A Conversation With Laura and Halsey Morris P ’25, ’26, ’28
Ingrained in the fabric of the community, Fessenden is a family school for the Morris family. For Halsey and Laura P ’25, ’26, ’28, their time at the School began in 2008, when Laura worked as a Kindergarten teacher and in Lower School admissions before moving to London in 2015. Upon the family’s return in 2017, their three boys—Pierce, Teddy, and Grant—became students, and Laura served as Parents Association President and as an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees for two and a half years. Laura has since returned to work in the Lower School admissions office. Throughout all of their time as part of the School, Halsey and Laura have been steadfast advocates and supporters of Fessenden in a multitude of ways, including through their philanthropy to the Annual Fund and, most recently, with an outstanding commitment to establish the Morris Family Scholarship Fund for Lower School financial aid.
Designed to meet the needs of students who benefit from and contribute to the community, the School’s financial aid program supports families regardless of their financial situations. The need for assistance for highly-qualified students has increased dramatically, and it remains a critical priority for the School to provide more opportunities for boys to benefit from a Fessenden education. By establishing the Morris Family Scholarship Fund, Halsey and Laura are significantly increasing the School’s efforts to create important opportunities for deserving students.
Can you describe the impact Fessenden has had on your family?
Fessenden has had an incredible impact on our three children and, therefore, our family. Beyond the academics, the School has given us so much. From the specialists to the social-emotional support and care, we have seen tremendous growth in our boys since they arrived at Fessy—it’s remarkable. The School is so special and is truly an extension of our family. We want to help provide this experience to other deserving families wherever and whenever possible.
What is one of your favorite memories or experiences at Fessenden?
We can’t pinpoint just one, but the work of their teachers really stands out to us. They spark creativity and interest in areas that we never would have imagined. Pierce loves poetry and social studies; Teddy loves the Ciongoli Center for Innovation and physical education; and Grant loves art and multiplication. The boys were exposed to all of these areas at school, and it is through their teachers’ work that these interests have been fostered and nurtured. We also love the performances. You can see how hard the students work on them, and even the shyest boy finds his place and confidence on the stage—it’s amazing to see. While we can’t do them right now, in-class visits are incredibly meaningful—to see students in their element and so proud of the work they’ve done, and to witness the relationships between students and teachers in the classroom. When you have the opportunity to see firsthand how much confidence the students have, it’s very impactful.
Why have you made Fessenden one of your philanthropic priorities?
Even before we had kids, we had an interest in education. We also had an understanding of how important the foundation of elementary education is. Prior to Fessenden, I (Laura) had never taught in a single-gender school before, and when I started as a Kindergarten teacher in 2008, I witnessed the breadth and depth of an all-boys education. There are all different types of boys at Fessenden, and each one is met where he is and can thrive. They are appropriately challenged, supported, modeled for, and embraced. We feel it is an important part of any school’s ability to have an impact in those early years.
What motivated you to support financial aid?
We wanted to help provide very mission-appropriate and deserving children with the opportunity to have the Fessenden experience—one that allows creativity, support, collaboration, friendship, and lifelong connections, which we feel are the foundation of an excellent education. Now, working at Fessenden in the Lower School admissions office, having that perspective, and seeing how we are always advocating for well-deserving students to attend Fessy is very powerful. It only helped to cement our belief in how essential it is to make a Fessy education an option for as many students as possible through our commitment to financial aid.
Are there particular relationships you have or had with people at the School that inspired your philanthropy?
It all starts with the teachers—the mission only works with them. The dedication and passion they have is incredible. Each year, we’ve witnessed the teachers rise to the occasion and make that mission real for our boys in every grade. There is an excellence and consistency of the Fessy teachers throughout all grades that we’ve experienced with our boys.
What impact do you hope to have through your giving?
Our hope is to help provide opportunities to well-deserving students and families to become members of the Fessenden community, and benefit from all that Fessenden has to offer. We believe in the importance of a learning environment where all boys can learn about varied backgrounds and perspectives. The School has an amazing community and really incredible people, and we are passionate about helping to move Fessenden forward in embodying its strong mission.
The Morris family’s generosity of time, talent, and philanthropic support has made—and will continue to make—a lasting impact on our community. Head of School Steve Armstrong remarks, “their commitment to the current students, as well as to generations of Fessy students that will walk through these halls, is deeply appreciated and sets a powerful example for others. Because of them, Fessenden is an even better place for boys to learn and grow.”This article originally appeared in the 2019-20 issue of Red & Gray Magazine and Report of Giving. View the full issue here.