Sometimes I stare at the computer screen wondering what I should write for Crossties and waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes, the subject matter is so obvious that the words come pouring forth. Such is the writing process…
For fourteen hours between Seoul, Korea and Atlanta, Georgia, the written word was elusive and the computer screen blank, then I arrived in Roanoke in time to hear Liza Mundy ’78 speak with Heath Lee to a standing-room only audience about her bestselling book Code Girls: The Untold of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II. Presto, more, yet again, was happening at North Cross and I had the beginnings of my Crossties topic. While Liza did attend Princeton, for what I am sure was an uneventful four years, we all know that her ability to write was really developed under the watchful eye of Gates DeHart and the faculty at North Cross School. You see, writing is something we do really well at North Cross and it has been a constant for fifty years. Some students take to the writing process easier than others, but all graduate having completed a 10-15 page DeHart Project and all are completely at ease with the prospect of writing for a grade.
All kidding aside, I am sure Princeton had something to do with Liza’s success but I am willing to bet she arrived at Princeton ready for action. So, from where does our strength in writing come? I was pretty sure of the answer but my intuition was driven home yesterday when I attended the annual fifth grade authors’ breakfast. Each year, our fifth graders write books that chronicle a personal story and then read them before a crowd of fellow students and family. These stories are carefully crafted, incredibly well written, and represent the culmination of the Lower School’s writing curriculum. Fifth-Grade Language Arts teacher Lisa Cone gets the credit and does a marvelous job, but she is quick to defer to the efforts of the Lower School teachers who painstakingly begin with simple sentences and punctuation, move on to complex sentences and paragraph structure, then on to book reports, and then finish with short stories. The writing process begins in ECP and ends with the publication of a New York Times bestseller. I like the sound of that.
Whatever the final publication’s form, throughout their time at North Cross, we hear two stories repeated time and time again. The first story comes from new middle school students and their parents and it goes something like this: “I can’t believe how much I have to write. Mrs. Garrett wants three pages!” This is the logical extension of a process that began for our students in the first grade and a necessary requirement to prepare our students for the rigors of upper school and a highly competitive college environment. The second story comes from our graduates when they return for a freshman-year visit. “College is really difficult but I can write my way out of the material I don’t know.” What a great tool on which to rely as you are navigating your college experience.
Whether from a bestselling book on the pivotal role women played in winning the Second World War or a self-published memoir of an egg exploding in the microwave, inspiration is always just around the corner. And when inspiration strikes, the writing process begins. I speak from experience. Clearly, there has never been a better time to be at North Cross.
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor, the ninth head of school at North Cross since 2011, has more than 26 years of experience in education, 15 of which have been at the head of school level. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.