Margaret Haviland had the opportunity to speak with alumna Angela Garcia ‘80 about her days as a student at Westfield Friends School and the ways her education has carried her through her life.
MH: Tell me briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends School to today.
AG: My parents enrolled my older sister in Woodbury Friends because they thought a Quaker school would be a good partner in the education of their children. Eventually, she went to Haddonfield Friends and I joined her there when I was in first grade. In third grade, my parents moved me to Westfield Friends School. Margaret Lord was my teacher. French was my favorite subject and I have fond memories of singing in French with our French teacher who played the guitar. It was in third grade my love for French began. At WFS, I learned to love sports, especially field hockey which I played throughout middle school and high school.
I graduated from Brown University, where I pursued political science but developed a love for teaching. Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I had this summer job tutoring newly accepted students to Trenton State. I was horrified that these young people who were just a few years younger than me had not received the education I had. That experience inspired me to become an elementary teacher and determined to give all of my future students an educational experience similar to what I had at Westfield Friends School. As I advanced in my career and school leadership roles, I knew that if I was ever given the opportunity, I would lead a Friends School. After a career in education, I now lead Friends Community School in College Park, Maryland.
MH: What are the two or three events, people, or experiences you most remember from your Westfield years?
AG: I have so many vivid memories. I remember WFS being diverse and that there were at least six students of color in my class from third grade to sixth grade. It was nice to see my reflection in the faces of some of my classmates.
Mrs. Stanley was my fourth-grade teacher. In her class, we created books about our goals and aspirations for the future. My mother kept that book until she died and I have it now. Some of those early plans have come true. In fifth grade, we did research on historical figures. I selected Amelia Earhart, who I researched and I remember we had to assume the role and dress like our research subjects. In sixth grade, I had Bill Probsting. Mr. Probsting fostered my love of current events. We had subscriptions to Newsweek. On Mondays, he would give each of us an individualized list of names and countries. We each had to write our own summaries of what we learned. I think I ended up majoring in Political Science because of that weekly research.
I was very shy as a child. All of the performances and speeches we had to give were so important in developing my self-confidence.
MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way you make choices for yourself?
AG: Meeting for Worship meant so much to me. Every Wednesday, the whole school went to the Meeting House for worship in the manner of Friends. We gathered in silence and waited for the spirit to move different people (including children) to share messages. The other days we gathered in the auditorium with Bible reading and chapter book reading. All of my life I have carried with me this appreciation for quietness and the importance of reflection.
I have been really blessed in my career. When I was looking for where to lead, I was drawn to a Quaker School because the values I learned at Westfield Friends School were so important to me personally and professionally. There is something powerful in being able to talk with children about the Divine and that of God in all of us. Now I am honored to be head of a Friends school, Friends Community School in College Park, MD.
For thee years, I examined ways in which education could change in order to prepare children for a “VUCA” world, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The term aptly describes the world we live in (even before the COVID-19 pandemic. I know a Quaker education gives children and adults a moral and intellectual grounding in this world.
MH: What do you hope for Westfield students today?
AG: I want them to enjoy every moment they are there. My other advice is don’t be comfortable, try something new! WFS lit a passion in me and a sense of myself that remains at the core of my being.
MH: What do you hope for Westfield alums as they think about Westfield today?
AG: I want them to appreciate the education we received and find ways to share their talents and resources with WFS.