A Tradition of Service

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Learn how schools with a religious affiliation can help you raise the next generation of emotionally intelligent and community-minded leaders.

Many of Portland’s oldest and most prestigious private schools have their roots in a religious tradition. This connection brings with it an emphasis on community service and universal morals, such as kindness and respect for the dignity of all people. In order to instill these values in our future leaders, many parents are choosing schools with a rich history of community engagement and social-emotional learning. 

Cathedral School, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, is known for its high-quality academic programs, and builds community service into the regular curriculum. Each month one classroom initiates a student-led, school-wide service project, including research, presentation, gathering of donations and delivery to the local organizations they support. It is  not alone. There are similar programs at Portland Jewish Academy, Oregon Episcopal School, and other schools with a religious history. 

The pandemic has brought to light the desperate need for mental health support in the lives of children and teens. Schools with a partnership with a religious institution are uniquely positioned to lead in this area. They are no stranger to the benefits of prayer, counseling and meditation, and are comfortable discussing the mental-health and social-emotional needs of their students. Oregon Episcopal School has a counseling and academic support team for each division, and they are progressive in their approach, “avoiding labels, judgments, and generalizations in favor of specific direct observations,” says head of school Mo Copeland. And the regular service opportunities at these schools can help build self-esteem and foster a global perspective in students. At Portland Jewish Academy, living out the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world), can also help repair students’ inner worlds. 

Not religious yourself or concerned about dogmatic indoctrination? Not only do these local schools accept the varied faith traditions of their students’ families, they celebrate them. “When our Jewish students can lead the chapel on Rosh Hashanah, and our Muslim students can talk about the Ramadan experience, and our Indian students can share Diwali traditions — it helps them to feel seen, to be valued, and to be known and celebrated,” says Melissa Robinson, the middle school chaplain at Oregon Episcopal School. Mo Copeland, the head of school at OES, adds, “We know the OES community is enriched by the presence of students and families from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and practices … we thrive on the diversity of our community.” Most schools also offer scholarships and financial support. Check their websites for how to apply. 

Most families choose these schools because they are excellent academic institutions. With their small class sizes, highly qualified instructors and funding for special programs, they offer exceptional learning environments. But for families who also want to raise emotionally intelligent adults who use their gifts to help their community and planet, these schools — with their traditions of service and respect for all people — can also provide the next generation with the moral compass to make a positive impact on their world. 

To learn more about private school options, like St. Cecilia School, Pilgrim Lutheran Christian School and many others, head to our Education Directory.

Meg Asby
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