April 27, 2023 | Nancy Van Epps
by Head of School, Abby Hall Choi
“At Mustard Seed, we tend to the heart of the student. As part of our focus on the whole child, we utilize Bible stories to teach our principles and values. But there are other ways to cultivate empathy, kindness, and integrity.” — Program Director Emily Ford Sytsma
Our other processes for nurturing values at Mustard Seed may best be communicated by the students themselves.
Completion of eight Academic Exhibitions, a deep-dive into a topic in science, history, art, literature, and more, is a Mustard Seed requirement for graduation. Although they are held in seventh and eighth grade, preparation for formal presentations in these subjects begins in second and third grade in work for the Global Expo and Change Makers Museum, and students as young as preschool practice research. Last week during the Math and Science Academic Exhibitions, other important skills were on display.
“As an audience member, my heart goes out to whomever I see struggling a little with their presentation,” says sixth-grade student Victoria. “Maybe they have not prepared properly or do not have the right notes. They might just be really nervous. I know how that feels!” Victoria says that she always tries to be conscious of her facial appearance during an Exhibition presentation: affirming and nodding in response to the student’s words, and holding a kind and encouraging expression.
“As a member of the audience, you want to treat others the way you would want to be treated,” says eighth-grade student Polly. “After years of speaking in front of a group of people that I’ve come to know so well, I’m not that nervous. However, I can still remember feeling anxious when I was younger so I can sympathize with students who are.”
In addition to practicing empathy and advocacy for everyone’s success, students convey an awareness of others and genuine curiosity in their work. Earlier in her academic career at Mustard Seed, Victoria chose an ambitious study of neglected tropical diseases, an interest sparked by a reference on the UN website. She’s always interested in why others choose their topics.
Drew, a sixth grade student in his first year at Mustard Seed, discussed a science exhibition by his peers that examined the impact of varying ingredients in making ice cream.
“I thought offering samples of variations on the ice cream recipe was such a clever approach! The samples allowed easy interaction with other students and we were able to experience the differences for ourselves,” says Drew. “The group mistakenly substituted salt for sugar one time, but kept it for the samples—that was great!”
Working as a team on the Exhibitions presents additional opportunities to practice kindness and compassion. Knowing that his teammates were apprehensive about a Math Exhibition at the beginning of the year, Drew intentionally offered them words of encouragement. “As late as the day before, we were worried about completing the slideshow and gathering support for our case for a business loan for our Gelato & Coffee Shop. I knew that it was important to demonstrate confidence in our presentation in order for the others in my group to feel confident,” says Drew.
When given a forum to ask questions and offer feedback, Mustard Seed students are committed to diplomacy. “We have always been taught to offer criticism constructively,” says Polly. “It’s less about making the person feel bad about what they just did and more about encouraging them moving forward. If we like something, we make a point of expressing that, too.”
Knowing that their peers will be considerate and encouraging gives some students the courage to take risks and tackle complex topics in their presentation. For their Math Exhibition this year, Polly, with her teammate Matilda, delivered a comprehensive talk on student loans. They discussed why the loans appear attractive to families approaching college, and the long-term advantages and pitfalls of student loans on a micro and macro level. Polly said that they felt comfortable investigating this topic that fascinated them even though it was challenging. Polly says, “Matilda was so inspired that she created an extra Venn diagram!”
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