At Harvard-Westlake, character education is an integral part of daily life.
We all live with moral choices and challenges. As our characters mature, we learn to make more nuanced decisions about our actions. Harvard-Westlake plays a role in our students’ character growth in four ways:
- We clearly communicate our expectations of honorable behavior.
- We help students to think about ethical problems, paradoxes and subtleties.
- Adults in the community serve as role models, by behaving ethically, and by explicitly recognizing the honorable behavior of others.
- We respond to occasional lapses of character in ways that maintain our community’s ethical standards, while offering each person opportunities to change and grow.
At Harvard-Westlake, students behave honorably and ethically. The student handbook lists expectations for student behavior. Class meetings at the Middle School and deans’ meetings at the Upper School provide forums for discussion of honor-related issues. Our athletic coaches are trained in ethical leadership; our sports program emphasizes ethical and respectful behavior from both players and fans. Students learn about acceptable online behavior through dedicated classes in the 7th and 10th grades, and through posters displayed in the computer labs. Teachers model appropriate use of blogs, wikis and e-mail by using them as educational tools in regular academic classes.
The result is a culture of honorable, ethical behavior. Harvard-Westlake students are extremely polite and well-behaved in the classroom. Theft is so rare that students comfortably leave their possessions around campus. Teachers leave their office doors open when they are not there. Harvard-Westlake is a community of good character.
Responsible Decision Making
Adolescents need to learn to make responsible decisions. The Harvard-Westlake curriculum provides practical information, guidance in the process of making choices, and role models for students.
The Human Development (8th grade) and Choices and Challenges (10th grade) courses focus on responsible and ethical decision making. Classes include assertiveness training, online behavior, sex education, drug education and communication skills. Drug education is addressed further in special 9th grade workshops.
English and history courses directly address how and why people make particular decisions, and examine the consequences of those decisions. Rights and responsibilities are important themes.
In May, seniors are required to attend seminars on decision making and skills relating to money, relationships, health and looking after oneself after leaving home.
Academic Honesty and Intellectual Property
All departments explain to students their rules regarding intellectual honesty. The Upper School English department also writes to students’ homes each year, explicating their approach to plagiarism.
Appropriate citation of others’ work is central to our library program. Intellectual property issues are strongly emphasized in our approach to acceptable online behavior. Honest expression and respect for intellectual property are emphasized particularly strongly in the publications, performing arts and visual arts departments.
Cases of academic dishonesty at the Upper School are brought before the student honor board, and disciplinary decisions are publicized. Middle School cases are dealt with by the deans.
Our academic departments actively and explicitly model compliance with intellectual property law.
Understanding Oneself and Others
Harvard-Westlake students are exposed to other cultures and traditions through assemblies, guest speakers and our Sacred Spaces program, as well as through literature and social studies. Our academic curriculum also encourages students to look carefully at their own cultural frameworks. Our English curriculum explores issues of personal identity throughout grades 7 – 12, while our history and language curricula give students a view of their place in the wider world. The Human Development and Choices and Challenges courses directly encourage 8th and 10th grade students to explore their sense of identity and to respect others. Humanities electives at the Upper School allow students to explore these issues further.
Awareness of Broader Issues
As children mature into citizens, they become a part of larger communities. Students of good character are aware of political and human rights issues beyond their local environment, and contribute to the well-being of society at large.
Harvard-Westlake’s history curriculum emphasizes social and political decisions—not only those decisions faced by our own society, but also those faced in other countries and other times. Our biology and environmental science courses include ethics and environmental issues. Seventh graders all take a short course in community service.
Our community service and school service programs attempt to raise consciousness of social issues. We start at the most local level: all students help with trash clean-up and other jobs around campus. Students’ social awareness is expanded further, through “green” initiatives at school and in Los Angeles, though community outreach programs in neighboring communities, and through community service projects that sometimes extend to other nations. All students perform community service: a minimum of 12 hours per year at the Middle School, and at least a half day on a student-run collaborative outreach project at the Upper School. Many clubs and school trips incorporate community service, too.
Harvard-Westlake graduates typically become leaders in their fields, and our curriculum supports the development of appropriate leadership skills.
Through student government, student representatives from all grade levels are offered formal training in leadership and are given practical opportunities to lead their peers. At the Upper School, this includes membership in the Honor Board, which hears cases of academic dishonesty. Formal guidance in leadership skills is also given to student leaders in publications and Peer Support.
There are many other opportunities for students to develop leadership skills at Harvard-Westlake, through clubs and activities, and through sports, performing arts and the community service council.
Belonging to our community
Harvard Westlake is a big community that is made up of many small communities. Class sizes are typically 10-20 students, and most students belong to several other small groups: clubs, athletic teams, performing arts groups, community service groups, deans’ groups, peer support groups and so on. With such a large number of peers, students have a strong chance of finding others who share their interests.
Every Middle School student belongs to a "house," and strives for "house points" in competitions ranging from solving word puzzles to watermelon-balancing. At the Upper School, small peer support teams offer hundreds of students a chance to share experiences and concerns in confidence.
We pay particular attention to helping new students to join the community, through Fast Start and Middle School retreats. The Big Sibs program pairs 9th-grader mentors with seventh graders, and a similar program helps 10th graders to adjust to the new campus.