What makes ESK the loving, challenging, extraordinary place that it is? Perhaps ESK is special because it is a second home for so many. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “Where we love is home — home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” These words echo the ESK experience. Children leave our campus as graduates prepared to change the world for better because they have had transformative experiences here, at this home away from home.
Academic challenges at ESK consistently provide transformative experiences for our students as they move from Lower School to Middle School. Beyond the traditional subjects such as math and English, our students have opportunities not available at most schools. Our focus on world language prepares students for a more advanced placement in high school, and it exposes them to new cultures and perspectives at a crucial time in their development. ESK also values place-based educational experiences. Projects like hands-on raising, releasing and tracking of Monarch butterflies in 1st grade, and the raising and releasing of trout to local streams in 8th grade demonstrate ESK’s commitment to educational experiences that make use of East Tennessee’s natural riches. ESK science classes focus on the abundant gifts of nature and foster close, caring relationships with our environment. Social studies classes encourage responsible American and global citizenship through the study of history, geography, culture, current events and civics. Participation in an annual Model UN statewide conference reinforces 7th graders’ focus on world issues. The 8th grade Peace and Protest Symposium, which provides a forum for discussion of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights eras with local experts, offers students personal anecdotes and different perspectives about a controversial time in history. Class field trips, ranging from historic Williamsburg to Civil Rights venues in Atlanta, to the the museums and monuments of Washington D.C. provide our students with place-based experiences that transform academic studies from written to actual experience. Our students’ perspective is broadened by seeing beyond their own backyards, and these experiences motivate them to make a difference in the world.
Central to ESK’s identity is the focus on the education of the whole child. Teachers encourage academic growth, but along with that growth, they help students grow socially and spiritually. Students follow a rigorous curriculum in the classroom, but outside the walls of the school, they make a difference in our community and live into the mission statement’s ideal that they become “citizens of the world.” They connect to the larger world through many community service projects, and it is this service, woven into the fabric of our culture, that helps children realize their power to do good. They also learn that serving others can be fun; laughter and smiles abound on our trips to Mobile Meals, Beardsley Gardens, and Volunteer Ministry Center. Spiritual growth occurs alongside academic and social growth. Daily chapel provides a break in the day for peace and reflection. At the close of chapel each day, we say, “Go in peace, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These words set the tone for the way we interact with one another in our community. ESK’s inclusive faith and family-centered environment provide the springboard for authentic service learning and leadership. ESK’s heart and soul centers on this relational community of mutual respect.
When distilled to its essence, ESK’s spirit is that of a large family home. Everyone here has the opportunity to feel cherished and important. We look out for each other. We protect, encourage, and challenge one another. We call upon each other to work, to help, to learn, and to grow. Ultimately, our feet may leave this place, but our hearts will always be rooted in this second home on the hilltop.
By Melissa Callahan