5 Questions for Alumni Parent Frances Wilson

Michael, Frances, Chessy, and Charlie

1. You had three kids at MA who were very different from each other. How did that work for you as a parent?

MA allowed each of my children to find his or her strengths. Being a high schooler is such a developmental surge. It’s not necessarily very comfortable. What helped my kids was the strength of the faculty and the administration—they were incredibly meaningful. They provided mentoring, inspiration, support, advice—all very important things, especially for teenagers. Obviously peers are incredibly important, but friendships change for everyone during high school. The theme for our family was yes, you have your friends (and all three children all came away with some amazing friends), but you are allowed to experience lots of different things through the curriculum and through faculty relationships.

James '04 and Charlie '07

My middle son Charlie (Class of 2007) and his friends speak about a common MA experience of developing confidence and the ability to communicate with adults. This skill was very helpful in college. All of my children honed their ability to think in an intentional way and developed the tools with which to achieve their goals. In university that means knowing how to have a conversation with a dean or professor. Knowing how to plan ahead, to think about a course and where that might take you. They have been educated not to just be reactive, but to make a plan. The also had the tools to be able to make an appointment, have a conversation, make a selection based on that. They know how to have a conversation about a draft or a rewrite.

My three children came into MA from their grade school well prepared for creative and critical thinking, but that was enhanced here. They learned that if you need something, you ask for it, make a plan, and pursue it. They came with a desire to learn, and it was continued and nurtured here. Learning is based on interest here—not that they don’t learn less exciting things like spelling and grammar and the importance of math facts—but they could focus on what they really loved. As a parent, I value that tremendously.

2. James graduated in 2004, Charlie graduated in 2007, and Chessy graduated in 2009—and you’re still widely known and respected at MA for your energy and enthusiasm! What has kept you involved at MA, and more recently, brought you back to run Market Night?

Charlie '07 and Chessy '09

The community. The energy, the willingness or sense that you can take a project and do something creative to bring the community together. I feel very vested in this event because I’ve seen its progress over many years. It’s a great way to draw parents into MA and have them feel comfortable and really a part of the school.

When most people’s children come to high school they are a little less involved. Developmentally the students are separating more. MA does an excellent job of creating a safe environment for students to separate. Many parents come from independent grade schools where they have been very involved. They want to remain involved while allowing their child some autonomy. Being involved in Market Night allows parents to do great things for MA but without stepping on their children’s feet. But more importantly, it’s a great way to model getting involved and giving back: kids see parents volunteering and understand how school is important, community is important, and supporting other families is important. It’s also a way to meet the faculty in another way and become more familiar with administration.

3. As a Market Night veteran, what’s your advice to other parents about the event?

Get involved—you’ll meet people who may become very good friends. It’s a wonderful community event that shows an important part of MA: we do look to raise money, but we do it in a community-focused way. It’s a little bit of a balancing act: we balance that fundraising need with a desire to include every member of the community. It’s an event unique to MA that reflects a great deal of the philosophy and heart of the school. People enjoy themselves because it’s strategically low-key. We want to keep it that way. You could have a live auction that could make you lots of money, but over the years feedback from parents has indicated that we would lose the wonderful community feel of Market Night.

4. What are you most excited about?

The acoustic band—WildWorks—is fantastic. The wine tasting—because of the extreme generosity of parents, the wines are phenomenal. It’s a fabulous aspect of the event because it’s an ice-breaker. We’re also doing black-and-white photographs of all of the kids. A team of parents and alumni parents are producing them, and they will be hung all around the community center. It’s going to be beautiful.

WildWorks (photo by Lizzy Elliott '12)

5. Give us a special sneak preview of something that isn’t to be missed at Market Night.

There are some amazing things that people have donated. A lot of the focus is on the experiential. There are wonderful apprentice opportunities. We have 12 this year: a veterinarian, marine biologist, architect, doctor, journalist, chef—really fantastic stuff. So many families got involved in planning and offering parties and events where the community can get together and learn something new.

We go from the extravagant—A’s/Giants game box in June, Bob Weir signed guitar—a puppy and a kitten from the SFSPCA (they come with training classes). We have US Open tickets. Pixar wine: a limited-edition commemorative 8-bottle set from Toy Story through Ratatouille. Yoga and lunch in a parent’s garden. Shanghai in the 1930s party. California Academy of Sciences talk and behind-the-scenes tour. Poetry with you, Travis. Lots of restaurants, sporting events, paintings from local artists and parents. Riceballs with Kathleen Volkmann. Indian cooking classes. A Bollywood dinner. Smaller items in the Marketplace: olive oil, honey, soaps all from MA families. You can have a person come set up a bee hive in your garden. Isn’t that cool? There is something for everybody, and everybody can participate.

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About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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2 Responses to 5 Questions for Alumni Parent Frances Wilson

  1. Ellen says:

    I look forward to Market Night every year–it’s a great party! And thank you Frances for ‘coming home’ to MA to help make it such a successful evening!

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