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Core Values Week Helps Altamont Students Reconnect as COVID Recedes
Sean Flynt

The Altamont School developed a unique way to help students reconnect in the wake of COVID-19 disruptions.

The Altamont School developed a unique way to help students reconnect in the wake of COVID-19

disruptions. August’s Core Values Week emphasized how the school’s values of respect, balance, integrity, curiosity and leadership inform every aspect of school life.

Beth Dille, director of the school’s C. Kyser Miree Ethical Leadership Center, noted that COVID mitigation efforts left some students feeling empty, especially when their experience of Altamont has otherwise been like family. “We’re seeing disconnect throughout the country—students missed out on years of learning how to function with other people,” Dille said. “There has to be a deliberate effort to help them bridge that gap.” Each day of that effort at Altamont began with a schoolwide assembly, followed by student-led small group discussions and class time. Each afternoon during Core Values Week, mixed-age relay races and other team events sent students home energized and reminded of how they support each other, even in games.

Students said they especially appreciated conversations in small groups that paired grades 12 and eight, 11 and seven, 10 and six, and nine and five. The mixed-age pairings also gave older students an opportunity to practice the leadership skills Altamont emphasizes at all levels.

Sixty-four students in grades nine-12 led extended sessions on their own during the week. That was a significant leadership experience, and it helped the school emphasize the student role in maintaining the community’s core values. “I feel like that made it easier for other students to understand rather than just having the teachers explain each core value and how it should look,” said senior Finn Pak. “The students were able to give real examples that we experience every day and that other students may also experience.”

The focus on values extended to academic subjects as classes began. “I feel like many students expected discussions about core values in classes to be boring, but I really admire the creative ways some of my teachers approached it,” a student commented anonymously. “In some classes, the core values provided a bridge to very important topics that we might not have otherwise gotten an opportunity to think about.” At a school known for high academic achievement, it is important for students to be reminded of life-work balance and the role the whole community plays in supporting that value. To illustrate the point, teacher Heather Kaiser developed an exercise that required her students to work together to literally balance huge piles of books. They couldn’t do it alone, of course.

Altamont’s mixed-age group pairings will continue through the year to help restore and maintain a strong sense of community. Then, as school starts next year, that experience will serve as the foundation for a shorter core values program that distills the most successful aspects of this first year. Whatever form that takes, it is likely to confirm junior Jeremy Doster’s observation from the first Core Values Week—“The community at Altamont is the best thing Altamont has.”

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