Two months into her sophomore year as head of Germantown Friends School, Dana Weeks is brimming with plans and ideas about innovative approaches to education, technology, scholarship funds and the many opportunities for the school’s historic Germantown campus.
According to Weeks, one of the most exciting changes this year is the launch of a January Term for Upper School students. For a month, students and faculty will step outside the bounds of the usual curriculum.
“It allows the teachers to play to their strengths and develop new, creative curricula, and for the students to explore the breadth of knowledge and learning available to them,” Weeks explained.
Students will have access to 80 new courses, including neurobiology (which Weeks is teaching), three-hour-long art classes, 3D printing, number theory, magazine writing and mindfulness through yoga and meditation.
“January Term allows all of us to step away from the daily pressure, use our time differently and explore new subject areas,” Weeks said. “As a school that values simplicity, this is a way to support that testimony and approach to living.”
Weeks said she was impressed by the faculty’s willingness to “think differently about teaching and learning,” and is excited to be working with the “new and energized leadership across divisions,” which includes new heads of the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools, as well as the newly-appointed heads of curriculum and instruction in the Lower and Middle Schools and the new associate head of school Rita Goldman.
Weeks has also announced a Faculty Technology Initiative.
“This allows teachers to apply for funds that they need to purchase devices or software to best support the students and keep them on the cutting edge of what is happening in the world,” she said.
Weeks said, however, that she is not a believer in one size-fits-all technology use, such as putting an iPad in the hands of every kindergartner, an approach she finds “too standard.”
“It’s about finding whatever tool is necessary to tap into a child’s potential,” she said. “If a device is the best tool to use to access their creativity then it should be available.”
Germantown Friends School is marking the 50th year of its Community Scholars Program, and Weeks said she is in awe of its history and impact.
“I really admire that it was founded in response to what happened in [civil rights era] Birmingham in 1963, and that response has had a lasting impact on our community,” she said.“Fifty years later, CSP still helps us live our mission of being a school that is available to students from a variety of walks of life, life experiences and family structures.”
The program has provided a model and inspiration for the GFS community to continue reaching out.
“My very first meeting with a student last year was with a young man who came to me and said, ‘Why don’t we have a scholarship fund for Latino or Hispanic students?’” Weeks said.
Her response was, “I don’t know. Why not? Let’s get one.” As a result, the school is now working to endow this new fund.
GFS is also nearing the end of a facilities audit that has examined all of the buildings, infrastructures and uses of space on campus. Weeks sees endless potential for the historic buildings and urban campus, and is eager to see the community-building impact of the audit’s recommendations.
“If we create spaces where students and teachers of all divisions overlap, we will end up with more opportunities for natural collaboration, which will lead to more innovation and creativity,” she said.
Weeks, a Philadelphia native, is thrilled to be back in her hometown after spending years in New York City.
“When I left Philadelphia, it was not nearly the vibrant city that it is today,” she said. “It is all so hip and young and exciting now.”
As head of GFS, she has hit the ground running (a fitting start for this marathon runner). She brims with energy, creative ideas, innovation and a passion for what a GFS education is and could become. She especially enjoys spending time with the students, whom she describes as open, honest and articulate.
“When I am around them, I see a world of possibilities. It reminds me why I work in education.”