Jamie and Ashley Harmon P’25, ’28 with Head of School Scott Young, donning sparkles, at the October 2021 event launching The SPARK Campaign.
With respective professional backgrounds rooted in math and the arts, Park parents Jamie and Ashley Harmon know firsthand the power of STEAM education. Inspired by Park’s vision for a new Lower Division STEAM Corridor, they stepped forward in the spring of 2021 with a trailblazing investment. Jamie and Ashley joined Shannon O’Leary, Park’s Director of Leadership and Capital Giving, for a recent conversation about Park’s future, pulling together as a community, and paying it forward.
SHANNON: I begin most of my conversations with Park people by asking What do you love most about Park?
ASHLEY: From the very first time we came to Park for our interview, I was struck by the warmth and the sense of community, and that has continued to be true over the years. Before COVID, I could be in the building every morning for coffee hours, volunteering in the library, or giving tours to prospective families. That level of parent engagement is really unique and special. And even during COVID, we have found ways to keep that sense of community going. Community has always been something that I think differentiates Park from other schools.
Now, what would your children say they love most about Park?
A: The gaga ball pit?
Jamie: Definitely the gaga ball pit!
A: You know, I think they have each had strong connections with particular teachers. This year in fourth grade, something came up academically and our daughter said, “Mom, I want to go talk to my teacher.” And I thought that was a great idea. So after the break, she went to the teacher and they came up with a plan together. Park has given them the independence and the autonomy to have a voice, to self advocate, and also to speak up when they see something that isn’t right. I notice that particularly with my son when he feels like a child needs an ally. Those efforts that start in the Lower Division around kindness and empathy really play out as they get older and older.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Park’s Goddard Avenue campus. As we celebrate our home, and envision the next 50 years here, the importance of place and space is front of mind. What is your favorite space at Park?
A: I love the Library! It’s a wonderful asset. Both the space and team are incredible. There is always great energy in that space.
J: We have toured the new Upper Division spaces on the first and fourth floors. I love that they are full of light. They are beautiful spaces that would inspire a kid to learn! I was really impressed by how they allow for multiple layouts, too. They have the flexibility to accommodate group projects, or more of a presentation set-up, depending on the need. And the common areas are done in a way that is really flexible, inviting, and conducive to learning and collaborating in small groups. That project is an indication of what we can do to modernize the building. I am very impressed by the work completed so far and am really excited to see what happens with the new STEAM wing.
A: Kids definitely have different needs, and those needs are always changing and evolving. There is a lot to be said for the group project, but there is also a lot to be said for working independently. I like how much Park has observed how children learn. Like everything Park does, it is very apparent that the spaces are so child-centered. I am thrilled that commitment continues whether in curriculum planning or in architectural blueprints.
This summer, Park will renovate the third floor of the Main Building, transforming the existing space into a STEAM Corridor for the Lower Division. Jamie, you mentioned being particularly excited about this project?
J: Yes, we were excited to support the Campaign and this initiative in particular because STEAM is the future of education. Park is uniquely positioned to excel in STEAM by combining science and math with creativity and a love of learning. This will be a wonderful space for younger students to get excited about STEAM, and that, ultimately, is how Park students can make an impact and change the world – by learning to combine their knowledge of science and technology with creativity, with wanting to help people, and with good values.
A: I think Jamie comes at it from more of a math and science background. I’ve had a career in the arts, so I come at it more from the creativity perspective. This project is so fundamental, and we feel so passionately about it, that even though our children will only have a few years in these spaces, we wanted to help make it happen.
J: The science program is already fantastic. It’s a highlight for both of our children. At the end of the year, when we were talking as a family about the best things in 2021, Hugh named science class.
A: Yeah, he marched into school today with a skull we had found on the beach!
J: This renovation will be transformative. It is important that we invest in science and art spaces because those programs have such specialized equipment and specialized needs. This renovation will bring the spaces into the 21st century, which feels odd to say given how far into the 21st century we are, but it’s critically important. In science, especially.
A: What comes to mind for me, when you first come to Park, typically you have a very young child and that is what you are focused on. As your kids get older, you really come to see that with each age and stage comes a different level of maturity, a different level of creativity, and a different level of ability, and so appropriate space really does matter. One incredible thing about Park, because we have so much space, is the School’s ability to create exactly what is appropriate for a fifth grader, because that is different from what is appropriate for an eighth grader. We can really delineate based on age and ability and need. These classrooms will help Park do that in the sciences.
Ashley, you opened our conversation by referencing the sense of community at Park. Fostering community and inclusivity are primary goals of The SPARK Campaign. And, we know it will take every one of us to make this bold vision for Park’s future a reality. Do you have a final message for the Park community?
A: These last two years of COVID have made everyone at Park even more appreciative of the School. And, more than ever, as we see the world change and evolve at dizzying speeds, we as parents know that our children need something different educationally than what we had. I really trust the vision put forward by Scott and the Board. Even though we pay for the ability to have our children here, it’s not enough. We need to dig a little deeper and think about the ultimate benefit for our children and future Park families, just as the families 50 years ago did for our kids. The School is different now, but it’s still the same mission. Paying it forward really matters. People who you will never meet made possible what our children are experiencing today. It is our responsibility as community members who care about education and care about children, to carry forward in those footsteps.
J: It’s critical for The SPARK Campaign to be inclusive and to have broad support from all parts of the school community. When the whole school pulls together behind this goal, Park will have a very successful campaign. If everybody gives, and everybody gives a gift that feels personally significant, then as a community we will succeed.
Paying it forward really matters. People who you will never meet made possible what our children are experiencing today. It is our responsibility as community members who care about education and care about children, to carry forward in those footsteps.