Learning the Ropes
Boston Prep Students Get a Lesson in Teamwork at Pinnacle Leadership Center
At Boston Prep, a charter public school in Hyde Park, Mass., instilling lifelong values in the next generation of leaders isn’t just a nice thought; it’s a tangible, everyday goal. A school for grades six through 12, with a support structure that continues after graduation, Boston Prep has a dual mission: to ensure that students graduate from a four-year college and to ensure their lifelong ethical growth.
In pursuit of the latter, the school has identified five “virtues to live by,” as Andrea Lavoie, a 7th-grade history teacher and grade-level leader, calls them. These key virtues—courage, compassion, integrity, perseverance, and respect—are integral to the school’s curriculum and culture. They are the focus of the ethics course students take each year. They serve as the framework for the way in which faculty discuss behavioral choices and their impact on the community with students. Advisors discuss ethical progress in their weekly check-ins with students in the same way they discuss academic progress. The key virtues are posted on the walls of every classroom. Students receive regular feedback on their demonstration of the virtues, and in the middle school, after every class, students receive a class score—that is, an assessment by the teacher of the students’ demonstration of each virtue during that class period. These scores are tracked daily and averaged monthly. At the end of the academic year, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade homerooms with the highest average scores earn a reward that recognizes their strengths and seeks to build on those strengths to create even stronger leaders.
For the past two years, that reward has been a day at the Pinnacle Leadership Center of the Lewis Family Foundation’s Alnoba headquarters complex in Kensington, New Hampshire. This pristine, 400-acre campus is dedicated to developing leaders, supporting inner-city youth, team-building offsites, and other charity endeavors, and includes reflective walking trails, recreational ponds, a 20-element aerial adventure park, and both low and high professional ropes courses.
This year’s Boston Prep retreat occurred in June. The day began with an icebreaker designed to get the kids out of their comfort zone. “Frankly, just being in the woods is getting a lot of our kids out of their comfort zone,” Andrea shares. “It was a good way to start having students understand that the day was going to be about accepting challenge at whatever level they were comfortable.”
In addition to rewarding students who had worked hard all year to earn the privilege of participating, the Pinnacle event was about building teamwork in a concrete way. So, after the icebreaker, students in each class were divided into two teams and steered toward the various ropes courses scattered throughout the grounds. At one element, for example, students had to climb to the top of a 50- to 60-foot tree and jump down. In another, two students had to climb to the tops of trees and then walk toward each other along a tightrope, an exercise that required teamwork for success. All elements included helmets, harnesses, safety ropes, and professional supervision, of course. After a lunch break, the kids rotated to another element for the afternoon.
“A lot of students, when they saw these elements, said, ‘Not for me, you’re not getting me to do that, no way,’” says Andrea. “So it was cool to see students take on a challenge they didn’t think they were capable of, and also to see the teamwork of encouraging each other to do it, even if they were scared. Even students who don’t ordinarily interact in class were being so supportive of one another, with lots of high fives, lots of hugs, and lots of celebrating completing the element together. That was just really great.”
“It was a nice bonding experience to learn more about the people you go to school with.”
— Sadie Riley, 7th Grade
“I got over my fear of heights. And it taught me leadership and how to work together.”
— Neissa Jean, 8th Grade
“I got to overcome my fear of heights. I loved it! It was very fun.”
— Tarsonn Jean-Baptiste, 8th Grade