Message from the Headmaster

August 15, 2023
Dear St. Christopher’s Families, Faculty, and Staff,
I hope you are doing well and enjoying the final weeks of summer. With Upper School pre-season athletic practice and theater auditions beginning yesterday and today, we are truly feeling the excitement of a new school year.

I hope that by now you have had the opportunity to review important divisional updates from the LowerMiddle, and Upper Schools. Please refer to them and to important information posted on SaintsNet to help you and your son transition smoothly into the start of the school year. Importantly, all Magnus Health Forms, located on the Resource Board in the SaintsNet parent account, must be completed in order for your child to come to campus.

In my July 31 letter I shared that I would soon provide a more substantive state-of-the-school update. I am pleased to provide that update, below. But before I do, I hope you will indulge me through a few thoughts on the state of boys, boys’ wellness, and boys’ schools. 

My objective in sharing the following information is simple–to raise issues and concerns that have received a great deal of national attention of late, issues and concerns that I believe are germane to the students, parents, faculty and staff of St. Christopher’s. Importantly, I believe that St. Christopher’s has a leadership opportunity and obligation to help frame these topics and, I hope and pray, to offer constructive solutions. This framing and offering of solutions must be done in a manner that is positive for both the boys and girls of our community and for those well beyond it. 

Of the books I have read over the past six months, the one that is sticking with me the most, rattling around my head during moments of quiet, is Richard Reeves’ Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why it Matters, and What To Do About It.

I recommend that you read the book and judge for yourself, but a pithy summary might be as follows–
  • Boys and men around the world, but particularly in the United States, are struggling in the 2020s in several key performance and wellness areas.
  • This struggle has become more pronounced in the past decade-plus and, in some cases, in just the past several years. It can be quantified by a number of important metrics, including:
    • Educational retention and attainment levels 
    • Diagnosed depression rates
    • Drug and opioid addictions
    • Criminal activity and incarceration rates 
    • Deaths of despair, including suicide and drug- and alcohol-related deaths
  • During the time period of overall performance and wellness decline among boys and men, girls and women have made gains in numerous areas–most markedly in academic attainment–relative to boys and men. We can and should applaud the success and gains of girls and women and simultaneously be concerned about the state of boys and men. We can, likewise, identify challenges that are more pronounced for females than for males (see teen female anxiety rates, gender wage disparity, and executive-level representation as three powerful examples), while also naming and combating barriers that persist to achieving full and equal opportunities for both women and men. 
Reeves emphasizes repeatedly–and I wholeheartedly concur–that humanity’s success is not a zero-sum game. As we consider the challenges facing both genders today, we can engage in “both-and” thinking, striving for a societal state in which men and women are thriving, complementing the successes of each other. Our coordinate relationship with our sister school, St. Catherine’s, allows us to engage in precisely this kind of thinking and doing.

Reeves is not the only scholar researching and writing about boyhood and manhood. Consider this January 2023 New Yorker piece on the same subject, spurred by Reeves’ work. Just last month the US Surgeon General joined Reeves in a podcast titled, “Why Are Boys And Men Struggling For Connection?” Consider this recent Washington Post essay, with the not-so-subtle headline, “Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness,” or this Washington Post article detailing what it calls a “silent crisis in men’s health.” 

Closer to home, the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership recently announced its theme and focus area for its 2023-2024 Leadership Forum Speaker Series. The topic? “Masculinity in a Changing World.” Its first speaker, on September 12? Richard Reeves on “The Crisis of our Boys and Men.”

As the headmaster of an all-boys school, one that sends approximately 90 graduates into the world each May, hoping they will help favorably bend the statistics Reeves cites so persuasively, I pay attention to research and data regarding boys and their wellness.

It should come as no surprise that I carry a certain bias about what works well for (most) boys, particularly during their formative years–which is an educational environment and community that is designed explicitly with their needs, strengths, and growth areas in mind.

We know, with near certainty, that boys’ and girls’ brains develop at a different cadence and with different milestone moments along the way. In the aggregate, boys’ and girls’ behaviors and preferences tend to vary. Any parent of boys and girls can likely attest to this claim with ample primary evidence. 

Boys’ schools, such as St. Christopher’s, are able to hire and train faculty who 1) Know and love boys just as they are and 2) Understand and embrace age-appropriate milestones for boys, which can vary significantly from age-appropriate milestones for girls. 

Boys’ schools can craft a curriculum, pedagogy, and school culture that is specifically tailored to what works best for boys, unabashedly.

Most importantly, boys’ schools can emphasize the primacy of relationships in an educational community. We know, through both research and practice, that boys’ academic motivation is very often linked to their perception of and relationship with their teacher–whether he or she genuinely cares about the boy as a person. Put another way, a boy won’t vigorously strive and achieve if he feels no connection with his teacher. If the opposite is true, there’s very little a boy can’t or won’t do for a great teacher.

Finally, as someone with experience in both all-boys and co-educational schools, I can say with confidence that boys’ schools have the ability to foster a sense of community and brotherhood, an esprit de corps, that is truly special and even transformative. In the case of St. Christopher’s, it can last a lifetime.

Reading Reeves’ work and the alarming statistics that underpin it is not an uplifting act. It is, however, inspiring, charging all of us at St. Christopher’s to act with urgency, care, and intention toward reaching and teaching every boy in our community. And we must do this in a manner that supports the notion that helping boys thrive through adolescence, college, and beyond must likewise uplift and support opportunities for success and wellness for girls. I believe we can and must do both.   

I am honored to serve as a trustee of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC), a consortium of 265 boys’ schools serving over 230,000 boys from 14 countries around the world. As a coalition, we share strategies and resources so that we can work together to best serve the boys in our care. The IBSC Board will enjoy a dinner and conversation with Richard Reeves this winter, and we are excited to engage with him on the topic of boys’ schools and the role they can play in supporting boys and men in the decades to come. 

What questions or comments should I share with Reeves? Email me and let me know. Similarly, I would invite you to connect with me, with our Director of the Center for the Study of Boys Kim Hudson, or with our Director of Health and Wellness Ann Vanichkachorn on any of the topics I have raised in this letter. We can best serve our boys through dialogue and partnership.

In the balance of this letter, I will offer a few ways in which St. Christopher’s is endeavoring to make school engaging and transformative for the 1,000 boys we are privileged to serve, thereby addressing the very challenges facing boys and men today. I will begin with an affirmation and new articulation of the core values that have guided our school for more than a century, followed by a health and wellness update, some thoughts on experiential education, an introduction to our new employees, and a summary of physical enhancement to our beloved campus. 

St. Christopher’s Community Pillars

During the 2021-2022 school year, we charged a group of faculty and staff, led by Dr. Hudson, to craft a set of Schoolwide Core Values, as called for in our strategic plan, Momentum 2025

After months of good and thoughtful work, the group settled on a concept that was both in line with the charge but also uniquely St. Christopher’s–a new set of “Community Pillars.” I am pleased to present those Community Pillars to you here, along with a purpose and description for each of them. As you will see, there is nothing truly “new” about the values and tenets expressed here; what is new is our cohesive and community-wide expression of them in a concise and hopefully impactful manner. 

Honor & Integrity
Saints strive to be honest, kind, and compassionate, choosing the hard right over the easy wrong. We care most about developing young men who possess honor and integrity. 

Pursuit of Excellence
Saints strive to do their best in every endeavor. We value hard work and perseverance both inside and outside the classroom, focusing on process more than outcome.

Community & Brotherhood
Saints strive to understand and act upon the notion that we are part of something larger than ourselves. We value leadership, service, and the lifelong relationships that are formed in our community.

If you have been on campus recently, you may have already seen these Pillars on display on new banners atop campus light posts. They will also soon appear in prominent locations inside key campus buildings. More importantly, they will be actively inculcated into the daily vernacular and lessons we teach our boys. 

I encourage you, as parents and community members, to reinforce the language at home. The boys may roll their eyes at you but, like eating fruit and vegetables, it’s good for them, and they will thank you for it when they are older.

Health and Wellness

Returning to Reeves’ work, if St. Christopher’s were to have first-rate academic, artistic, and athletic programming, but if we neglected our boys’ holistic well-being as humans, we would have failed. As such, we will continue to emphasize overall wellness in our boys’ and families’ experience at St. Christopher’s. We are taking a hard look at elements we can control, such as our yearly and daily schedules, homework loads, and time for student rest and sleep. As one example, for the 2024-2025 school year, we will implement a new daily academic schedule for the Upper School, one that we believe will positively impact student wellness and learning. 

For the first time in School history, this year St. Christopher’s will benefit from three full-time counselors–one in each academic division. The three counselors partner with three divisional chaplains (all ordained Episcopal priests), Dr. Vanichkachorn, as well as numerous faculty deans and leaders who are charged with overseeing student well-being at St. Christopher’s. If there were ever time in which we could and should make this a top institutional priority and achievement, I believe this is the time.

Saints Take A Break 2024

We will hold a “Saints Take A Break” holiday for student and employee health and wellness on Tuesday, February 20, 2024. Moving forward into 2024-2025 and beyond, if we continue with the Saints Take a Break holiday, we will announce it along with other major dates in the fall prior to the school year.

Experiential Education

In thinking about what works for boys in schools, I know this–boys need to be moving and doing, and preferably outdoors. As someone who benefitted mightily from summers spent in the Virginia outdoors, I am so excited that we are emphasizing increased outdoor experiential education into our curriculum. We are doing this in a number of ways, but perhaps most fervently through our relationship with Camp River’s Bend (CRB), a values-based, all-boys camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains just over two hours west of Richmond.

For the 2023-2024 school year, I am delighted that we will send our entire 8th grade to CRB in the fall and our entire 5th and 12th grades in the spring. We will also look to enliven our curriculum with other hands-on learning opportunities for our boys, both on our campus and off of it.

New Faculty and Staff

As I mentioned in my July letter, this fall we will welcome approximately 30 new faculty and staff members into our community. We experienced an unusually large number of retirements last spring, and the post-COVID era has seen significant disruption in employment stability, including and even especially in education. 

I am thankful that St. Christopher’s is known both regionally and nationally as a tremendous community in which to teach and to grow and so we were fortunate to attract a remarkable cadre of new educators into our community. You can find a complete introduction of all new employees here. I thank you for joining me in earnestly welcoming them all into our community. 

Facilities Improvements

Thanks to the incredible stewardship and service of our campus facilities leaders Mark Gentry and Katie Chernau, we were able to execute what was likely a record quantity of simultaneous campus projects this summer. I am extremely grateful that many of these projects were supported by generous philanthropy from parents, alumni, and grandparents.

The projects include the following:

Lower School
  • New exterior paint on stucco walls, trim, and roofline
  • New ceilings, lighting, and paint in Lower School Library, with new windows to come this fall and additional enhancements to come in late 2023 and in 2024; renovated bathrooms and stairwell adjacent to Lower School Library is complete
  • Complete renovation to the Reynolds Gymnasium and Multipurpose Room (“Little Gym”), to include the addition of air conditioning, new flooring, painted walls and ceilings, and new foldable tables mounted on the wall, creating a new dedicated lunch space for students in K-2  and possibly 3-5, as well

Middle School
  • New reading and relaxation deck and stairwell is being built on the rear of the Middle School Library, with new doors leading to the deck from the library; additional enhancements to the library to come in 2024
  • Complete cleaning, painting, new lighting and other enhancements to the Mullen Industrial Arts building, allowing for increased student use of that hands-on woodworking and technical-theatre space

Ryan Dining Hall
  • Renovation of the Dining Hall servery area, to include new ceilings, lighting, wall and cabinet painting, and flooring, with additional enhancements planned for 2024

  • New sound system for Knowles Field, with speakers facing campus, not the neighborhood; new sound system to come for Jacobs and Massey Fields in 2024
  • Complete renovation of Massey and Jacobs Fields. Generously sponsored by a St. Christopher’s donor, we have installed new drainage and irrigation and have properly graded the fields for improved performance during and after weather events
I am pleased that our new Community Pavilion is complete and ready for enjoyment this fall. In addition, spurred by funding from our 2023 Auction, we are working on design plans to enhance and improve our Upper School Library in 2024.

If you have made it to this point of my letter, bless you and thank you for your stamina. I am truly grateful for everyone’s support of our boys and the broader St. Christopher’s community, and I am eager to partner with all of you to ensure a positively transformative experience for our boys in this year and in years to come. 


Mason Lecky