Soft Skills for Life

By Maria Archer, K-8 Principal

(l)Maria Archer discusses morning snack with a kindergartener. Each day, students follow instructions, measure, cut, and stir to prepare a healthy snack for classmates. (r) Fifth grade students plan the EMES International Day of Peace program and parade each fall.

Soft skills. Life skills. Whatever you call them, educators, parents, future employers agree: learning them early supports overall well being and success.

At EMS, we dig deep into topics and encourage students to ask big questions like:

  • What can I learn from this author to help me understand my own identity?
  • How do the decisions made during WWII (for example) relate or inform our country’s decisions today?
  • How does what we learn about the environment affect our daily decisions?
  • How do Jesus’ words in the New Testament help me answer important questions in my life?

We give time for students to reflect, ask questions, and discuss issues with peers. This enables students to practice leadership, to develop empathy, to be self-aware, and to take responsibility for their words and actions as they practice their faith.

Additional skills include:

  • Collaboration (teamwork)
  • Constructive thinking
  • Resilience and flexibility
  • Conflict resolution
  • Creativity

As an educator and administrator, I am grateful to be part of a school that intentionally fosters a culture where students can grow in these skills for life.

Additional examples of these learning opportunities:

  • Physics students lead 3rd graders in hands-on STEM activities. These include rocketry, circuits, density, robotics, buoyancy, aerodynamics, and more.
  • We Serve volunteers worked with Rotary Interact Club members to fill Christmas stockings for residents at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community.
  • Eighth graders collected and delivered cards, treats, and small gifts for staff working in the COVID unit at Sentara RMH for their class service project. Read about K-12 service culture at
  • Spanish students connected with people in Guatemala for conversation, including their teacher’s mother, as well as women through Project Olas. More at

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