Academic excellence has been the hallmark of The Summit since 1890 but the founding Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur wanted the young scholars they sent into the world to also be people of good character. This focus continues in our Character Education Program, a multi-year immersion in character traits through curriculum and campus life activities from preschool through 12th grade. Teaching character education opens students' minds to new experiences, diversity, acceptance and curiosity.
Character Education is embedded in everything at The Summit. It is part of The Summit Way. The Summit’s Character Education program is codified in curriculum, intentionally taught and age-appropriate. Teachers at each grade level focus on one character trait that is implicit in their curriculum – the perseverance of explorers in history class, compassion for the downtrodden in literature or respect for others in religion class – for an entire year.
Parents and grandparents are encouraged to extend the focus through teachable moments beyond the school day.
Character Education begins when two-year-old toddlers walk in and continues until seniors walk out. Two-year-olds learn how to greet each other and share materials. Montessori teachers stress the importance of having a "peaceful classroom" by modeling good behavior and teaching children to appreciate diversity. “Kindness is the way to begin teaching character education,” says Montessori Director Phyllis Schueler. “When you bring a baby into a house, the first thing you teach the older children is to be kind, be gentle. Young children can easily see and feel kindness.”
As students progress through the grades, they are challenged to understand and internalize these 13 separate character traits:
Grade 1: Caring
Grade 2: Respect
Grade 3: Fairness
Grade 4: Responsibility
Grade 5: Courage
Grade 6: Perseverance
Grade 7: Accountability
Grade 8: Justice
Grade 9: Patience
Grade 10: Humility
Grade 11: Compassion
Grade 12: Gratitude
Character Education is integrated into the curriculum, not an add-on curricular piece, says Middle School Director Mike Johnson. “Because of who we are as a school, we’ve been teaching these character traits since 1890. We’ve been about the formation of character, the formation of conscience and the formation of faith since we started.”
The hope, says Dr. Terry Malone, Upper School Director, is to ground each child fully in academics and good character so that the graduates who walk out the door are both smart and good. “You can’t just have smart students. It isn’t enough. You also can’t have an ethical student who isn’t smart. You have to develop the whole child.” Codification of character traits to age-appropriate curriculum is a kind of pact with parents, guaranteeing that information is covered, he says. “It ensures that students somewhere along the way got it, and it never slipped through the cracks.”
Character Education is also reinforced in classroom projects and service learning. For example, the Lower School Garden for the Good offers lessons in environmental stewardship, nutrition and art while providing food for local food banks. In fifth grade, students research a courageous historical or literary figure and then tell the character’s story in costume and in first-person during a “Wax Museum of Courage” event. Middle School students earn service hours for confirmation and National Junior Honor Society. An annual campus-wide service learning project, Hands Across the Water, provides an opportunity to study the global water crisis while raising money to provide water purification packets for children in the developing world. Students in the Upper School explore self-awareness through writing, oratory, retreats and community outreach. Art and athletics stress appreciation of diversity and model excellence in leadership. Chapel Talks allow students to reflect. Formation Week builds relationships while performing service to the community. Juniors spend three days and nights at a Kairos retreat.
Parents have become involved in The Summit's Character Education endeavors. The Summit Parents Association created the Sisters of Notre Dame Outreach Group to build awareness and support of the Sisters' work. Parents also have developed a Service Learning Directory to help students and parents learn more about community service opportunities in the area.
Parent Gina Berry sees value in the Character Education program because it begins in the early years and is sustained over time. “We don't want our children learning character while facing more difficult decisions when they are older; it should be taught early, during their developmental years,” she says. “Summit is dedicated and focused on this.”
Fifth Grade: "Living Wax Museum of Courage"
Eighth Grade: "Hear My Story | Be My Voice"