Perhaps the most obvious way that The Episcopal Academy stands apart from other independent schools in our area is our chapel service, which is held every school day. In addition, we separate ourselves because of our commitment to our 10 Core Values, which we call The Stripes.
The Stripes are core values in the form of positive rules. Students (as well as the wider Episcopal Academy community) are encouraged to be honest, courageous, kind, courteous, generous, faithful, grateful, and respectful, and be intentional about practicing self-control and sportsmanship.
These 10 Core Values are chiseled into the stonework on our middle school building, which faces the main driveway. The Stripes are emblazoned in each classroom and gathering space. The Stripes are even incorporated into the school uniform with 5 stripes on each sleeve of the school sweater. One cannot walk too far without being reminded of our core values.
In our Prayers of the People, we ask God to help us to live the Stripes to become better people. When a student falls short of “living” the Stripes, we ask them to reflect on how they can become better at living into our core values. The Stripes are the major thread which keeps the fabric of our culture realizing we are part of something greater than ourselves.
Often, we ask our students, “What is your favorite Stripe” or “Which Stripe is the most difficult to live?” My favorite Stripe is gratitude. I have concluded that it is spiritually, mentally, and physically healthier to be grateful for the things I have rather than spending time desiring the things I don’t have. This time of year, as we approach Thanksgiving, our chapel services focus on this favorite Stripe of mine.
During many of our Thanksgiving chapel services, we will create a Litany of Gratitude by eliciting responses from our students PreK – 12. We give them time to reflect and encourage them to think outside the box. We initially receive the predictable responses, “I am grateful for my family” or “I am grateful for my house” or “I am grateful for my new puppy.” However, as children reflect a bit more and pray deeply about all the things for which they are grateful, we receive some wonderfully personal responses: for school supplies, for horses, for art, for exercise, for pancakes, for crafts, for the leaves of the trees and for cheese. The list continues to crescendo: we are grateful for the wind and the clouds, Sour Patch kids, and for a place to sleep. We are thankful for our homeroom teachers and chaplains, for lizards and stuffed animals, for transportation, for Jesus, for happiness, for freedom, for jalapeño peppers, for toasted bagels and turkey, for the galaxies and stars, and for places like Heaven.
The list of gratitude grows, and when it is shared in chapel, the students respond with cheerful laughter and nods of their heads, affirming the Litany and giving thanks to God for all they have and for all they can offer to others. When the final blessing is offered, students, parents, teachers, and staff leave chapel much happier than when they first arrived. They go into the world with joyful hearts, realizing the many blessings God has bestowed upon them. Their gratitude can be shared from one person to the next. Parents will often share with me that during the Thanksgiving weekend, their children continued to add items to the Litany of Gratitude.
Perhaps, this Thanksgiving, we can expand our view on gratitude and realize we have many blessings from God. In the end, we may come to realize that we possess more than material blessing. We have God and each other, and that makes all the difference
[Image Credit: The Episcopal Academy, used with permission]