Words to Live By

by Rachel Stone | English Faculty

The AP English course I teach to 11th graders encourages them to be choosy about words. Even if this choosiness can take ribbing from certain quarters—for example, the mathematics department—it is the kind of thing most of us intuitively grasp: the subtle difference between, say, a “politician” and a “statesman.” One carries with it the faintest whiff of skepticism; the other, respect and trustworthiness, and we know which one’s which with barely a thought. Words, I tell my students, have power. Which is why choosing words to live by can, in fact, change the way we live—especially when we choose them together. I came to SBS several years ago from the Friends School in Mullica Hill, NJ. A common feature of schools in the Quaker tradition is that they make frequent reference to Quaker values, which they speak of in acronym form: the SPICES.

For FSMH, the letters in SPICES stand for Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Sustainability. These words are emblazoned on banners and featured in newsletters. They crop up on t-shirts and in sports cheers. They creep into lesson plans and playground banter. They’re used in the boardroom and at the annual benefit. And, slowly but surely, they become features of the common life in the school, benchmarks and heuristics to guide decision-making: will this policy enhance or inhibit the formation of our community? Do our celebrations conform to the value of simplicity? Does this lesson plan demonstrate an understanding of equality? Having a simple acronym to remember our shared values made them vivid and present to every member of the school community.

And as it happens, when you’re continually put in mind of a particular idea, you start to notice it more frequently. What’s more, when that idea is, say, “integrity,” you find yourself wanting to live by it more fully. With all this in mind as I prepared to head into the 2019-2020 school year as the head of Simons dormitory, I knew I wanted to have an accessible, memorable way for my girls there to articulate the kind of dorm they aspired to live in. The prefect, the dorm council, the dorm moms, and I discussed the most important qualities that a “home-away-from home” should have—the qualities that should define our life together.

I shared the Quaker SPICES, and soon we came up with our own special blend of Simons SPICES, inspired by, but not identical to, the Quaker version:


Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the girls took this idea and ran with it. “Simons Girls LOVE SPICES,” reads a poster in the hallway. Two of our most artistic girls painted small SPICES-themed name tags for each girls’ dorm. “Sister” and “sisterhood” and “SpiceSistersForLife” are just a few of the terms that are used with ease. Another one of our artists designed a hoodie with a SPICES theme, and our open dorm party is set to celebrate with spice cake and spiced apple cider. But beyond a cute decorating motif, there is the unmistakable fragrance of peace in the dorm. There are sincere efforts at respectful communication.

There is, I am delighted to say, true servant-leadership, in the spirit of equality and service. These values are not innovative, and neither is the practice of choosing a mission or vision statement to express them. And yet it still amazes me to notice that when the girls took up this practice, and made SPICES their own, the words that they chose also became the words they began to live by.


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