was unusual to have so many family members on campus: Since Fieldston Lower is a commuter school, with 70% of its students arriving from some distance by bus every morning, parents often don’t have the opportunity to spend time at their child’s school. 

But February 14 was Family Visiting Day — what Fieldston Lower Principal Joe McCauley calls a “longstanding and beloved tradition” wherein parents and guardians are invited into the classroom to observe and even participate in their children’s classes. The children lead the way; after all, the “students are the experts” on the School, McCauley says.

Because of space issues, students are limited to one family member at a time, so parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even big siblings who’ve walked down from the Upper School or Middle School swap out over the course of the day. The Fieldston Lower faculty go to great lengths to ensure that each child has someone visiting them — if a parent or guardian can’t make it, students are assigned a teacher to stick with them all day. But that’s an unusual case: Family Visiting Day is one of the best-attended events at Fieldston Lower, McCauley says.

Rose Turshen, Director of Annual Giving and parent to Vera D. ’31, began her day in her daughter’s morning meeting, where Fieldston Lower Language Specialist Monica Mella led the class entirely in Spanish. The students responded enthusiastically to her questions, impressing the family members in the room with their skills. Turshen and Vera moved on to Vera’s regular classroom, where they tackled math — much to Turshen’s initial anxiety. “Math was not my strong suit,” she says, “but this was all game-based. It made so much sense!”

The day ended with a 30-minute assembly in the Fieldston Lower Gym, where Music Teacher Blake Rowe led the crowd in song. 5th Graders performed Sally Rogers’ “What Can One Little Person Do?”, which they’d learned during their Civil Rights Movement unit. In honor of Valentine’s Day, the students and families sang the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” with McCauley joining on the guitar. And each grade was assigned a part in “The Instrument Song.” Students marched through their instrument’s verse: The violins ringing like lovely singing; the clarinet, the clarinet goes doodle doodle doodle doodle doodle dat. Pre-K students prepared themselves for their part: the horn, a role perhaps best suited for a rich baritone. They gamely sang through it in their chirpy soprano, leading up to the parents’ moment: a complicated run of ooh’s that Turshen says they all fumbled wonderfully. School let out at noon that day — everyone was exhausted, happy, and ready to rest.

Family Visiting Day is adored by families and students alike, and is a tradition that will continue at Fieldston Lower for years to come. The kids are “so excited to teach us what they’re learning,” Turshen says, and, as McCauley puts it, the family members “get to be students again and see their child’s education through their eyes.” It’s a moment to come together, to celebrate family, and to share experiences and worlds.