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8th Grade Student Leadership Skills at Mark Day School

8th Grade Student Leadership Skills at Mark Day School
Joe Harvey, Head of School

This morning as I welcomed students in the breezeway, I witnessed one of my favorite sights at Mark Day School. A Kindergartner walked up to look me in the eye and shake my hand as we shared our good mornings—and then he saw his 8th grade buddy and I ceased to exist! He called out to his buddy, and they shared their own morning ritual and exchange as they walked into school together. I love our buddy program and how much our Kindergartners look up to their 8th grade buddies, and how well our 8th graders look out for their Kindergarten partners. It is a quiet and yet powerful example of the ways in which our students learn leadership skills from their first days on the campus, and how they practice that leadership throughout their time here. 

At graduation, each of our 8th graders shares a personal reflection. Recently, one reminisced about his own experience being a Kindergarten buddy and how it impacted his treatment of others: “I arrived at school on the first day of Kindergarten thinking about how scared I was to leave my parents. I could barely say goodbye when the bell rang. Recess came in what felt like years. I was eating my snack when I saw my eighth grade buddy Scotty. He came to tell me that I would have a great time at the school and that he was happy I was there to share the experience with him. I found out later that he came out of his way on his own time to make me feel at home. And I carried this with me, coming up through the grades. I worked to be the kind of person and student my Kindergarten buddy could look up to. Now that I've made it to today and have done my best to make my buddy feel at home, I can finally say that I have worked as hard as I could to make someone else happy and feel like they are important."

Every fall, I teach a unit on leadership skills with 7th and 8th graders in Literacies Block, drawing on research and firsthand lessons learned from--among other experiences--growing up on a family farm, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Goldman Sachs, school leadership, nonprofit board service, and more. I am always impressed with the depth of thought and reflection that our students reveal as they explore different leadership styles, different situations and contexts, and their practical, daily dilemmas about how and when to step forward into the kind of leadership needed in a given moment or situation. The growth even between 7th and 8th is notable, as our oldest students increasingly become aware of the ways that they are called to lead in daily life here on campus. They understand that their actions speak loudly, particularly to their peers and the younger students whose attention they always have, whether they are conscious of it or not. They know that it is frequently by listening and acting with empathy that they reveal their leadership. They serve as role models and provide good counsel to the 7th graders in their mentor groups. They discover that their cast mates in the school theater productions look up to them--just as they looked up to the 8th graders when they joined a production in 4th or 5th or 6th grade themselves. And of course their Kindergarten buddies provide so many opportunities to teach and to guide someone at a much different place on the arc through Mark Day. 

Immediately after the breezeway interaction I described above, we all gathered in the gym for Tuesday assembly. Both the Kindergartners and the 1st graders performed songs they had been working on in their music classes. My position near the front of the assembly gave me a unique point of view, as I could see not only the performers, but the audience as well. And it was that view that captivated me the most, for I got to watch our buddy program in action—the 8th graders singing along with their Kindergarten buddies, sending their support very literally to their young partners onstage. Moments later, it was the 5th graders who took special pride in and voiced particularly enthusiastic support for their 1st grade buddies as they performed. I loved the way our Kindergartners and 1st graders sang out so well, and was equally moved by the love and care and support that the 5th and 8th graders exhibited toward their buddies. It served as one more reminder of the ways our students learn to lead at Mark Day, and how many different forms that leadership may take. 

To learn more about Mark Day School’s curriculum, click here.