Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.
Episcopal Middle School students are learning considerably more than reading, writing and arithmetic. In keeping with the traditions of an Episcopal education, teachers strive to instill each lesson with exercises in empathy and respectful discourse. Students also take part in activities to encourage the development of critical and independent thinking. This approach is felt throughout all divisions and subjects, with geography and history exhibiting perfect examples.
she has found a way for students from across the globe to lend their voice to the lesson. Recently, during a study of Syria, geography students read Refugee by Alan Gratz. This historical fiction novel follows the story of three young people escaping unimaginable circumstances. For the Episcopal geography class, students read the story of Mahmoud and his family as they journeyed to Europe after fleeing Syria. While St. George’s students were only assigned to read portions of the book, she says because students connected with the characters many have elected to read the entire novel.
It is St. George’s hope that students will develop a more global perspective, realizing that there are both differences and similarities among people. In speaking with students, it seems that the goal is being accomplished. “The novel Refugee brought us closer to and made us empathize more with the merciless extirpation of the Syrian people than all else and was a very valuable learning tool not only in the classroom, but in real life,” said student Skyler Adams. Inspired by the character accounts, students felt compelled to take the experience a step further. They elected to help local refugee families by collecting household items which were donated to Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge for distribution. In the end, students gained much more from the lesson than basic geography.
Similar to St. George, history teachers Virginia Day and Julie Weaver employ a range of teaching methods, including debate, to fully engage students in thought-provoking discussions. Actually debating topics, such as globalization and whether it is beneficial or harmful, requires students to research both sides of a situation and become quite familiar with the concepts involved. On debate day students are divided into groups and required to present their side of the issue in front of a room full of their peers. This type of experiential learning generates excitement among the students in a way that simply reading a textbook may not.
“We want kids to learn how to have an opinion and for it to be an educated opinion,” says Weaver, who helps students dissect the Bill of Rights in her class. One way in which Weaver attempts to accomplish this is to introduce them to real-world cases and recent Supreme Court decisions. Weaver says she and her students discuss all aspects of the cases from multiple sides in hopes that such an exercise helps students develop a better understanding of others.
For a few hours each spring you may not even find history students in their classroom, as Day uses an unconventional method to teach students about Alexander the Great. Students race throughout campus in “Ms. Day’s Amazing Race” in search of clues about the ancient conqueror. The contest, like the debates, has proven to be a fun and successful method for bringing history to life for students.
Whether it comes in the form of a debate, a race or a novel, Episcopal Middle School students are exposed to more than basic course requirements. No matter the subject, students are taking part in learning that lasts and makes an impact on their lives. At Episcopal, students are called upon to lead meaningful and purposeful lives, committed to service. Across all divisions, students are learning more with the hopes that they will be well prepared for their roles as future leaders. It’s what sets Episcopal apart.