The Ascension ProjectThe Ascension Project

Developing Boys in Mind, Body, and Spirit:
Spiritual Care at the Belmont Hill School

The first line of the Belmont Hill School Mission statement highlights that we are "a community dedicated to
developing boys in mind, body, and spirit." The "mind" and the "body" provide a context for us to help the
boys realize their spiritual lives. We are a school for boys with 442 students in grades 7 through 12, located 10
miles from the center of Boston. Our students come from over 60 communities with diverse economic, ethnic,
racial, and religious backgrounds. Our identity as a nondenominational school provides certain challenges and
opportunities for our efforts to offer spiritual guidance for the boys. Pastoral care is not central to our mission,
but embracing the "spirit" is. Unfortunately, people often vary in their interpretations of what "spirit" means
within the school, so we find ourselves having to be more conscious of how we teach boys understand what
the third part of the mission actually means. Helping them view the "spirit" in terms of "spirituality" allows
the School to concentrate on the metaphysical aspects of both self and other in a way that connects everyone.
Still, the task of articulating this perspective is difficult because boys are often concrete and empirical thinkers
that have a difficult time grasping the abstract qualities of being. Our awareness this philosophical dynamic
helps us guide the programs and curriculum that focus on the spiritual lives of the boys.

Leading a culture through a conversation involving spirituality that is not bound by a particular doctrine or
religious belief is a liberating experience. Belmont Hill opens the view of the "spirit" to its broadest and most
pluralistic sense, and the boys are invited to experience spirituality at its purest level. The boys anchor
their interpretations of the "spirit" in their direct and immediate associations with the mind and body, thus
providing them with a language and context to have the discussion. Younger boys, in particular, tend to have
a difficult time grasping what it means to be spiritual in the abstract sense, so these tools of considering how
we think (with the mind) and how we act (with the body) are useful.

The freedom of the secular tradition is one that fosters a broader and more diverse sense of what spirituality
can mean. The boys are encouraged to learn about a number of religious and spiritual traditions. They
realize that organized religion, while useful, is not the only path towards spiritual growth; and as our boys
experiment with this realization, their exploration is protected within the boys school model. The single-sex
environment creates an atmosphere that allows boys to unlock the socio-emotional aspects of the lives; thus
making it more acceptable and comfortable for them to express their spiritual selves amongst their peers.

Belmont Hill School fosters an active and involved community that takes both its secular and single-sex identity
into consideration when developing programs for the students. The School emphasizes recognition and
reflection as an integral portion of the enrichment activities for the Middle School, Upper School, and faculty.
These different constituencies are encouraged to think about how they play a role in the cultural fabric of the
school, and how this role speaks to a deeper sense of being and purpose. Less abstract, however, are the
School's efforts to educate everyone on the dimensions of spirituality; and it is here where the blend of being
nondenominational and single-sex is beneficial. Every year the school community participates in a range of
diversity programs focused on spirituality and religion. Different directors and program organizers host a
series of speakers to share a range of spiritual traditions with the school. In the past, the boys have conducted
a "Spiritual Climate Survey" to assess how spiritually mindful and accepting the students and faculty are
in the community. The survey, and other activities like it, are used to generate data that both help the student
leaders create forums and discussions with their peers, and help faculty advisors learn more about the spiritual
needs of the student body.

Many of these programs are used as a means of creating a dialogue between the students and other outside
voices and organizations as well. We regularly invite parents, alumni, and friends of the school to facilitate
discussions regarding spiritual issues, and the boys are encouraged to find other ways of exploring their
spiritual beings that may not be offered on campus. On several occasions, the school has provided the
opportunity for boys to travel off-campus to visit Buddhist meditation centers, temples, and other places of
worship. The sense of care from the school's perspective falls back on the ethos of recognition and reflection
that permeates through all of the activities. The boys are encouraged to think about what the worship means
to them, how it helps them better understand their lives, and how it allows them to realize a different type of
personal growth and development.

Belmont Hill views the curriculum as an important component in the long-term spiritual care of the boys. In
continuation of both the philosophical and programmatic tenets of the school, the curriculum creates a
dynamic whereby a boy's ability to process, understand, and associate with a spiritual identity is integrated
into the classroom. The School has many courses that employ intentional conversations to help foster
different spiritual perspectives. Our secular tradition, again, helps frame the conversation in a space devoid
of dogmatic presumptions, thus providing the faculty a sense of pedagogical freedom in how they approach
the material-be it within literature, science, or the arts.

In addition to this, Belmont Hill is committed to creating specific curricular responses to the spiritual dynamics
of boys' lives. One course in particular, "Knowledge, Belief, and Meaning," allows the boys to explore the
intersection of the major religious tenets and basic philosophical questions. Courses like this are designed to
create an inter-religious dialogue at the student level; which, in turn, exposes them to an ethic of pluralism
and spiritual choice. By virtue of helping the boys recognize this "choice," they learn to process the spiritual
currency that comes from realizing the lessons of mindfulness.

In essence, the "spirit" of the Belmont Hill boys gives them a sense of meaning in the development of the
mind and body. Spirituality, then, becomes the process though which the boys recognize and reflect on t
his meaning. The philosophical tradition of the school creates an atmosphere that fosters a healthy and
liberating space for program and curriculum to enrich the spiritual well being of the boys.

Kai Bynum, Director of Community and Diversity at Belmont Hill School,
Belmont, Massachusetts
About Kai Bynum