A Handmaid Education
Lisa Vanni



The photographs are starting to show their age now.   My “Stepping Stoner” with excited eyes clutching her Elmo on the first day of school. The energetic preschooler with his pipe cleaner legs tenaciously scaling the playground jungle gym. My kicky kindergartner exhausted from his first day at Ancillae, sweaty, tired, asleep in the back of my mini-van. Gone are my days of lacrosse practice pick-ups, science fair backboards, and Spring Show costumes.  My Ancillae babies are grown now, moved on to high school, college, and beyond. 


There is a bit of sorrow in this moving on, and yet it is mixed with a sense of disbelief and pride.  As I look back over their years at Ancillae, I cannot help but feel a strong sense of gratitude.  It is a gratitude for the ripple-effects that resonate in my children’s lives and is a direct result of their Ancillae education.


I take great satisfaction and joy in these three almost adults.   But, you see, it was hardly done alone. The whole “it takes a village” thing… so much of that village was Ancillae. So many people play a role here in fashioning the students for their future. Like the volunteers for forensics who encourage the ability to stand up in public and make a speech, or the teacher who spends multiple sessions aiding a child to breakdown a group project into manageable parts, or the daily mantra of all the adults insisting children hold the door for others… And the result, a confident, prepared, well-spoken young adult who holds the door on their first interview for someone and realizes later it was the person interviewing them.


My children, with their Handmaid education, move through their world with something unique and precious.  It is foundational and such an essential part of who they are.  I know I am not alone in this sentiment. Alumni stories will vary, but make no mistake, there is a common theme that arises again and again.  It is the invisible education that your kids are receiving at Ancillae, the intangibles, that shape not only what they learn but the way they choose to navigate the world.



From the STEM lab, to the beautiful classrooms, to the Nance K. Dicciani Handmaid Innovation Center that is well under way, there is tangible evidence that indicates we are a vibrant, thriving community, one that has boldly moved into the 21st century with vision and clarity.  And yet, there is more.  It is this intangible thing that can be hard to express.    I must confess, it is something that I have thought about often.  There are so many possibilities, and yet after much contemplation, I would contend that it all cycles back to the Handmaids.


It is a school where the practice of teaching our children “with love and for love” every single day is lived out in a myriad of ways.  There’s that blast of genuine hospitality that feels palpable upon entering the front doors of our school.  It is the sense of working together as a community and the notion that all our children will feel known and loved.


It is the essence of the Handmaids and their core values that makes Ancillae such a unique and special place.  


It is their vision that unifies and guides.  It is what provides an institution rooted in tradition, hospitality, community, and an eye for the future. There is an endeavor to educate the whole child.  I’d like to think it is some kind of magic, and maybe in some ways it is.  I would argue though, that the “magic” originates directly from the Handmaids and is rooted in a mission that started with St. Raphaela Mary. These values are eternal, universal, and they endure; we plant them like seeds and allow them to grow and bloom.  What is it then, if not magic in the truest of senses!


Over the years, I have heard many stories from former students and families of how these seeds have bloomed and grown.  There are these connections that occur and run deep.  Though my children have moved on, I was fortunate enough to stay on and serve as a faculty member.  During Visiting Days, I have the great opportunity to tour prospective families around Ancillae’s campus.  I get a chance to share the “school behind the stone wall” and hopefully transfer some of what makes this such a beautiful place to be.


Key Takeaway


In all of this world, to know that you were “known and loved”, a primary goal of a Handmaid education, is so very powerful.  Of course, your family of origin knows you and loves you, but to have had an experience in your elementary years, surrounded by a community that works to communicate this every day, this is what I know for sure makes an Ancillae education unlike any other.



About the Author

Lisa Vanni
Learning Specialist

Alumni Parent
24 years Ancillae

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