Stories from the Field

Celebrating a Champion for D.C. Youth: Principal Hamish Brewer

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It’s not every day that a school administrator drops in for breakfast at our Prince William Forest dining hall, but the tattooed, skateboarding principal of Fred M. Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge, Virginia is not your average administrator. 

A champion for students, Hamish Brewer has dedicated his life’s work to being his most authentic self to the kids he serves. Since stepping in as principal, Hamish has ensured that his seventh grade students continue to experience a NatureBridge environmental science program, completely free of charge.

“At Fred Lynn, we believe in educating the whole child—mind, body and spirit—learning is not just academics in the classroom,” said Hamish.

Met with eager grins and cheers, Hamish stood in front of students as they fueled up for another day of discovery at Prince William last month. Encouraging the group to pause and look around, he asked each student to recognize the opportunity that was in front of them and to take advantage of every moment. 

Hamish’s visit was illustrative of the transformation he has led at the school. In 2017, Fred Lynn was struggling. At the time, the associate superintendent of Prince William County middle schools told the Washington Post that the school was up against the “greatest challenges” of any in the district. Unable to meet Virginia state standards for English and science curriculum, Fred Lynn lost its accreditation. 

To say that things began to turn around when Hamish, a New Zealand native, stepped in as principal in the fall of 2017 would be an understatement. Less than a year after taking over, Hamish led the school back to accreditation. Enrollment began to rise at such a rate that classroom trailers were brought in and more teachers were hired.

“Hamish knows how to build relationships and foster trust,” said eighth grade science teacher Danvy Chung while out on the trail with Fred Lynn students during their NatureBridge program. “He sees the value in sometimes having to pause a school lesson to focus on crucial social and life lessons. He’s known for being countercultural, pushing the norms and making school more fun.” 

The teachers worked hard, the students worked hard—within Hamish's first year he got the school accredited.
Ms. Danvy Chung, Fred Lynn eighth grade science teacher

Known for that countercultural approach, Hamish has been a catalyst for the rise of heightened enrollment, increased community support and improved test scores. And he believes strongly in outdoor education.

“You see kids change, they let their guard down and open up their minds and hearts and it becomes an amazing experience for them. They come back different, with a sense of pride and appreciation,” said Hamish. “It’s an outstanding and invaluable opportunity that many of our students would not get without NatureBridge.”

A Title 1 school, all students at Fred Lynn receive free breakfast and dinner daily. Nearly 90% of students receive free lunch. Sixty percent of Fred Lynn students are English as a second or foreign language (ESOL) speakers and 82% are economically disadvantaged. 

Amidst the many hurdles he is regularly jumping to ensure that his students have access to the resources they need, Hamish has made sure to keep NatureBridge in the budget. He’s even hoping to bring another group back in the spring.

NatureBridge provides an opportunity for children who are at risk of not having authentic learning experiences outside.
Mr. Hamish Brewer, Fred Lynn Principal

While students took part in tree identification activities that included describing the qualities of a tree while blindfolded, Fred Lynn Athletic Director Mr. Thomas Annunziata emphasized how NatureBridge is directly in line with Fred Lynn’s new programming that focuses on community, life skills, nutrition, healthy behavior and conservation.

They have an opportunity to learn about their friends in a whole new way—they feel a sense of community, a sense of pride and you see these leadership qualities start to emerge. Because they’re out there together, they’re relying on each other in order to be successful.
Mr. Thomas Annunziata, Fred Lynn Athletic Director

And perhaps most importantly, Fred Lynn school leaders know that NatureBridge provides students a safe space for fostering new friendships.

“Who made a friend here at NatureBridge that they didn’t have before?” asked Thomas on the trail one day. Everyone raised their hand. 

“We’re all family, it’s our number one rule at Fred Lynn—it doesn’t matter what anyone looks like or their background,” he said. “I could work anywhere I want, but I choose to teach here because of the impact we can have on these kids.”

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