St. George’s Bunkhouse Opens! A Video and Two Talks from the #SGBunkhouse Celebration

Ribbon-Cutting with L. to R. Alton Stovall, David Skudder, Ross Peters, Beth Skudder, Jere McGuffie, John Carroll, Jeff Riddle
Ribbon-Cutting with L. to R. Alton Stovall, David Skudder, Ross Peters, Beth Skudder, Jere McGuffee, John Carroll, Jeff Riddle

In partnership with Serve901 and Living Hope Church, St. George’s Independent School opened the St. George’s Bunkhouse on Mclean Boulevard in Memphis, TN on Tuesday. The beautifully renovated space can sleep up to over 110 people provides access to the church’s sanctuary spaces. Located between Rhodes College and the Crosstown Concourse, the school will use it for many purposes, largely focused on community engagement.

The SGIS Board of Trustees met in the well-designed and appointed break-out room for their meeting late yesterday afternoon before joining well-over 125 guests who were there to celebrate the ribbon-cutting, eat some fantastic Gus’s Fried Chicken and tour the space. As that gathering ended around 8:00 p.m., members of SGIS’s Class of 2017 began arriving to enjoy a sleepover in the Bunkhouse. The event was fantastic–it is great to reach this point and turn to the exciting work to begin to make great use of the space. Below I have included the introductory video,  my remarks, as well as Alton Stovall’s remarks from the ceremony. Alton is a member of the Class of 2017 who has played a vital role in helping us get to this point. Alton’s words brought the house down.

My remarks…

Good evening and welcome! The ending of the video is where I will begin—with a thanks to David and Beth Skudder for starting the ball rolling that made this all happen. Not only did David bring Justin Miller from City Leadership and me together in September 2015 to begin to dream about what we might make happen together, but the Skudder’s also created the substantial funding that underpinned the recreation of the Bunkhouse space. The St. George’s Bunkhouse represents both their love for St. George’s and their earnest commitment to Memphis and Shelby County. PLEASE JOIN ME IN A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR DAVID AND BETH…

Just yesterday afternoon David, Justin and I met to reflect on the remarkable year that has led to this moment. What David had to say was wonderfully helpful and offers clear perspective on what we are trying to accomplish here. Here are a few of the things he said to us:

  • “If you want to be part of the community you have to step in, you have to be a presence.”
  • “Through St. George’s I’ve seen all the good that comes from kids learning to be helpful, learning to leave it better than you found it.”
  • “In order to make things better you have to get involved—one brick at a time, one good deed at a time.”

The St. George’s Bunkhouse gives our school largely unprecedented way to live toward the ideals David described. Imagine just a sliver of some of the possibilities for our students on each of our three other campuses:

  • Class gatherings like the one the Class of ’17 will have tonight and tomorrow morning here.
  • “Amplify Memphis”, a summer course studying the cultural richness and key issues of Memphis residing here during all or part of its three-week session next June.
  • Groups of students and faculty members using the space as a hub for service learning opportunities and for cultural experiences.

The number of great ideas for how to use the Bunkhouse will outpace our ability to follow-through on all of them. The conversation we have as a community about how to best use the space will be generative and rich.

Members of St. George's Institute for Citizenship are joined here by St. George's faculty members Timothy Gibson, Jason Hills and Jessica Hardy
Members of St. George’s Institute for Citizenship (L. to R. Omar Yunus, Grace Optican, Winston Margaritis, Julie Ann Joyner, Alton Stovall, Megan Lenoir, and Becca Chandler) joined here by St. George’s faculty members Timothy Gibson on the left,  Jason Hills in the middle, and Jessica Hardy on the right.

Education is a gift that is not simply for the recipient alone. Our education as individuals exists only as we make meaning from it and as we are moved to action in the world as a result of it. With that in mind, the questions I have for all of us who have had the privilege of an education such as the one at St. George’s Independent School—the questions I believe are particularly apt on this day when we open the St. George’s Bunkhouse are these–

  • What will we make happen as a result of our access to the St. George’s Bunkhouse?
  • How can we use our footprint here to impact the world around us?
  • How can we continue to learn from people who have different backgrounds, different opinions?
  • How can what we already know lead us to want to learn more, understand more, impact more?
  • How can we make our education not simply about us? How can we use the St. George’s Bunkhouse in ways that help us better understand what it means to be a good neighbor?
  • And, importantly as well…how can the St. George’s Community use the Bunkhouse in ways that bring our own community closer together.

It is easy to limit the definition of neighbor to the people who live next door or across the street from us. However, the bold vision of St. George’s Independent School, and the St. George’s Bunkhouse, calls us to think of our neighbors far more broadly to include not only our school, but our city, our county, our state, our nation, and our world. As an independent school drawing from well-over fifty zip codes, we include people who might live far away from us as neighbors, and we include people with whom we might often disagree under the umbrella of our idea of neighbor. At St. George’s, we name our school’s effort to be a good neighbor, SG901. And the physical representation of that effort is the St. George’s Bunkhouse, which will serve as a hub for our community engagement.

Becoming educated inherently includes the demand that we learn not to see ourselves as living in a vacuum, but rather that we see ourselves as inextricably linked to one another.  The St. George’s Bunkhouse, created in partnership with City Leadership and Serve901 is a powerful manifestation of that belief within our school.

I am particularly grateful for the roles each of the next speakers has played. Alton Stovall, member of the Class of 2017, who you will hear from next has been the key student leader in the process that has led us to today. Following Alton, John Carroll and Jeff Riddle will speak. Our school could not be more fortunate in its partners in this endeavor. I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.

Alton Stovall, Class of 2017, speaks at the St. George's Bunkhouse Opening
Alton Stovall, Class of 2017, speaks at the St. George’s Bunkhouse Opening

Alton Stovall’s remarks:

Before a handsome butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it must first spend its days as a not-so appealing caterpillar. When I first stepped foot on this site, what I saw was a basement. A basement cluttered with boxes, worn-out equipment, and objects that made you question how they were useful before they were put into storage. Indeed it was a rough space, but it was a space with potential. And what was done with that potential and how that potential was maximized to the fullest extent is something I find truly amazing. This is not to say that getting there was not a long journey, because it certainly was. Nevertheless, I personally had my fair share of fun along the way. From choosing a perfect name, to timidly speaking to reporters about my experiences, to even picking a paint color for the walls…(by the way I will truly never understand how there can be so many options for one single color. I mean there’s white, but then there’s eggshell white and satin white and high gloss pearly porcelain white and anyway)… All of that is to say this- what we have the privilege of experiencing here tonight is a butterfly getting ready to spread its wings and fly away. Where it goes is up to us… and that’s the beauty of it all.

The possibilities of what we can accomplish with this space are endless from class retreats, to service projects, to simply a fun night in Memphis. God only knows the full extent of what we can do here, but I thank Him for what was already done here. I am thankful for having been involved in this project from the start, I am thankful for all of the amazing people I met along this journey, and, most importantly, I am thankful that this is not the end of the road. In fact it is just the beginning… the beginning of a movement against the grain of society. Where the world seems to be moving apart, tonight we are moving one step closer together. And just as this space now joins many other campuses to form one campus. We are on the road to joining many communities to make one community. The full extent to which we do that is up to not one of us, not some of us, but all us. In order to do that to the best of our abilities, we must too undergo our own transformations. So as we move forward, I ask of you, I plead of you, I charge you to get ready, spread your wings, and let’s fly.

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Mutuality and Ascendent Partnerships

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“We recognize what has always been true, if often dismissed–that is, that we exist in a web of mutuality.”

[Several years ago, I wrote about the role of partnerships in schools. Below the brackets is part of what I wrote. I am struck with the ongoing relevance of this kind of thinking and of the strategic necessity of creating and maintaining partnerships. On Saturday, St. George’s partnered with the Wolf River Conservancy and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to provide a family day on the Wolf River hosted at St. George’s. It was great to see so many people experience for the first time our outstanding setting along the Wolf and our unique access to Mid South wetlands. We have also developed an unprecedented relationship with City Leadership and Serve9o1 in a space we are calling the St. George’s Bunkhouse in the Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood–you can read about that partnership HERE

What is happening through such partnerships pulls our school into the community from which it draws families, and it pulls the community to us. Through partnership we become a good neighbor, and we become aligned with the best ambitions of our city, county, and area. We recognize what has always been true, if often dismissed–that is, that we exist in a web of mutuality. For too long independent schools risked becoming artifacts of separation, virtually stiff arming the outside world–in so doing they risked underserving both students and the community. That coin can and should flip.

There are many institutions and non-profits thinking in similar ways about the importance of partnerships in the Memphis area. A couple come to mind first for me though there are, of course, many more. Rhodes College has made a priority of being a valuable neighbor through the Bonner Center for Faith and Service. In this work Rhodes has become a national leader. In a different context the amazing redevelopment of the old Sears building into the Crosstown Concourse, is at the forefront of creating connections between everything from housing, healthcare, wellness, retail, education, and office space. The most exciting forces–in education, in the non-profit, and in the for-profit world–are thinking big about how partnerships can weave the fabric of the city into something stronger, more inclusive, and more sustainable. Notably, the areas largest banks, First Tennessee and Regions, are focused on this work as well as expressed through their thoughtful deployment of Community Reinvestment Funds. In short, they recognize the power of betting on Memphis and Shelby County. They too realize that we are in a web of mutuality and that the generations to come will be at risk if we allow the constituents parts of the community drift too far apart now.]   

Design Rendering of the C
Design Rendering of the Crosstown Concourse from http://crosstownconcourse.com/design

From 2012…”Partnerships. Local ones, international ones, public-private ones, online ones.  Partnerships between schools, between teachers, between academic departments, between students, between teachers and students, between the school and students, between the school and parents, between the school and the community in which it exists.  More and more the value of partnerships is finding its way into the identities and the realities of schools. Some partnerships are making their way from the co-curriculum into the curriculum, while others are pulling our schools and some of our students’ learning out of the classroom and into the world.

I have written often in “Ross All Over the Map” about the importance of creating a Progress Culture in schools, and of late I have been constantly reminded that partnerships will be a cornerstone of establishing, maintaining, and expanding such a culture. I am struck with the realization that the schools best able to nurture these partnerships (rather than just accumulate them) will be positioned to give their students the most meaningful and sustainable experiences.”

Convergence and Permission: SUN and STAX and the Creative Community

“Artists, in fact learners of any kind, thrive in a supportive context and when given permission to experiment and collaborate.”

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In June of 2015 my family and I moved to Memphis from Atlanta. In our brief time here we have tried to learn about our new town, and we have visited places that define it: Graceland, The Peabody Hotel, The Pyramid (home to the largest Bass Pro Shop in the world–you want it, they’ve got it…in Camouflage), and The Brooks Museum. The barbecue here deserves its own sentence of places worthy of a visit; The Rendezvous, Corky’s, Tops, Interstate (my current favorite), Central, Germantown Commissary, and Three Little Pigs. (I have always found that eating pork provides a bit of insight. If true, Memphians must have a lot of insight.)

Where so much of Memphis gets its real flavor, however, has to do with music, and the almost impossible richness of talent that converged here at several seminal moments in American music history. The two places that best embody those moments are Sun Studios and STAX Records. The birth of Rock and Roll and the edgiest (and much of the greatest) Soul music originated here. Most relevant is that so much of the talent–names such as (in no particular order and part of a much longer list) Aretha Franklin, BB King, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Booker TElvis, Alex Chilton, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, and Isaac Hayes–came from an area the size of a postage stamp on a standard map of the United States. I do not believe that there was something in the water that made this so. I believe much of our creativity lies dormant, and the role Memphis music has played in our collective music history exposes a greater and more interesting truth than we might first see.

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31656737
The Million Dollar Quartet https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31656737

Convergence and Permission are critical in the formation of a creative community. When a group of people has a shared space to come together and they have permission to uncover and reveal their gifts, the artifacts they leave behind are often astounding. Additionally, what can happen in those communities when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, is electric. Seeing the topic from this angle reveals that those of us working in education have much to learn from what are essentially wonderfully successful learning environments where collaboration, engagement, and experimentation take root.

From STAXMUSEUM.com
From STAXMUSEUM.com

These convergences of remarkable talent are a common thread in literary, performing, and visual arts history, and I will not attempt to do any justice to that topic here. Looked at from the opposite side, the story of a great artist arriving from a vacuum in which there is no predecessor or support is interestingly rare.

As our nation slashes budgets for the arts, we should take note, and even better, take action. Individual artists have unique gifts, but their talents rarely seem to reach their potential unless they are enfranchised within a support system. Artists, in fact learners of any kind, thrive in a supportive context and when given permission to experiment and collaborate.

The stories of Sun Studios and STAX Records should inspire those who ask big questions about how we can create the right schools for our kids…and not just in the context of the Arts. In our desire to create successful learning experiences in a school, we have much to learn from the stories of convergence and permission exemplified in these two Memphis history touchstones.

St. George’s and Serve901: A New Partnership to Meet an Old Need

JSt. George's Junior Alton Stovall, CEO of City Leadership John Carroll, yadayada, and Head of Serve901 Jeff Riddle gather to see and discuss the shared space at ADDRESS
St. George’s Junior Alton Stovall, John Carroll/Executive Director City Leadership, Shelby Smith/City leadership, and Jeff Riddle/Coordinator of Serve901

[Last night we sent a letter to the St. George’s Independent School community about a new, and I think, unprecedented partnership with Serve901 to share space and to create service learning experiences for our students. Serve 901 is an initiative of Memphis’s City Leadership, which also supports the vibrant and successful Choose901 campaign. I will let the press release below describe the relationship; however, it is worth noting here that I believe that this sort of partnership is exactly the direction great schools should be going to best underpin their academic, athletic and other co-currcular programming. We are not just seeking to graduate students who know things…we are seeking to graduate students who make something valuable from knowledge and experience. We are not just charged to graduate students headed toward successful professions…we wish for them, and the communities in which they will live and serve, engaged lives. In order to create this type of school, we want as an institution to focus on things greater than ourselves, so that our students will become people who live lives of contribution, meaning, and impact. Our partnership represents a new answer to meet an old need. Our city has always needed people ready to listen and to learn, ready to serve.] 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 29, 2016
Contact: Sarah Cowan
St. George’s Independent School
901-261-2390 / cell: 901-494-4777 / scowan@sgis.org

St. George’s and Serve901 Forge Unique Partnership Affiliation Provides Shared Space and Programming

Memphis, TN — St. George’s Independent School and City Leadership today announced an exclusive joint partnership to support service learning and community engagement in Memphis through collaboration with the Choose901campaign and Serve901 program. While the partnership is multi-faceted, the most visible aspect of the relationship will be newly renovated shared space at 815 N. Mclean Blvd. in the Vollintine/Evergreen neighborhood.

Named the “St. George’s/Serve901 Bunkhouse,” the facility will include bunks for more than 100 people, as well as common areas. For Serve901, a program that curates service experiences with college students to understand and serve Memphis and logged 7248 volunteer hours from 434 participants in 2015, the space will enable program growth. St. George’s constituents will be able to use the facility for a variety of purposes including alumni events, meetings, or class, club or team retreats.

“Both Serve901 and St. George’s need a place like the Bunkhouse, but neither organization would use it every day of the year. Creating this space together and sharing it is such a great investment of maximizing resources,” noted John Carroll, Executive Director of City Leadership.

Equally significant, the affiliation will include a four-year programming partnership in which Serve901 staff will collaborate with SGIS faculty and students to create outstanding year-round learning experiences, from summer camps to “deep dive” leadership opportunities for middle and upper school students.

“The partnership between St. George’s and Serve901 is a natural fit all around. With a long track record of being focused on things greater than ourselves alone and a commitment to preparing our students for college and life, we look forward to broadening our efforts to provide compelling service and leadership experiences for our students,” said Ross Peters, St. George’s Head of School. “Our collaboration with Serve901 is a manifestation of our desire to serve our students by showing them how they might serve our city.”

About St. George’s Independent School

St. George’s Independent School is a college preparatory school in the Episcopal tradition of education that is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, preparing students for a life of learning and meaningful contribution in an inclusive learning community that nurtures outstanding academic achievement, relationships, leadership, and character reinforced by Judeo-Christian values.

About City Leadership
City Leadership exists to recruit, develop, & catalyze leaders for the benefit of the city of Memphis. City Leadership was founded in 2008 in order to maximize the leadership capital and potential of Memphis.

About Serve901
Serve901 curates service experiences with college students to understand and serve with Memphis.

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