Shaping 21st Century Leaders at Friends' Central
Shaping 21st Century Leaders at Friends' Central

From the youngest 3-year-old Nursery student to graduating seniors and every grade in between, FCS students are eager to participate, to learn, and to lead. In every division at Friends’ Central, classrooms promote independent thought, the courage to voice individual opinions, and the faith that students will listen to and value one another’s viewpoints. Students are given many opportunities to solve problems in innovative ways, both in the classroom and in the world. In short, Friends’ Central students are prepared to be cutting-edge, civically conscious 21st century leaders.

Leadership abilities are recognized and nurtured in the Lower School, where students are taught to be responsible members of the community and empowered to stand up for others and for themselves. In fact, Kindergarten students have been tasked with the responsibility of taking care of the new Friends’ Central Lower School chickens, three buff Orpington hens from the eggs that Kindergartners hatched last spring. The hens have their very own coop and run at the back of the Lower School farm. Kindergarten is in charge of collecting the eggs with Science teacher Sarah Taylor on Mondays and Wednesdays in conjunction with their life cycle and bird-hatching study. Kindergarten student Isla shares what she likes best, “I like picking up the eggs from the chickens.” Her classmate Jack shares, “Every day, we go outside to the chickens, let them out, and we pet them after school.” The eggs will be used in the Lower School kitchen for the LettuceFeedYou farm-to-table food program, as well as classroom cooking projects.

In older grades, even greater opportunities for responsibility emerge for fifth graders, the leaders of the Lower School. For example, Sam participates in a student panel during Admission Open Houses. He shares what he enjoys about this leadership position. “It’s so cool to have all those people in front of me and be in the spotlight with my friends to tell people about Friends’ Central.” Chloe and Ben are two of the leaders of the car line, helping younger children get out of their cars during drop-off. Chloe says, “I enjoy taking responsibility for helping younger kids and taking care of them. I always try to find a way to help my buddies.” Ben says, “Car line makes us feel like we are the leaders of the school, especially being responsible for the younger students.” Another important job for fifth graders is managing the aeroponic towers in the Light Lab. Neha explains, “Part of our job is to water the towers, pick the greens – like kale, lettuce, and Swiss chard – and bring them to the cafeteria so they can serve it in the salad.” Lower School Principal Kelly Pierre shares, “At Friends' Central, students are not taught to simply follow directions, but rather to ask, ‘How do I want to show what I've learned?’ or ‘How can I solve this problem?’ These opportunities to be makers and problem solvers, both academically and socially, allow them to see their potential and their impact. Our students develop a confidence that their ideas matter and, as result, they believe their perspective, their words, and their actions have the possibility to peacefully transform the world.”

These opportunities to grow and gain leadership experience in grade five have a significant impact on students as they transition to Middle School. From a service learning program that is woven into the core curriculum to students of culture, affinity groups, and the student newspaper, Middle Schoolers are not only taught the impact of leading and service, but they understand that their actions and participation can have a significant impact on their communities. Middle School Principal Alexa Quinn explains, “I think students at Friends' Central are strong leaders – and at an early age – because our curriculum and community emphasize the importance of being engaged, active participants in the world, both on campus and beyond. In the curriculum, students learn about people who have identified or spoken out about issues in society and the steps they have taken to create change. In our service program, we demonstrate the idea of servant leadership – that we can be leaders by serving others. The Quaker testimony of equality is an essential component, too, because we believe that students have equal voice, agency, and ability to affect change. Students internalize that message and are empowered to lead their peers as well as adults. Whether in Lower, Middle, or Upper School, we teach students that they do not have to wait to be a certain age or to have a certain amount of life experience to be a leader. This is why FCS students of all ages take on leadership responsibilities.”

Eighth grader Julia Beyer understands the importance of both community service and caring for the planet. For the last two years, she has been involved in Easter Seals, a non-profit that provides services and education for people with disabilities, and Streamwatch, cleaning up the local stream and surrounding areas. Julia shares, “Becoming involved in Easter Seals and Streamwatch have been fulfilling and gratifying experiences. I joined Streamwatch because of how important it is to take care of the planet and nature around us, and environmental sustainability starts at the local level. This year, I joined Easter Seals because I wanted to make an impact outside of my direct community. Just being able to put a smile on the kids’ faces makes me happy; it continues to teach me the value of helping others who are at a disadvantage. I believe that as leaders, we have the responsibility to bring the Light and help to others in our society.”

Julia and her classmate Krisangi Bhargava also participate in Middle School Students of Culture, a service group that enables students to explore topics related to diversity and culture. Krisangi joined Students of Culture because she enjoys learning about current events and it gave her a chance to try something different. She says, “What I enjoy most about leading the Middle School and being a part of Students of Culture is the fact that I get to learn something new each session and affinity group meeting and because you step out of your comfort zone and experience something different. Last month, we talked about and taught the concept of intersectionality, understanding that different people can face multiple types of oppression. I had not even known what the word meant, but I learned something new and then got to further understand it by teaching it to others.” Julia also discusses her participation in Students of Culture. Although affinity groups are typically led by participants of Students of Culture, her affinity group, White Advocates for Racial Equality, only had one eighth grade student leader assigned to it, so, Julia explains, “I decided to step in and help lead discussion and create our presentation for a Middle School assembly. I care deeply about issues of racial injustice and wanted to help raise awareness about them in the Middle School. These experiences have instilled in me the Quaker values of stewardship and community and have helped me become a leader at FCS.”

In the Upper School, leadership skills, global awareness, and self-discipline are developed throughout the curriculum and in extracurricular activities. Numerous and varied doors are open to students who want to lead, from founding their own clubs to athletic and arts boards, from Model UN to Student Council and STAR. Amelia McDonnell, Student Council President, shares, “If any student is passionate about a certain topic, they can join or found their own club, and if they continue in that role with dedication, they will develop these leadership qualities and assume a leadership role.” Frequently, a passion for a particular activity will guide a student into a leadership role, as was the case for Saleana Copeland, Chorus President, Leader of the FCS Diversity Conference, and Co-founder and Leader of STAR (Students Talking About Racism). Saleana explains, “I’ve known since Middle School that I’d want to be chorus president one day. I had always loved singing and had gotten my feet wet in other leadership positions, such as section leader. I eventually wound up running and winning. The Diversity Conference was passed down to [co-leader] Jordan and myself from its founder, Simone Gibson ’17. Simone had seen the work that we did as Co-founders of STAR, and figured that we would be perfect for the job. I jumped on the opportunity immediately because I loved attending conferences and wanted to be a part of planning things like games and topics. Co-founding and leading STAR for three years will always fill me up with pride. Our club has proven way larger and more impactful than we could have ever imagined.”

For other students like Matt Berger, Vice President of Student Council and leader of Stage Crew, the desire to lead stems from wanting to make a difference and wanting to bridge the gap between two different interests. Matt shares, “I really wanted to make a difference in the community, to put my stamp on things, especially after my experience at FCS as a whole since 6th grade. I’ve tried to bring my experiences in both Student Council and Stage Crew with me to make them both better. For example, Stage Crew wanted to increase their budget to create a better experience for audiences, and Student Council can help with that. So, for me, participating in both groups has created a nice bridge between Student Council and Stage Crew. Now, we have more tech options and are presenting better shows and assemblies throughout the year.”

Upper School Principal Bill Kennedy believes that Friends’ Central’s central pedagogy and curriculum gives students the tools to become leaders. “In teaching students to think for themselves and to make their own judgments, we give them the skills they need to lead in and out of the classroom, to find out who they are and determine who they want to be,” he shares. “The Quaker belief in continuous revelation informs this growth, as does a humility that comes from learning as an individual and as part of a collective. A leader who wants to make things better for others is the only leader worth following.”