Mary Supriya McDonald

Strength of Character Lights the Way

Mary Supriya McDonaldWhat follows is a reflection by Mount Madonna’s Head of School, Mary Supriya McDonald, on the 2019-20 school year.

Every year Mount Madonna School (MMS) is ripe with new explorations and accomplishments. The 2019-20 school year surprised us with milestones, beautiful memories and unanticipated challenges.

The year began, by all accounts, with the “best ever” rafting trip, due largely to senior students’ leadership, modeling inclusion, service, fun and team building activities. The upper school trips were followed by an opening day Peace Circle with first through twelfth grades gathering and greeting one another on the overlook, sharing Native American poems, peace prayers and songs.

Mount Madonna’s preschool through high school program creates a family-like environment with multi-age “buddies” learning alongside one another. The pillar of positive character development is an active process of self-development for the common good. We model overcoming obstacles with dedicated effort, being truthful and practicing forgiveness as the keystones to building a strong network of friendship and leadership.

The success of our varsity girls volleyball team, the 2019 California State D-V Champions, is a direct example of determination, team spirit and collective support necessary to achieve high goals. Winning a championship is a spectacular accomplishment and outcome. The stamina of rigorous practice, overcoming defeat and believing in team strengths versus individual power are great lessons that will translates into other life situations.

Our performing arts program is also a vehicle for developing self-confidence by overcoming fear. The lessons of teamwork and effort for collective success far outweigh the individual spotlight moments. The winter shows, Seussical and Pippin, highlighted the beautiful accomplishments of students joining to display talents well beyond their years. The lower school surprised me by singing a favorite song at the Winter Concert that warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

Some of the deepest learning comes from shared adversity and challenge. We see moments like this in the classroom, on the playgrounds, during field trips and other team-building projects. The COVID-19 outbreak required the school, the country and the world to physical distance, shelter-in-place and connect virtually. The school began Zooming, and we changed our lifestyles in a weekend, with the number-one priority of staying healthy. The seniors and juniors joined together for a virtual week in Washington, D.C. and shared their interviews, as is their tradition, via an online blog. Our Summit Keep Moving campaign raised funds for several local and international nonprofits, and some of our alumni joined in this virtual fundraising effort.

Strength of character and determination to keep moving and learning joined teachers, staff, parents and students in a united front to find creative ways to connect with meaningful learning activities, and share our feelings honestly and supportively.

We often look to the year-end rituals and celebrations to hear directly from our students’ reflections about what matters to them. From the kindergarten self-portrait readings and grade five video project and skit, to the eighth grade and senior speeches, the students demonstrate their experience of school life and learning. This 2020 school year ending required great courage, empathy and an abiding trust in one another. We started the year circling together for peace, and ended the year distancing for health.

Over the past 43 years, I have grown alongside many talented students, faculty, staff and parents. Watching young children explore, question and turn into wonderful young adults has gifted me with a lifetime of memories that I will carefully unwrap and remember fondly. Thank you to all who have walked with me on this educational journey.

Our heartfelt congratulations to the graduates of our kindergarten, fifth and eighth grades. We say farewell to our seniors, the graduating class of 2020, with a special wish for their success.

You are forever MMS students!

With much love,


Mary Supriya McDonald

Head of School