Saturday, March 29, 2014

Visitor's Notes: Parish Episcopal School "Chapel"

Parish Episcopal School's daily "Chapel" is a behavior setting  that reinforces certain non-academic values and behaviors among the students by presenting short, non-denominational homilies accompanied by prayer and sacred music.

March 21 2014
PES is a private school in North Dallas, affiliated with the local Episcopal Diocese. serving grades k-5 in a lower school and grades 6-12 on an upper school campus. My observation was made at the upper school on Sigma Drive.

"Chapel" is a daily event during the school year here. It is the responsibility of the upper school's chaplain (Episcopalian). I had learned of the Chapel from Ann Harris, one of the school counselors, on a previous visit, and she graciously invited me back when I expressed interest in the event as a part of my little study of such rituals.

All 350 or so high school students are expected to attend this event, which is scheduled early each day. This day's Chapel began with a Christian hymn and procession of the vested Chaplain and two student-acolytes bearing a large crucifix to the front of the assembly room ( a converted parking garage). The students sat in rows assigned by grade level, in chairs arranged to the left, right and center of a raised lectern.

PES students are required to wear a school uniform, but this was a non-uniform day, and so, as my host related "'s a little noisier than usual". The decorum seemed to me to be much he same as you'd expect of any adult audience. The students filed in and sat, and all side conversation ended once the Chaplain began to speak.

The Chaplain welcomed everyone with a brief prayer and then invited a teacher to the lectern. She made a few announcements and then read names and college destinations of seniors who had been recently received acceptance letters. The audience responded with spontaneous applause for each one. I'd assume these announcements continue throughout the "acceptance season" of early Spring.

The Chaplain returned and led the group in another hymn, "Praise to God". During the hymn, perhaps half of the students and teachers seemed to be singing, and I did not get the impression many were familiar the piece. I understand that the majority of the students are from "Christian backgrounds", but there are many Jews and non-church attenders. The largest single denomination represented is Catholic.

The Chaplain read a scripture from St. Matthew, which was flashed on the video monitors around the room. He then introduced a Mr. Rais Bhuiyan, ( who spoke (quite eloquently) about his experience as a victim of hate crime and how it affected the course and mission of his life. The core of his fifteen-minute speech was that forgiveness is the only productive response to evil, and that one can make good come out of it if one chooses to do so. The students responded with rapt attention and a half dozen or so had questions after he finished.

The Chaplain returned and read a passage quoting St. Francis of Assisi  ( Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon, etc.) before dismissing the group. Students filed out in no particular order after the Chaplain's recessional.

PES Daily Chapel has some of the values-bearing aspects of the Lyceum event I saw at BOMLA, but was less interactive. In Barkerian terms, the PES setting would be high in occurance and inclusion, but low in terms of penetration (the students and faculty are attending but passive) and behavioral diversity (prayer, quiet listening, and singing). Where BOMLA enshrines striving and personal responsibility in a secular context, this setting, at least in this instance, seems to promote personal virtue and service in a decidedly religious context.

At BOMLA, "Lyceum" is followed by "Success Hall" for those students who are having seen as having problems with compliance ( inappropriate behavior, not doing homework, etc.).  PES Chapel is followed by breakout sessions of 20 or so students for additional "guidance activities" for all students. I understand that these revolve around academic issues more than personal or behavioral ones.

Both settings reinforce "non-cognitive" messages and values systems deemed important by the school, albeit in subtly different ways. BOMLA Lyceums, at least in the Spring semester, may feature intellectual or academic content, but overrall, the principal there speaks to the "social and emotional needs of boys". In the case of PES, the homilies stress humanistic themes. I've reached out to the schools to get a list of speech topics and homily titles.

TBA: Attachment

Program materials from both schools

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