Strong Character Strong Students
“If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?” – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
I have been thinking a lot about character this week, specifically the character of our students and what we expect of them. Much of my thoughts stem from the fact that our entire staff is working together to learn Leader in Me, an innovative, schoolwide model that empowers students to be leaders in the 21st century. I also find myself highly impressed with the character of our boys each morning at Davening and the respect and attention given to their Tefillos. Lastly, as I am getting to know our students more each day, I am just generally impressed with how they treat each other and their teachers. However, it was not until around 6pm this evening that I realized just how special our boys are.
Sitting on my living room ottoman, holding the remote, jaw dropped and teary-eyed as I watched the morning news. That is where I was the morning of September 11th, 2001. Like me, if you are around my age, you know exactly where you were when you heard about American Airlines flight 77 crashing into the World Trade Center and the subsequent terrorist hijacked flights and crashes that followed. However, if you are any of our current VTHS students you have no idea where you were. You can assume you were either in your crib, toddler bed, crawling around your house or getting ready for kindergarten. So, when we ran a special 9/11 program today, I honestly was unsure how our students would react.
The 9/11 program featured a video I had edited together a few months after September 11th, 2001.
The students watched the video followed by an impassioned and personal account of that day by Rabbi Biron. Then all the students were asked as a form of Hakaras Hatov (appreciation) if they wanted to write a personalized thank you card to our local fire department. They all did. This is where I experienced the true character of our students that I could not be more proud of.
As the program was going on I was off-campus running a presentation at the VTHS-Girls school, so I did not get to see how the students experienced the video or speech. I was told they took it very seriously and Rabbi Biron did a great job. I was glad to hear that, but I wanted to know how the card writing went. After school tonight, I had an opportunity to read the cards and what I read was nothing short of beautiful.
I expected to read a few gems and some thoughtful words. What I did not expect was that each and every card I read was written with sensitivity, thoughtfulness, appreciation and caring. There was a deep understanding of what the firefighters do for us each and every day as well as the loss they must be feeling for those heroes who rushed into those buildings to save others. It is not that I do not think highly of our students, but given their age and disconnect from the live experience of that day, I assumed they could not possibly have the understanding of what that day meant.
Here are some excerpts from the cards as well as a poem written in one of the cards:
“Thank you so much for risking your life day in and day out. At Valley Torah High School your inspiring actions certainly don’t go unnoticed.”
“On this dark day I wanted to express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart.”
“Thank you for everything you do and for your willingness to wake up every morning risking your life for other people who you may not know.”
“May G-d protect you
in all of your
May the fire unschathe you
and not burn your skin
May you go back home
and be with your family
after the last time
you think you’ll see them
And may you live a long
healthy, safe and purposeful life”
“I know this day must bring sadness for your brothers lost on 9/11, but I thank them and you for being our guardians. While they were lost on that day, they will never be forgotten.
“P.S. I hope this made your day better as you do ours everyday.”
I know I have been writing a lot about my educational vision for VTHS and how creativity, innovation and meaningful learning are paramount to preparing our students for their future. However, all of that is useless if we are not ensuring that our students are of strong character and moral fiber. We want to send them out in the world with all the right tools to be successful, but they must also know how and when to use these tools appropriately. We are here to help develop our students into strong positive Jewish leaders and it is only upon a solid foundation of Jewish values that learning must take place. At VTHS it clearly does.
As a principal I was very proud of our students today. As parents you should be proud as well. As students, you guys are an impressive bunch and I hope you continue to shine as Jewish leaders in school and out.