Student-Led Chapel Helps Girls Develop Life-Long Skills

students lead chapel


When students, parents, and guests attend a Lower School Chapel for the first time, many are surprised to see St. Mary's fourth graders leading the service rather than fifth grade students. This is a special privilege and responsibility that the fourth-grade classes have carried out for years.

"Originally, fourth graders were the acolytes because they were the oldest grade on North Campus," explains fourth grade teacher Alexis Nussbaum. "When the fifth grade joined us in the Lower School a few years ago, there were discussions about which grade should be the leaders. St. Mary's decided to keep Chapel leadership with the fourth grade, as it is the perfect time for the students to practice public speaking in front of an audience that extends beyond their peers in their classroom."

More than 250 people attend Chapel each week. The fourth-grade leaders take their Chapel responsibilities seriously and spend considerable time in preparation. First, the acolytes receive their scripts several days in advance, which allows the girls plenty of time to practice. Then, on Tuesday morning before Chapel, they meet with Assistant Chaplain and Religion Teacher Mary Henry Thompson in the Gilmore Lynn Room to rehearse with a microphone and in the space where they will lead Chapel.

"Having fourth grade Chapel leaders illustrates how much our girls grow in just a few short years on the North Campus. When the students are in Senior Kindergarten, they serve as acolytes and process with altar appointments. By the fourth grade, the girls are ready to lead every aspect of Chapel," said Thompson.

Leading Chapel is the culmination of many developmental skills taught throughout the girls' time in the Lower School, including the following:

  • Gaining confidence in public speaking
  • Learning to practice and prepare ahead of time
  • Collaborating and working with peers
  • Differentiating between leading and performing
  • Managing appropriate body language in front of large groups of people

"The fourth graders love having the responsibility of leading Chapel. Initially, there are a few students who are nervous to stand in front of their peers and lead; however, once they try it, they usually ask to do it again," said Nussbaum.

Thompson concurs. "Watching their faces when they reflect on how far they have come is always a gift. None of them realize we spend years preparing for them to lead us on Tuesday mornings" she said.

  • All-School
  • Lower School

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