We’ve just bid farewell to our students for the summer, having completed an incredible 30th anniversary school year at The Davis Academy. It was a year filled with spirit, excitement and vibrant learning. I am extremely proud of and grateful for what we’ve accomplished collectively during this school year and throughout our 30-year history.
An anniversary is a significant occasion for any school community, presenting an obvious opportunity for public relations and engagement of the generations that have been impacted: students and families, founders and board leaders, faculty and staff, and of course, alumni. To truly convey this milestone’s importance and garner our constituents’ attention, we made a deliberate effort to connect with different groups in unique ways, and especially to connect meaningfully with our alumni and their families, highlighting the stories, successes and significance of the Davis experience in their lives. At the same time, we were intentional about connecting past, present and future, strengthening connections between the generations and demonstrating the deep bonds and significant growth and achievement of our kehillah over the years.
From a small community of a few visionaries and pioneer families, with 20 students in Kindergarten and first grade, to the largest Reform Jewish Day School in the country with hundreds of students in Mechina: Kindergarten Prep through eighth grade, and thousands of alumni now making their way in the world, we have much to be proud of. While so much has evolved over our 30 years, including teaching methods and the expanse of resources that support each student’s individual learning experience, some things haven’t changed at all since our founding, including our purpose, our priorities and our values.
Capturing Alumni Stories
But it’s no easy task to “reconnect the dots” with graduates after so many years, and in our case, our alumni are still quite young and live all over the country. That said, once we got started, we learned that our graduates had remained connected to each other, even without the school having a formal alumni relations program, and had deeply held memories and strong feelings of appreciation for their childhood years at Davis. Our efforts during our anniversary year were just a spark that rekindled the flame for our alumni and many of our constituents who are no longer a part of daily life at the school.
We invited our alumni and their parents (and others) to submit their personal stories, and our graduates were eager to share. We published their reflections for our entire school community to enjoy, via regular emails and on our website, through a compelling series we called Davis Stories. These narratives were conveyed in the first person, capturing the diverse voices within our community, weaving a tapestry of perspectives that enriched the meaning of our mission and amplified the enthusiasm surrounding our momentous milestone. Sharing these stories created a great touchpoint with graduates of all ages living across the country and, frankly, the world, including an opportunity for “comments” and using social media as another means of creating connections.
Anniversary- Year Programs
In addition, we sponsored a wide array of special programs and activities throughout our anniversary year for parents, grandparents, faculty, staff, board leadership and caring community members, and were intentional about creating opportunities to connect our graduates by age and stage, “meeting them where they are at.”
A first-ever Davis Day of Service brought many high school-age graduates together with hundreds of current students and families, volunteering and giving back, an integral component of The Davis Academy’s mission since its doors opened 30 years ago. It also brought an added benefit for those seeking high school community-service hours to get credit.
Visits by members of our administration to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech campuses reconnected us with many of our alumni who are “close to home” for their college experience. And an Alumni Anniversary Reunion in New York City brought together the next generation beyond college, who are establishing their careers in the Big Apple. They were thrilled to see us and share memories with each other, with the added benefit of being treated to a free meal!
A first-ever Alumni Babies Lil Shabbat morning was a momentous experience, bringing together some of our earliest graduates who are now starting families of their own. It was the first time back on our elementary campus for many of them, and the joy and excitement of experiencing the Shabbat prayers and songs of their childhood together while now holding their children in their laps, much like their own parents did years ago, was truly memorable. An added bonus was our school rabbi leading alongside Rabbi Max Miller, a graduate of the Class of 2003, holding his own daughter who will hopefully one day be a Davis Lion.
Undoubtedly, the biggest highlight of the year was the weekend of festivities, the pinnacle of a yearlong celebration, uniting more than 1400 individuals from across greater Atlanta and the country, spanning ages four years to 88 years. The weekend kicked off with a spirit-filled Kabbalat Shabbat packed with students, families and alumni singing joyfully with talented musical guest artist Jacob Spike Kraus. With a blessing for the community offered by fifteen rabbis and clergy from across Atlanta, and a special blessing for alumni offered, alongside Shabbat blessings chanted by presidents of the school’s board of trustees going all the way back to the school’s founding, it was a beautiful experience.
The next evening’s Community Celebration was followed by a sold-out crowd and incredible joy as those of every generation in the school’s history celebrated 30 years of growth and achievement, with splendid dinner offerings and live music. Alumni of all ages were with us in person and in spirit, as photos and banners of every graduate from our 23 graduating classes were featured. There is nothing more gratifying than witnessing our graduates, who are now young adults, finding their own photo, hugging their former teachers and classmates, and going out of their way to stop me and say, “I may not have kids yet, but when I do I’m bringing them to The Davis Academy.”
This next school year, we will welcome a number of little ones into our Mechina: Kindergarten Prep and Kindergarten classes whose parents once wore the Davis uniform and walked our halls as students. This is a first for us, seeing the continuity le-dor va-dor, from generation to generation. For all of our schools, investing in our graduates after they leave us is essential, following their stories and successes and intentionally building connections and igniting memories, especially during important milestones like school anniversaries.