Two for the History Books

Community, curiosity, and collaboration motivated two donors to make unprecedented gifts—and challenge others to join them in their historic fundraising effort.

The 2020/21 academic year will be remembered as truly remarkable, both for the ways that this community rallied when facing a global pandemic and the quiet yet monumental commitment that two donors demonstrated when making the largest gifts in the School’s 138-year history. And because the two $10 million gifts made by these generous donors are the foundation of a fundraising challenge this fall, the School is likely to experience another record-breaking year of philanthropic support from Sidwell Friends community members.

“I’m truly moved by the generosity of these donors and their confidence in Sidwell Friends,” said Head of School Bryan Garman. “They recognize that we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve the educational experience of our students and to strengthen the School for generations to come.”

On other pages in this Report on Philanthropy, you will read about how this year has highlighted Sidwell Friends donors’ commitment. In “Rising to the Challenge”, Annual Fund donors gave the School the flexibility to navigate an unpredictable year with increased giving, enabling faculty and staff to mobilize on various fronts and create a safe, healthy on-campus learning environment. In “Justice for All”, endowment donors are taking decisive efforts to address racial inequities and injustices by permanently funding EJC programming.

Watching community members unite to meet the needs of the moment with determination, generosity, and ingenuity inspired the two donors—who wish to remain anonymous—to make their historic gifts. If collective generosity could bring students back to campus and bolster the School’s commitment to racial justice, how could the School harness this energy to generate new momentum for the Upton Street property renovation?

From there, the Sidwell Friends Challenge was created.

The Sidwell Friends Challenge is a dollar-for-dollar fundraising effort calling upon community members to match the unprecedented generosity of the two Challenge donors with philanthropic commitments of their own. When the Challenge concludes by early 2022, the Challenge donors hope to have inspired the Sidwell Friends community to have raised an additional $20 million toward the Upper School renovation.

Sidwell Friends students must navigate a complex world, and in providing an environment in which they feel safe to fail and explore their creativity, the School better prepares them for the complexities they will face.”

“To us, these gifts are an investment of hope, of confidence, and of vision for Sidwell Friends, now and in the future,” one lead Challenge donor explained. “The infusion of support from the Challenge will jump-start the Upper School renovation timetable, providing our current students the opportunity to engage with the process.”

In this way, the Challenge fits neatly into the existing approach to the Upper School renovation, as parents, students, alumni, faculty, and staff have long been involved in developing the vision for this new space. The School hired internationally recognized architectural firm Perkins Eastman, who led dozens of gatherings with community members representing the past, present, and future of this School. Through these sessions, the architects have been able to distill the community’s highest priorities into designs that reflect the School’s Quaker values and support student’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth.

“We are proud of the Upper School design, which reflects the collective wishes of students, faculty, and parent focus groups,” Garman said.

For the first of the two lead Challenge donors, the proposed robotics suite and the new Science Commons hold great appeal. Both are spaces that will be outfitted with contemporary tools that will allow multiple teams of students to collaborate, test prototypes, and iterate designs. Increased lab and outdoor space and dedicated rooms to the sciences will offer ample opportunities
to experiment and test. The hands-on learning that comes from trying, falling short, and trying again is what makes the robotics program—and this space that will foster innovation and determination—so inspirational to this donor.

“Sidwell Friends students must navigate a complex world, and in providing an environment in which they feel safe to fail and explore their creativity, the School better prepares them for the complexities they will face,” said the donor.

After a year that limited in-person collaborations and a breadth of experiential learning, the donor was reminded of just how important these programs can be for students and felt a renewed sense of urgency to meaningfully contribute to these programs going forward.

The robotics suite is just one of the many dedicated spaces in the renovated Upper School building that will foster ingenuity. Some students will unlock new passions and ideas when digging their fingers into the learning and science garden—one of many outdoor spaces for students to better connect with nature— while others will be equally inspired by kneading, stirring, and baking in the community teaching kitchen, in which language classes will explore the intersections of culinary skills and cultures.

These and other spaces that have been carefully planned to promote curiosity also excite the second of the lead Challenge donors. “Well-designed spaces will activate the most important aspect of students’ experiences at Sidwell Friends: the lifelong bonds they form with one another, and the relationship they have with faculty members who encourage them to be fearlessly curious,” said the donor.

In the two centers—the Center for Ethical Leadership (CEL) and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)— that curiosity will transform into action. The CEL will serve as a central space for student activities and civic engagement, an ideal deeply rooted in Quaker values. By offering opportunities and resources, CEL will empower students to examine and address social justice issues in the Capital region and around the world, to participate in active service learning, and to pursue internships through the Dehejia Fellows Program.

“Our students are the future stewards of their communities and this world, so their exploration for how they define leadership is critical,” says Endowed Director of Equity, Justice, and Community Natalie Randolph ’98. “This center gives a physical home to the many projects and initiatives that are already in progress, and gives our students much needed room to collaborate and thrive.”

In the CTL, faculty will model an openness to new approaches that will elevate their instruction, inspire students, and promote togetherness as a School. The CTL will provide opportunities to support the continuing growth of teachers who seek to hone their craft of teaching, deepen their content knowledge and expertise, and explore new approaches to engage student learning.

“Teachers will focus not just on what students learn, but how they learn best,” says Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs Min Kim. “Our community is fortunate to have a talented group of dedicated teachers. Our hope is that this center further enlivens the intellectual life of the School and offers a uniquely valuable resource for every teacher.”

If it seems like there is something in the new Upper School renovation to excite everyone in the community, it’s because the entire community has had a hand in its design. And through the Sidwell Friends Challenge that the two lead Challenge donors have generated with their historic gifts, everyone has an opportunity to participate in bringing this design to life.

Perhaps even more than the funds themselves, this is the true gift that the lead Challenge donors have given to the Sidwell Friends community: a chance
to transform the spaces that they most value from intricate renderings on an architect’s table into thriving, energetic places where students can safely explore, try, fail, grow, and thrive.

“We invested in this challenge now because we know that now is the time for instrumental change at Sidwell Friends,” one of the lead Challenge donors said. “And the impact of the Challenge gifts will go much further than the walls of our campus. The generosity that Sidwell Friends community members show today will touch every student, parent, alum, parent of alumni, community partner, and friend.”

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