The Episcopal production of Les Miserables is a grand illustration of what students learn from striving for excellence, particularly the striving that occurs in a group working on a project. In short, students involved in projects such as Les Mis learn through personal experience what it takes for a group to do something with excellence and the demands excellence makes through fine tuning of their individual contributions. They absorb how people who love their work --Ms. Gagliano and Mr. Smith, for example—create an environment for excellence. Students become a part of a small group that becomes excellent. When they are faced, just a little further down the road, with opportunities to lead daunting and meaningful projects themselves, their memories of the “Les Mis miracle” at Episcopal in 2016 will instruct and guide them.
Students bore witness to the humble beginnings of the production. They held themselves back at the start, but were coached to the realization that they could trust themselves, their colleagues, and their directors. They gained an understanding of how leaders provide a framework for openness to the initiatives of all participants. They felt the pressure of being in the right place at the right time and delivered their lines and songs that grew toward perfection in performance. They strived with their colleagues and gave their best toward the communal effort. They saw how it all came together and resulted in standing ovations.
Perhaps the life lesson that excellence, success, and achievement do not come without focused effort is the ultimate, durable and lasting take away from projects like Les Mis. Alongside the physical act of doing are equally important lessons in emotional maturity that only come from the cycle of trying, failing, correcting, improving, and polishing under the empathetic and loving guidance of mentors with relevant experience who care for them deeply.
- Our Lower School is filled with deep learning in the Animal Expeditions, Third Grade Theater, Inventions, the lettuce “farm,” and innumerable other projects-- all challenging and age-appropriate.
- Consider the complex activities in Middle School that rely on empowering students to think independently and critically producing impressive outcomes in projects and competitions. Envirothon, Poetry Café, and Lemonade Day, are good recent examples.
- Athletic team competitions are another example of project-based learning. In every game, meet, or match the students are performers, experiencing what works and what needs improvement. How many times have we all witnessed Knights coming together and approaching the maximum effort possible for a team, only to discover new heights of excellence?
- Episcopal students working in college research laboratories as part of Episcopal’s ESTAAR program are applying classroom knowledge in a research setting, learning from college professors and absorbing excellence at the university level.
- The Robotics Team, KnightVision, which finished 6th in the Houston Lone Star Regional Tournament, is the very definition of project based learning.
- Our renowned Honors Thesis program, in which upper school students delve into interest driven research, produces invitations for Episcopal students to speak at national social sciences conventions.
- Thanks primarily to Father Knight, even the Chapel experiences here have been transformed into project-based learning experiences for those students in the vestries in Middle and Upper School who plan, carry out, and constructively critique the Chapel programs under his mentorship.
Episcopal students apply what they have learned in projects supervised and guided by well-qualified faculty. They leave here knowing the hard work that goes into a life of high standards. They pick up on the “know-how” from directors like Ms. Paige Gagliano, who set the stage for excellence and transmit, by example, leadership toward the high altitudes where real excellence can be found.
At Episcopal, the official mix includes spirituality, academics, arts, and physical education---the four points of our Mission & Ministry---and we model striving toward excellence in every area. We give our students opportunities to bring everything they have to the stage, field, court, competition or table. When the final curtain came down on Les Mis that Saturday night, the actors, musicians and directors left nothing on the stage; we all know that’s what excellence demands in life.
From the audience, I enjoyed the lovely performances and, more importantly, saw a cast and supporting crew learn that they can be excellent, that they can have a direct role in making something great. That knowledge is now firmly seated in their minds, instilling a hunger for more. The next time, whether tomorrow or a decade from now, when one of the cast is challenged to do something complex and meaningful, they will draw strength from the excellence experienced in the unforgettable 2016 production of Les Miserables.
Hugh M. McIntosh
Head of School