Sarah Bergman Lewis’s story truly embodies the past, present, and future of SGS. As one of the founding faculty members of SGS, Sarah taught 6th grade for two years at before ultimately moving on to become a pediatrician. This year, her daughter Anya ’24 is a 6th grader working on the medical boards culmination that Sarah helped create over 20 years ago. We were thrilled to learn how the spirit of SGS has continued to influence both of their lives.
As a founding faculty member, can you talk about your overall experience with the school? How did you get involved?
Marja Brandon had been the head of a middle school program on the East Coast where I had been teaching for the summer. When she got hired to found SGS, she invited me over for dinner one fateful night and asked me to help her launch the school.
I was 22 when I started at SGS, working out of Marja's house in Seattle. I was doing open houses with her, interviewing families, and looking for faculty. I thought I was going to apply to medical school, but after convincing so many families to join SGS I had convinced myself to stay, and Marja offered me to opportunity to stay on as a 6th grade teacher. I taught for two years, and then the last two years I worked in admissions while preparing for medical school.
What was it like recruiting families to attend a new school?
Marja was an amazing visionary, but to say that it was grassroots was an understatement. It was really an exciting time just meeting people who were willing to take a huge leap of faith of with us. What people were excited by was that we were seeing the whole kid, and that we wanted to facilitate their child’s natural curiosity and passions. Now that I have a daughter who is that age, I understand that leap of faith more.
How did you and the founding faculty put joyful learning into practice for the first two years?
We were all working really hard. We had to do everything from painting the classrooms to figuring how to do advisory and developing the curriculum. It's really cool now to hear some of those things that have held, like beautification and the Grand Rounds medical boards.
We let the kids explore what they were interested in from the beginning. For Grand Rounds, we saw how proud they felt and how tall they stood after those events – that they could feel pushed and be put on the spot but also supported at the same time.
Can you tell us more about developing the Grand Rounds culmination?
It makes me so happy that it has stuck. Marja had always wanted to have culminations – to have kids stand up and deliver. For Grand Rounds, the girls were going to wear scrubs, do research and become an expert on a body system. One room was "board exams," with doctors from the community asking questions about the students' chosen body systems. Everyone was so impressed and the girls were so proud. It did capture a lot of what SGS is about. Pushing kids to their stretch zone - people wouldn't think about 6th graders being able to do that. Marja saw that putting girls into those situations pushed them and made them feel like they could do something they weren't sure they could do, and doing that in front of an audience was just so powerful.
What aspects of SGS set it apart from other schools, and what do you see now that your daughter Anya attends SGS?
The people make the school what it is–that is what I still see at SGS. All of Anya's teachers really embody what SGS is about. SGS is intentionally diverse, focused on issues of social justice and the students, who are smart and joyful and passionate. It makes me happy that what was launched was improved, solidified, but kept its original spirit. One of things I love now through a parent’s eyes is that there’s still a lot of opportunity for play and joy.
What has your daughter Anya’s experience been like at SGS?
Anya has really thrived having different models of activism around her and being a part of a diverse community. I feel like she gets great coaching about being a middle schooler from the adults at SGS. She has gotten a lot more confident in math and wanting to figure out the answer. She said me to recently, "I keep thinking this needs to be school because it's fun, but then I realize that it IS school." It feels really good to be handing over our daughter to a place where she's comfortable being vulnerable.
What is your current career?
While I was at SGS, it was confirmed to me that I truly cared about the development of kids. I went to the University of Washington for medical school and Seattle Children's for my residency, and I'm a pediatrician now. People think it’s so different from teaching but it's really not, it’s like I'm just doing Learning Team Meetings (parent/teacher conferences) all day.
It feels like such a cool and circuitous life path to 20 years later have my own daughter going to SGS. It was really cool to look back into it and realize that oh yes, this is totally what I hoped it would be now and that it would be worthy of my kid to go there! This investment during this time is worth it.
Photo Credit: Joshua Huston