Abbey Connected: A week in the life.

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Every week at school is busy and full of purpose, but some weeks are full of moments that just glow: that radiate everything good about these wonderful students and this learning environment. This has been one of those weeks.

On Monday I was at a talk by Jigya (Lower VI) talk on the science of sunsets. It was the first of a series of daily student and staff talks to honour British Science week on everything from the future of hydrogen to whether chemotrophs are alive right now on a frozen moon orbiting Saturn.

Two minutes after Jigya’s brilliant talk finished it was time to hear Anushka (Lower VI) speak about New Romantic fashion with remarkable erudition and panache in preparation for the ARTiculation competition. Both talks, and the others in the science lecture series, were amazing testament to the confidence and learning and sheer presence of the students involved.

That evening it was Lower III’s turn. They put on a show as a year group in the Richards Hall: the evening was a delight of playing and singing and compering and enthusiasm and general wonder.

The next day was Pi day (14 March: 3.14…). Corridors were full of puzzles only to be solved by the persPicacious. That was the day of the Spring Serenade, too: a programme of really astonishing music from six separate ensembles. The Senior Choir’s piece, composed to give comfort in lockdown, was heartrendingly beautiful. A quarter of the Senior School were on stage playing and singing.

Then on Wednesday we held our first ever Ready Steady Cook-off against Reading Boys. Eight teams of students had a random choice of bags filled with unknown ingredients and an hour to produce a two-course meal. Homemade pasta, homemade jam for a Victoria sponge, dessert trios and more were much in evidence. The Abbey won (of course); but it was honestly just the most fun, and an uplifting example of what complementary education and opportunity between single-sex schools can look like.

Thursday. In the evening, the Upper School play at South St, The Changing Room – a joint production with 31 girls and boys performing. There was song and movement and choral speaking and the show was devastatingly funny and poignant and full of challenge.

All these events were joyous: but interestingly, right up there with them was something more prosaic. Also on Thursday, we staged our first whole school photograph since Covid. The process of getting over 1,000 students onto a grandstand scaffold is complex. It takes about 40 minutes (and about two minutes to get them off again).

So we stood and laughed and chatted and gradually the school assembled (and the sun came out) and suddenly there was a moment when the meaning of all this became powerfully and movingly evident. Looking up at the school, at this remarkable thousand, there was such a concentration of character and hope and sheer possibility, all suddenly in one place, shoulder to shoulder. Their generosity, their readiness to smile, their steadiness of gaze and assurance, their sheer joie de vivre were overwhelming.

And now it is Friday (featuring another wonderful science talk, this time on nuclear fusion, and a lovely celebration of success in PE and sport); and all of the events of this week linger in the memory – but that assembled company above all. As they looked out from the grandstand, a united band of diverse individuals, it was impossible not to imagine them looking out into their own futures. Everything that happens here is intended to help them find ways to survey that landscape with optimism and to walk its untrodden paths with joy. To be part of that joint endeavour – to be part of this community – that is what glows. It sustains; it nourishes; it enriches. It illuminates our lives: and we hope, for all our students, that glow will remain with them lifelong.

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