Leadership through Nature, Connection, and Self-care

Last Friday, September 16, Head of School Cathy McGehee kicked off Leadership Day by weaving an apropos metaphor of the connectivity of trees into an understanding of the connection between all members of the Foxcroft community. “Just like forests,” she shared, “our community must be tended to, and no one individual thrives without the entire community coming together to support one another. For the Foxcroft community to be a thriving place of learning, each individual needs to take care of their health, mind, body, and spirit. … On your journey at Foxcroft, know that the roots you put down are becoming part of a network that will support you and that you yourself will support. You must tend to this network and nurture it not just with your words but with your actions.”
These sentiments were the perfect segue for the day’s keynote speaker Carolyn Schulyer, Founder and Executive Director of Wildrock, a nonprofit “dedicated to promoting Nature Play for Health and Happiness.” Having grown up in a place where she had easy and unfettered access to nature, Schulyer has known the joys and benefits of outdoor play and exploration. As a therapist who has worked with children most of her life, she wanted a way to share with them the benefits that nature had offered her. “I honestly couldn't think of anything better than creating a nature playground where kids could have a feeling that they didn't have to use inside voices, they didn't have to walk … they could listen to their instincts about what they wanted to do,” she said. “And so, we created what is now called Wildrock.”

She went on to share some of the research behind the benefits of nature — that children who grow up with nature and rich experiences like those offered at Foxcroft are much less likely to have mental health issues as they age, that students who can look out their classroom windows and see trees do 12% better on tests than those looking at an urban wall, and that being outside has been shown to make people kinder and more aware of others — before taking the community on a stroll through Foxcroft’s grass labyrinth (yes, Foxcroft has a labyrinth behind the pool!). “What's so powerful about walking a labyrinth is when you do it with a friend. I don't think I have to tell you that friendship and a sense of belonging are the bedrock for everything else,” reminded Schuyler before students and faculty walked along the spiral path, ultimately partnering with a “Belonging Buddy” to share goals for the year.

After the labyrinth stroll, students and faculty spent the remainder of the day participating in morning and afternoon workshops hosted by either guest presenters (including representatives from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities [VCIC] and Anastasia Dellaccio, aunt of Chiara D. ’25) or Foxcroft’s faculty. 

Following are some student takeaways from the day:

“Together with my friends, we talked a lot about how to live a successful life and how to be courageous. We also discussed and worked on what could lead to failure, discouragement, and giving up, as well as what other factors might make us more courageous and take part in different projects and activities.” — Lema S. ’24, Involving the Uninvolved Workshop with VCIC

“Not all conflict gets a solution, but it doesn't stop you from trying to find one.” — Bella F. ’24, Conflict Resolution Workshop with VCIC

“I thought the keynote speaker was unique and provided a special time to reflect on my environment and be reminded of gratitude. This expression continued through my workshop with Senora Riestra, where I learned how to lead and define myself with poetry. Additionally, I got the chance to do a follow-up workshop with VCIC on conflict resolution, which allowed me to set up a plan of action to deal with conflict for the year. Overall it was a successful and helpful day!” — Heidi D. ’23, Exploring Your Voice through Poetry Workshop and Conflict Resolution Workshop with VCIC

“We explored our lives and personality through the poetry that we wrote in Senora Riestra's workshop. She created a welcoming environment that made students feel comfortable sharing their personal poetry. While the exercise we did at the beginning did seem kind of funny, it somehow also managed to unite us as a group.” — Cameron H. ’23, Exploring Your Voice through Poetry Workshop

"The team building workshop that I participated in on Leadership Day was engaging and involved. Through a series of group activities and games, we learned the importance of maintaining emotional and physical balance when pursuing tasks, and developed strategies to return to equilibrium when life sends us hurdles that impede our paths. We also learned the value of teamwork, attentiveness, and courage to go beyond your comfort zone, in an activity as simple as group jump-roping." — Ianna W. ’24, Team Building Workshop

"You are qualified, shoot for the stars and go for it. Every job you take is a learning experience and you have to be willing to work hard, be open minded to feedback, and keep the determination that you will be able to accomplish the job once you get there.” — Chiara D. ’26, Empowering Women through Impact Investing and Philanthropy

The complete offering of workshops included: Conflict Resolution Styles, Mindful Self-care, Team Building, and How to Be an Ally during the morning session; and Empowering Women through Impact Investing and Philanthropy, Cross-Cultural Communication, Involving the Uninvolved, and workshops on Exploring Your Voice through either dance or poetry during the afternoon session. 
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.