Defining the Well-Rounded Student at St. James Academy

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Chris Greenawalt, MD, never knows what each shift at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) will bring. As director of GBMC’s hospitalist program, he helps acutely ill patients navigate inpatient and outpatient care. He and the 30-plus physicians under his leadership use their medical expertise every day, but the qualities Greenawalt says he relies upon most weren’t taught in medical school.

“My integrity and accountability were set in motion at St. James Academy,” says Greenawalt, who attended the Episcopal, coed day school in Monkton, Md. when it was Kindergarten through 6th Grade. “The things I learned from way back are what I’ve carried forward.”

Today, St. James Academy is Prekindergarten through 8th Grade but still intentionally small. “St. James was a nurturing environment where teachers put an individual focus on my strengths,” adds Greenawalt, who graduated from McDonogh School and Wake Forest University for both undergraduate and medical school. “The school helped me to develop attributes I’ve used all the way through to being a leader at GBMC.”

For many parents, finding a school that will help shape their son or daughter into a well-rounded individual is a top priority. For a school founded by the Episcopal church, values and character are central to St. James Academy’s mission and informs what students and alumni do with their education, explains Charlotte Riggs, Head of School.

“We want our students to understand how their values and character shape the decisions they make and what it means to be part of a community,” Riggs says. For us, a well-rounded student is one who is able to apply skills and contribute in ways that are beneficial and enriching to others.”

Building Well-rounded Leaders

St. James faculty weave what Riggs dubs “our thread of character education” throughout the program, including its leadership curriculum. Self-reflection is a core component, says Lisa Davis, Head of Middle School and Academic Resource Coordinator. “It’s critical that students understand themselves from an inward perspective and are able to translate that self-knowledge in the way they interact and communicate with others,” she says.

The school’s leadership focus includes Student Council participation from grades 3-8, team captains and club leaders, service projects, and weekly talks by older students at Chapel. The Lower School kicks off Student Council peer elections this year, too, since “one of the most valuable experiences is for students to stand up in front of peers and share their views,” says Ian Clark, Ed.D., the new Lower School Head who joined the school in July from his post as elementary school principal at Mexico’s San Roberto International School.

Finding the confidence to talk in front of others starts early at St. James, fostered in the school’s weekly Show and Share for PreK through 2nd Grade. Clark explains that the school’s small size means the standard Show-and-Tell transforms into enhanced self-confidence training as the youngest students get more opportunities to present to their peers and share their passions.

At St. James Academy, developing well-rounded leaders means a deeper dive into the leadership continuum, which begins in earnest in 5th Grade, culminating in the required 8th Grade Seminar. “In middle school, our students take surveys to understand where their skills and gifts fall, [whether they are] a motivator, innovator, analyzer, and more,” Davis explains. “They quickly realize that problem-solving takes different types of leaders.”

The yearlong program also includes developing a student-chosen research topic that turns into a service project. For example, a current student researched anxiety in teens and developed a toolkit that aims to help with feelings of worry, fear, and depression. The final phase of the Seminar focuses on participation in the statewide Stock Market Game and creating a technology project of interest. Last year, a student built a docking station for cell phones to be used during middle school mixers. “Students really wanted these events to be phone-free zones,” Davis explains. “They also created a phone booth to retain the allure of a ‘phone’ experience.” It was a hit last year and continues for this year’s social events.

The PreK-8 Factor

Princeton student Emma Wang graduated from St. James Academy in 2015 and is a proud “lifer.” She lauds the leadership programs – she was in Student Council in 7th Grade and senior class president at Roland Park Country School – and how those skills are threaded into the classroom. “St. James teaches you how to step out of your comfort zone and speak up and not be afraid not to be right,” says Wang. “It’s a supportive, non-judgmental environment.”

She discovered her love of science at St. James Academy (she’s majoring in neuroscience at Princeton), but her favorite memory is the school’s Buddy System matching younger students with older students for reading, projects, pairings at weekly Chapel, and more. “In 2nd Grade, I remember that my Chapel buddy was my neighbor,” Wang recalls. “I loved being paired up. As a little kid, it makes you feel cool when an older kid is your friend. As a lifer, I saw that role reversed.”

Inter-grade connections underscore the feeling of community and provide critical role models, notes Clark. “We just rolled out paired activities during advisory periods with our middle school grades and 3rd through 5th for service activities related to the classroom,” Clark says. “For our younger students, this program gives them an awareness of how a middle school student thinks and acts.”

Adds Davis, “Our PreK through 8th environment means that our kids are living more in real-time and not hyper-focused on where they are headed. Older students practice empathy and younger students see big kids as role models.” Both Clark and Davis cite the new home game concession stand, which is run by Student Council members in grades 3-8, as a venture rich in opportunities for leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving. Students even took the initiative to develop QR codes for easy ordering and efficient operations.

The School’s Author Talks series, which draws some of the biggest names in children’s literature, is also a chance for age-appropriate creativity, critical thinking, and communication – the “success skills that align with our academics,” says Clark. This year, St. James welcomes author and illustrator Nathan Hale of the Eisner-nominated, New York Times bestselling graphic novel series on American history Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.

Preparation for High School and Beyond

As Head of School, Riggs has her eye on outcomes. “We don’t measure success by a student’s grades or whether they are the lead in the school play. We celebrate students for both their attempts and their successes.”

Preparing well-rounded students, Riggs says, means giving them a set of interpersonal and leadership skills for high school, college, and life. “We want them to leave St. James Academy with an invisible backpack filled with knowledge about who they are, how they learn, ready to participate with persistence and resilience and be contributing members of our world.”

St. James Academy’s Open House is November 20. Register here. LINK  https://www.saintjamesacademy.org/morning-visits/

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