Every year, Rosslyn Academy dedicates a week to furthering its students spiritual lives, and while the majority of the student body have cited Spiritual Emphasis Week to be a positive force, there are some who believe that changes are in order.
A typical day in Spiritual Emphasis week entails four classes in the morning, followed by activities, a chapel service and a small group discussion between members of the same grade. The speaker in charge of the week-long daily chapel services this year was Jacob Jester, with whom I sat down with to understand the purpose of Spiritual Emphasis week.
What he told me was simple; Spiritual Emphasis Week existed to foster students’ spiritual lives from the perspective of Christianity (as Rosslyn Academy is a Christian school) and aimed to encourage pupils to have intensely spiritual experiences even after Spiritual Emphasis Week had ended. However, when I asked Jacob about how Spiritual Emphasis Week would impact non-christian students, the reply was simple; as Rosslyn is a Christian institution, any chapel services that discussed shared values social values would be compromising the integrity of a proudly religious institution. With this in mind, I then went into the High School area to ask the students how they felt about Spiritual Emphasis Week.
Out of the thirty-seven 10th, 11th and 12th I interviewed, 14 said that they were having positive experiences up until that point; they talked about how the speaker was an improvement for last year’s, that the activities were better than last years, and that Spiritual Emphasis Week challenged them to analyze their lives.
Of those who had mixed feelings about the week (about 13 students) cited that they felt the week was to intense and stressful to focus on spirituality; others cited uninspiring activities, lengthy chapel services or small groups that they did not feel entirely comfortable sharing their emotions with. For the most part these students did, however say they did not mind Spiritual Emphasis week, as it lessened their workload.
However, the most interesting comments came from those who had negative feelings towards Spiritual Emphasis; some talked about how they felt the activities did not reinforce the chaplains message; others thought that the chaplain did not challenge them enough. The most intense responses, however, were from a group of boys who thought that Spiritual Emphasis Week was entirely unnecessary to begin with; they said they believed it did nothing to encourage non-christian students to accept the Christian worldview and argued that, because Spiritual Emphasis Week was mandatory, the entire experience felt more like having religion and spirituality forced on them then anything else. When I pointed out to them that Rosslyn did identify as a Christian institution, they said that they took no issue to that fact, but hoped that Rosslyn would be more accommodating to other worldviews.
Spiritual Emphasis Week was created for us, Rosalyn’s student body. It was made to benefit us, and the fact that some people feel left out, while inevitable, means that we need to change something to accommodate as many students as possible.
In light of this, I feel like the best thing Rosslyn could do when creating a program to benefit its students is have a dialogue with its students.