CA Upper School students at Mod Market before Homecoming 2018.
CA Upper School students at Mod Market before Homecoming 2018.

Affirmation: Witnessing school culture on display in the real world

At Colorado Academy, we are intentional about the kind of student culture we want to create. Over the past several years, we have introduced mindfulness training for both faculty and students. We have put effort into revitalizing aspects of our advisory and homeroom programs. We have developed our mental health support systems for students. We have even created a “cell phone-free” zone in our Dining Hall. We work to hold students accountable for errors, but also have a system of restorative justice. We want students to grow and learn so that they can be the best version of themselves. As you know, I like to talk about the challenges we face in this regard. We live in a society that has gotten meaner, less civil, and more materialistic. We are swimming upstream as we promote our important values of courage and kindness.

I believe that when we live up to our values and help members of our community, we are fulfilling our commitment to our students and families to provide the best possible education and guidance. Sometimes that comes in the form of “tough love,” but most often it means doing all that we can to take advantage of a “teachable moment.” Sometimes, our values are just on display, and I am reminded of that when I get an out-of-the-blue positive message like this one.

This past weekend, I heard from my friend, Jeff Cheley. Jeff runs Cheley Colorado Camps. He is part of the fourth generation to operate Cheley Camps, and the summer camp program is truly one of the best in the nation. When we were beginning work on the school’s culture and character initiative several years ago, I invited Jeff to be part of our process. Jeff cares deeply about developing character. His family has owned and run Cheley camps since 1921. I once met Jeff’s dad Don who gave a talk about his family’s work. He once noted that, “all kids are at risk.” He definitely acknowledged that there are certainly young people who are disadvantaged in such a way that they at higher risk for making poor decisions, but he also knew that all young people are capable of making decisions that can derail them. He talked about the importance of character education and programs that try to elevate student behavior and decision-making. This is a family that gets “character education.”

So, it was all the more meaningful, when I received this message form Jeff:

“I want to compliment you on some of your students and the culture you are creating. I was sitting at Mod Market last Saturday night with my three boys (5,7, and 9). There was a group of teenagers sitting at a table all dressed in Hawaiian shirts. They were polite, laughing and none of them were on their phones. As I watched them connect with each other, I thought, “That is the type of group I want my boys to be a part of when they are in high school.” As they got up to leave, I asked a few of them, “What is this group?” I was excited for you when they shared that they were all students at Colorado Academy. Kudos to you, your leadership, your culture, and your families for raising quality young adults. ”

Here’s a photo of this group that Jeff took and sent to me. These are great student leaders and role models. They are scholars, athletes, and artists—the kind of multi-talented kids we have at CA. They were just having dinner before the Homecoming party, but they stood out because of their kindness and engagement with one another. Jeff later told me that he turned to his children that night and said, “That is what I want it to look like when you are out with your friends in high school.”

Note how Jeff identified our school culture but also the role families play. The more our families communicate and reinforce our shared values, the better our children will be.

There are so many times I find myself so grateful to be part of CA, and this was one of them.