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Kent Place Earns Second Place at Middle School Ethics Bowl

Middle School Ethics Bowl wins second place.

Last Saturday morning, over 140 students from 12 schools across New Jersey and New York; 46 judges; 20 moderators; and dozens of parents and volunteers streamed into Upper School classrooms for Kent Place’s sixth annual Middle School Ethics Bowl — the largest Middle School ethics competition of its kind in the nation. 

Kent Place fielded two teams — each composed of seven students — and Team 2 finished second overall!

In the final round of the competition, Kent Place and Green Brook Middle School met in the Great Room, brimming with spectators. The two teams faced a tough case study question: Should Aurora, a Muslim high school student, adhere to her Ramadan fast and risk performing poorly in her upcoming track & field competition, or break tradition in order to perform her best and potentially secure a college athletic scholarship? 

While Green Brook and Kent Place both took the same position — that Aurora should break her fast and compete — their presentations differed. And that, explains Sophia Ivy ’29, a member of Team 1, who was observing her teammates in the final round, is what makes the event such a learning experience.  

“The other team made a really good point about the value of community, and how Aurora is part of both communities mentioned in the case,” she recalls. “We had a lot of different perspectives even within our team, but the event made me think from different perspectives and I considered things I had never thought of before. Even though we didn't win, I feel like my ability to think on my feet and engage in meaningful discussions has really improved this year, and the competition played a huge role in my learning.”

Her teammate, Paige Sulkes ’28, agrees. “The other teams brought up different solutions that hadn’t occurred to us. I wound up learning more and concluding that there are always more possibilities,” she says. “There is never just one way to present your opinions.”

Marie Micchelli, Middle School art teacher and ethics teacher, has been involved in the Ethics Bowl since it began, serving as team coach for the last three years. She was proud of the students’ performance. “Despite feeling some nerves, the girls were so poised and confident,” she notes. “I enjoy getting to know them as their art teacher, and then being able to watch them perform in this other setting. They always do their best.”

At her invitation, several former members of the Middle School team as well as current members of the Upper School team helped the students to prepare their case studies, an effort that began in November. They even offered them encouragement and support at the event itself. 

In order to advance to the finals, Kent Place students successfully faced three different teams in preliminary rounds, presenting on a different case question for three minutes in each round. Then, they engaged in 10 minutes of open conversation to help them better understand the other team’s position. Next came questions from the judges, a few of whom were members of Kent Place’s Upper School Ethics Bowl Team, fresh off a state win.

The final question of each round — not included in high school-level competition — is highlighted by Dr. Rezach, Director of the Ethics Institute (EIKPS), as perhaps the most meaningful: “Each team has to explain what aspect of the other team’s presentation helped them to expand their thinking of the case,” she says. “It reflects their listening skills and how they grew in their understanding of the ethical issues presented in the case.” 

That growth of perspective is an important benefit to all students involved in the competition, according to Dr. Rezach. “We’re easily siloed in our thinking today,” she says. “The Ethics Bowl absolutely breaks the walls of those siloes so students can understand issues at a much deeper and broader level. They learn how to have civil discourse, listen, incorporate the opinions of others, deliberate, and wonder. It’s a win-win for everyone.” 

Organized and overseen by just three individuals — Dr. Rezach; the team’s coach, Micchelli; and Administrative Assistant Melissa Sheehy — the annual competition, which regularly draws over 10 schools and nearly two dozen teams, is a logistical feat. Planning begins over the summer, when a case writing committee, which includes a few Kent Place students, carefully drafts the six cases on which teams will present. Registration opens at the end of September, at which time schools have access to the cases as well as training resources to help their teams prepare. 

The very first Middle School Ethics Bowl took place in 2018, not long after the high school team rose to fame by clinching the national title. Thanks to a generous donation to EIKPS by the late Margot Meyer ’56, Kent Place has been supported in its ability to serve as host for the last six years. (Each year, the Margot Meyer Award is given to the team that demonstrates outstanding ethical behavior during the competition; this year’s winner was The Spence School.) 

Dr. Rezach, who launched a National Middle School Ethics Bowl Committee, is hoping to involve more stakeholders in order to expand the scope of the event beyond the immediate region into a bonafide national competition, similar to what is available to Kent Place’s Upper School Ethics Bowl Team. 

After all, the Middle School’s team began as a mere club 10 years ago, a full two years before the high school team even formed. That both teams have grown steadily in size and popularity speaks not only to students’ engagement and enthusiasm but the energy — and synergy — between the two.

“Having experienced members of the Upper School team help us prepare for the event and attend it was really motivating and encouraging,” says Sophia. “Their leadership and thoughtful ideas were a valuable part of the experience.”