Special to Times
What makes a leader? While speaking ability, performing with others, and taking initiative – all opportunities we provide for and teach at Park Street School (PSS) – are important, we believe leadership starts with character development.
Across our campuses, we seek to recognize the God-given gifts of each child. As we do that, we want to intentionally cultivate and encourage our students’ unique development in key areas — academic, spiritual, social-emotional, and physical. In recent years, social-emotional growth in particular has become an important focus. Having support from thoughtful, caring teachers, students at PSS are encouraged to build and grow in resolving conflict, work together, listen to one another, and express feelings. We seek to build into students’ agency the ability to communicate and be heard.
One of the places where we see this growth is in the mentoring of younger friends across grade levels. We provide many opportunities for our older students to mentor, encourage, and teach our younger friends. These activities entail creating, trying out, regrouping, redesigning, and trying again. Along the way, we develop resilience and perseverance, and so much more!
This year, our third-grade students have become mentors to our Kindergarten students. Paired with a buddy for the year, third-grade students have already had the opportunity to read to their buddies, create ornaments and decorations for Christmas together, as well as share a science lesson.
In third-grade Science, one of our main themes is classification. Third graders learn the value of observation and what attributes are, learning to classify vertebrates versus non-vertebrates. In October, third graders were asked to teach what they had learned to their Kindergarten buddies, applying the lesson of classification to 10 different leaves and their corresponding trees.
The third graders met their Kindergarten buddies in their classrooms, showed them different leaves, and asked them what they noticed about the leaves – shape, size, color. They introduced the word ‘ATTRIBUTE’ and explained how scientists identify living things by their attributes. After identifying each leaf and what tree it belonged to, the Grade 3 students helped their buddies make rubbings of each leaf to add to their leaf books.
Not only have our third graders been learning that their younger friends enjoy the same authors or books as them; or have discovered character traits of kindness or the capacity to share, or are actually fun despite being younger, but the lessons have gone deeper. From their own reflections, third graders shared these thoughts:
• “One thing I’ve learned working with my reading buddy is how to work together with my friend,” said Maddie .
• “One thing I’ve learned with my Kindergarten buddy is to learn how to take responsibility – [that] feeling that you are the older one and how to set an example,” said Preston.
• “One thing I’ve learned is that you can learn from your Kindergarten buddy, even if they are younger,” said Alanna.
As a Christian school, PSS invites students to take a stance of humility regarding our differences in the ways we think or what we believe. We practice loving dialog and an understanding and empathy in listening, an important skill in today’s world. We also reinforce the idea that our students’ identities are secure – lovingly created in the image of God, perfectly made. It is in this context that we see leaders of influence emerge who demonstrate character through responsible behavior, empathy, collaboration, and perseverance. These work together to create a foundation in students from which they will flourish in high school and college, developing an emotional intelligence, paramount to future academic and relational success.