The Center for the Study of Boys' and Girls' Lives grew directly out of work in schools. School leaders who wanted their schools to become more responsive to students approached us to help them generate new insights and ideas. And while The Center's ambitions have always been large – "to promote the widest sense of possibility and greatest hope for integrity in students' lives" – we have also had this practical pressure. In the intense competition for their time and attention, schools do not commit to such a demanding endeavor as this lightly. Member schools participate in our research collaborative with the expectation that the work with us will truly produce results.
In my visits to schools, I have been most impressed by the dedication and deep caring that typically exist in relationships across the board: teachers who give their lives to the school, administrators who keep striving for improvement, students and families who see the school as a means to fulfill their dreams. Great care, skillful instruction, and a profound commitment of resources enable these schools to graduate boys and girls with distinctive levels of confidence and poise. The day-to-day, year-after-year way schools demonstrate what love, dedication and professional commitment can do is inspiring.
Before coming to the first of the Center's founding schools, I worked in neighborhoods and schools in some of the most under-resourced, violence-afflicted and trauma-filled parts of Philadelphia and surrounding towns, helping schools and developing a youth violence neighborhood intervention. Despite the challenges facing them, there were always teachers and leaders in these communities with exceptional talent and an abiding commitment to children's lives. Still, their efforts as well as our own often seemed merely a drop in the bucket. Over ten years in these communities I witnessed many dear young people, in whom great love and hope had been invested, take bad and sometimes deadly turns. These heart-breaking disappointments left me wondering if we could ever do enough, make children's needs a sufficiently high priority, that such outcomes could be prevented.
As I transitioned to the independent school world, I was first struck by the disparity in resources between these historic institutions and those I had just left. But as I saw the level of commitment, passion and sheer effort common in these schools, I understood that these were schools striving to set a model, to get things truly right for boys and girls. I understood the broader need for such examples if our ambition is that children's lives be uplifted, not dampened, by their experiences. We need models and laboratories where children's real lives are recognized and their needs are prioritized. As Teilhard de Chardin wrote, "The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope."