Taking the Lead

A new endowment for the Leadership Academy keeps Sidwell Friends culture and Quaker values at the forefront for Athletics.

Culture and values have been the “name of the game” for Sidwell Friends Athletics for the past three years. A department-wide effort to strengthen players’ leadership skills—commitment, confidence, composure, and character—began with the Emerging Leaders program in 2018/19. During that year, seventy students participated in a leadership program that included student involvement in a rebranding of the Athletics visual identity.  In the 2019/20 academic year, the program advanced further with the introduction of the Leadership Academy

The Leadership Academy, a two-year program which requires students to apply, attend six seminars throughout the school year, and commit to practicing what they learn, focuses on two overarching themes: leadership by example and vocal leadership. And even in just the first two years of the program, its effects can be felt; Leadership Academy participants seem more confident and capable when coping with adversity. 

If there were ever a year to demonstrate the benefits of the Leadership Academy, it was the 2020/21 school year—one that tested student-athletes in myriad ways.  “The Leadership Academy students really kept their teams together,” Director of Athletics Keith Levinthal said. “Teams started training in mid-September and didn’t play a game until March. Our leaders kept their teams focused, unified, and in a much better position to play when the time came.”

Leadership Academy participants were also some of the first to respond to the challenges of the pandemic, creating health-focused PSA videos in March 2020 for the entire Sidwell Friends community.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a program centered around shared values like accountability, respect, and resilience would bind students together through unforeseen challenges. After all, students like Claire Wolstencroft ’20 were already creating remarkable impacts through their leadership.

“Claire was truly a transformational leader,” Levinthal reflects. “Tennis is such an individual sport, and I have never seen another person bring a group of individuals together the way she did. The girls’ tennis team under her leadership felt different, and that’s because she was putting the team first and demonstrating consideration about how her decisions affected others.” 

Joining Sidwell Friends in her junior year, Claire was a member of the initial class of the Leadership Academy during her senior year. Claire illustrated immeasurable impact on team culture through her motivational leadership and teamwork, which earned her the 2020 Tyler Rusch ’04 Award. She is literally an exceptional leader by example: Levinthal notes that Claire’s leadership story, along with two other Sidwell Friends alumni, will be added to the School’s Leadership Academy curriculum for future students to learn from.

When it became clear that the Leadership Academy should become a permanent fixture at Sidwell Friends, Levinthal approached the Wolstencroft family with an opportunity to endow the program. Now, by establishing the Wolstencroft Family Endowed Fund for the SF Leadership Academy, Catherine and Tracy Wolstencroft (P ’20) have ensured that future generations of students will benefit from this program in perpetuity.

“Claire had an outstanding experience at Sidwell Friends. The opportunities provided by the athletics program and the Leadership Academy will benefit her throughout her lifetime,” Catherine and Tracy Wolstencroft shared. “We are delighted the School recognizes the importance of student leadership development and are pleased to be able to endow the Leadership Academy to ensure future generations will have the same opportunities.”

The Wolstencroft Family Endowed Fund for the SF Leadership Academy will forever keep conversations about culture and values at the forefront of the Sidwell Friends athletic program. Culture, as Levinthal notes, is an active, living thing that needs constant tending; it is never-ending work, but yields exponential results. “Each year now, we train 60 students. Think about that impact for just 4 years. Think about how that affects our athletes, in terms of the department and in terms of focus and commitment. It’s the kind of student leadership that extends well beyond teams and into the life of the School, and into their careers and communities after Sidwell Friends.”

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