Kendell Berry’s Message to Parents: You Have Chosen Wisely

Canterbury’s Interim Head of School, Kendell Berry, has a message for parents: “To quote a certain Indiana Jones movie, ‘You have chosen wisely.’”

With three children who grew up mostly in independent schools and a professional career that’s focused on independent schools, Kendell has a keen ability to judge a school’s livelihood. “Canterbury,” he says, “is a special school.”

“This is a school where your child will be age appropriately challenged and where he or she will learn to take reasonable risks while still having a safety net.”

Interim Head of School Kendell Berry

Interim Head of School Kendell Berry

In August, as the newly named Interim Head of School, Kendell had the opportunity to see that concept play out firsthand when he was invited to join the 8th graders at Wilderness Adventure in New Castle, VA. The experience primes students for their final year at the school as they work together in a variety of team-building activities from caving trips to building a raft from scratch using just a few materials and a lot of determination. The school has offered Wilderness Adventure since Canterbury opened 22 years ago.

Kendell was drawn to Canterbury for a number of reasons including its PreK-8 structure and the fact that it is an Episcopal school. “I had worked at two Episcopal schools previously and have found that they have the best opportunities to teach kids character development and to unify community. Plus, it is a progressive denomination and a very inclusive denomination. It is respectful of all religions.”

Seventy-five percent of Canterbury students are not Episcopalian, in fact.

“We respect difference here. Our Episcopal heritage and our motto speaks to that—‘To learn, to love, to serve: to live. I love the ‘live.’”

Kendell describes his first impression of Canterbury as very welcoming. “The first thing I saw was the chapel and, wow, that’s a landmark.” Walking through the classroom buildings, he was impressed by the school’s learning environment. “The noise level was appropriate, the level of interaction was right and the small class size was excellent.” Now, Kendell makes a point to walk the campus twice a day. “I want the community to know that what we’re doing here matters, and that I am here to support them.”

As a biologist and naturalist, Kendell admired Canterbury’s walking path and the ropes course. After earning his undergraduate degree in biology, he took a position with a boys boarding school that sat on 900 acres. It was a great place to teach biology, and he fell in love with the field of education. Soon, he went on to get married and earn his master’s degree in biology from The University of Virginia.

Kendell is the proud father of three adult children. David works for Springleaf Financial and is working on an MBA. Martha is working in New York City as a graphic artist. Sarah is in her third year of optometry school at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“I’m transitioning in life, and I absolutely love it at Canterbury School, where holistic education and relationships matter. This is a healthy environment and a very good school.”

That takes us back to the message Kendell has for parents about having chosen wisely. “This school is filled with outstanding teachers who are very student-centered. They care deeply about the kids. I see it everyday when I walk though campus, but I also was able to witness it with the 8th graders at Wilderness Adventure, where they really were pushing out of their comfort zone while supporting each other.”

Kendell Berry joined the incoming 8th grade class at Wilderness Adventure in New Castle, VA in August.

Kendell Berry joined the incoming 8th grade class at Wilderness Adventure in New Castle, VA, in August.

Kendell’s other message is about investment. “You often hear that your biggest investment is your home. But for parents who choose an independent school, their biggest investment is the education of their children. It’s a long-term investment, and like other great investments, one needs to hang in there, ride the few difficulties and enjoy the rewards at the end.  Trusting Canterbury is absolutely a wise choice for parents wanting the best for their PreK-8 children.”

With just one year to make an impact at Canterbury, Kendell has a clear view on where he wants to place his focus. “The job is never done at this school. We really have been moving forward lately, and I want to continue to move the school forward in a collaborative way and ensure that we are giving the faculty voice in matters that involve them.”

One recent change is that there are now two faculty members on the program team. The faculty itself selected those representatives, Mary Anne Sacco and Nicole Schutt. It’s the same with the technology team. Two faculty members are on that team as well— Justin McCollum and Allan Chandler.

“Ultimately, my goal is to pave the way for the next head of school.”

What’s Kendell reading? He enjoys a combination of fiction and nonfiction. Currently, he is reading The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, loaned to him by first grade teacher Elaine Hoover.

What does Kendell do in his spare time? “I like twisting a wrench, and I’m pretty handy. I like working on my cars. I’ve been attending St. Francis Episcopal Church in town. I also enjoy outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. In fact, I went hunting with Wes Vogel (5th grade teacher) last weekend.

by Andrea Crossley Spencer

Spencer_2014_073Andrea Crossley Spencer is a Canterbury parent to McKenna (5th-Vogel) and Kellen (PreK-Copeland/Kaplan), a freelance writer, and cofounder of Tigermoth Creative.  She also serves as a Writopia creative writing instructor in Canterbury’s After School Fine Arts program. Her favorite Canterbury tradition is Chapel Buddies. She loves hiking, running and biking especially when followed by a chocolate peanut butter shake.


Behind the scenes at BackPack Beginnings

The office space was buzzing with activity as I walked into BackPack Beginnings (BPB) on Alliance Drive. Justin McCollum’s 3rd graders were starting their first service learning field trip of the school year. Boxes were cut open. Food items checked and put in plastic bags. Everything was counted, repacked, and stacked, all the while children’s voices echoed down the hallways.

The students stated their purpose clearly: “We are packing food for kids who do not have enough on the weekends.” And they learned the ropes quickly. “Pack two juices, two proteins. Nothing smushed.”

They also got the point. “This is fun,” a child said. “I feel like I am helping someone!”

Canterbury third graders helping at BackPack Beginnings.

Canterbury 3rd graders help at BackPack Beginnings.

Canterbury’s 3rd graders head out to the BackPack Beginnings distribution center once a trimester to perform many different duties. Packing up food bags. Sorting books, clothing, or school supplies. Checking donated food for damage before going out for delivery.

An organization run entirely by volunteers, BackPack Beginnings provides local children in need with nutritious food, comfort items, or basic necessities. Canterbury supports the mission not only through 3rd grade service learning time, but also through food deliveries conducted by the Canterbury Parents Association.

This year, the CPA volunteers are led by Julie Pyrtle (Emma, Kindergarten and Fenton, Pre-K). Every Thursday, a pair of volunteers picks up the prepared food bags from the distribution center, checks though their school list for any food allergies, and then delivers the food packs to Poplar Grove Head Start on Summit Avenue. According to Julie, the last delivery served 44 children at the school.

Canterbury third graders helping at BackPack Beginnings.

Canterbury 3rd graders help at BackPack Beginnings.

Parker White is the founder of BackPack Beginnings. A mother of two, Parker began the organization in January 2010, initially feeding 50 children in one school. Utilizing Feeding America’s national BackPack Program and partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, BPB partners with Guilford County Title 1 schools and Head Start agencies to identify children in need of food on weekends. Now, BPB has expanded to include three programs beyond the food backpacks (comfort backpacks, food pantries, and a clothing pantry). This fall, the organization will feed more than 1,300 children in 26 schools.

The need in Guilford County may shock you. More than 43,000 children (58 percent) in Guilford County schools are at risk of going hungry each week. Just five dollars can feed a hungry child for the weekend.

BackPack Beginnings is the story of how Parker, one person, took the first step to make a huge impact in the lives of many helpless children. Recently, she answered a few questions for me:

What keeps you going? You are a mom of two and this is a big undertaking; do you ever feel like you are in survival mode and just can’t fit it all in?

Absolutely. I feel overwhelmed all the time and only get to about 60 percent of my daily BPB goals each day.  When I started this, I planned to devoted a few hours a week. But it is now 40-50 hours a week. However, we have found ten amazing core volunteer “staff,” 150 food delivery volunteers, and 50-100 office volunteers. Without them and our supporters, it would not be possible. What keeps me going is their support and the thought of the many helpless children in Guilford County who are in need of food, clothing, comfort, and more. When I get stressed, all I need to do is read some of the feedback from the children we serve and I get that motivation again.

How did you come up with this idea of backpacks?

When living in Washington D.C., I had heard of food backpack programs and that it was such a wonderful idea. When I moved to Greensboro, I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. And, once I saw that this organization was really taking off, I knew that I wanted it to be more than food. I wanted to create other backpack programs that helped all subsets of children in need.

Do you feel like this is your purpose or calling in life?

Definitely. Looking back on it all, I feel like God had this plan for me, and it was the reason I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I believe this is what I was meant to do with my life. Only God could have made it grow so quickly, provided the right people at the right time, etc. I could not have done this on my own.

What’s your advice to someone who has an idea to help or start something new, but just can’t seem to figure out where to start?

Some advice: Do your research and talk to as many people as you can. If you are passionate about something, make yourself knowledgeable about that field and how you can play a role in it. Collaborate with others. Not many people excel when isolating themselves from others who are doing similar things. And believe in yourself when others may not. We were told that a group of stay-at-home-moms couldn’t pull off a 100 percent volunteer nonprofit, but that only lit a fire under us. Push back against the naysayers if you believe this is what you are meant to do.

What’s next for BackPack Beginnings?

BPB is continuing to find ways to grow all four of its programs and our next step, in order to do that, is to find new office space. We have been blessed with 3,300 square feet of donated space, but we have quickly outgrown it and hope to move this summer. A move to a larger space, although it may be costly, will allow us to expand to serve more children.


by Katie Hu

huKatie Hu is the parent of Brady (4th-Hoover), Maggie (2nd-McIlwain) and Mason (2025). Her favorite part of Canterbury is the chapel and the teachers. She loves a quiet walk in the woods, yoga, and a tall glass of kale afterwards.