Birchwood’s Ben Franklin Initiative is an extension of our eighth grade character program. It is an opportunity for eighth grade students to learn skills that promote independence, goal-setting, self-reflection, responsibility, collaboration, and planning. The initiative speaks to the best intentions of young teens and inspires them to fulfill their potential. It’s three objectives are to:
- Help young teens assume responsibility for their achievements and for the person they hope to become.
- Make them aware of and learn from role models.
- Model the creative problem solving process (similar to Maslow’s self-actualization process) whereby they identify opportunities and challenges in their lives, collect data to make informed choices, and develop strategies for achieving goals. Central to this journey is knowing how to respond to setbacks, failures, and disappointments through reflection, study, and rededication.
In the spring before students enter eighth grade, Birchwood’s head of school leads creative problem sessions to teach students how to identify the opportunities, challenges, and problems that their eighth grade year might present, including:
- How to prepare themselves
- How to become a better student
- What personal strengths or weaknesses should they focus on
- How can they learn leadership skills or develop better friendships
Applying principles of the creative problem solving process (akin to Birchwood’s Future Problem Solving Program), students will define two or three areas of focus and collect data in these areas in order to craft a plan of action for their eighth grade year. The head of school will show the students how to make this plan a collaborative effort with their parents and teachers.
In the fall, each student writes an essay describing their plan of action for the school year. After submitting the essay, the student, parents, and a teacher will meet to discuss the student’s plan.
As young teens become more independent, wanting to make their own choices about life, it becomes increasingly important that parents and teachers prepare them to make thoughtful, reasoned decisions. It is everyone’s hope that these young men and women will become a blessing to themselves and everyone around them. This approach, what we call “The Ben Franklin Initiative,” is a guidance effort that navigates the middle ground between unrelenting authoritarianism against which teens often rebel, and complete freedom of choice that leaves teens ill-prepared to deal with contemporary influences that may lead them astray.
Why Ben Franklin? Ben Franklin, a child of common origins but of uncommon accomplishments, determined in his teen years to become a noble and good man: personally successful and socially responsible. After thoughtful study of biography and history, combined with personal reflection, Franklin identified 14 virtues that he believed were necessary for success. Aiming to cultivate these virtues, he established a plan of action, and although early success was elusive, the impact and result of these initiatives forged a remarkable character, and made Franklin one of America’s greatest founding fathers and a good model for young teens. Furthermore, Franklin, a central figure in the framing of America’s constitution, affirmed that democratic forms require a society built upon virtue. A society without virtue cannot sustain democracy.