Last week Ms. Smith discussed the origins of our school’s informal motto: “Words Matter.” This week, I’d like to build on what she wrote.

One of the critical indicators of students’ success in school, on standardized tests, and indeed, in life, is their vocabulary. To support vocabulary development, we teach Latin, the building block of so much of the English language. We also encourage reading and writing across the content areas, where students learn or reinforce basic vocabulary (tier one words), high-frequency words or words with multiple meaning (tier two) and subject related words (tier three). We also emphasize literacy through analysis, debate, and language instruction.

However, it is not just essential to encourage students to know many words. We believe words have the power to inform, provoke and inspire. We want words to move our students. So, we fill our hallways with quote boards that explore timeless themes. Want students to use their words wisely and productively. We give students numerous outlets for language use, from Model UN to the Debate Team, to school plays and the school newspaper and literary magazine (Quick commercial plug: Be sure to catch opening night of 12 Angry Jurors this evening, or one of the performances on Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon. The Music Man is coming in February!). Students also embrace a history of compelling writing by taking dictation and learning famous speeches in classes from English to history to Latin and World Languages. Our students take on leadership roles in clubs and assemblies to practice their public speaking skills as well.

We are also very much aware that the way we use our words matter when it comes to using language to educate, encourage, edify and embrace, rather than to debase, deceive, defame or deplore. As a result, this year we have launched a program to enhance social-emotional skills designed by teachers and administrators (more on that in my next Legenda letter) and our peer mediation program, run by Anna Laura Grant, who holds a graduate degree in Conflict Resolution. Our distinctive approach to addressing conflicts involves having in-depth discussions, working collaboratively with students and teachers to solve problems, and realizing that our ability to discuss reflectively helps us solve problems.

We know that in a time fraught with division and disillusionment, being able to use words to solve problems peacefully is one of the most important skills children and adults can learn. An ancient philosopher once wrote: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This quote represents an ideal toward which we continue to work.