Character Education at Loudoun Country Day School
by Dr. E. Randall Hollister
Martin Luther King said, “Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” These noble words are as true and important today as ever. The development of positive character traits is a key component of our LCDS mission, and I am proud of the numerous, specific character-building programs in which your children are engaged all year.
For the past couple of Fridays, for example, we have brought our seventh and eighth graders into Leesburg to perform various community service activities. Some of the students worked at the Salvation Army and Hope’s Treasures thrift shops, while others played violins, saxophones, pianos, clarinets, cellos, and flutes at the Heritage Hall and Meadow Glen assisted living facilities. We do this several times each year. Last fall, I had the pleasure of supervising a group of our eighth graders who played their musical instruments at Sunrise of Leesburg. Expressions of joy radiated from the residents as our students played for them. Many tapped to the beat of familiar tunes and some sang along during portions of songs. The experience was deeply moving. Just as gratifying was seeing the looks of fulfillment on the faces of our students. They knew that they had done something worthwhile, and that their efforts made a difference to the lives of the residents. It was a humbling experience.
During the year, students in each grade have the opportunity to work in support of a specific charitable cause. April is assigned to the second grade. A handful of second graders did a brief presentation at our recent Monday assembly introducing their charitable cause: Soles4Souls. After spring break, they will be collecting new and used shoes that they will donate to the Soles4Souls organization. I am sure you will be hearing more about this in the coming days.
It has been a great year for organizations supported by your children. Mrs. Kelahan informed me that last fall more than $5,600 was raised for Paws4Vets. That was followed in November by the third grade’s Thanksgiving Food Drive. Mrs. Cross told me that they collected a ton of food (literally: 2,325 pounds), assembled 122 complete Thanksgiving bags, and provided 122 $10 gift cards for turkeys. The third grade students were intimately involved in every part of this process. They went to Interfaith Relief, met the director, and heard about how the food pantry operates. They collected and organized the food on the tables in our hallway, ran the doughnut sale, created shopping lists, visited Harris Teeter to purchase additional food items, packed the bags, and loaded them into parent vehicles. I joined them when they went to Interfaith Relief and watched them carry the bags onto the scales to be weighed. Our third grader’s commitment to this important cause is inspiring.
In December, the prekindergarten and kindergarten students held their Holiday Pajama Drive. Mrs. Roberts told me that they collected 170 pairs of new children’s pajamas that were sent to Mobile Hope of Leesburg. March is claimed by the fourth and fifth grade members of the Lower School Student Council. Under the stewardship of Mrs. White and Ms. O’Dell, they raised about $800 from their St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser, which was used to support the charity that they selected: the Loudoun Animal Shelter. If you escorted your child into school on St. Patrick’s Day, you may have noticed that the students themselves manned the tables where the items were sold. We want the students to ‘own’ the cause and the work that is done to support it.
Although our students learn about caring, community, and selflessness from participating in these specific programs, they are engaged in character development all of the time at LCDS. Some of our activities are explicitly tied to character. For example, during our assemblies, students perform skits or show videos that they produce themselves, highlighting a specific character trait associated with that month. Teachers also award commendations during the assemblies for conspicuous displays of character and kindness.
Ultimately, however, it is the humanitarian spirit that we strive to create in our program that does the most to build character. In our classrooms, teachers promote a culture of respect, fairness and trustworthiness, by praising students when they display those traits and also by holding students accountable when they do not. Our coaches emphasize sportsmanship and teamwork over wins and losses. This commitment is woven into every aspect of your child’s experience, whether they are at recess, in the lunchroom, or walking down the hallways. We try to create an atmosphere in which the values of honesty, respect, citizenship, fairness, empathy, responsibility, teamwork, and perseverance are promoted, rewarded, taught, and lived.
I will close by referring again to Dr. King. In his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, he challenged us to value each other, above all other criteria, according to the content of our character. At LCDS we are committed to educating your children with Dr. King’s inspiring standard in mind.