MAESA Matters November 2019


Greetings from MAESA!

November is absolutely a month for MAESA to give thanks; thanks for our Episcopal schools and the adults and students that are at the heart of them! With four events of the MAESA program year completed, it has been a delight to see and hear from nearly all of our schools at the Members Meeting, our two Episcopal Schools Celebration services and our Early Childhood Educators Conference at the end of October. Thank you for taking the time to attend and be in community with one another. Fellowship, advancing professional development and worshiping together are examples of what makes MAESA and our schools even stronger.

In this edition of MAESA Matters we hope you enjoy hearing from Brandon Straub, Director of Choral Music and Music Department Chair at St. Albans School and National Cathedral School , as he responds to "Why I Teach in an Episcopal school." Brandon describes how his own experience in secondary education differed from the environment he found working in independent, Episcopal schools. He reflects on how his desire for a vocation as a choral director and educator has been realized through working in Episcopal schools. Do you or another member of your school have something share? We'd love to hear from an adult or an upper school student at your school about why they value being at an Episcopal school. Please contact us at  maesaschools@gmail.com to be included.

Highlighting Two Episcopal Schools' Celebrations

In October, 16 MAESA schools and more than 800 students gathered to mark the annual Episcopal Schools Celebration with this year's theme "for God is at work in you." The talents of many students, nurtured at Episcopal schools, were on display in our services in Richmond, at All Saints Episcopal Church, and at Washington National Cathedral. From choral and violin ensemble offerings to readers and those who preached, prayed and sang in the congregation, it is clear that God is indeed busy at work in our Episcopal schools. Thank you for being a part of the celebration this year!

Why I Teach in an Episcopal School
Brandon Straub
Director of Choral Music
Music Department Chair
St. Albans School and National Cathedral School

“Wow, you’re so tall! Do you play basketball?” This was everyone’s favorite question for me as a lanky 6’3” high school freshman. Well it WAS, anyway, until I found a t-shirt that read “No, I don’t play basketball. Do you play miniature golf?” 

This anecdote has often been the perfect opener for my chapel talks or other remarks about community singing or overcoming that awkward, inevitable voice change that happens in adolescence. By the time I reached high school, music had become my primary interest and part of my identity. Basketball just didn’t appeal to me in the same way, and to some people, that meant my height would simply be wasted potential. 
As a student, I loved the concept of school. I was endlessly curious. I loved to learn. I loved to play school at home. I loved pretending to grade tests and papers. I even loved school supplies. Yet, somehow, I didn’t love school itself. The daily grind in a seemingly antiquated system where classes felt too large, where all homework seemed like busy work, where every student was supposed to master a concept at the same rate, and where memorization and completion of tasks often seemed to carry more weight than intellectual rigor or problem solving routinely frustrated me and left me feeling bored.
Although I was fortunate to have received a strong public school education overall, the realities of life at school steadily ate away at my intrinsic motivation and inspiration when it came to academics. I was that student that every teacher loved to teach, but I could succeed – and even excel - in most core classes without truly engaging or feeling challenged. Similarly, I could roll through the day without learning to take risks or feeling a genuine sense of connection to my peers or the greater school community. There was one place, however, where I experienced the degree of challenge, connection, engagement, and community I needed: music.
Fast forward to the end of my undergraduate student teaching experience where I found myself eager to launch into a career as a choral director. Armed with a degree in Music Education and a fire in my belly, I prepared to begin my search for a position. I quickly realized, however, that I couldn’t envision a life as both a musician and educator in a system that would likely leave me feeling what I had felt as a student. 
Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, I found myself interviewing at a private boarding school. As a Midwesterner, I hadn’t been aware that such a model even existed in the United States. This magical new world not only seemed to celebrate its teachers as professionals and masters of their subject but seemed to value academic rigor, community time, spiritual growth, and honor - not to mention generations of tradition alive in family-style meals and dress code. As a choral director, this also seemed like a world in which I could still explore a wide variety of musical repertoire and styles with students without needing to shy away from or apologize for programming pieces with sacred or spiritual texts – a challenge facing teachers and administrators in many public and private schools.
Now in my thirteenth year of teaching, I find myself overseeing a shared “coordinate” music program at the National Cathedral School and St. Albans School in Washington, DC. The journey to this point had already taken me through two previous independent schools based in the Episcopal tradition. Perhaps like some of you, I have frequently become disillusioned along the way with the world of independent schools. I have wrestled with my own relationships to both public and private education. I have fought alongside students, colleagues, and parents to advocate for the time, visibility, and resources that performing and visual arts deserve within our communities and as part of every student’s education. I’ve collaborated with chaplains to rethink and revive music and community singing in chapel services, simultaneously adding diversity to the musical offerings while maintaining a sense of tradition and meaningful connection to hymnody. This is just a short list of examples to illustrate the challenges that we face and will continue to face in Episcopal schools, but I believe we can continue to learn from each other and aspire to attain a more meaningful and well-balanced version of what we do. 

In short, I teach in Episcopal schools because we value community, spiritual discovery and growth, physical and mental health and wellness, academic and intellectual rigor, and curiosity. I teach in Episcopal schools because we need to create a world in which all students have the time and resources to achieve their academic and athletic goals and still engage with art and music on a consistent basis. I teach in Episcopal schools because our musicians and chaplains can find a path forward for our chapel programs that is both spiritually diverse and musically relevant without watering down the content or turning our backs on tradition. I teach in Episcopal schools because we can find a way to both celebrate our identity and truly embrace the maxim “all are welcome.” I teach in Episcopal schools because I can’t wait to see what we will do with our potential.

2019-2020 MAESA Event Dates
MAESA 2020 Choral Evensong
Sunday, February 9, 2020  at  Washington National Cathedral  in partnership with  St. Albans School  and  National Cathedral School. This beautiful service allows our upper school student choruses to sing with the Cathedral Choir. The combined MAESA Choir numbers more than 350 voices. MAESA is pleased to welcome The Rev. Mark Andrew Jefferson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Virginia Theological Seminary as our homilist at the 2020 MAESA Evensong.

MAESA Scholars Fair 
Friday, April 17, 2020  at  St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School  in Washington, D.C. The fair includes a juried art exhibit, science fair, geography and spelling bees, multimedia presentations and a non-competitive design thinking activity for students in 4 th -8 th grade.

MAESA 2019-2020 Membership Renewal: Still need to renew your 2019-2020 membership in MAESA? Visit our website to renew today. Thank you for your continued commitment to MAESA through your support in annual dues as well as participation in our MAESA events.
Let us hear from you!
Katherine F. Murphy 
MAESA Executive Director