ACDS Students are encouraged to understand community in both local and global terms. They take an active role in the school community as classmates, leaders, mentors, and friends, and find ways to have a positive impact on communities, here in Alexandria and throughout the world. Read Zethan and Kirsten’s stories to learn how.
Zethan bounds up the front steps eager to begin his day in Kindergarten. He is greeted warmly by the Heads of Lower and Middle School at the front door as well as many students and staff on his way to his classroom. Later, Zethan sees his 8th grade buddy in the hallway, exclaims “Hi Davis!” and receives an enthusiastic greeting and high five in return. These daily social interactions with adults, classmates, and older students let Zethan know that he is safe, known, and valued at ACDS.
At ACDS, the social and emotional well-being of all our students is of primary importance. One simply has to walk into a classroom or see students interacting with one another at recess or in the hallway to feel the nurturing and supportive climate. Character education and building self-esteem are woven in throughout the school day through the use of Responsive Classroom in the Lower School and Developmental Designs in the Middle School.
Lower School students begin their day with a morning meeting in which every child is greeted by name. There is also an activity meant to teach a certain social skill or work on character education. In the Middle School, students are assigned an advisor and meet with their small advisory group of approximately ten students each morning. These meetings are used for Circle of Power and Respect (CPR), a key component of the Developmental Designs program. CPR periods are carefully designed to give students and teachers opportunities to engage in conversations and activities that build character and community. The sessions explore the difficult and somewhat ambiguous ethical situations that are present in our school, our community, and around the world. Combined with the important and informal interactions that take place during the day, teachers and students have significant time each day to build strong relationships that help them grow.
The sense of community is also fostered through our buddy program in which older students become mentors to their younger peers. Buddies participate in variety of activities together throughout the year including service learning and a joint Art/Technology field trip.
In a bustling cafeteria, Kirsten and some of her classmates are gathered around a funnel station, working together to package meals for hungry children around the world. This annual activity, where the entire school community works together to package 20,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now, has quickly become one of Kirsten’s favorite mornings at ACDS. As sixth grade member of the service learning leadership group, M.U.S.C.L.E, Kirsten not only participates in ACDS’ many service learning projects, she helps to plan and organize them.
Service learning at ACDS is a thoughtful program of investigation, planning, action and reflection that allows students and teachers to address authentic community needs while deepening their understanding of the world around them. Each grade chooses a theme for the year and begins with an “investigation” stage where they research community needs related to their theme. As they develop and implement their plans for action, the students share their learning with each other and the community at large. In addition to these thoughtful and comprehensive student-led projects, there is an all-school half-day of service in November and an all-school day of service in April, and we enjoy occasional opportunities for one-time community service projects as well.
There are just a few examples of the work our students have done:
- Kindergarten and first graders conducted a fall food drive and then used that food to create 50 bags of food each month for Blessings in a Backpack.
- Third graders organized two blood drives for INOVA Hospital and made goodie bags for children being treated for cancer at INOVA.
- Seventh graders organized a shoe drive that collected over 1,000 pairs of shoes for people in Honduras.
- Eighth graders helped prepare a meal at DC Central Kitchen.
- Second and fifth graders cleaned up parks in Alexandria.
- Fourth graders organized a book drive to help an ACDS alumna build a library at a girls school in Pakistan.
- Sixth and third graders collected food at local grocery stores for ALIVE and helped sort food at the ALIVE warehouse.