Sandy Spring Friends School



A Values-Based Education at SSFS

A Values-Based Education at SSFS

At Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS), our curricular and co-curricular programs offer  an extraordinary experience that transcends the standard expectations for a college preparatory school. Yes, our students take intellectually stimulating courses,  honing skills in science, math, history, critical reading and writing skills, foreign languages, and digital literacy; students also participate in a variety of AP classes, immersive educational travel experiences, high-caliber artistic endeavors, and athletics—all of which enable our graduates to pursue their passions and attend top-notch colleges and universities. But when asked what drew them to SSFS, and what compels them to stay once enrolled, families almost always also point to the School’s sense of community and the values-based education offered–that “magic sauce” that blends knowledge with a broader context.  This transformative fusion empowers our students to cultivate meaningful connections and emerge as positive change-makers on a global scale. 

What does a “values-based education” look like at SSFS?

Let Your Lives Speak Sign

Quaker values are the foundation of all-school programming at Sandy Spring Friends School. The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, hold a foundational belief that there is “that of God” in everyone. It is an inquisitive faith that encourages self-reflection, open and personal dialogue, inquiry, and peace-making. The emphasis is not on dogma, but on living an authentic life committed to universally-admired values such as simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship—core values that are often referred to within the Quaker school community by their acronym, the “SPICES.” Emphasis is placed on both the individual, and on the individual’s responsibility and role within their wider community. The School’s motto, “Let Your Lives Speak,” keeps the words of Quaker founder George Fox alive and relevant, as our students put their knowledge into action to make the world better.

Below are just a few examples—one each from the Lower (PK3-Grade 5), Middle (Grades 6-8), and Upper (Grades 9-12) School—that show how values inform our academic and co-curricular program at SSFS.

Upper School History Elective Course: “Knowing Right and Wrong: Ethical Decision Making”

US Ethics Class

What does it mean to behave in an ethical way? Is what is legal always the same as what is ethical? What ethical obligations do doctors, lawyers, journalists, therapists, and members of various other professions have?  These are some of the questions that are tackled in the class, “Knowing Right and Wrong: Ethical Decision Making. Taught by Upper School History teacher Barbara von Salis,  this semester-long Upper School History and Social Studies Department elective delves into the core principles of ethics, and investigates philosophical, historical, moral, religious, and social aspects of decision making. 

The course is heavily discussion-based, and students develop their skills at analyzing complex dilemmas, considering various viewpoints, weighing options, and explaining their conclusions. The curriculum pulls from both real-world and hypothetical scenarios and case studies, allowing students to think critically and communicate their reasoning in answering moral questions. 

US Ethics Class -Guest Speaker

Throughout the fall semester, various guest speakers—SSFS parents, alum, and friends whose professions include a pediatrics nocturnist, legal counsel for the Department of Justice, senior social worker, firefighter, lawyer, family doctor, and communications strategist—have engaged with our students in enriching dialogue, furthering their study and understanding of applied ethics. These interactions have provided invaluable opportunities to hear how people, in diverse professions, approach dilemmas of morality and the decision-making processes concerning their professional and personal values. Topics of discussion have included: How do we know what is morally right? How can that sometimes come in conflict with one's ethical, professional obligations? How do we grapple with that tension?

Middle School Civics Class & Model Congress Project

Values-Based Education - MS Model Congress

We believe there's no better introduction to Middle School Humanities, taught by Pinki Shah, than to channel their analytical and critical thinking skills through debate. Throughout the sixth-grade year, students engage in biweekly debates, with topics and affirmative/negative sides determined by the students themselves. In keeping with Quaker process, students don't "vote" on a specific debate topic; instead, the topic is chosen based on the collective "sense of the group."

Values-Based Education - MS Model Congress

During the second week of school, sixth graders participate in their first debate, navigating through initial nerves with consistently positive outcomes. As a culmination project of their academic year, each student participates in a mock Model Congress in the spring. This event simulates the U.S. Congress, where students draft and debate bills they wish today's Congress would enact. The six-week-long project involves extensive research and preparation, allowing students to express their views on various subjects, such as health and nutrition, the environment, and education. The sense of ownership they develop towards their proposed bills fosters pride as they advocate for their ideas, resulting in a deep insight into the functioning of the current U.S. Congress. Through this process, students thoroughly examine the intricacies of government while grasping the impact of individual influence.

The sixth grade Model Congress project began in 2019-2020, and we are confident that this year's class will bring forth compelling bills, continuing the tradition of impactful debates.

Lower School SHINE Curriculum and the Gratitude Museum

Values-Based Ed-LS Gratitude Museum

As mentioned above, one of the foundational values of Quakerism is seeing the “Light” or “that of God” in everyone.  In the Lower School, the name of our stand-alone Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) class, SHINE,  mirrors our intention to nurture the individual brilliance of each child–in essence, to let their inner Light shine. The SHINE curriculum improves each student’s understanding and practice of responsibility, emotional safety, collaboration/cooperation, empathy, self-awareness, and self-regulation—known by its acronym, RECESS.  SHINE classes deepen the work of helping students explore these RECESS targets through a variety of methods. Our units are specifically designed to make our SSFS mission come to life in various ways.

In November and December, students explore our Monthly Quaker Themes of “simplicity” and “service” in the Lower School.  Our SHINE lessons emphasize the importance of comprehending gratitude as both a personal gift and a valuable offering to others. From preschool (PK3) to 5th grade, our students delve into the concept of gratitude through lessons tailored to their developmental stages. The main goal of this unit enables each group to investigate how gratitude influences emotions and impacts relationships. Students in every grade have looked deeper into their understanding of gratitude, and through their investigations and discussions. By December’s end, students gain first-hand knowledge about how gratitude can kindle feelings of happiness and serenity. They also see how openly expressing gratitude can weave a stronger bond among relationships, thus fully comprehending the power held by the simple act. 

Values-Based Ed-LS Gratitude Museum

To culminate this unit, each grade designs a tangible visual display that celebrates their understanding of the benefits of experiencing and practicing gratitude. Students work collaboratively in their SHINE classes to imagine the possibilities of their exhibits and collaborate on a shared class design.  These displays are meticulously curated and constructed within the Yarnall Library, where a pop-up "Gratitude Museum" emerges during the last week of school before the winter break. The entire SSFS student body and faculty are invited to visit the “Gratitude Museum” during the last week of school before winter break. Parents/guardians and family members are also given a chance to view the museum (to the delight of the students!) following the Winter Program Assembly on the last day of school before break.

The first-ever Gratitude Museum premiered in December of 2022; the displays of gratitude were a welcome sight, and brought joy and smiles to students, families, and faculty. We look forward to giving the simple gift of gratitude to our community yet again, and send everyone into Winter Break with joy, calm, love, and a strong sense of community. 

...and speaking of gratitude:
Thank you to Upper School History teacher Barbara von Salis, Middle School Humanities teacher Pinki Shah, and Lower School Assistant Head Joel Gunzburg for contributing to this article!

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