Quarry Lane, We’re Taking Off

*Written by Kanchan Naik, Founder and former Editor-in-Chief of The Roar

We all take with us a piece of history from our high schools. From mementos to memories, the four years we spend between classrooms seem to follow us into our futures in small, but surprising ways. As a high school senior on the cusp of graduation, I can’t help but think about all the different parts of my identity that have been shaped by Quarry Lane. A club sweatshirt that I wear three times a week is coiled into a ball at the bottom of my laundry basket. The first poster I ever taped to our stairwell’s bulletin board (incidentally, the announcement of The Roar’s first issue) is now propped on my bedroom dresser. Even my family’s collection of lawn ornaments have welcomed a giant cardboard yard sign emblazoned with a blue and yellow cougar. The significance of the seemingly insignificant strikes me while I write this article — just as much as we are a part of Quarry Lane, Quarry Lane is a part of us.

While we’ve all unknowingly chronicled our individual histories at this school through our growing collection of keepsakes, I realize that almost none of us (myself included) fully comprehend Quarry Lane’s history as a whole. How over the years, this private K-12 school has grown into a vibrant community of students, parents, and faculty. Do we ever think about how many convocations our foyer has seen? How many graduation caps have been flung into the sky on  campus grounds, how many clubs were founded by the students before us, how many traditions will extend to the students beyond us? To document our school’s evolution and truly understand what it means to be a QLS Cougar, I spoke with veteran members of Quarry Lane’s administration. 

“We have always been and remain a student-centered school,” says QLS Senior Director  Candice McGraw. Having been a part of Quarry Lane administration for the past 15 years, Ms. McGraw has seen this school transform on an academic, cultural, and even physical level. 

“When I was Admissions Director in 2006, there were only 9 high school students,” says Ms. McGraw. “Imagine how much we’ve grown since then. Our third and fourth buildings weren’t even built yet! These families were just able to visualize how wonderful it was going to be.” 

Candice McGraw with her IB Business students (2015) (Image cred. Candice McGraw)

When Ms. McGraw first joined this school, Quarry Lane was a nascent K-12 built to help accommodate the quickly expanding Pleasanton campus for elementary schoolers. Students were few and far between, sharing an extremely tightly-knit social network and (most likely) largely empty hallways. Over the next few years, the high school’s reputation for advanced coursework and supportive faculty grew, so much so that in 2013 Quarry Lane bagged the Bay Area Parent’s “GOLD Family Favorite” award. The school was dedicated to offering a comprehensive education that prepared students for all parts of life, an ethos that attracted both parents and Ms. McGraw herself.  

“My family and I moved to California in 2005 and I was attracted to Quarry Lane through its vision and mission,” said Ms. McGraw. “A holistic program to develop young minds into leaders who make a difference in our world spoke to me.” 

Young leaders who make a difference in our world. Perhaps this is how Ms. McGraw envisions the archetype Cougar — a student with the courage to apply textbook truths to our broader community and change it for the better. Leadership is, after all, a common thread among the few moments that she listed as her most memorable experiences at Quarry Lane. When upper school students organized a silent protest against gun violence post the horrific school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida, for example. Or when students decided to come together in the parking lot and celebrate the opening of Quarry Lane’s third building. Or even when Quarry Lane airs its annual school program videos, showcasing the voices of active student leaders in our community. But where do these students, who permeate both classrooms and campus life, come from? How do they cross the bridge from their preschools, elementary, and middle schools (which, knowing Quarry Lane, could be either a 10 min walk or a 13 hour flight away) and transition into avid participants in our student culture? 

Quarry Lane’s first senior class (Image cred. Candice McGraw)

“I love that word — bridge,” says Casey Johnston, Quarry Lane’s Admissions Director. It’s a word that she has used for the past 18 years in her conversations with new children and parents, a word that symbolizes her role in integrating students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Ms. Johnston, incidentally, was the first person I met when I visited Quarry Lane as a wide-eyed sixth grader. One of my earliest memories of this school was Ms. Johnston handing me a brochure, all the while walking me through the next three hours I would spend with a student ambassador. I didn’t realize it then, but four years later I would become a student ambassador myself, working with Ms. Johnston to make new Cougars comfortable in their transition to our school. But I had no idea, of course — I was just a nervous (and clueless) middle-schooler learning how to squeeze a wire mesh into a locker. And Ms. Johnston fully understood what it meant to be in my position — especially because she had been in my position herself, many times. 

“I moved schools 9 times because my father was in the Navy,” said Ms. Johnston. “With each new move came a new adventure for me, I would try and reinvent myself…however it never worked, I realized with maturity, I am who I am.  These many realizations helped me understand that my life was not changing, just the environment around me. I still had that same wooden twin bed frame, with the same flowered blanket and stuffed dolls, it just happened to be in a new room, in a new town. With all of these first hand experiences, I let families know I can relate to where not only they are in this transition, but most importantly how their children are feeling.” 

Open House at Quarry Lane (Image Cred. Casey Johnston)

Personally, my shift from a public elementary school to Quarry Lane was scary — being a new kid thrust into a foreign environment with no friends is always scary. But I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a new kid at QLS in 2021, joining our school through a mere Zoom call. The pandemic has reshaped our sense of belonging in Quarry Lane, along with nearly every aspect of our personal lives. But despite the growing pains of a rapidly shifting education system, our school rose up to the challenge and brought out the best in our community. 

“We had a sense of vision while dealing with the coronavirus outbreak”, says Dr. Sabri Arac, headmaster of Quarry Lane in a Zoom interview with The Roar. “As you know, we were able to successfully transition to a virtual format, but thankfully in September things will [have] stabilized. About 70% of the Bay Area will be vaccinated, which will build our [community’s] resistance to this pandemic.” 

Dr. Arac founded Quarry Lane in 1991, after spending roughly 10 years as a senior engineer at Hewlett-Packard to pursue his passion in the education sphere. It was a difficult journey at first, but Dr. Arac’s experience both as an engineer and an immigrant gave him the resilience to adapt to the challenges of starting a school from scratch.

“Hewlett-Packard was a good school,” says Dr. Arac. “ And from them I learned that nothing stays at the same level, everything has to improve and meet the needs of our young learners continuously.

Dr. Arac, founder and headmaster of the Quarry Lane School (Image cred. Sabri Arac)

It’s a mentality that has followed Dr. Arac through Quarry Lane’s every development in the past 31 years, from the expansion of our student body to the construction of our second and third buildings to the near doubling of our clubs and organizations. It’s an ethos that will remain attached to our school in the years to come, with Quarry Lane’s future plans for construction. During our virtual interview, Dr. Arac confirmed the recent purchase of a 14,000 sq. ft. site adjacent to the school. The potential, he says, is endless. 

“We’re just not an engineering school,” says Dr. Arac. “With this recent purchase, I would like to be able to expand on the liberal arts, humanities, and social studies facets [sic] of education. And to do this, we need the right facilities. We would like to include a performance arts [center], with a drama center, dance studio, and so much more.” 

It was only after my interview with Dr. Arac that I realized how a respect, and even appreciation for change is ingrained in Quarry Lane’s group conscious. Every year, international students from all over the world make the choice to begin their educational experience at our school — not unlike Dr. Arac himself, who came to the United States on a student visa to pursue metallurgical engineering. During my time at Quarry Lane, I’ve met and befriended students who possess entirely different interests, goals, and cultures. I’ve shared lab equipment with aspiring chemists and peer-edited the papers of future creative writers. But despite the diversity of our student body, we all seem to adopt Dr. Arac’s “growth mentality”, and thrust ourselves into new learning atmospheres and endeavors on a daily basis. Whether we’re coding an iOS app during flex periods or using a 3-D printer to create a personalized phone stand, we’re never idle here at Quarry Lane. Beyond leadership positions or standardized test scores — the stereotypical measures of a high school student — perhaps this is what makes a QLS Cougar. A sincere, and perpetual intent to grow. 

In just 12 days, I will graduate from The Quarry Lane School. It’s a moment I’ve thought about a lot in the last four years, oddly during both the best and worst parts of being a high school student. I did not, however, envision my graduation to take place against the larger backdrop of a pandemic. Nowhere in my fantasies about finally holding my diploma on the convocation stage did I ever think the audience members would be wearing face masks. It’s a strange reality, but a happy one nonetheless. Our senior class is graduating into uncharted territory, becoming ‘new kids’ in a rapidly shifting world. Ms. Johnston, ever-adept in the art of transition, advises me to “jump in with both feet.”

I don’t see why not. It’s worked here before.

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