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Gabe Burnstein Welcomes the Community to a New School Year

August 21, 2023

Dear Charles River School Community,

I hope this letter finds you deep in summer mode, and that the time you spend reading it fits neatly into the restoration that summer can provide. I also hope these summer months have allowed you moments of meaningful connection with family and friends.

This has been a summer of new beginnings for the Burnstein/Boswell family. We moved onto campus at the end of June, and we were swept up immediately by a generous welcome. Rebecca and I can’t thank this community enough for the kindness we experienced this summer. Other than Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s tours, I can’t think of anything that has exceeded the hype like the warmth of the CRS community. 

I began at school on July 3rd working on my first priority: getting to know the community and allowing the community to get to know me. To that end, I’ve spent most of my days meeting with faculty, staff, and trustees to listen and learn about CRS. These meetings have been incredibly helpful, and I’m grateful for all the time and wisdom that so many community members have shared with me so far. The listening and learning work will continue all year. My calendar is already full of opportunities to meet students and families and to begin learning from alumni and past parents as well.

A summer of exploration  

This summer, our family spent much of our Dover days outdoors, and I might have been overly ambitious when I proposed that we all hike to Noanet Peak on our second day here. (“Daaaaad, how much looooooonger?”) We also visited the Franklin Park  Zoo, discovered Volante Farms, and sampled Bubbling Brook ice cream again and again. 

One highlight of the summer was when my daughter, Juliette, learned to ride her bike in the CRS parking lot. Over two days, there were some tears, a half-dozen Little Mermaid Band-Aids, and, ultimately, the great glow of earned confidence. Meanwhile, her twin brother, Moses, learned not to take the speed bumps at full speed and three-year-old Max trailed behind on his tricycle. That same week, our oldest daughter Remy started driver’s ed. Everyone is on the move! 

As a family, we had a wonderful week of vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine, and we fell in love with Acadia National Park. We hiked, biked, picnicked, swam, and took in the beauty and glory of that vast outdoor classroom. 

A history of hope 

I will always be a history teacher at heart, and I wanted to learn more about the history of Acadia National Park and the people who have been its stewards. I learned that Acadia was declared a National Monument in 1916. It was the same year that the National Park Service was created, just five years after the founding of Charles River School, and only a few months before the school moved to our Dover campus in 1917. 

From the perspective of today, the timing does not seem like a coincidence. 

Citizens of the early twentieth century were trying to make sense of rapid political, economic, and technological change. The United States was a deeply divided country facing a modern war in Europe, titanic Supreme Court cases, racial segregation and terrorism, and a new invention: the telephone. 

Parents in 1916 had plenty of cause for concern. 

Meanwhile, those who had access to education were in a system that mimicked industrialization with students lined up in rows and bells announcing breaks—all of it intended to smooth the transition from the schoolhouse to the factory floor. Compliance, not learning, was the designed outcome. 

It was at this time that ordinary citizens dreamt of a better way. They cared deeply about our world and their children’s place in it. They started by asking questions:

How do we serve as stewards of our environment?

How do we unlock the curiosity, creativity, and empathy of our children?

What do our children need so they can create a more hopeful future?

These parents, teachers, environmentalists, and citizens were propelled by hope. They worked together to build things, new things. Some of these were creations they would never directly benefit from themselves, but they still labored on in selfless acts of stewardship. 

In doing so, they created extraordinary institutions like Acadia National Park and Charles River School. During this era, Progressive Education—a pedagogical philosophy, not a political one—focused on teaching kids how to think instead of what to think

Today, on Old Meadow Road, we continue to benefit from the inspiration and perspiration of those who came before us, whether they rolled up their sleeves eleven decades ago or eleven months ago. In two weeks, our children will burst onto campus and experience the thematic curricula crafted by their devoted teachers, many of whom spent portions of the summer on professional development. Our students will learn and grow in innovative outdoor spaces like the Wetlands Lab and a beautiful new playground thanks to the vision and dedication of so many past and current CRS community members.  

Charles River School’s founders would also note that once again our children will start a new school year in the middle of an era of tremendous economic and technological transformation. Once again, our country is deeply divided. 

Given this context, what do we do for our children?

At Charles River School, we will do what we have always done. We ask questions, and then we innovate and collaborate. We honor the voices of our children. We empower them to lead and simultaneously remain in the joy of childhood all the way to age fourteen. We live our mission by unleashing their curiosity and creativity, and we prepare them to “shape the future of our diverse world with confidence and compassion.”

As far as I’m concerned, the first day of school cannot come soon enough. I look forward to getting to know you and your children, so we can partner on this great project together. I cannot think of a better way, or a better place, to spend our days than right here, at Charles River School. 

With gratitude,