As students transition into Upper School, they are empowered with a sufficient degree of independence, maturity, and agency to put their feelings, thoughts, and skills into action in new ways and in new environments. This takes character development to another level because they are frequently called upon to engage outside the classroom in unfamiliar real world situations, to grapple with increasingly complex and ambiguous scenarios, and to apply ethical reasoning to solve challenging dilemmas and problems.
It begins with a mandate, with every student being required to participate in two all-school service days each year. But once students recognize how valuable their service is – not only to others but to themselves – can find countless ways of engaging in the community. Below are some examples.
Mandatory Service Days: Igniting the Spark
Two times each year, student advisory groups go to one of over 40 agencies throughout Cleveland to provide a service. “These are one-time group service projects,” Coordinator of Community Engagement Dan Mesh explains. “But even this small amount of exposure compels students to begin to think about what a community is and what their responsibilities are as members of a larger community.”
Case in point: One student, after working with his advisory group at the Cosgrove Center for the homeless, initiated clothing and hygiene drives to support the agency. Another turned a one-time service day at Kemper House, a residential facility for Alzheimer patients, into a long-term service project to teach and play chess with residents. Several others, after experiencing a service day at a food bank, decided to continue their efforts by volunteering regularly on Saturdays.
“These students are doing it because it means something to them,” Mesh comments. “It’s much more effective and impactful when it’s not mandated.”
Campus Stewardship: It Starts at Home
Students don’t have to leave campus to learn the basics of responsibility. Hawken’s campus stewardship program, also under the “mandated” umbrella, assigns every Upper School student to ten minutes of stewardship of the White House or Stirn Hall every couple of weeks. While that may not seem like a lot, it adds up – and it sends an important message about character.
“What we are trying to do is preempt any tendency toward an entitlement mindset or attitude,” explains Assistant Director of Student Life Jim Newman. “When kids are held responsible for keeping the space they live and work in clean, they take more ownership and better care of tand our maintenance staff feel better supported and more respected.”
Elective After-School Service: Inspiration and Personal Agency
To help facilitate community engagement opportunities for students, Hawken provides after school transportation four days a week to service agencies in Greater Cleveland for interested volunteers. One student, who tutors underprivileged students at Chagrin Falls Park Community Center, looks forward to her weekly sessions because she gains as much as she gives. “I’ve learned to be patient when working with younger children as they learn how to read or sound words out,” she explains. Another group of students travels to Citizens Leadership Academy to support the Young Scholars Program and to tutor students on the CLA Chess Team. “These are not one-shot deals,” says Mesh. “The timing aligns with sports seasons, so athletes can participate as well – and they are required to show up each week.”
Integrated Service Learning (ISL): Discovering the Connection between Character and Intellect
Integrated Service Learning is a credit-bearing elective that enables students to explore the synergy between academic inquiry and meaningful service, with the ultimate goal of strengthening character by working to make our communities and our world a better place. Director of Experiential Learning Cris Harris observes, “When kids take the initiative to go out into the community, they are growing into independent, resilient, creative problem solvers with a stake in this city and in our world. You can see their confidence and engagement grow with each opportunity.”
Outdoor Leadership: Grit and the Common Good
While not traditionally thought of as “service,” Outdoor Leadership – with its authentic, inclusive, and expansive leadership model and its cultivation of both hard and soft skills – clearly calls students to look to “their better selves.” As the program’s advisor Cris Harris explains, “The students who want to charge forward in a wilderness outing realize they need to direct that energy toward helping others if the goal is for the entire group to succeed.” A perfect example of others before self.
One student highlights how her experience in OL not only helped develop her interpersonal skills and empathy, but broadened and deepened her understanding of what it means to be a leader, a word she now realizes encompasses a variety of roles including trailblazer, teacher, cheerleader, and caregiver. Others point to additional traits fostered through their OL experience: independence, grit, mental and emotional toughness, courage, generosity, compassion, and teamwork. These are lessons students carry with them throughout their lives. As one student put it: “My experience in OL has given me the courage and resilience to adapt to any circumstance that comes my way.”
Alpha Company: Honoring and Thanking Those Who Serve
Alpha Company is just one of several clubs with a service learning component. In the fall, leaders organized a Veterans Day letter writing campaign for students to express their appreciation to active and former military troops. The stamp used to make the card was designed by Hawken students and created in the Fab Lab. Over forty students joined the effort to write to 94 alumni to express gratitude for their service to our country.
Student Senate and the Integrity Council: Accountability, Respect, Justice
Students elected to the Hawken Senate are charged with shaping school policy; those elected to the Hawken Integrity Council work with a group of faculty members to reach consensus on a recommended disciplinary response to a breach in the Hawken Honor code. These adult-sized tasks can impact the student experience in profound ways, and those who lead learn valuable lessons.
The Hawken Senate worked jointly with the Hawken Integrity Council several years ago to create the “Hawken Honor Code.” One senator explained the reasoning behind the effort this way: “If the school intends to advise on issues of integrity, it is only ‘fair play’ for the community to understand and approve of a consistent definition of integrity.”
After numerous iterations and a town hall style meeting to elicit community feedback, the ratified Hawken Honor Code reads, “As a member of the Hawken community, I am a person of integrity striving to be my better self. My words and actions reflect my belief in justice, compassion and fair play. I respect the rights, work, ideas and dignity of all.”
Athletics as Crucible for Character: Perseverance, Discipline, Teamwork, and Humility
Former Hawken Athletic Director Tom Bryan once referred to athletics as “a crucible for character” – and current Athletic Director Jim Doyle, while acknowledging his bias, couldn’t agree more. “We like to be competitive and win games,” Doyle admits. “But mostly athletics is about teaching kids to be team players, to be empathetic, to be competitive, to know the rules of the game and play by them, to carry themselves with grace in victory or defeat, to persevere through tough times, and to improve through a disciplined work ethic. Participation in athletics is among the best ways to teach those life skills.”
That’s a key reason why athletics has become a strategic priority for a school like Hawken that prioritizes the development of character. And apparently students get it. “Sportsmanship is a huge emphasis,” one senior notes. “Fair Play is ingrained in us.”