As a subcontractor for Allen MAC, I wrote the text for a student viewbook. The client was The Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia.
A Tradition of Excellence
The Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, is an independent boarding school for boys in grades nine through twelve. The ideals upon which the school was built are as important today as they were in 1839, when a group of Episcopal Church leaders founded the school. Christian principles of brotherly love, honor and integrity; critical standards of academic performance; an understanding of the role of athletics in promoting good health and in teaching sportsmanship and self discipline—these were among the values the school sought to instill in its earliest students.
Collectively, these and other equally worthy ideals have continued throughout the school’s long and distinguished history to weave substance and quality into the fabric of the EHS program, finding expression in the many customs and traditions that remain so integral to the life of the school.
It is altogether appropriate, for example, that students at Episcopal High school are bound today by an honor system the school pioneered more than a century ago. “I will not lie. I will not steal. I will not cheat. I will report any person who does so.” On these four simple sentences is built an atmosphere of trust and respect that permeates the entire school community now as it has for nearly 150 years. It is a legacy passed on from class to class, yet its principles remain with the school’s graduates for a lifetime.
The school’s program of indoctrination and service for new boys introduces them to the school’s history, traditions, rules, organization and personalities and, in the process, teaches them to understand and value service to their fellow man. This traditional year-long indoctrination earns the EHS “New Boy” the privilege of becoming an “Old Boy” of the school, an identity he cherishes all the more because of its strong symbolic significance among members of the school community.
Another important school tradition is expressed through an emphasis on religion. Since its founding, the school has recognized and taken seriously its responsibility to help each boy develop spiritually as well as intellectually and physically. Through required courses, the boys acquire a basic intellectual understanding of theology. Through required participation in daily chapel and monthly church services, the boys express their individual beliefs in an organized setting.
The school’s goal is to instill in each boy a desire to examine his faith, to formulate a personal value system and to live his daily life according to those values. The countless incidents in which boys express true Christian caring and concern for others, the widespread dedication to honesty and integrity, the common willingness to be their brothers’ keepers—all these attest to the continuing success of the school in promoting spiritual development among its students.
Living the Tradition
From the first day he joins the EHS community, a boy is expected to participate fully in the life of the school. Almost constant study becomes a way of life, with boys spending an estimated eight hours per day on academic pursuits. Required participation in the school’s demanding athletic program is another important part of the EHS lifestyle. The program is admittedly rigorous and expectations are high, but boys who accept the challenge are well rewarded through genuinely competitive performance and personal growth.
Originally, the Episcopal High School campus consisted of an 80 acre tract of land adjoining the Virginia Theological Seminary. Today, the school’s expanded campus occupies 130 beautifully landscaped acres. Throughout the campus, spacious contemporary buildings blend comfortably with more imposing older structures. Within those buildings are well equipped classrooms, laboratories, dormitory rooms and indoor athletic facilities, as well as a library containing an impressive collection of books and periodicals. The campus also offers complete outdoor facilities to accommodate a broad range of athletic activities. During its first year, The High School enrolled 35 boys. EHS now enrolls about 280 boys per year in grades’ nine through twelve. The students come from diverse social, economic and ethnic backgrounds and typically come from more than 20 different states and several foreign countries. Diverse though they are, the students are bound together by their sincere dedication to the traditions that have made The Episcopal High School one of the nation’s leading boarding schools.
The EHS faculty is also characterized by its diversity, representing a variety of age groups, interests and academic backgrounds. More than two-thirds of them (70%) have earned at least one graduate degree. Three-quarters of them, because of their education, experience and ability, could easily rank as master teachers at any school. Their average tenure at the school is 11 years, with a quarter of the faculty having served EHS 20 years or more.
In selecting faculty members, Episcopal looks for men and women who exhibit exceptional expertise in both the teaching profession and in their individual disciplines. They must be willing and able to commit themselves to a boarding school program. They must possess well developed communications skills and be at ease with other people. They must be men and women of integrity, with well defined religious values of their own. Finally, and perhaps most important, they must love young people and be strongly committed to their development.
It is not by coincidence that many faculty members are themselves graduates of Episcopal. As EHS alumni, many have themselves been taught by the faculty’s “old guard,” a group of talented, dedicated teachers who have served the school for most of their professional lives. As a result, these Old Boy faculty members have been imbued with precisely the qualities the school seeks in its teachers. They are also men who recognize and are deeply committed to the values and ideals for which the school stands.
All students and nearly all faculty members live on campus, providing opportunities for close interaction not only in the classroom, but in the dining room, in the chapel, and on the athletic field as well. The informal guidance that takes place as a result is recognized as a vital part of the school program. A more formal system assigns a faculty member to each boy for more intensive academic and personal counseling. Counselors place a special emphasis on acquainting boys in their junior and senior years with possible college choices, encouraging campus visits and discussing financial aid available from the various institutions.
The school believes strongly in promoting responsible self-rule among the boys and does so by calling on older students to share in its operation. All boys participate in the work program, designed to keep the school clean while helping students develop a sense of community responsibility and learn the basics of housekeeping. Seniors supervise dormitory clean-up and juniors inspect completed jobs.
Aptly summarized in the school philosophy, the goal of The Episcopal High School is “to cultivate faith, integrity and learning in our students through a program touching every aspect of their daily lives.” To succeed at such an ambitious undertaking, the school has designed a program of academics, athletics and other activities which effectively instills in each boy a strong ambition for personal achievement coupled with a well-developed ability to function as part of a team.
In administering the program, the school refrains from excessive praise of individual achievement, tacitly conveying to each student that the greatest reward for excellence is the personal satisfaction that comes from knowing he has done his best. In this way, the school effectively prepares its students for their futures, regardless of the roles they ultimately assume in society.
The academic program at Episcopal High School is designed to encourage a boy’s interest in learning and to train him to think rationally, critically and independently.
Mastery of basic skills is an important goal, as is the development of an understanding of relationships among the various disciplines. The curriculum is designed to teach students to do more than simply assimilate information to be parroted back to the teacher. At EHS, students learn to apply the knowledge they gain in a variety of practical situations. The academic program also encourages each boy to accept responsibility for his own development, with the ultimate goal of autonomy. Academic achievement is highly valued and competition among students is keen.
The academic program at EHS is clearly geared toward preparing students for college. For that reason, all students are trained in proper study techniques and thought processes. Advanced placement courses are available to challenge students of superior ability. A student-faculty ratio of 8.5 to 1 ensures that each student will receive individual attention and guidance from his teachers, whether he is attempting to master Russian, calculus or a computer.
Students are required to complete core courses in several disciplines. Through English courses, they learn to communicate effectively and to appreciate the world’s great literature. Through fine arts courses, they become acquainted with the fundamentals of creative expression in art and music. Foreign language study promotes understanding of other cultures and fluency in their languages. In mathematics classes, boys learn not only the basic formulas and equations, but the principles of deductive reasoning as well. Required science classes promote critical thinking while teaching students proper laboratory techniques and current research developments. Through social studies, boys are introduced to the origins and workings of the society for which the school is preparing them. Finally, through required study of theology, each boy comes to understand more fully his Christian heritage in an academic environment that encourages him to examine actively his experiences, doubts and questions.
Outside the classroom, EHS boys have many opportunities to apply creative skills and talents as they acquire them. Boys with a musical bent participate in the school choir, leading music at worship services and performing throughout the year at many other school functions. Many boys also study piano and other instruments privately. The school’s art center is a popular gathering place for boys who wish in their spare time to try their hands at painting, sculpting and related pursuits. Aspiring actors, directors and stage managers participate in the school’s drama club while those with writing and editing talents join the staffs of the school newspaper, literary magazine or year book.
Through a required program of athletics, Episcopal High School promotes good physical health among its students while teaching them the values of teamwork, sportsmanship and fair play. EHS fields teams in football, cross country, soccer, baseball, swimming, lacrosse, tennis, track, gymnastics, wrestling, basketball and golf. The program emphasizes interscholastic competition, but regardless of his abilities, each boy has a place in the EHS athletic program, and each is encouraged to develop his talents to their fullest potential.
The EHS curriculum is uniquely strengthened and enhanced by the school’s location. With one of the world’s major cultural and political capitals at its doorstep, the school is able to offer its students unparalleled opportunities for direct exposure to a broad range of experiences. By the time he graduates, an EHS Old Boy is familiar with the city’s major institutions, its human and physical geography and its vast cultural resources. He has not only read plays in English class, he has attended first-run productions ranging from Oedipus Rex to Rhinoceros. His understanding of the difference between Bartok and Beethoven has come, not from recordings, but from live performances by the National Symphony Orchestra. His knowledge of the political process and his place in it has been immeasurably broadened by direct questioning of guest speakers from Capitol Hill.
With Washington, D.C., as his classroom, the Episcopal High School student learns to be at ease in a major metropolitan setting. He also learns to reach out to the community by participating in the many service projects the school encourages. Because of their frequency, visits to the theater, to museums, or to the halls of Congress become infinitely more meaningful and enjoyable to the boys.
Through the May Program, qualified seniors get a taste of professional life at local hospitals, offices and the like.
As an immediate result of their successful completion of The High School’s rigorous program, Old Boys are admitted to some of the nation’s leading colleges and universities. At such institutions as Harvard, Princeton, Vanderbilt, The University of Virginia, Dartmouth, The University of North Carolina, Davidson, Washington and Lee, Middleburg, Trinity, Cornell, The University of Chicago and Yale, they typically distinguish themselves with impressive performance in academics and sports.
Important as college admission and performance are, however, they are secondary to the larger objective of instilling in students the ideals upon which EHS is built—ideals which are the same today as they have been since 1839. The success of Episcopal High School in meeting that objective is difficult to measure quantitatively, but as the school’s Old Boys look back on their days at the school, they are inspired with exceptional gratitude and loyalty, prompting many of them to express their appreciation tangibly through gifts to the school, through returning there to teach, and through sending their own sons to be part of the continuing tradition.
Becoming Part of the Tradition
Episcopal High School is currently seeking students who can function effectively in the school’s unique learning environment. They must be willing to work hard, recognizing that any effort they put forth will be more than amply rewarded by their own sense of accomplishment at successfully meeting the school’s challenges.
Admission to Episcopal High School is based on character, conduct and scholarship as indicated by personal interview, recommendations, previous school performance and entrance examinations. While the school enrolls boys from the ninth through the twelfth grade, boys are not encouraged to enroll above the eleventh grade level because of the difficulties typically experienced by older boys who try to adjust to the school’s social and academic requirements. The school recommends that candidates and their families schedule a visit to the school before February of the year before the student wishes to enroll.
The school offers financial aid to students through a number of scholarships and student loans. Scholarships are awarded and renewed annually, based on financial need and the student’s record of achievement. For more information on financial aid, contact the school’s admissions office at 1200 North Quaker Lane; Alexandria, Virginia, 22302; (703) 379-6530.
“We believe that democracy cannot flourish without men of virtue who will conduct themselves wisely and honorably in public and private life and who will influence their fellow citizens to follow their example; that, as an independent Christian boarding school, we have exceptional opportunities to cultivate faith, integrity, and learning in our students through a program touching every aspect of their daily lives; and that it is our duty to make the most of these opportunities.”—statement of philosophy The Episcopal High School