Conversations in Education
From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty and administrators think all the time about how we support our students. In this space each month we’ll provide links, resources and inspiration about teaching at Prep and education in general.
From teacher book groups to conversations in the faculty lounge, Prep faculty read and talk a lot about education. Each month we highlight a few memorable pieces or videos. Our goal is to make the process of parenting, learning and living a little saner, to put things a little more in perspective. These articles will be chosen by Prep teachers and administrators. If you want to share your ideas, feel free to comment on an individual post or contact Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper.
Taking a Long View of the High School Experience
Students go through a great deal of change in the 9th grade. Their class size doubles. Peer pressure is a very real and powerful force in their lives. Developmentally, they are just starting to understand boundaries and test their identities. Intellectually, they are acquiring knowledge and analyzing ideas, with more sophisticated synthesis of complex concepts to come in their 10th grade year.
It’s with all these challenges in mind that Prep hosted an annual event on February 12, “Crafting a Balanced Adolescence to Help Your Child Thrive.” The evening provides an opportunity for parents to take stock and to look ahead, imagining how they can help their children have fulfilling high school experiences.
In advance of the evening, a survey was sent to parents asking them how they define success, balance, goal setting and challenges for their 9th grader. The survey asked parents to reflect on 9th graders’ emotional and social abilities, as well as how they handle stress and failure. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of parents identified “happiness” as a defining factor of student success.
These takeaways from the talk may be useful to parents of students of any age.
Ninth grade is a time for students to explore passions, not to build resumes.
Dean of Faculty Vanessa Walker-Oakes remarked that her own college freshman son recently expressed gratitude that he had a childhood, unlike some of his college peers. She entreated families to remember that students have 65 years to build a resume, but they will never have another chance to enjoy their childhoods.
It is common for parents to feel that they should begin “packaging” their kids for college, but we should fight the urge, remembering the school’s mandate to help students develop authentic intellectual and extracurricular passions and pursuits, including community impact work. This is a time to pursue genuine connections that spark joy.
Headmaster Peter Bachmann pointed out that the 9th grade year is a really important time for students to test their independence, to learn how to bounce back from failures and to solve their own problems. Ninth grade faculty and administration are intentionally modeling self-sufficiency, and he encouraged parents to let their children fall down and get back up on their own.
Bachmann and Walker-Oakes made clear that these life skills are far more essential in the long run (including during the college application process) than is developing a list of accomplishments divorced from students’ actual interests.
Our faculty and administration are working in developmentally appropriate ways to help prepare your student for an amazing college experience.
At several points in the 9th grade year, advisors, faculty, grade level deans and members of the administration work directly with students and talk with each other about students’ preparation and course selection for the next academic year. They consider a number of factors, including the students’ interests and other activities.
This process continues in 10th and 11th grade, with the addition of retreats to help students set goals and prepare them for the more intense self-reflection that occurs in college counseling. It’s important to know that students at Prep aren’t put on academic tracks. A choice to forego an AP course in 10th grade does not prevent students from taking an honors or AP course later.
As students progress through high school, the human development program and students’ own natural maturation prepare them for the self-assessment that occurs in the college counseling process.
Just as students move from analysis to synthesis and higher-level reasoning through high school, they also mature emotionally. The Sophomore and Junior Retreats, Prep’s leadership curriculum and other human development opportunities coincide with students’ natural development. By the time they reach the middle of junior year, students should be prepared for the thorough self-assessment that is part of the college counseling process.
At the event, parents were encouraged not to push students to think about college in more than a general sense before 11th grade. Doing so challenges the Prep community’s agreed-upon commitment to balance, growth and self-discovery.
Our students graduate happy, fulfilled and attending great colleges.
Seventy-one percent of young Prep alumni in a recent survey identified community, faculty or relationships as the most valuable aspect of their experience at Prep. The college counseling process is a culmination of the human development and intellectual work that students begin in 9th grade. With an emphasis on “strategy with heart,” counselors are thoughtfully matched with students to create trusting relationships. They use their own expertise, supported by data from College Kickstart, to deepen students’ perspectives on colleges to which they might apply.
Acknowledging the difficulty of the college market, Director of College Counseling Gloria Diaz Ventura noted, “It’s our job to help students highlight points of distinction and to show them 8 to 10 elite colleges they’ve never considered.”
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