On a recent Sunday morning, my pastor asked the following question, “What does your ideal community look like?”

I have to admit my thoughts first drifted to the small, northeastern town of Stars Hollow, where Lorelai and Rory Gilmore call home. I imagined walking through this picturesque town saying hello to friends, finding fresh produce, and stopping at the local café for coffee.

My second thought, as I quickly reminded myself that Stars Hollow is a fictional location on television, is of a community where respect is mutual, the economy is strong, and safety is a given.

My ideal community took one step closer to becoming reality last Thursday evening when The Independence School District (ISD) held their first ever Academy Awards ceremony to honor the outstanding efforts of students, teachers, and parents involved in the first graduating class from The Academies of ISD.

The Academies of ISD are small, personalized learning communities within each of the Independence high schools, which guide students toward success in their chosen career. These academies are structured around Four C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking.

Leaving high school equipped with the understanding of how valuable the Four C’s are in every relationship sets students up to succeed in life. They will become better citizens, spouses, parents, and employees.  And the communities they choose to call home will see the highest collective benefits.

Communication is key to healthy relationships. Therapists, life coaches, and counselors spend hours helping people learn how to communicate with others, usually after a situation has escalated to the point of impasse. I want to surround myself with people who think with a level head, keep their emotions in check, and communicate in productive instead of violent ways.

Collaborative behaviors can bring understanding and favorable solutions to a family or community when polarizing issues erupt. I firmly believe that we are better together, but only if we understand the benefit of smart communication skills.

Critical thinking can be described as a self-disciplined way of thinking that reasons in a high-quality, fair-minded way. In other words, to practice critical thinking means eliminating bias, distorted views, and uninformed or prejudicial thought processes from decision-making. I surely want neighbors who are critical thinkers, don’t you?

Creative thinking is more than just “thinking outside the box”. Academy students experienced this when they were given the opportunity to open and run a small business. With that came the real-world challenges that accompany capitalism. As high school students, they achieved what many adults never understand, but employers greatly value – team work.

Authors and critical thinkers, Richard Paul and Linda Elder, say this about the effect of our thoughts: “The quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.”*

As a citizen of Independence, I am proud of our educators for identifying this all-important missing link in teaching students how to have attitudes of giving instead of taking. Our communities need more people like this.

I am proud of the students for demonstrating self-discipline and hard work, for they were able to see the fruits of their labor. I look forward to seeing how their Academy experience will impact their future.

Last, but not least, I hope they see the potential in their home city and, should they leave for a while, I hope they will return to her someday. Then, just maybe, we will all find a bit of Stars Hollow in our future!

Written by Becky Giles, Director Human Resources & Administration

*Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008