What our Boys Learn in Natural History

By Mr. Thomas Steenson

To an outside observer, a Natural History walk at The Heights may seem to fall quite short of the academic rigors of science. Yet it is not without reason that former Lower-School Head Joe McCleary called Natural History in some ways, the most important class that we teach the boys in the lower school. Following the wisdom of our Heights forefathers, I’d like to suggest three ways in which our Natural History instruction gives our boys a strong introduction to the world of Science.

Natural History

Science involves observation

In its foundations, science requires one to look, in a careful and unbiased manner, to the phenomena around us. Physics, with all of its formulae and rules, is finally, the study of motion – and motion is all around us, experienced, seen, felt. Even atomic theory, giving us knowledge of elemental forces and strata, seemingly on the opposite side of the spectrum from observation – even it owes its beginnings to truths deduced from observed experiment.

Our Natural History classes offer myriad lessons in observation. I recall the springtime when my boys were making observations on the Carpenter Bees as they (the bees, not the boys) returned to make havoc once again on our log cabin.

Natural History 1

“Write down what you see,” I told them. “Look, wait, and watch. Give me five observations on what the bees are doing. Don’t write it in your journal unless you see it with your own eyes.”

The bees were bouncing along the cabin’s wooden wall. We see them going in, and leaving from, a sort of knothole. I inspected one boy’s journal. “The bees are going into their nest and making honey.” An eyebrow raises involuntarily as I ask: “Did you see them make the honey?” It turns out the student cannot yet peer through walls, and finds that what he thought he observed, he imagined instead. Still, though the particular journal entry was less than perfect, the real lesson learned had to do with the beginning of the study of nature: Observation, true observation, is fundamental.

Wisdom begins with wonder

I remember, fondly, the experience my fifth-graders had in discovering rocks. On a nature walk, I happened across a shiny, black rock that was unlike most of the other stones I had seen underfoot. Taking it to Mr. Dolan, my class received two important insights – the name of the thing, and an intriguing property it had.

natural history 4

“That’s anthracite coal,” he said. “You can tell because it is so light.” Sure enough, as I passed the stone around, and the boys felt it in hand, they were amazed to feel first-hand its relatively light density.

What was recess like after that? A Fifth-grader or two standing in the middle of a soccer game, bending over and peering, oblivious to the sport . . . searching for anthracite. With that sense of wonder, with that spark of interest (coal-fired, as it were), my boys ended up learning a lot more than any classroom lecture I could have given on rocks.

Natural History teaches Philosophy

Although the study of nature may seem to be a quaint pastime, an old-fashioned means of investigation before man developed modern technologies, in reality there are higher-level truths that depend on one’s understanding of nature.

For example, more than one of St. Thomas’ proofs for God’s existence are summaries of arguments found in Aristotle’s Physics. Key premises in these proofs are notions about the way the physical world is structured – notions learned from the study of nature. When I teach St. Thomas’ proofs to seniors in the History of Western Thought, I find the 18-year-old Heights student may not know the natural world as well as his 11-year-old brother in the Valley.

Nature acts for an end; even non-intelligent beings act for the sake of some good. Although my Western Thought scholars need reminders of the particular ways that trees, insects, and birds fulfill this dictum, fifth-graders will have first-hand knowledge.


I recall working through the reason that most leaf-bearing trees lose their leaves in the winter: Without shedding their leafy appendages, they would keep too much weight in a snowfall or ice storm, and suffer great losses. The conifers, on the other hand, have much more flexible branches, and needles which will stay relatively clear of frozen precipitation. Hence, they shed not.

Ah, but someone brings up the holly tree (which is conveniently located on campus, and therefore it is no accident to be brought into the discussion.) Doesn’t the holly keep its leaves year-round? A trip to the very tree in the middle of a rainfall, and the boys come to see its particular ordering towards its own good. The holly can retain its leaves, since they have a groove down the center, channeling the water to semi-prickled edges (ordered to gathering water in drops, which then fall of their collected weight, instead of pooling.) Further, the top of the leaves has a wax-like coating, discouraging the external retention of precipitation.

For the lower-school Natural History student, the fact that nature acts for an end is not just a premise to be memorized for a test. Rather, it is a fact of their everyday experience.


The philosophical saying is worth repeating: there is nothing in the mind which is not first in the senses. Following this, there is wisdom in beginning one’s scientific study of nature by looking at, listening to, and touching nature. Whether it is in the forming of universal concepts from a gathering of particular experiences, or in the learning of nature as an internal principle of motion, our lower-school students are given a good beginning to the study of science in Natural History.

– Thomas Steenson teaches fifth grade, and the History of Western Thought at The Heights School. He taught Natural History in the valley for years.

_DSC6942 (steener)

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30 Possible Parenting Resolutions for the New Year

Faculty member James Erickson enjoys the auction with his son, Finley.New Years’ = Fitness Resolutions.  How many of us have numbered some deficient aspect of our physical wellness in our list of new year’s resolutions?  Many, if not most, we’d wager.  It wouldn’t make sense, though, would it, to join a gym or establish a fitness regimen without adjusting our diet?  If you’ve started going to Gold’s Gym daily, a quick stop at the golden arches following your time on the treadmill is likely not part of the program.

In a certain sense, our sons are an extension of our physical selves, and The Heights, for those who send their boys here, is like a gym.  Parents send us boys to make them stronger:  intellectually, morally, academically, spiritually.  To chase the analogy a little farther, isn’t our home-life a bit like our diet?  Improved diet will optimize the results of our exercise; improved home-life will optimize the intellectual, moral, academic, and spiritual gains that our sons make during their time at The Heights (and beyond).

Here is a list, courtesy of the Heights faculty, of new year’s parenting resolutions that you might consider throwing into the mix.  They are things that you can do as a parent to improve your son’s experience at our School–your son’s experience anywhere, for that matter._dsc0973_1035

A caveat:  none of us, faculty, claim to be anything remotely close to a perfect parent.  A second caveat:  we’re blessed, at The Heights, to spend a great deal of time with amazing parents.

Along with your 40 minutes of cardio three days a week, consider a diet rich in vegetables, and a point (or two or three) from the list below.  It could totally change the way your son works out at The Heights.

  1. Take each of your high school children out for one-on-one time. Show them that you actually want to be with them and enjoy their company.  It is very affirming to them to see that you choose them over other things you could be doing, and especially over other things they know you would enjoy doing.
  2. Family dinner.  Everyday if possible, and try to make it possible.
  3. Don’t look at your cell phone during dinner or when engaged in conversation with the family.  Otherwise you communicate that the outside world is more important than them.
  4. Make time to pray every day with your family.  Boys, in particular, need to see their fathers praying.
  5. If it’s important enough to contact you son’s teacher, it is important enough to call.
  6. Reevaluate your electronics use.  Determine what is necessary, what is superfluous, and what is potentially a pitfall.
  7. Hike as a family.
  8. Forgo being a “hot-house” parent that tends a child as if he were a delicate flower.
  9. Practice “benign” neglect in little things, all the while keeping one eye open.
  10. Pray daily to your child’s guardian angel. You don’t need to tell him about this, though encouragement for him to get to know his guardian angel is important.
  11. Teach your son to cook, and get him involved in the kitchen, aside from eating and cleaning up.
  12. Read the books your son is assigned in English class. Discuss, in a friendly way.
  13. Start a book club that meets about 10 times a year with your peers (with time off for Christmas and summer). These monthly meetings over wine and cheese and books will make a lasting impression on your children.
  14. If you don’t have a large bookshelf in the house, get one. Unfinished furniture stores are a good bargain, and can  be easily painted or stained to match a room. A house of a Heights family should–over the years–collect a few hundred books for pleasure-reading, etc. Make the book–not the flat-screen–a center of the family’s time.
  15. Pray for, but also pray about your children. Make a weekly appointment with Christ in the tabernacle.  As Proverbs 16:3 says, “Lay open thy works to the Lord: and thy thoughts shall be directed.” Let Him help you father or mother your son or daughter.
  16. Date night (without kids): Invariably the relationship is strengthened, which obviously improves everything for the entire family, including kids.
  17. Attend (as a couple) some means of family/parenting enrichment. Could be something formal or just a talk at the local parish by the priest or guest lecturer.
  18. Assign simple Saturday morning chores for each person in the family to just develop the habit of everyone pitching in.
  19. Make cookies and bring them to the local volunteer fire station. Everyone ends up having fun usually with a private tour of the station. The volunteers feel appreciated and everyone in the family is more grateful for the service these folks provide.
  20. Board games!  Or learn how to play some (multi-player) card games — poker (with many variations), hearts, spades, bridge, whist. Play said game with your son(s) and some friends of his or yours.DSCN4334Copy
  21. Host a dinner party and have your sons “formally” assist at welcoming, taking coats, serving the table, etc.
  22. Read a book aloud with all or part of the family.
  23. Complain less and don’t seek to blame someone for every problem.
  24. Family Rosary. (We used to pray it while cleaning up after dinner. No one argued. We just prayed and worked.)
  25. Go with your son/daughter to buy books at your local book store. My father used to take each one of us to the bookstore and browse through the stacks. Of course, I realize now that he already had the book/s in mind he wanted us to read but it seemed like a team effort.
  26. Visit a museum once a month as a family. You could ask your son to plan out the visits: what museums to visit first; what to see, etc.
  27. Go on a short pilgrimage to a Marian shrine during the month of May. Explain what a pilgrimage is.
  28. Make your son/daughter write thank you letters–always… and even letters to grandpa and grandma. Postcards. Anything other than texts and emails.
  29. Go to a nursing home to visit people who get no visitors. (You may also consider asking your pastor if anyone in the parish needs visits/help. Father/son or as a family.
  30. and the thirtieth resolution?

Well, we’ll leave #30 blank as a nod of gratitude to the Heights parents that gave us a few of these ideas in the first place.

Good luck, this year, parents, and here’s to making our boys stronger.

The Vigil

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O beautiful for pilgrim feet!

A Thanksgiving post by Dr. Matthew Mehan.  

Nothing of this earthly world
is a wholly perfect thing,
but that does not exclude it
from our love and our thanksgiving.

First ThanksgivingThere is a poem, somewhat forgotten, which I recommend reading this Thanksgiving.  “The Courtship of Miles Standish” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow concerns the darkest and the brightest moments of the famed Pilgrims’ first years at Plymouth Rock.  There are indian wars, a humorous and touching love triangle, and some beautiful moments that highlight why we ought to be thankful for those Katharine Lee Bates’ America the Beautiful describes like so:

“O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!”

Much has been said about the injustices perpetrated by *some* Pilgrim ancestors against the Native Americans, but it is important to filter these critiques out every so often and concentrate on the good.  Gratitude requires we look purposefully to the virtues and merits of our religious, political, social, and, for a rare few, genetic Mayflower ancestors.  One way to do this might be to read “The Courtship of Miles Standish” wherein we find a presentation of those stern yet impassioned Pilgrims that may stir us not to self-satisfied judgment against them, but to real love for their sacrifice and humanity as they sought a place in the world to freely love God and each other.

There are many touching and rousing scenes; here is but one.  The Pilgrims give thanks as they face harsh weather and hostile territory, even as the Mayflower sails away, back to Europe.

Lost in the sound of the oars was the last farewell of the Pilgrims.
O strong hearts and true! not one went back in the Mayflower!
No, not one looked back, who had set his hand to this ploughing!

Soon were heard on board the shouts and songs of the sailors
Heaving the windlass round, and hoisting the ponderous anchor.
Then the yards were braced, and all sails set to the west-wind,
Blowing steady and strong; and the Mayflower sailed from the harbor,
Rounded the point of the Gurnet, and leaving far to the southward
Island and cape of sand, and the Field of the First Encounter,
Took the wind on her quarter, and stood for the open Atlantic,
Borne on the send of the sea, and the swelling hearts of the Pilgrims.

Long in silence they watched the receding sail of the vessel,
Much endeared to them all, as something living and human;
Then, as if filled with the spirit, and wrapt in a vision prophetic,
Baring his hoary head, the excellent Elder of Plymouth
Said, “Let us pray!’ and they prayed, and thanked the Lord and took courage.

ThanksgivingYou can read the whole poem here.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and remember also that giving thanks is the fastest way to increase your zeal to do good, which is the great virtue against sadness. Worth remembering as the days darken, don’t you think?

And lest you think Thanksgiving a merely sectarian affair for Puritans, read this!

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Mr. de Vicente on Smart Phones

In his most recent letter to parents, our Headmaster, Mr. de Vicente, addressed Smart Phones and their use by teenagers.  The full text of the letter is available here and we encourage all parents, friends of The Heights, and educators to take a look.

One of our goals in education is to “empower your sons to become life-long prudential users of technology by truly mastering it.”  Does that goal, however, justify–or even necessitate!–putting a smart phone in a teen’s hands?  Likely not, especially when you consider the risks inherent in doing so.

It’s a simple cost/benefit analysis, and many of the smart phone’s benefits can be achieved by a regular or “dumb” phone.  Are such phones hard to find?  Possibly, but “if getting a regular phone is the right thing to do, then the growing difficulty of obtaining one is an inconvenience, but a small price to pay for doing what is right for your son.”

And the risks?  Well, Mr. de Vicente outlines them in some detail here, but suffice it to say, there are “great personal risks.”

Education at The Heights is holistic and personal.  Any Heights parent will tell you that we do not shy away from addressing tough issues if they are issues that affect our boys.  Smart phones can be a tough issue, and our stance is not popular or easy.  Our thanks to those who read–on a desktop, tablet, or smart phone–with an open mind.  Your sons will thank you in the end.

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Festival Clan Day

sibsTwo weeks ago we held the first Festival Clan Day at The Heights.  Our celebration in honor of All Saints Day, included all the elements of the traditional festival:  worship in the all-school Mass, poetry in the competition of the Bard, feasting in the BBQ, and games.  Oh the games…


This video captures but a fraction of the day’s highlights.  As you can see, we celebrated this great feast of our Church in fine style.  To The Heights!


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Setting Study Skills Straight: Sometimes You Need A Cast

110514-178 the heightsToday has been a busy day at The Heights.  The morning began at 8am with Mass for our faculty, and then we marched through a series of meetings at a rip-roaring pace:  advisory, literature, classics, to name a few.  While we don’t have a lengthy post for you this week, we thought we’d share one image proffered by our Dean of Advisory during our Sophomore Advisors’ meeting.

Our boys all have gifts; they all have weaknesses.  Some are industrious at home; some are not.  Where a boy does not have grades to match the “three hours of homework a night,” perhaps the three hours of home “work” were not all they were cracked up to be.  Sometimes they were, but you had better be sure.  Quantity is not quality–especially when it comes to mental exertion and academic work.

102314-451 the heightsWhen our bones break, we need a cast to set things straight–a system of external accountability, in a certain sense, for our arms or legs to heal properly.  Students with “broken” or lacking study skills can’t be expected to set things straight on their own.  They need us–parents and teachers–to provide structure and accountability, both at school and on the home front.  One excellent way to provide this external accountability at home is to demand 45 minutes of quiet, supervised study a night.  Find a place in the home with zero–ZERO–distractions, and tell your son to study, while you do something quietly nearby.  No earphones, no screens, no breaks, no excuses.  Over time, protestations will cease and habits will form.  The 45 minutes will become an hour, and that hour will be more productive and fruitful than the “three” he was spending before.

This will work for many, maybe most, not all.  But that’s what keeps education interesting.  It’s all about the person and people are different.  This is more art–a liberating, liberal art–than science (though we study plenty of that along the way).110514-181 the heights

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Headmaster’s 2014 Open House Speech

Our thanks to the many visitors who joined us for the Fall Open House.  Thanks are also due to our Heights parents for being here to welcome our guests and personalize their Open House experience.  The Heights approach to education is, after all, deeply personal.  We are grateful to you, Heights parents, for helping us convey this to our visitors.  We could not have done it without you.

For those of you who missed the Headmaster’s Presentation, or who heard it, but would like to listen again, here it is.  In this speech, Mr. de Vicente summarizes the mission of The Heights and our philosophy of education.


Mr. de Vicente leads during a Festival Clan Day in the courtyard.

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20 Practical Ways to Foster Responsibility and Independence in Your 21st Century Boy

Boys in Tree

My great-grandfather gave my grandfather his first rifle, a single-shot .22, for his eighth Christmas. Age nine earned Grandpa full responsibility over the family’s 80 x 150 ft. vegetable garden. By age 10, Grandpa was taking his flat-bottomed rowboat out on the Mississippi.  These are great experiences for a young man, and they lead to creativity, toughness, and a host of other wonderful traits, perhaps most important among which are independence and responsibility. Risk free? No. Positive for my grandfather and his descendents? Absolutely.  

Sadly, many of these experiences just aren’t in the cards for a 21st century Washingtonian boy; at least not routinely. There is, however, much that we can do to foster responsibility and independence in our sons and we asked our faculty to share their ideas with you.  Here, in this blog post, are the ideas that your faculty shared with us via email.  Modern technology put to service of good ole’ fashion values.Adventure Series - LEFT

  1. Don’t bring to school any items (food, sports clothing or equipment) that your son may have forgotten in the morning.
  2. Allow your son to fail or get hurt while under your supervision. Have consequences for his choices and actions. All of these thing are going to happen, wouldn’t you rather have them happen earlier and while in your care rather than on his own. Don’t bail him out without a full understanding of what took place and how that will not be the case later in life.
  3. If your high-school-age son is being picked up from school, metro, or anywhere else in your car for a drive that would take 20 or 30 minutes to walk, stop doing it.  That’s a great chance for him to grow.  Especially for those guys who are 20-30 minutes walking distance from The Heights (i.e., who aren’t walking home in the dark; it’s usually broad daylight).  If you take us up on this one, please tell your boy to stash (or better, dispose of) the headphones–he’s better off taking in the day, thinking, and paying attention to traffic.
  4. Household chores in general (cooking, cleaning, lawnwork) are a good source of independence, especially if you let your son screw it up.  And rather than fixing it for him if he screws up, tell him how to fix it and make him go back to get it right on his own.  Independence is tied to responsibility.
  5. Have a vegetable garden and give your son responsibility for some of the family produce.
  6. Do not try to bail him out of detentions–let him figure it out.  And make sure that he understands that an inconvenience for him is an inconvenience for the family.  Relatedly, make sports take a back seat to academics.
  7. Let him forget his lunchbox three times and he won’t forget it again!
  8. On an assigned school day, have him make breakfast for the family.
  9. Laundry, laundry and more laundry! A third grader should learn how to soak his sports/gym clothing if needed, and of course, know how to use the washer and dryer.
  10. Alarm clock.  Does he wake up and show up in the kitchen ready for breakfast on his own?
  11. Teach your son to ask the right persons for help when he needs it.  He will need to do this to succeed.  Don’t deprive him of the opportunity now.
  12. Gradually ask your boys to start pitching in for expenses like clothes and athletic gear.  Sure, those $200 cleats are nice, but how about you buy the basic $50 pair and junior makes up the difference?
  13. Bike rides.  High school is a great age to explore the trails that take an adventurous soul all over our city on two wheels.
  14. Hike to Georgia:  kidding… sort of.  The Appalachian Trail is an adventure in our back yard.  Again, high schoolers are old enough–so long as they have the requisite maturity–to tackle sections of it on their own.
  15. Let your son talk to his own teachers about grades and homework issues.
  16. Have your son shop for (with parent’s $$ of course), prepare, and serve the family dinner once a month (or however often). It get’s them thinking about how much their Mom (or Dad) puts into this on a regular basis, makes them appreciate it even more.  It also gives them the experience of planning ahead and eating on a budget.
  17. Stop paying your son an allowance.  Make him earn his spending cash by paying a set commission for a variety of chores.  Start at five cents for your three year old making his bed; move on to whatever you think is appropriate for your high schooler chopping wood.  Allowance is a handout.  Earning is reality.
  18. Kick your younger boys out of the house when they are bored, fighting, or complaining.  They’ll figure out a pastime soon enough.
  19. When your boy complains about a classmate, don’t call the teacher in front of him and definitely don’t tell your son that he’s a victim of bullying.  Maybe it’s true, but a victim mentality is easy to develop and hard to overcome.  Instead, tell your son how to handle the situation.  Maybe this includes coaching your boy through talking to a teacher.  In tough cases, never hesitate to call the teacher in private and let him know that you son has something important to talk to him about.  When the issue is resolved, your son will believe that he took care of business.  It’s a good feeling, and he’ll chase it in the future.
  20. And the winner for most frequently emailed suggestion:  LET YOUR SON FAIL.  You best serve him by letting it happen, and helping him learn from it.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but one day without a lacrosse stick, or gym shorts, or a homework assignment won’t devastate his future.  In fact, it will make it better.

Not a Heights teacher (though I think he’d like the place), here’s what Winston Churchill had to offer:  “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Heights Pond and a shoe

Only at The Heights: Pond and Lost Shoe

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Identity: Who does your son think he is?

“Pride”;  “I bleed [insert mascot and color]”; “I am [insert school or adjective]”; “I will”–and the list of t-shirt slogans we see around campus goes on. Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically evil about these slogans, but we should think on them. The not-so-subliminal messages are an important element of a multibillion-dollar clothing and marketing industry that is working, deliberately and with great sophistication, to shape (some might say, claim) your son’s self-identity. UA, Nike, and the rest of them want your son to identify primarily as… drum roll, please: “ATHLETE.”  For, if he is an ATHLETE, not just an athlete, he will buy more stuff. Maybe this sounds more ominous than it actually is. But maybe not.  Again, we should, at the very least, think about it.

awesome shirtAll of this raises the question of identity:  who does your son think that he is? If he is proud, what is the source of his pride? If he wills, what is it that he wants? If he has the love of something coursing through his capacious adolescent veins, what’s its object?

treesIdentity is a buzzword. We’re told to find it, to develop it, to be fiercely rebellious in living it.  “Be yourself”; “follow your star”; “to thine own self be true.”  Ironically, there are no shortage of movements and industries fighting with each other to capture your sons’ attention and then tell them who they are.  On one hand, a boy is told, “be yourself.”  On the other, “be yourself by doing, saying, wearing or thinking x, y or z.”

Who is winning the battle for your son’s identity?  Who does he say that he is?  More fundamentally, who is he actually?

Tough question, but fortunately your faculty thinks about this a lot–and we talk to your boys about it too.  Your boys are sons of God.  Our hope is that all of them–the academes, the athletes, the drama guys, the musicians… all of them–see this divine sonship and divine filiation as their primary identity.  We don’t have a multibillion-dollar budget to get the point across, but we do have our friendship with your boys and a few thousand years of tradition on our side.

Coach GleasonThis is one of the reasons I love Heights athletics.  We are fiercely competitive; we play incredible teams and we send graduates on to the next level of competition.  But we are about more than just the game–it is, after all, just a game.  The beautiful thing about games is that they teach perseverance, fortitude, toughness.  Camaraderie through competition forms friendships that can be a conduit for great good–in my own life I think of rosaries on the bus after a soccer game with Kyle Maginnis, of Gatorade and conversation after practice with Coach de Vicente.  For better or for worse, your sons’ teammates and coaches will be among the most power influences in their lives.  That’s a good thing here.

Questions for us:  Right now, who do our sons say that they are?  Do we live in a way that encourages them to identify as sons of God?  Or do our sons think of themselves primarily as [pick your pastime], that sometimes gets to Sunday Mass so long as the club team schedule allows? Do we acknowledge the forces working to claim our boys’ attention and self-identity?  If we don’t raise our children, someone else will; have we given those someones 24/7 access to our boys’ through their phones?  The adolescent mind abhors a vacuum–what is filling your son’s mind when you are not?

Confidence is a byproduct of knowing one’s identity and purpose.  When we know it and live it, we are more confident than we would be otherwise. As Pope Benedict wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “[L]ife only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God.”  Further, “Man becomes glory for God, puts God, so to speak, into the light,  . . . when he lives by looking toward God.”  When our boys become men who are secure in their identity as sons of God and they live accordingly, they will be “Men Fully Alive.”

Should we gather and confiscate these shirts?  Nope, but please don’t fault us if we use a little Coach Lively-style humoristic sarcasm on your sons to temper their profession of athletic greatness.  It will be good for them in the long run, and they (along with their friends… think, “oh snap!”) always smile when we point these things out.  An admission of truth, perhaps?  Likely.

Tennis Cavalier

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Grades and the Disciplined Life

The always animated Mr. Cardenas teaching Spanish.

By Mr. Dave Fornaciari 

David Maxham’s post on competition motivated me to consider our society’s misunderstanding of grades. Grades are one way to assess student development, but in recent times grades have become the rage and are, for many, an end in themselves.

Grades are a measure of what one knows, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of what was known before vs. after study; and what is known in relation to other students. This is similar to what Mr. Maxham wrote about competition: “We seek to be the best; not in relation to those around us but in relation to the person we were before the game.” I would have included that competition is partly in relation to those around us.

At The Heights our mission is clear and we often express it like this: to develop young men who will be good husbands and devoted fathers. Developing the virtues needed for these callings leads to a successful life, but this development is about far more than just grades.

Lower School students on their way to music class in the Valley.The disciplined life promotes success. Who is the disciplined person? Is he the student who plays no sports, spends no time with friends, has no leisure and no time for God, but spends the vast majority of his days studying for that almighty “A”? On the other hand does that “A” mean anything if little effort was put forth earning it? If achieving an “A” was too easy, what is it worth in the sphere of the person? Conversely, if a student is underperforming and earning C’s, how is that leading to a disciplined life?

Successfully navigating one’s years at The Heights is not unlike navigating the years of life after The Heights. It takes discipline. Vince Lombardi said, “There is something good in men that really yearn for discipline.” To be able to use the will for good, to develop a schedule with time for work, family, God, leisure, friends, hobbies, reading for enjoyment, etc… This is the recipe for a successful life and better grades too.

3rd graders read with Mr. Heil.One obvious component of Heights life is homework, but homework is more than the written work due tomorrow. It’s more than just earning points towards a grade. Two to three hours nightly does not include study hall time. I tell my students to study early and often for test preparation, especially for midterms and finals. Repetition over time is one of the keys to learning. This takes discipline. This means making a schedule and revising it each weekend for the week ahead. This means doing the work due tomorrow honestly and not just to get it done, to earn the points. This means the struggle to do it for the purpose of learning, and do it each night for that purpose. Studying at The Heights is similar to a baseball season. It takes perseverance and persistence over the long haul. There are winning and losing streaks with grades, but the habits developed will last a lifetime. And, in the short term, these habits will lead to better grades.

One of the most unique aspects of The Heights is our advisory program. As advisors we are trained to discuss with our advisees 4 major areas: academic, physical, moral, and spiritual. This flows from the mission of The Heights to develop the whole person. As St. Josemaria would say: do your daily work for the love of God. Working in this way sanctifies our work and our lives. It also leads to a proper understanding of grades, which should lead not only to better grades, but also to a life of self-discipline.

Mr. Fornaciari looks on during one of this year's Clan Days.Mr. Fornaciari teachers science in the Heights Upper School and is the head coach of the varsity squash team.

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