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Nourishing Young Souls in Secular Schools


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What went right? And the answer, though elusive, is quite simple: At the heart of every adolescent experience is an exquisite opening to spirit. An awakening of energy happened when larger questions of meaning and purpose surfaced. This secular school created a place for his soul, and he flourished.

This article appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Spirituality & Health. It is our first “senior honoring ceremony,” designed to celebrate each graduating senior — not just the few who have shown outstanding achievement in academics or athletics. A small cross section of the community is gathered in the softly lit room. In the center of the circle is a large vase filled with a variety of long-stemmed flower. The first circle of chairs holds twenty-five students and the teachers who will address them. In the chairs behind are parents and other faculty. After a welcoming address by the school principal, a teacher goes to the center, selects a flower from the vase, and sands before a surprised and curious student. The teacher begins, “I have watched you grow this last year and become strong like the sturdy stalk of this giant iris. When you came into my class, I could tell that you were used to being one of the clowns. Yet when it came time to share our stories, you took the first risk. You inspired all of us with the courage of your vulnerability. I want to honor you for the warmth …

Rachael Kessler is the director of The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning and author of The Soul of Education: Nourishing Spiritual Development in Secular Schools (ACSD, 2000), as well as co-author of Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators (ASCD, 1997).

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