The educators at Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS) know that no matter the path their students choose to follow in life, their ability to effectively communicate will set them up for success. That’s why confident communication and presentations in front of groups are built into so many facets of life at LFCDS.
“The school gives us plenty of opportunities to practice speaking in front of people,” says Bella Farag, who’s in Grade 7 at LFCDS. “We talk with people from all different age levels starting in Community Meeting.”
Community Meeting is a weekly event held every Wednesday. All the Lower School classes, from Senior Kindergarten through Grade 4, assemble and discuss what everyone is learning and any recent news such as introducing new students, faculty, or staff to the community.
Grade 4 students lead Community Meeting as the upper classmen of Lower School. Two students are chosen each week to come up with a greeting to usher in the meeting, introduce each aspect, and then come up with a closing—called a celebration—to send everyone on their way. Every Grade 4 student has the chance to lead Community Meeting at least once during the year.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Julia Nathanson of Grade 4. “You get to stand up and speak in front of everybody and I like that.”
“You get to learn about things the other classes are working on and we’re all together,” says Myles Haight, also from Grade 4. ”Leading Community Meeting pays off all your hard work.”
In addition to the students chosen to lead, other Grade 4 students are in charge of talk show style interviews with teachers and administrators, so the students learn more about the people in the LFCDS community.
Then younger classes stand up together to present information as a group. It’s all part of slowly becoming more comfortable addressing large groups, which culminates in Upper School with the annual Robbie Bermingham Speech Contest for students in grades 5 through 8.
“It’s a very big jump,” says Mimi Baeseman-Smith of Grade 8. “In Community Meeting you get to speak with other people, with the speaking contest you’re by yourself. Each year I have a better idea of what topics I want to speak about and I’m a stronger writer.”
Whereas in Lower School, the students leading Community Meeting only need to come up with a greeting and celebration, the Upper School students choose their own theme for their speech—something they feel personally passionate about—and write a 750-word essay developed over several drafts in English class. Students then work in Drama class learning to memorize and present it.
Topics range from “What is rap” to “How do near-death experiences enhance our lives” to “The Face of Homelessness.”
“I really liked speaking about gun control,” says Jake Putzel of Grade 8. “And last year I talked about Syrian refugees.”
Initially the speeches are delivered to English classes and the teachers narrow it down to the top 12 in each grade level. Then those speeches are delivered to slightly larger crowds as they’re narrowed down to the top 12 in the school. The final 12 are presented in front of the entire Upper School, teachers, and parents at the Robbie Bermingham Speech Contest.
In her Grade 5 year, Baeseman-Smith’s speech on Ruby Bridges as the first black child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana in the ‘60s was forwarded to Bridges herself, who then sent a personally signed copy of her book to Baeseman-Smith with the message “Keep the faith.”
Baeseman-Smith then wrote an additional two-page speech on her experience and presented it at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly. Assemblies and class presentations are also common venues for students to hone their public speaking.
“In history, for example, we do a lot of mini oral reports that won’t get as major of a grade as our speech, but they help prepare you because you begin to feel more confident speaking in front of audiences,” Putzel says.
The Community Meetings don’t stop once students move to Upper School either. They still happen once a week, led by a different Upper School advisory each week. Advisories are group forums of eight to 10 students and a faculty advisor that meet twice per week for group discussions and activities designed around self-awareness, social awareness, self-regulation, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Each Upper School advisory has at least one chance throughout the year to plan and lead an Upper School Community Meeting.
Just walking down the halls of LFCDS, you see the emphasis on presentations and addressing your peers. It’s clearly an environment geared toward fostering not only proficiency in public speaking, but outright enthusiasm.
“When I talk to our alumni, the school’s commitment to public speaking is routinely cited as one of the most valuable aspects of LFCDS,” says Head of School Bob Whelan. “The confidence they develop is something they rely on no matter what they do moving forward in life.”
Lake Forest Country Day School is located at 145 S. Green Bay Road in Lake Forest, 847-234-2350, lfcds.org.