How Creativity, Technology Transformed Chapel at San Antonio Academy

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More

It’s the first day of school after the winter holidays and as we prepare to open the new year, 350 boys, faculty and staff and a number of parents have taken their seats in Ellison Hall at San Antonio Academy for the morning convocation we call chapel. The holidays have been fun; we enjoyed a more laid-back, relaxed schedule, spent more quality time with our families, and even received gifts to celebrate the season.

Now, it’s 8 a.m., and 400 people are coming to grips with the return to a more demanding schedule. Most of us are a little sleepy. We all stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, as everyone takes a seat, the lights are dimmed in the convocation center, and Bono and U2 appear on the giant screen, making their way to the stage, where, in the shadow of Ireland’s Slane Castle, 80,000 wired fans have gathered for the band’s “welcome home” concert.

The audience in Ellison Hall comes to life as it feels the energy of the fans more than 4,500 miles away. Then, U2 breaks into song: “It’s a beautiful day … don’t let it get away!” The throb of the bass, the staccato intensity of the lead guitar and the passion of Bono’s message bring our boys, ages 4-14, our parents and faculty and staff to life. As the music ends, the lights come on, and I tell the boys: “It’s a brand new day. It’s a brand new year! It’s like having a new white piece of paper; you can make it anything you want it to be. Use God’s gifts. Get up! Get moving! Make this day great! Make this year great!”

Chapel concludes with interactive announcements that pull students into the life of the school, and then they are off to class, awake and ready for a good day. Most important, we have engaged our Academy family in a relevant celebration of one of SAA’s core lessons: “Give 100% every day.”

What a great way to start the day!

Every day San Antonio Academy’s chapel program begins the day with a 10-minute, media-based lesson that reaffirms the school’s mission, values and culture. Chapel presents episodes from movies that grab our boys’ attention and serve as a segue to brief messages that remind us that the school’s goal is to teach life lessons.

Chapel conforms to the most current research, which indicates:

  • Boys are very visual.
  • Boys respond best to relevant topics of interest.
  • Boys have a measured attention span.
  • Boys learn best when concepts are reinforced on a daily basis.

Every morning at SAA we reset our compass by teaching our students that their most important goal is to follow the school’s motto: “Be honest. Be kind. Be the best you can be.”

Ellison Hall is packed with San Antonio Academy students for chapel led by Head of School John Webster.

Courtesy San Antonio Academy / Photo by Josh Huskin

Ellison Hall is packed with San Antonio Academy students for chapel led by Head of School John Webster.

Successful businesses know that how you start the day sets the tone and defines expectations. Revisiting the organization’s mission, values and goals points everyone in the same direction and outlines priorities. Over time, this approach yields big dividends as it plays a major role in creating culture. At San Antonio Academy we agree with this philosophy. It works.

Our boys get caught up in the movies and through the years they learn a lot. Our guys remember that Joseph forgave his brothers. In “Miracle” our students learn that in 1980 the USA’s underdog ice hockey team, against all odds, defeated the mighty Soviet Union and went on to win the Olympic gold medal. “Rudy” and “McFarland USA” resonate with our guys, who learn that hard work makes your dreams come true. “The King’s Speech” tells us that, if we are resilient enough, we can overcome our toughest challenges and our fears. “The Emperor’s Club” teaches us that without character our lives are empty. “Flags of Our Fathers” reminds us that our flag stands for the freedom that makes the U.S. the greatest nation in the world.

In effect, SAA’s daily chapel presents a comprehensive character education curriculum that aspires to teach boys how to become young men of character. The lesson is: “Be honest, Be kind. Be the best you can be.”

It took a while for our character education curriculum to evolve. When I came to SAA in 1985, chapel had consisted of reading to students from the Bible for 20-25 minutes each day. During my first days at the Academy I shortened readings to 3-4 minutes and tied them to a relevant lesson at school, or a story in the news or a vignette about people of interest. Almost immediately, I could see our students’ interest level increase.

Knowing that story telling is an effective teaching strategy, I began to serialize Bible stories. For example, Joseph became a two-week serial that grabbed our boys’ attention, as I attempted to keep them on the edge of their seats: “And then Joseph’s brothers threw him in the pit. … Tomorrow we’ll see what happened next. In the meantime, tell me what you think about what the brothers did?” Our boys were engaged. I was making progress.

In the 1990s, I began the occasional use of CDs to to bring our stories to life. When our boys saw the images on the screen, their attention level went up.

In 1995, SAA constructed Ellison Hall, our new convocation center, which gave the school a building that was custom-made for chapel. A big-screen TV enhanced our presentations. Before too long, DVDs came along, and I could jump from scene to scene in the blinking of an eye. DVDs also made it easier to present multi-day lessons

In 2010 an anonymous donor, recognizing the power of the Academy’s daily chapel, funded an advanced audio-visual system that included a drop-down jumbo screen and a powerful state-of-the-art sound system.

SHAZAM! Chapel jumped to a higher level, as our new AV system provided an even more effective experience that captured the boys’ attention. More parents attended chapel, and Grandparents Chapels drew as many as 150 guests to Ellison Hall. Chapel had become an iconic part of our school.

On the opening day of school, “Space Jam” tells about Michael Jordan’s dream of becoming a great basketball player. On the closing day Dr. Seuss serves as a springboard to tell our graduates: “You will succeed if you work hard, trust God and stick to your values. In between, every day our boys are reminded to: “Be honest. Be kind. Be the best you can be.”The daily lessons take hold..

Academy alumni return years later and tell us that chapel made a difference in their lives. Each graduate has a favorite chapel story. The chapel experience has  helped shape San Antonio Academy’s culture. Most important, our daily life lessons have pointed generations of boys in the right direction.

Every morning reminds us: It’s a beautiful day! Don’t let it get away!

One thought on “How Creativity, Technology Transformed Chapel at San Antonio Academy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *