At The Miami Valley School education expands beyond reading, writing and arithmetic
Once a year, a group of students from The Miami Valley School dress up in Hindi garb and hold battery-operated lights during morning carpool. They greet students and parents as they arrive for the school day, saying “Happy Diwali” to everyone as they pass by.
It’s not just kids being kids; they’re celebrating Diwali, the Hindi festival of lights, as part of their Hindi language class. It’s also one of the events The Miami Valley School organizes to make its students into what it calls “compassionate global citizens.”
“It’s [about] developing this global, compassionate awareness education of different cultures and ways,” says Austin Munhofen, director of communications for the independent school. She says their goal is to give the students “an open mind to other ways of doing things and other cultures.”
This compassionate global citizenship is developed through the school’s approach to the education of its 450 students. “We are really are interested in holistic education and developing every aspect of the child, so it is about academics – the academic rigor is really exceptional – but it’s also about developing the social component,” says Munhofen.
It begins at the Early Childhood Center, where MVS makes the most of the years before kindergarten. “We’re really trying to first get them to look outside themselves, which can be a really hard thing at that age,” says Director of the Early Childhood Center Julie Patel.
For example, they use their weather unit as an opportunity to think about weather around the world. Patel says, “You could talk about what was happening here and then they would name places around the world and that would bring up conversations. Well, what are kids doing there? … What are their lives like?”
When the students move on to kindergarten at the Lower School, they take the tools they’ve learned with them.
“I think MVS does an amazing job of [creating compassion] and making it more inclusive of the world as you move up from Early Childhood to the Lower to the Middle to high school, really broadening their horizons,” says Patel.
MVS students start taking language classes as soon as they enter kindergarten. The Lower School offers classes in Hindi, Mandarin and Spanish, and all students in kindergarten through second grade take a different one each year, giving them exposure to all three cultures.
“The focus of the language in the primary grades is not at all about being fluent,” says Suzy Hardin, head of the Lower School. “It’s about learning a little but about culture and understanding about people from other cultures and places around the world.”
“It’s a language program, but it’s also a cultural program, too,” says Munhofen. “We start very early and we continue all the way through high school.”
In second grade, the students spend the year focusing on world geography and begin the year studying another country as a class. “They learn how to do a country study together and it is a very detailed project,” says Hardin. “They learn about schools and animals and sports and culture and a little bit of history, a little bit of government and special places to visit in that country.”
In the spring, each student picks his or her own country to research and then presents at the end-of the-year Heritage Day.
“Our gymnasium is transformed into the world,” says Munhofen. “So they’ll also dress up a certain way depending on their culture, and they kind of just offer you their knowledge and their traditions that they’ve studied in this country.”
The event also allows the students to show off what they’ve learned and use their critical thinking skills. “They’re being asked questions and they have to respond. Sometimes it’s really interesting because they don’t know the answer but they make a really awesome educated guess based on the information and the knowledge that they’ve acquired,” says Munhofen.
In third grade, the students are able to choose which of the languages they would like to study. The classes become more academic, with the students learning the basics of writing and conversing in this new language.
“It’s a very light-hearted atmosphere where they’re trying to engage the kids in having some fun playing with the language,” says Hardin.
This dedication to world languages and cultures continues into the Upper School. Students in ninth through 12th grades can take French, Spanish or Mandarin. The Mandarin program has been particularly successful, with two students awarded the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship by the U.S. State Department.
Students in the Upper School are also given the opportunity to physically explore different countries and cultures with its Immersion Program. This annual four-week program gives students the chance to either travel within or outside the country for an intensive educational program.
“This idea [is] what we’re learning here – we’re a college prep school so we’re very academically rigorous – in the classroom on campus has to impact the greater world,” says Rachel Moulton, the Upper School position head. “So we’re really asking our students to understand communities larger than the ones that they live in on a daily basis.”
This year, students will be traveling to Ghana, China, Ecuador and Italy. Each of these programs has an academic component, but they also have social, cultural and even service aspects as well.
“When we get it right, it’s about a balance,” says Moulton. “What you’re studying is not only the language, you’re studying the culture, you’re interacting with the family [you’re staying with], you’re seeing that culture up close.”
Munhofen adds, “You’re becoming more knowledgeable, more compassionate to different cultures and different ways of doing things and how it fits with what you learn.”
These programs, classes and projects work in tandem to give the students a more worldly perspective. “We’re really excited about giving our students an opportunity to live in Dayton and have a perspective of the world,” says Moulton.