“Academics at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture make a distinction between “thick” and “thin” cultures of moral endowments. “Thin” tend to be generic and abstract, around which there is little disagreement. In contrast, “thick” moral cultures are concrete, bounded in traditions, and the lived experiences of particular communities. This is best illustrated by observing a thick moral community such as Staten Island’s St. Adalbert School.
Principal Diane Hesterhagen proudly describes St. Adalbert as “the most patriotic school in America,” and for good reason.
From the moment students walk into the school building in Elm Park, they’re immersed in a culture that centers squarely on service to God and country, with messages and activities that help students put those concepts into action on a daily basis, Silive.
“We include awareness of veterans’ issues into daily life, not just one or two days a year. It’s every day here,” Hesterhagen said.
Pride in America and service to others is “in these kids’ blood,” she said. “We form them in their faith and cultivate a sense of patriotism and citizenship.”
The school itself is filled with reminders – banners proclaiming “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “United We Stand” and “God Bless America” line the hallways, alongside displays honoring the men and women who sacrificed their lives in the U.S. military.
One display pays special tribute to Father Vincent Capodanno, a U.S. Navy chaplain and Medal of Honor recipient who lived near the school and was killed in Vietnam in 1967. Another bulletin board highlights U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, a New Dorp resident who died shielding another soldier from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2013.
The message “St. Adalbert salutes our veterans” and an American flag is printed on the front of all student uniforms. On the back the shirts read “Land of the free because of the brave.”
“It’s important for the kids to know that war is not always like the way it’s portrayed in movies,” Hesterhagen said. “Everyone doesn’t always come home, and sad things happen.”
Student projects involve a “white table ceremony” to honor military service members missing in action or captured as prisoners of war. St. Adalbert’s roughly 220 students also take fieldtrips to a memorial at the Manor Road Armory to place American flags on the gravesites of area veterans.
Local veterans also play an important role, visiting students in the classroom and for special events, including an ice cream social in May to kick off the Memorial Day weekend. The focus on service extends to police, as well, with an annual Police Day that allows students to learn about safety over lunch with officers.
This is what a “thick” moral community looks like.
Teachers and principals intent on strengthening moral and character formation of students in their school will find information and support at the UK’s Jubilee Centre.