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Chapter One: Freshmen Writing Their First Chapters


“I decided to be smart. My goal is to grow courageously, and I’m killing it.”

“This helps me understand that it is okay to fail, and you often learn the most from failure.”

“I liked giving up my phone for 48 hours. I survived!”

These are musings from freshmen reflecting on insights gained from their semester-long Chapter One course. On this journey of self-discovery and learning about Fountain Valley’s culture and community, freshmen are urged to become their own open book and embrace Mark Twain's sage advice: "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." 

Throughout this story, you will find reflections taken from the websites that each freshman created to chronicle the revelations and growth they gained from the course.


"I am personally most proud, not of making the newspaper, not of getting amazing grades (which I didn’t), but of making an effort to stick to this moral compass that I have constructed for myself this year. This semester, I have also learned to open up more, to be myself and embrace the fact that I am a total nerd. I still have a ways to go and a lot to learn, but hey, I still have seven more chapters to do that. "

Points for Pushing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Each freshman is tasked with earning 500 points throughout the semester by accomplishing a wide range of activities designed to engage with and contribute to the community.

Examples include:
  • Write a thank-you note to your coach, bus driver, adviser, houseparent, or a teacher—someone who has assisted with your adjustment to FVS.
  • Walk the FVS labyrinth, solo, one time, to ponder school, life, home...
  • Speak with someone who you don’t yet know well. Go beyond the surface. Learn about them. Listen.
  • Visit Mr. Webb's office and ask him a personal question about his life, favorite books or movies, sports teams he likes, etc.
  • Assist with some barn work or barn cleaning during a free period.
  • Day students: spend a night on campus or invite a boarder to your home.
  • Boarders: invite a day student for an overnight on campus.
  • Spend some time getting to know a student from another country and learn some significant information about his or her homeland. 
  • Spend some of your free time tutoring another student in a class in which you are strong.
  • Perform a Stupid Night Out skit, solo or with friends.
  • Read a section of They Wrote Their Own Histories: The First 70 Years of Fountain Valley School and share something that you learned about FVS history with the Chapter One class.
  • Turn your cell phone/tablets/iPads off (give to a teacher to hold) for 48 hours—avoid all social media on your computer as well. 
The name  Chapter One is in reference to Founding Headmaster Francis Froelicher’s words to the first class of Fountain Valley School students in 1930. He told the boys that each of them is in a position to write their own history. For today’s freshmen, Chapter One is the first chapter in their FVS history.

Assistant Dean of Student Anna Birnbaum, who leads the Chapter One curriculum, says: “This course serves as a comprehensive orientation to all that is FVS. It’s built around the School’s core values–courage, curiosity, self-reliance, compassion and open-mindedness–giving freshmen a solid foundation for success.“

Students identify and discuss their personal strengths, challenges and concerns as they see themselves working and living in Fountain Valley’s unique learning environment where they commit both to themselves and the greater community.

After self‑assessing and accepting a growth mindset for their lives at FVS, students then look outward toward developing empathy for others. There is great emphasis on the self, values, growth-mindset, failure, grit and resilience, coping, compassion, empathy and gratitude. With these topics, the course integrates ongoing self-reflection and asks students to think critically about who they were, who they are and who they want to be. The course concludes with students designing a digital media presentation and giving a presentation to their peers about their “first chapter” at FVS.


"Having spent at least two hours a week for four months in this class, I've almost fully adapted to a new school and completely different life, classes, friends, teachers and sports. Having so much time completely devoted to smoothing this transition has changed me a lot, and I feel that I'm now pretty much ready to head into the rest of my chapters at FVS. I have better identified who I want to be and what I can do to get there. I am embracing FVS core values and have begun to develop my own themes such as achievement, legacy and community."
Chapter One continues to evolve from its inception in 2015. This year, Birnbaum partnered with World Leadership School whose mission is to bring more purpose into learning: “Purpose learning happens at the intersection of thinking, feeling and doing where students can explore their unique purpose.

This partnership refined the curriculum and led to each student creating a website that illustrates their goals, progress, actions and ultimately, a synthesis that combines all that they’ve learned on their Chapter One journey into a summary of their personal growth and challenges. WLS is also working with the School in developing the capstone program, a culminating project for seniors that showcases their skills in research, critical thinking and problem-solving.


At Chapter One semester’s end, each freshman presented their website to the class and gave each other feedback.


"I want to leave a legacy here, even if its just an emphasis on kindness or hard work. Reflecting has stressed the importance of what matters to me, and I am grateful to have had the time to learn lessons about my own identity."




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