Dear Flint Hill School Family,
As parents, one of the key areas of our children’s education that often draws our attention on a daily basis is what we refer to as the “social-emotional” aspects of learning. We know it is important that they learn how to read, write and perform well in all the academic subjects we have in our educational program. However, the skills and traits of how they deal with others clearly have a profound impact in and out of the classroom. How to be nice to other people and how to be a good person are key aspects of their education at home and at Flint Hill. At home, we see it in how they treat their siblings, in how they talk to and treat their friends, and even in how they talk to us as they grow up and become adolescents. Bottom line, it is the “character” aspect of education that, at home and school, really needs to be front and center.
At school, much of this falls on our focus on the core values of honesty, respect, responsibility and compassion, with special emphasis on the respect and compassion components. This will ultimately lead all our children to a sense of responsibility and to take action on their feelings of compassion. The questions here are: “how do they take this sense of concern for others?” and “how do we make this a trait that becomes part of their identity and that they own?”
As parents and as educators, we all play an important role here. I will say that I see it happening every day. I often see it in the utterance of the words “thank you.” Teachers, in all three divisions, report that our Flint Hill students always say “thank you” when they leave at the end of the day or at the end of a class; not “goodbye” or “have a great weekend,” although those may be scattered in their parting words. I hear it even when I hold the door for students at the start of town meetings or at the end of a fire drill. In fact, I never get to greet them much, because I am constantly saying “you are welcome” in response to the countless “thank yous” I receive for holding the door. I see it even in our youngest students when they greet adults who are visiting. I watch our students, at all ages, look people in the eyes and sometimes respectfully ask if they need help getting to a particular office. That sense of respectfully responding to an adult makes them feel welcome. Just yesterday, a parent came into my Middle School Parent Discussion Coffee smiling. She was pleased, but a bit surprised, as she reported that a small Lower School child had passed her in the hall, looked up at her and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” She was touched and appreciative of that very simple and warm greeting.
A strong approach to fostering these values often comes in our efforts to promote community service and service learning. From the annual Special Olympics Event to fundraisers like Empty Bowls, our students learn early how fortunate they are, as they develop an early commitment to “giving back” to their communities. The question of how we treat and reach out to others remains at the forefront.
In the Lower School, for example, we have the Buddy Bench. This is a simple idea to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground. Above all, it sends a message of inclusion and kindness. Our Fourth Grade students host a yearly “Family Fun Fair,” with all proceeds and donations going to an international program called “Stop Hunger Now.” Their efforts help donate 10,000 meals to a relief organization that distributes food to the less privileged. It is a day of hard work, and one that ultimately ends with great satisfaction, with our students knowing full well that they have made a difference. In our Middle School, our Eighth Grade students host their Service Fair in the spring, an event during which each student showcases the community service activity he or she has supported throughout the year. And in the Upper School, while our students know that they need to engage in 15 hours of community service every year, we have an enormous number of students who often earn a presidential recognition for performing more than 100 hours of service.
Next Saturday, February 25, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., our Clay Club will host the annual Empty Bowls event. Students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni have worked tirelessly to create ceramic bowls that will be available for auction and donations, which will benefit the DC Central Kitchen. Please join us! You will see some incredible artwork, and you will also gain an insight into the sense of empathy and compassion that our students have developed as they do this outreach to support the members of the community who need it. One of the most important aspects of this effort is the fact that our Clay Club has visited DC Central Kitchen to actively support and get to know the people who use the organization’s services. They have experienced the impact of their efforts first hand.
We play our part by making service and awareness of others key aspects of the education we provide — you can do your part by integrating these themes into the way you parent at home. We all want our children to be nice to others, to be grateful for what they have been given, and to be willing to share and to help others feel valued and respected. These ideas set the foundation for their confidence and their competence, and provide them with a moral, spiritual and an ethical center as people. By now you may be familiar with my love for country music. Rascal Flatts has a song called, “I Won’t Let Go,” which is all about being there for others. I wanted to share it with you because the lyrics are powerful and inspirational.
During the sometimes challenging adolescent years for our two older boys, Emily and I would marvel at some of the comments we heard about our sons. People would say things like, “We met your son, and what a nice boy he is! He was polite, respectful and very impressive.” We would often look at each other and say, “We may not see that at home, but we sure are glad that this is how they are presenting themselves in public.” Over time, and having worked now with thousands of children, we realized that those lessons are learned. Our children are watching us and learning about those values.
While we have trained educators here at school, parents are their children’s “first teachers,” and teachers can be a child’s “second parents.” Together, let’s make sure we continue to make this aspect of education a priority.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas