At each grade level of the Harold C. Schott Middle School, a capstone research presentation wraps up the students’ cross-curricular lessons about a particular trait in The Summit’s Character Education Program.
The Summit formally developed its Character Education Program in the 1990s and revised it in 2011-12 to be codified in curriculum, intentionally taught and age-appropriate. For an entire year, faculty at each grade level, from preschool to 12th, work together to focus on one character trait while teaching their curriculum. They might stress the perseverance of explorers in history class, compassion for the downtrodden in literature or respect for others in religion class. Parents and grandparents are encouraged to extend lessons through teachable moments at home.
Development of both performance and moral character is at the core of the program. Performance character embraces qualities such as diligence, self-discipline and perseverance, which are needed to achieve in academics, athletics and the workplace. Moral character includes qualities such as caring, respect and justice, which are necessary for success in interpersonal relationships and social conduct. The cross-curricular activities in the capstone programs incorporate research, writing and presentation skills.
Middle School Director Mike Johnson worked with his faculty to develop capstone research presentations. At The Summit, character education is integrated into the curriculum – it’s not an add-on piece. “Because of who we are as a school, we’ve been teaching these character traits since 1890," Mr. Johnson said. "We’ve been about the formation of character, the formation of conscience and the formation of faith."
Grade 5: Courage
Each student selects and researches the background of a historical or literary figure who displayed great courage. At the end of the year, the fifth graders come to school dressed as their subjects and present the Wax Museum of Courage to family members, faculty and other students. Each student delivers a short biography as their figure “comes to life.”
Grade 6: Perseverance
The sixth graders’ studies culminate in the Invention Convention. Student teams are required to create an invention that solves or alleviates a global problem, such as access to safe water, habitat destruction, air pollution and energy conservation. Guests to the convention are given five pretend $100 bills to invest as they see fit. The children learn perseverance as they work through iterations of their invention. They also learn about business finances as they cost out their inventions to be sure they are feasible.
Grade 7: Accountability
For “The Art of Acceptance” project, students select topics surrounding individuals living with vision problems, impaired hearing, other physical limitations or Down syndrome. During field trips, they meet people facing those challenges. The students build historical timelines about the different conditions in social studies class, and they research symptoms and physiological explanations in science class. In language arts class, they consider how people with disabilities have been treated and what accommodations have been made, and in religion class they create interactive simulations. The students then compile their individual research with other classmates’ contributions to present age-appropriate material to Lower School classrooms. “This capstone experience necessitates accountability from each and every one of our students,” Middle School science teacher Joy Parker said. The seventh graders are responsible not only for their own knowledge and understanding, but also for their contributions to their group and for the understanding fostered in the younger students.
Grade 8: Justice
Eighth graders record the experiences of individuals who have fought injustice and share their stories each year through video, song and in the book Hear My Story; Be My Voice: Giving a Voice to Humanity. In the name of restorative justice, they interview survivors of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, war veterans, people who grew up in poverty, operators of small family farms, immigrants, civil rights activists, Peace Corps volunteers, recovering addicts and others. The students also research the history of each subject’s struggle. A Celebration of Voices program is held in May in the Chapel. Beyond building empathy for the less fortunate, the program builds the students’ skills in research, interviewing, writing, public speaking and artistic expression.