The Lower School Ethics and Cultures class spans a variety of topics and creates connections between all corners of the school. The main goal is to raise ethical issues in a context that students can understand so they may develop their moral decision-making skills and refine their moral framework. An important part of the program is to increase student understanding of world history and cultures through an engaging curriculum. In order to be effective, our Ethics and Cultures program reaches beyond the classroom. An initiative entitled “Ethics in Action” brings classroom topics to a student’s physical experience. Throughout the year, our K-8 community engages in a variety of events that are intended to instill lifelong moral decision-making capabilities. The events encourage social-action and service learning along a broad range of activities inspired by McGillis community values. Another Ethics and Cultures component is “Family Groups,” which is particularly effective in reinforcing the curriculum. Each family group consists of ten students from different grades ranging from Kindergarten through eighth grade who meet every Monday for lunch to discuss issues relating to the Ethics and Cultures class. Each group has a teacher who leads a set discussion for that week. Family Groups are a way for our students and teachers to build connections they would not ordinarily make. Every Friday the school celebrates a special ceremony drawn from Jewish tradition called Shabbat. During Shabbat students sing songs, hear poetry, participate in school-wide activities, receive honors, revisit ethical issues, and get into a relaxed mindset for the weekend.
The Lower School Life Skills class is coupled with Ethics and Cultures. The curriculum is designed to provide Kindergarten through fifth grade students with a strong foundation in emotional wellness and positive social interactions. Some lessons are adapted from the Prevention Dimensions (PD) curriculum from Utah's Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities, which support the Utah State Office of Education pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade health core curriculum. Age appropriate lessons are based on the risk and protective factors prevention model identified through the research of Drs. David Hawkins and Richard Catalano of the University of Washington. Lessons follow a developmentally appropriate scope and sequence as students are able to manage their interactions and understand concepts related to social interactions. Students in kindergarten through second grade learn about skills such as identifying feelings, making and keeping friends, and ways to manage strong emotions. In third through fifth grades, students learn about diversity, peer pressure and saying no, and coping with stress. With this knowledge, the goal is for students to overcome risk factors and to develop healthy social skills.
The Middle School Foundations: Ethics, Health, and Wellness program is an extension of the Lower School’s Ethics and Cultures and Life Skills classes, and is comprised of three components: one part traditional health education, one part wellness and relationships, and one part ethics. This integrated course is designed with an emphasis on helping students learn responsible health habits, behaviors, and decision making; to practice individual and social responsibility and understand the importance of social and emotional wellness; and based on a strong ethical foundation, to apply critical thinking in making healthy decisions. Our school’s six values are woven throughout the curriculum: giving to others, repairing the world, doing good and kind deeds, having respect for all, learning for the sake of learning, and community.