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Re-Introducing the 7 Virtues of the Lower School
adawson

When Dr. Sandy Lizaire-Duff, Assistant Director of the Lower School, arrived at Pingry two years ago, her predecessor, Carolyn Gibson, handed her seven brightly colored felt banners, each bearing a single word. "She never explained to me how they came about or how they related to Pingry," she recalls. "They were a mystery to me." So, she stored them in her office, and got down to the business of settling in to life at Pingry. Then, at the end of the last school year, music teacher Patty Finn happened to ask about them. Suddenly, their mystery—and history—began to unravel.


As Mrs. Finn explains, in the early 1990s, when Joyce Hanrahan (Ted Corvino's predecessor) was Director of the Lower School, she selected a book each year for the faculty to read together. One year, she selected The Children's Book of Virtues, edited by William J. Bennett, and, to accompany the book, had seven banners made, each reflecting a different virtue presented in the book: respect, loyalty, honesty, courage, hope, justice, and love. Mrs. Gibson would display one banner each month during the school year, which served as a discussion point for students, faculty, and staff alike. Mrs. Finn either found or wrote a song to complement the virtue. "Gradually, the tradition kind of disappeared," Mrs. Finn remembers.   

Fast forward about 20 years, to the end of the 2017-18 school year and a meeting of Pingry magistri faculty. Mike Webster, Middle School history teacher, wondered aloud what more could be done to revivify and strengthen the Honor Code in the Middle School. Mrs. Finn, who was on the committee in the 1980's that created the Lower School's Code of Conduct, immediately thought of the banners. "I just decided, after hearing what Mike said, that we could do more here in the Lower School to prepare the kids for the Middle School," she says. "My intent was to identify an Honor Code initiative that was pervasive, but I didn't want to create extra work for the teachers. Reviving the seven virtues felt natural."

And so, during Morning Announcements this year, which Grade 5 students are responsible for preparing and presenting over the loudspeaker, with the help of Mrs. Finn, a little something extra is added to their run-down of school news items: a quote, thought, anecdote, or piece of trivia related to one of the virtues.

In September, the month of "respect," fifth graders reminded their peers about speaking kindly to one another and how to walk—not run—down the hallways. When a Kindergarten teacher noticed the floor of the dining commons was unnecessarily dirty, it was an opportunity to discuss respect for communal space.

October features "honesty," and Mrs. Finn has had no dearth of material to pull from. "We've had some interesting trivia items—What flower represents truth? Answer: the chrysanthemum—and I found quotes about honesty from Presidents Lincoln and Wilson that could have been written yesterday. Did you know that nursing is considered the most honest profession? And Japan and the UK are considered the most honest countries?"

Accompanying the Morning Announcements are Mrs. Finn's songs, which students learn and sing in class or during assemblies. As before, she either finds or writes them herself. Next month—November's virtue is "hope"—she plans to roll out Frank Sinatra's famous "High Hopes." Buttons have also been made, one for each virtue, which faculty wear. Lower School art teacher Russell Christian has rendered graphics to complement the quotes about each virtue, which are featured on the display monitor in the Corvino Commons. And those colorful banners? They now hang front-and-center outside the Main Office. (The purple "Honesty" banner has just one week left before blue "Hope" takes its place.)

Lower School Librarian Ann D'Innocenzo is also in on the action. "Since the early 2000s, the library has always had a window [just to the right of door] decorated with the theme of a particular virtue. Kudos to Patty for bringing this tradition back and making it more prevalent in the School," she says. "Last month, students really discussed walking in the halls and I've noticed a significant improvement. I told Patty I love what she's doing. The kids are listening and teachers are talking to kids about it and it's making a big difference."

Mrs. Finn, who has yet to notify Mr. Webster of her new undertaking, notices a difference, too. "The younger kids are asking me a lot of questions about the virtues. And I ask them if they can answer the trivia questions. The first-grade teachers tell me they're really into it. I think it's one of those things that will grow. It will spread from the bottom up. Our society needs a little civility right now."


September—RESPECT (green)

October—HONESTY (purple)

November—HOPE (blue)

December—HOPE (continued)

January—JUSTICE (tan)

February—COURAGE (red)

March—LOYALTY (orange)

April—LOVE (pink lettering on white banner)

 

Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, adawson@pingry.org