Character and Leadership
Doane Academy is committed to maintaining character and leadership development as a priority equal to academic achievement.
Both in and out of the classroom, a Doane education guides students to define the most positive version of themselves and challenges them to cultivate the integrity needed to stay true to this ideal form.
Faculty members are dedicated to providing the love and support that can both inspire young people to seek their best selves and give them the strength to be resilient in the face of challenges and disappointments. Through the many curricular and extra-curricular opportunities afforded to them, students at Doane test and ultimately redefine their limits as individuals. As they come to fully appreciate and value themselves, they gain the ability to expand the circumference of their empathy to include the entire community and inspire its members. This inspiration can take many forms and be accomplished through many methods, and students will come to see the unique ways in which they can become leaders as they grow older and stronger. Be it as an athlete in competition, a student in the classroom, a member of the Student Government, or a performer in the Arts, each Doane student finds their leadership opportunity and is encouraged to seize it.
Doane’s School Family program, which connects students to each other across all grade levels, is a particularly innovative way of encouraging young people to develop empathy and a sense of community. Moreover, required Lean Onward courses help students recognize their academic studies as part of fulfilling the larger goal of building character.
Doane’s Rocks, Roots, and Wings trips are a particular important aspect of its character and leadership development program. In the fall, the school schedules 2–4 day trips that take students in grades 6–12 beyond the boundaries of campus to places of historical, natural, and cultural significance. Several trips involve learning how to navigate the major cities of Philadelphia and New York, and many have a focus on outdoor education. For most students the activities, environment, expectations, and rewards are very different from those they experience in their daily lives. Supporting and being supported by their classmates makes this an powerful bonding experience and essential part of helping students understand what it means to contribute to a greater community. Pushed out of their comfort zones by design, students are individually encouraged to test their limits and discover their second wind, and at the end of these trips, they often find that their self-confidence, willingness to take initiative, team work, and maturity are significantly and often permanently enhanced. The accommodations are basic (youth hostels, camping grounds, cabins). For some grades, meals, including all the preparation and clean up, are handled by the students. Activities include whitewater rafting, canoeing or kayaking, environmental education, hiking, ropes courses, and team building exercises. Most often, there is a major service component, and through these trips, students develop a hands-on appreciation for the geological, cultural, and historical importance of their home region. By starting each school year with these experiences, faculty and students remind themselves of the importance of character, leadership, and relationships in the context of their overall growth.
Doane Academy views the development of character and leadership qualities in our students as a priority equal in importance to academic achievement. This belief has made “Strong Ethical Leadership” a cornerstone of our educational program, permeating everything that we do in classrooms, on athletic fields, and beyond. Our Upper School curriculum reinforces this commitment through a series of required grade-level cycle courses in grades 7-12.
In grades 7-9, students work to develop “personal character” skills. They learn to express themselves creatively and in written form. They build the organization, inquiry, and design skills needed to becoming reliable, trustworthy, and productive individuals. And, they develop an understanding of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle and begin to explore the complexity of trying to live ethically as digital citizens in an ever-changing world.
Starting in their 10th grade year, students explore who they are as individuals, including what they value and how they view the world around them, and learn to exhibit empathy by exploring different social, religious, and ethical philosophies. Discussions are designed to encourage students to expand the scope of their understanding of different viewpoints as a primary goal. Students also explore the qualities of effective leaders in preparation for assuming leadership roles both in the Doane community and their own communities.
In 11th and 12th grades, students are challenged to share what they have learned about themselves, others, and leadership by taking the initiative to improve their world through projects related to their passions. Through research and reflection, they identify causes in which they believe, and they finish their time at Doane by selecting one of these causes and presenting to their peers a plan for important, meaningful change.
Character, leadership, and personal growth best occur in environments where such growth is the expectation. Through our curriculum, Doane Academy provides such an environment.
Doane’s unique School Family program sets it apart from other schools. While many schools try to minimize interactions between the oldest and youngest members of the community, Doane consciously creates weekly opportunities for students to interact across all grade levels in a safe and caring environment. Doane students are placed into one of thirteen school families, each of which is comprised of students from our Primary program through grade 12 and led by faculty members who serve as “parents.” Students and teachers remain in the same family throughout their time at Doane, thereby creating friendships that grow, evolve, and deepen over years. Families meet for thirty minutes once per week on Fridays, and activities include completing community service projects, playing board games, reading stories together, making crafts and pieces of art, celebrating holidays and birthdays, playing on the playground, and competing against a fellow family in kickball. One of the highlights of Doane’s year is when the entire school community gathers in the dining hall for a Thanksgiving Feast. Seated by school family, students and teachers take turns sharing what they are thankful for while senior family members carve a turkey and serve those around them.
The School Family program reminds older students of their potential to serve as role models. During a phase of life when it easy and natural to focus one’s attention inward, it reminds them of the responsibility and power of looking beyond one’s self and caring for others, of living a life worthy of admiration. Reciprocally, it provides younger students with positive examples and gives them the powerful and validating feeling of being listened to and valued by older students.
Through its Lead Onward program, Doane Academy signals clearly that it views the development of character and leadership qualities in our students as a priority equal in importance to academic achievement. Comprised of a series of required grade-level courses in both Middle and Upper School, this program serves as a core pillar of Doane’s culture and curriculum. Through it, we ensure that our students graduate knowing themselves, knowing the world, and ready to change both.
As part of this program, 6th grade students take three, full-year, intertwined courses that develop foundational leadership skills through their combined focus on civics, communications techniques, and empathetic reading.Through their studies, they develop a heightened awareness of social justice issues and a keener sense of how these issues affect their lives and the lives of their peers.
In grades 7 and 8, students further refine their ability to express themselves in their trimester-long courses. They build the organization, inquiry, and design skills needed to becoming reliable, trustworthy, and productive individuals. In addition, they develop an understanding of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle and begin to explore the complexity of trying to live ethically as digital citizens in an ever-changing world. Eighth graders cap their Lead Onward experience with their “Here I Stand” presentations, through which they communicate to their peers their defining personal values.
The two-trimester 9th grade Composition course serves as a bridge to help students connect their sense of self to a greater collective.After completing a range of research, writing, presentation, and reflection exercises, they Composition by completing their “Generation Essay,” in which they communicate the core beliefs and attributes that they believe define their generation.As part of this final project, students reflect on how scholars, cultural commentators, and peers characterize them and come to see that they, as individuals and a collective, ultimately have the agency to define their identity and determine their future.
Through three, connected, trimester-length courses, 10th grade students expand their ability to exhibit empathy by exploring different social, religious, and ethical philosophies. They also explore the qualities of effective leaders in preparation for assuming leadership roles in the Doane community and deepen their understanding of how to contribute to a sustainable world. As 11th graders, they then devote a trimester to developing the research, rhetorical, and listening skills needed to fully consider and ultimately answer a single complex and controversial question.This deep-dive approach requires them to consider and attempt to reconcile a range of differing opinions, and it invites them to propose a solution that includes others, even those who disagree with them.In recent years, topics of study have included gun violence, mass incarceration, and palliative and end-of-life care.
Having participated in an inclusive conversation around a challenging issue in 11th grade, seniors then spend two trimesters learning to facilitate these kinds of essential discussions. After completing a multi-day, on-campus training run by the Sustained Dialogue Institute, seniors lead a series of hour-long, seminar-style meetings during the second of half of the year. All students in grades 6-12 participate in these meetings, and the focus of each is an issue related to social justice, diversity, and inclusion. We live in a cultural environment of quick judgments and deep divides, and it is conversations of this kind that will help us chart a way forward to a more connected and more just society. Having completed the Lead Onward program, Doane students graduate not only able to participate in these conversations but ready to lead them.