The Hill School
Ellen Nelson, Faculty Advisor to the Honor Council
Zachary Lehman, Head of School
The Hill School is a community of some 500 students with a mission to prepare young people to lead as citizens of the world. The School’s motto, “Whatsoever things are true,” runs in filigree through life at The Hill; for students the motto is a specific reference to honor and integrity.
Honor and integrity are woven first and foremost into coursework at The Hill. Students comment on the number of teachers who address the School’s motto in the context of a normal class experience. The theme is also central to The Hill’s Personal Development Seminars, to the advisory program, and to the residential life curriculum.
Where the rubber meets the road, of course, is in student life. CSEE visitors to the School were more than impressed by their casual interactions with students. Those we had the opportunity to interact with knew what their school wanted of them, and they spoke with remarkable consensus to the fact that being at The Hill means strong relationships as much as it means growing into integrity. Integrity is not just visually present—the motto is painted above several doorways—but also verbally. In addition to its presence in coursework, it also arises in chapel services, in the themes of guest speakers visiting the school, and in other scenarios.
The Hill adopted an honor code, supported by an honor council, in the late 1990s. The honor council is composed primarily of students, as in most schools, but honor council members at The Hill School are not just adjudicators of innocence or guilt, they also act in counseling and educational roles. The intersection of relationships and honor is further seen in a newly instituted Character Mentorship Program, designed to give students who have been found at fault in the school’s Honor Hearing process additional support as they reenter normal school life. In one discussion group with the visitors a young woman spoke with considerable affection about a classmate who was a member of the honor council, and about her admiration for how the classmate was able to straddle those two important roles: judge/authority figure when needing to play that role, and friend/confident when called upon to offer support to peers.
A final point of admiration for The Hill School concerns the School’s efforts to be responsible about assessing its effectiveness in matters relating to ethical life. Assessment currently takes place, and is ongoing, via both formal discussion and survey instruments. The Hill is ahead of its peers in this regard.
All Saints Episcopal Day School
Michele Rench, Head of School
All Saints Episcopal Day School is a Pre-K through Grade 8 school of 220 students in Carmel, California with a commitment to work on character with both depth and breadth. The school stands out as much for its dedication to service as for its commitment to values. Both service and values are integrated throughout the school.
All Saints’ commitment to character development is strongly supported by both the Board of Trustees and Head of School Michele Rench. One manifestation of such commitment regards an appointed Director of Character Education in the person of Deanna Cleary. Cleary works closely with Lower Grade Head, Linda Paul, in a program that filters through many other staff members and into nearly every classroom. Chaplain Holly Hudson-Lewis incorporates character themes into regular chapel gatherings; indeed, chapel is part of the character program, and spiritual development at All Saints goes hand in hand with character growth.
The All Saints Day School is evaluated regularly via discussions, and surveys completed by both students and teachers.
Three facets of the school’s commitment to character help the All Saints program stand out. The first of these is the amount of professional development time allocated to fostering character development at the school. Most notably, time for character education is frequently woven into faculty meetings, thus ensuring that all faculty members are mindful of important developments in the field, and plans for the school. Program coordinator Cleary has also been supported in her completion of a Graduate Certificate in Character Development from the Character Development Center at the University of San Diego. Numbers of All Saints’ staff members have also participated in the social and emotional learning conferences hosted by the Nueva School in California. Additional professional development takes place through CSEE events and those of the University of San Diego, and other organizations.
The Bean Program, now in its 20th year at the school, involves a well-organized cadre of students breaking down large bags of pinto beans into 4-pound parcels to be distributed to needy families in the Salinas Valley. For many of these families, beans and rice are staple dietary items. “Bean bagging,” as both a verb and a noun, is integral to life at All Saints. Different grades work on different days, with each grade bagging beans four times during the school year. The beans are loaded into a vehicle to be distributed by a 94-year-old friend of the school who began the program over three decades ago. Students take pride in both the speed with which they carry out their duties and the respect they pay to cleanliness and care in their work.
A third highly respected tradition at the School—also a practice lauded by character educators everywhere—is the All Saints buddies program that pairs older students with younger ones. Buddies get together during occasional chapel meetings, they work together for bean bagging, and join forces for other activities that arise. The program helps foster relationships, gives younger children an older student to look up to, and allows older students to play a meaningful role in the maintenance of school culture. See more about All Saints Day School.
The Peck School
John Kowalik, Head of School
The Peck School, a K - 8 school of some 340 students in Morristown, NJ, joins CSEE's growing list of schools recognized for excellent practices for ethical education.
The Peck School affirms its commitment to ethical excellence from the outset. In the first two lines of the school's mission statement prospective students learn, and the Peck community is reminded, that "We believe that knowledge must be guided by values. Through a commitment to character formation and a rigorous and inspirational academic program, The Peck School strives to build in each student a capacity for disciplined learning and consideration of others."
The school has a strongly conceived and well-integrated (both curriculum and extracurriculars) character program titled "Individual Development and Community Responsibility" (InDeCoRe). Peck has six core values identified—respect, responsibility, empathy, honesty, perseverance, and loyalty—each of which is addressed consciously in the classroom: in the context of "self" in grades 1 and 2, of "family" in grades 3 and 4, of the "school" in grades 5 and 6, and of the local "community" in grades 7 and 8.
Especially impressive at The Peck School is the fact that the school's mission is recognized by students. Not only do students know Peck's core values, they are able to discuss them and to recognize them in action, including in their own behavior. This is, of course, where all good schools want to be! See more about Peck School.
The Walker School
Don Robertson, Head of School
The Walker School is a Pre-K through Grade 12 school with over a thousand students, and proof that big schools can do exemplary work for ethical education as well as small schools. Two basics lie behind Walker's accomplishments. The first is that the core moral value of integrity is central to Walker's mission; the mission is prominently visible throughout the school, and the Walker faculty is aware that—along with creativity, a lifelong love of learning, and the creation of a nurturing environment—integrity is the goal. The second basic—and key to Walker's success—is that Walker educators see themselves as both academic mentors and character trainers: ethical education is a shared responsibility, and is thus integrated into the curriculum and extracurriculars at all levels. Walker students further know that their teachers and their school have character goals for them, and are quick to mention integrity and trusting relationships as central to these goals.
The Walker character program varies from level to level, as it should, with innovative, solid practices tying each division together—but always with the focus of high quality, relationships of trust and integrity. See more about Walker here.
Kent Denver School
Todd Horn, Head of School
Kent Denver School is a community of some 750 adults and students working together for excellence in both scholarship and character.
Community life at Kent Denver is imbued with five core values that run in filigree through academics, athletics, and other activities. Students are empowered to play meaningful roles in a variety of ways, the school works to build relationships of trust and support both within its own walls and in the larger Denver community.
Kent Denver’s core values— integrity, respect, personal growth, community, and wisdom —were determined through a broad-based community consensus process that synthesized the thoughts and opinions of teachers, students, trustees and parents. The school’s trustees regularly affirm, and in a variety of ways, their support for Kent Denver’s character work and values. Students likewise keep in mind the character traits selected to be defining characteristics of the community. The fact that 80% or more of juniors and seniors could name all five values—an estimate offered by students and faculty and confirmed during a campus visit—attests both to Kent Denver’s determination to live out its mission for character, and to integration of the values throughout the life of the school. As one senior explained, even “the coaches are always talking about our values.”
Worth special mention are at least three specific aspects of Kent Denver’s commitment character. One of these is an extensive service “program” that sees the school (at its own expense) making a noticeable impact in a dozen of the lowest-funded schools in the Denver public school system. Students from these schools come to Kent Denver for six weeks of work and play during summers, in a program that has increased the rate of college admissions in these schools and shown students to make a year’s progress in academic areas during a six-week program. Kent Denver also has an impressive student mentoring program, in which seniors and eighth graders work as mentors to freshmen and sixth grade students, smoothing transitions into their respective divisions and passing the torch of the community’s values to a new class. In a third initiative, all Kent Denver students write a “this I believe” essay each year: an initiative that both focuses students on key values in their lives and triggers deep ethical reflections, apologies, and acts of kindness and compassion. See more about Kent Denver School.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School
Coconut Grove, Florida
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School is a PreK through Grade 5 place of active learning with a strong community focus and a mission for both academic excellence and spiritual growth. The two branches of the school’s mission are visible at all levels within the school, with trustees doing their part to lead the way.
Faculty, staff, trustees and members of the vestry at St. Stephens sign a covenant at the beginning of each school year. The covenant serves at least two purposes: it is a reminder of the commitment all adults in the community have toward the young people the school serves; it is also a public statement of support for the school’s mission. And it is indeed a public statement: rather than sit in an out-of-the-way room reserved for occasional use, the signed document hangs over one of the most frequently traveled doorways in the school. Signatories pledge, among a few other things, to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the children of the school, to love and care for each child, to lead by example in their commitment to love, and to take responsibility for fostering a sense of community.
Character and spirit are integrated at St. Stephen’s, as they ideally should be. For the faculty, the spiritual values are character values, and the character virtues are spiritual virtues—the difference being that the latter are seen as infused and enriched by the spirit of the Lord.
Explicit in mission/integrated into life
Though St. Stephens’ mission to provide students with ethical and spiritual foundations is explicit, growth of the spirit is also woven into the pledge that students make each morning. When the pledge of allegiance is finished, students recite their character pledge: “With God’s help I will be respectful, honest, kind, inclusive, responsible, and a good ambassador.”
The character pledge is followed by one additional set of statements, committing them to respect the earth and care for its resources.
Oversight: Spiritual Development Committee
Spiritual life is overseen specifically by school chaplain Vanessa Stone, with the full support of Head of School Silvia Larrauri. The chaplain works with a Spiritual Development Committee, a group of seven teachers from a variety of disciplines. The committee has developed a set of goals they want all St. Stephen’s students to reach, and a Spiritual Development Pathway (see below, Integration).
The school’s core character values are addressed in a variety of ways and in a variety of venues, and—as stated above—are looked upon as both character values and spiritual virtues.
The adults at St. Stephens have taken the time to think through their goals for spiritual growth in students. In a beautifully appropriate way, they also realize that spiritual life cannot be mandated; adults can set goals (there are currently twelve), and it is their duty to teach and model the goals; but how spiritual seeds take root is, ultimately, between the child and God.
The goals on the “spiritual pathway” St. Stephens has outlined include such items as students believing that all are children of God, that God is a God of love, that God’s love is unconditional, that students know they are created with a purpose and are “personally responsible to cultivate the seeds of greatness within them,” and that each recognizes his or her responsibility for exhibiting the moral and ethical values mentioned daily in their pledge.
There are elements in the spiritual pathway that are—as should be the case—specifically Christian and in some cases specifically Episcopal: “that each child understands the basic tenets of the Christian faith as put forth in the Nicene Creed and our Episcopal traditions, Sacraments, and the Holy Eucharist,” and that by 5th grade students be able to navigate the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. At the same time, the school’s message of, and commitment to, inclusivity is also clear in its goals: that each child is responsible for creating his or her own personal relationship to God, that each student values and respects other faith traditions, and that each child has the ability to pray in accord with his or her own faith tradition.
Integration into curriculum
St. Stephens is outstanding in the extent to which teachers are able and willing to integrate character and spirit into their classwork. Even the math classroom—an area where teachers sometime struggle to find ways to integrate character or spiritual development—is successful in making appropriate connections. To offer but one example, one teacher has students do a “philanthropy” lesson, asking them to think about the needs of others on a multi-dimensional “winning the lottery” math assignment.
Beyond the morning pledges mentioned above, the signs of St. Stephens’ commitment to nurturing the spirit are plentiful throughout the school. Posters are ubiquitous, including student-made family trees that display the rich religious lineages in many children’s families (my father is Rasta, my mother is Jewish; I’m Catholic, and so are my parents).
Students and teachers at St. Stephens use iPads, complete with QR readers; Chaplain Stone has placed QR codes at a variety of places around the school. Those who read them are reminded of some facet of the school’s goals for character and or spiritual development.
The pledge to the earth that is recited in chapel is followed up in action. The school cafeteria uses the corn-based compostable glasses and eating utensils when non-disposable flatware cannot be used, and recycling is the norm.
Chaplain Stone and her committee have done a variety of things to assess progress. Faculty discuss the program, of course, and make adjustments as needed. The program is also discussed with students for their suggestions. St. Stephen’s has also used an adaptation of CSEE’s Spiritual Climate Survey. The SCS was developed and field tested with grades 6 - 12. Stone took questions and topics that were relevant to the school’s goals, the ages of St. Stephen’s students, and the culture of the school, and devised her own Survey Monkey questionnaire. She thus now has both a more objective look at the program than is normally available from personal interviews or general discussions with either faculty or students; and she has baseline data to help assess progress in future endeavors.
What do students say?
The consensus heard during a CSEE visit is that students hear and like the school’s spiritual message. When asked, they uniformly say there is a God, God loves us, and God wants us to be good. The school is unabashedly Episcopal—in name as well as in practice—and yet the young people we had a chance to talk with were clear that if one were Roman Catholic or Jewish or any of a number of other traditions, there is neither pressure to hide the fact nor to “change sides” (these comments were supported in the survey results). It is truly a message of full inclusion, inclusion even of those who are not sure there is a God.
Most importantly, St. Stephen’s knows it is not perfect. There are things they know they could do better, and steps are continually under way to improve to the extent possible. But where many schools endeavor to get heads and hearts together, St. Stephen’s is marching ahead with head, heart, and hand.