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Kent's Inaugural CEA Week: A Holistic Blend of Celebration, Exploration, and Assessment

Kent School introduced its inaugural Celebration, Exploration, and Assessment (CEA) week, reimagining the typical exam week experience. This initiative sought to redefine the student learning journey by introducing a week that shifted the focus away from the traditional emphasis on exams. Instead, the CEA week aimed to provide a more holistic and dynamic educational experience.

Celebration: Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  

The celebration aspect of the week kicked off with a special emphasis on commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Venerable Ocean-of-Wisdom Sakya, a distinguished Buddhist Priest and scholar, took center stage as the guest speaker. His enlightening discussion on Buddhist traditions not only dispelled common myths but also skillfully linked Buddhist teachings to the enduring legacy of Dr. King. The event concluded with heartfelt gratitude extended to the entire community for their meaningful participation.

Exploration: Diverse Workshops and Conversations  

Exploration unfolded throughout the week, immersing students in a diverse array of workshops, conversations, and activities facilitated by faculty, alumni, and campus visitors. Director of Wellness Dr. Annie Kearney, highlighted the goal of providing students with opportunities to explore varied subjects. Dr. Kearney shared, "Workshops were designed to be a surprise; students didn't know which faculty member was attached to each. This format allowed them to meet faculty they'd never encountered before." Activities ranged from exploring the endocrine system and hormones in a clean beauty workshop to group forest bathing, a method of therapeutic relaxation that involves immersing oneself in a natural environment. 

Library Director Amy Voorhees, a pivotal organizer for the week, stressed the importance of linking elements stating, "Every opportunity we give students to connect creativity, curiosity, and learning is worthwhile." She continued, “It's also truly wonderful to have a low-pressure chance to meet students in a new context, outside of established classes, teams, and dorms. It teaches them again that all the adults in the community are here to support them, and that we are whole people as well. Not simply a teacher of literature, but also a knitter. Not only a coach, but also someone with experience in business and finance. Not just a religion teacher, but an artist."

Oliver G. '24 shared insights, stating, "CEA week contributed significantly to the overall sense of community at Kent. It brought many of us together in spaces that felt comfortable and meaningful, fostering connections that extended beyond our usual circles."

Assessment: A Balanced Approach to Learning  

Recognizing the significance of assessing learning, several departments opted for an exam format at the end of the week, providing a structured approach to gauging academic progress.

Kaleb Joseph Self-Help Tour  

Kaleb Joseph, a catalyst for open dialogue on mental health, played an important role during Kent School's CEA week. Returning to Kent as part of his Self-Help Tour, Joseph engaged with students, faculty, and staff emphasizing the critical importance of prioritizing mental health through open conversations, dialogue, emotional regulation, and challenging pressure and expectations. Drawing from his personal journey as a boarding school student and high-ranked basketball player, Joseph delivered a meaningful presentation that concluded with practical tips, available resources, and opportunities for individual and small group conversations.

In an initial discussion with faculty and staff, Joseph posed fundamental questions: "What does mental health mean to you? How does it show up in your life? How does it manifest?" This initiated a thoughtful exploration of the challenges individuals face and the role of mental health in their daily lives. Addressing the significance of adults guiding students through life's adversities, Joseph emphasized, "Our jobs are to help the kids connect the dots because life is going to throw a bunch of adversity at them every single day." He expressed concern for students caught up in the challenges of the moment, underscoring the potential struggle to grasp the long-term impact on their lives.

Joseph urged faculty and staff to actively engage in conversations about mental health, encouraging them to acknowledge vulnerabilities and share personal experiences. Recognizing the pivotal role adults play in guiding students through difficult times, he emphasized that open dialogue is essential.

Building on the insightful discussions with faculty and staff, Joseph continued to make a profound impact during his student presentation. Oliver shared his perspective, noting, "His message resonated with me on a personal level because his childhood story matched so closely to my own, making his speech feel more like a personal conversation than a presentation. His message has changed my life."

Director of Residential Life Cara Clarke, shared her insights into the event and its impact on the student body. She expressed, "You could hear a pin drop in the chapel for the entire two hours that Kaleb spoke. The students were locked into every word Kaleb was speaking from the start. Even students whose body language at the start suggested being closed off to Kaleb's message began to sit up in their seats, focusing on Kaleb as he moved through the Chapel. Kaleb was able to captivate the students in a way I have never experienced as a teacher."

Considering the emotional and resilience dimensions within the school community, Oliver noted, “Takeaways I have from his presentation are two of his own quotes that he emphasized to the audience. The first is ‘Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of vulnerability,’ emphasizing the need to open doors that are hard to open and share feelings. The second quote he pushed to us was, ‘Expectation ruins lives,’ urging us to set achievable goals and work towards them, avoiding the disappointment of unreachable expectations."

Clarke echoed Oliver's insights, emphasizing the importance of students realizing they are not alone in their emotions and the need to be vulnerable to manage difficult emotions effectively. She stressed the necessity of prioritizing the teaching of resilience as a crucial skill for students' success. “In teaching resilience, we equip our students with the tools to navigate life's challenges and emerge stronger,” she says. “It goes beyond academic success; it's about fostering a mindset that prepares them for the complexities of the future.”

Oliver added, “The overall response to Kaleb's presentation from the community, at least from what I have heard as a student, is that he induced feelings that many had thought were only their own. He spread a message that no single student is alone in the pressures they feel and the thoughts they think. His impact, evident since his first presentation to the athlete population, has sparked healthy discussions among teams and friend groups around campus. This theme persists after his most recent presentation, addressing the entire student body.”

Looking ahead, Clarke expressed optimism about continued conversations within the Kent community, envisioning them happening in advisory, dormitories, and through the Community Life program. Intentional engagement with student leaders, especially the Senior Council, aims to foster openness and strong relationships between faculty and students. Clarke emphasized the importance of allowing students to be heard as a foundational element for positive relationships within the school.

Kent's CEA week, enriched by Kaleb Joseph's discussions and presentations, not only marked a successful culmination of diverse activities but also set a promising precedent for continuing ongoing dialogue and holistic development within the Kent School community.

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