Stoneleigh-Burnham has a long tradition of periodic “formal dinners,” which were inexplicably called “sit-down dinners” when I first started at the school in 1985 (to my memory, anyway, we did not eat all other meals standing up). Many different methods of arranging seating have been tried, with varying success. One of the more recent and welcome ideas was for Big Sisters to be seated with their Little Sisters during the banquet we hold on the evening of the first big All-School Meeting, and ever since the middle school Little Sisters have been periodically asking me when they can sit with their Big Sister group again. Advisory dinners also work well, most likely because here, too, the people at the table know each other and feel connections. However, with any other grouping, many members of our community, faculty and students alike, approach the dinner with some trepidation, wondering whether their table will be talkative or whether theirs will be a conversation filled with awkward silences. In my experience, it works out more often than not, but nonetheless I always experience faint butterflies as I check the seating chart that afternoon.
So you can imagine my surprise when, during the day of our second formal dinner of the year, a student who saw me yelled, “Hey, I’m at your table. I can’t wait!” Although she is a former advisee, it is still something I have never, ever heard before. Moreover, that evening, as I found my seat, I was greeted with warm smiles from all the students present, especially from Kikko, one of the Seniors. This year, Sara Gibbons, the Senior Class Dean, worked with the students to implement a plan whereby each Senior would list faculty members with whom they would like to co-host a table for the remainder of the year and permanent pairings would be created. I have known Kikko for four years, though I have never taught her nor indeed worked directly with her in any capacity. She is, however, one of those students who always returns a smile and a greeting when passing in the corridor and who is happy to engage you in conversation if you would like; I found I genuinely liked her simply through these brief interactions.