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Aug 07, 2017 | Fran Barrack

All Day, Every Day, Practice Makes Perfect

Practice makes perfect, or so we are told. As a child I remember being given spelling words by my teacher and assigned to write each one 20 times. Of course, one misplaced letter would become imprinted in our heads for years and even now we wonder whether it’s “i-e” or “e-i” when we believe we are correct.

Spelling was not the only thing imprinted in our brains. You remember a favorite teacher who connected with you and the best friend who chose you for kickball, but you may also remember someone who was always in trouble or an incident that happened to you on the playground. We learned by listening but, more so, by watching teachers with kids and kids with kids.

Education has evolved over the years and started with the teaching of young men to read and write, become scholars of the Scriptures, and assist rulers of early countries. During the Reformation, the Anglican church suggested the wisdom of giving worshippers access to the Book of Common Prayer for those who could read, and eventually, school on Sundays became school all week long. In the United States, the first Episcopal school opened in 1709 as a boys’ charity school, which incorporated as a private college preparatory school when free public schools opened in the early 1800s. It built an adjacent school for girls in 1895, and finally evolved into a co-ed school in 1975.

In 1978, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas approved its Canon on Schools, and the Rev. Dean Calcote became chair of the newly created Commission on Schools to define the expectations of exemplary schools and offer resources to them. Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas alone has 58 schools, more than 11,300 students and 2,500 educators and administrators to meet this challenge.

There are 1,182 Episcopal schools across the country today. Several traditions differentiate Episcopal schools in their role as an uncommon ministry.

The curriculum is thorough, complex and rich in depth and details. Starting with core academic subjects, add debate, decision-making, religion and politics, then include discussions about accountability, fairness, patience, civility, forgiveness, generosity and fellowship, and the result is an abundantly rich and comprehensive learning environment.

The classrooms highlight intentional efforts to build an inclusive enrollment of students from all backgrounds, family configurations, cultural experiences, religions and economic situations. Exceptional educators assimilate students into this pluralistic community, where differences are known and accepted, and everyone practices living together creatively and respectfully. Together, our students learn about compassion and outreach toward others.

Episcopal clergy share the church’s message with all students, no matter their ages. They add prayerful comfort when a grief-stricken child loses a grandparent or help children whose class pet died; they celebrate joyful events such as a new baby in one family and a teen’s mother now cancer-free in another. Chapel services for young learners acknowledge and respect those who bring different traditions from home but introduce them to Episcopal traditions of worship and reflection as well. The message is that God loves them, no matter their age, no matter their religion.

All day, every day, our students practice essential life lessons in grace-filled communities and learn more about their world. All day, every day, our students and educators practice what we actually preach to honor each other, recognize and understand our differences, and love one other. This imprint is a blessing.

Practice makes perfect, or so we are told. I believe we are getting close.

Barrack is chair of the Diocesan Commission on Schools. For a full listing of Episcopal schools in the Diocese of Texas, go to: epicenter.org/the-episcopal-faith/find-a-school and search by city.

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