In late May, students from Ethical Culture engaged in the inaugural Ethics Assembly, an inspiring gathering organized by Ethics Teachers Cristina Ross and Nelson Sanchez. The assembly radiated joy and embodied the tenets of progressive education. Commencing with a powerful performance of the Ethical Culture School song, “It’s the Feeling Inside,” composed by Lucy Simon Levine ’54 and the Class of 1974, Principal Rob Cousins conveyed his heartfelt appreciation to the students who exemplify ethical values in their everyday lives.
“One thing that’s really important to me when I think about our ethical values is the value of belonging,” Cousins explained. “When I look at everyone in this auditorium, I think about how we all belong to this School and how we also belong to the ethical values we represent. For example, here at Ethical Culture, if we see something wrong or inequitable, we try to do something about it. As our School song says, ‘When there’s something on your mind, there’s someone there to care.’”
Following Cousins’ words and a land acknowledgment recited by Margaret W. ’32, students were invited to the stage grade by grade to offer advice, lead the community in song, and share what they have learned in their ethics classes this year.
First up, Ethical Culture’s youngest students led the audience in a group reading exercise of the book, “Speak Up,” by Miranda Paul. In Pre-K, teachers often discuss fairness and social justice. Students define what fairness means to them and learn about children and adults who have worked or are still working to make our world a fair and just place. “We teach students that ethics is about kindness and learning to speak up when something is wrong,” said Ross.
Next, the Kindergarteners led the community in singing a song called “Mr. Rabbit,” which encourages students to embrace individuality and to love everyone for who they are.
The room buzzed with excitement as the 1st Graders surprised the audience with a spin on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a song traditionally sung at the Ethical Culture Holiday Assembly. Instead, they sang “The Twelve Days of Kindness” by Irene Latham, which substitutes lyrics like “five golden rings” with “five thank you notes.”
Following “The Twelve Days of Kindness,” students from the 2nd Grade got up on stage to express their beliefs about the ethical value of belonging. “2nd Graders learn a lot about inclusion and belonging,” explained Ross. “They want to live in a world where everyone feels included, respected, and appreciated.” In addition to their statements, students created symbols representing belonging, including signs promoting accessibility and acceptance.
Once students at Ethical Culture reach the 3rd Grade, they embark on a unit centered around personal identity. This engaging curriculum serves as a springboard for a broader dialogue on the various stereotypes that different individuals encounter. This educational journey empowers the 3rd Graders to become compassionate and empathetic individuals who embrace diversity and challenge stereotypes. Each year, students choose to participate in a Social Justice Action Group that tackles a cause that they are interested in, from LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice to children’s and religious rights.
At the Ethics Assembly, the 3rd Graders shared highlights of what they worked on in their Social Justice Action Groups this year.
Next up, the 4th Graders led the audience in singing a song called “We Can Make a Difference.” The song’s lyrics conveyed an important message: “Together, we can make our world a better place. When we work together, so much can be done. We know what’s right, and we know what to do. The future can be brighter. It’s up to me and you!”
Last but certainly not least, 5th Graders Veer W. ’30 and Andreas M. ’30 shared more about the clean water initiative and the Ocean Conservancy organization, which will receive this year’s 5th Grade Legacy Gift.
“We’re here to say that everyone in the world should have clean water,” explained Veer.
“Please remember all those that don’t have and be appreciative of what we do have, and do not waste,” added Andreas.
Then, the students provided examples of what the community could do to help the cause, from donating any amount, big or small, to charities that support clean water initiatives to promoting awareness and advocacy via social media or word of mouth.
In a closing statement that encapsulated the essence of the assembly, Veer delivered a poignant message expressed initially by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
With their commendable actions, words, and leadership, the students at Ethical Culture energize us all to contribute towards a healthier planet and a brighter future. Congratulations to all of our students and teachers on an inspiring year of ethical learning.