Setting Up Students to Thrive
We have a vision of a Middle School community that leads with empathy, engages in joyful, compassionate, and innovative teaching and learning, fosters healthy communication that does not shy away from difficult conversations, and is proud of its Jewish heritage. For early adolescents who are searching for their place in this world, that is no small feat, which is why we started this year with a Lion Pride Week that engaged our students in self-reflection, goal setting, empathy building, joyful celebration, and community service. Students, in particular our 8th grade students, spent the week discussing the active role they play as maturing young adults to both create and maintain this vision.
According to Dr. Michele Borba’s book Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, there are seven essential character strengths that help someone become a “thriver”: self respect, integrity, self control, empathy, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism. Just as we, the faculty, read Dr. Borba’s work this summer as part of our school wide read, students also explored these seven character strengths on the second day of Lion Pride Week. Two days later, our students compared and contrasted the Portrait of a CESJDS Graduate, the general skills we are focusing on this year for Student Led Conferences, and the seven skills of a thriver. Together they recognized how these visions work in concert with one another and that as individuals they each are accountable to themselves to make choices that will help them grow these skill areas. Throughout this process, I was so impressed by our students. It isn’t always easy to engage in meaningful and deep reflection right after summer break, but our students dove right into this work without ever missing a beat.
Empathy directly relates to our CESJDS value of Tikkun Olam/Repairing the World. In addition to focusing on the self, we made clear our commitment to Tikkun Olam by holding our Lehman Day of Service on the first Friday of the school year. All of our middle school students spent their first field trip learning about the Chesapeake Watershed and how cleaning up Montgomery County parks can impact local communities and ecology. Together, our students collected 75 bags of trash! The pride they felt when they realized what they had accomplished together was electric.
Finally, last week each grade went on its own field trip to establish stronger community bonds within the grade. 8th grade students focused on civic leadership at the National Mall, while 7th Grade and 6th Grade students pushed their individual limits as they cheered on their peers at Sandy Springs Adventure Park and Bar T Mountainside, respectively. As part of our experiential learning program, students debriefed their experiences in their Morning Check In (MCI) groups through games and discussions. Faculty members created spaces for students to reflect on their experiences and begin articulating their thoughts, feelings, and observations, fostering important life skills such as getting curious, thinking critically and creatively, problem solving, taking appropriate risks, leading with empathy, and building their self awareness. These in turn lead to greater self-confidence and a more positive outlook. I was floored by the depth and breadth of our middle school faculty’s expertise and skills as they led our students through this important work.
With Rosh Hashanah on the horizon, I pray that this new year is a time when our students and faculty can thrive individually as they bring their enthusiasm, passion, and deep desire to live our communal vision.
May this year be a blessing for all and may each of you be sealed in the book of life.
גמר חתימה טובה ושנה טובה