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.
By Admissions Director Art Stetson
In the fall of 1995, my first semester as the Admissions Director of Flintridge Prep, I found myself on the sidewalk of Crown Avenue, deep in conversation with Headmaster Peter Bachmann. I’d worked “back east” at two other independent schools and a college, and Peter was in his fifth year as Head of Flintridge.
I asked, “So Peter, help me here. Every school wants bright, talented students. But what am I really looking for at Flintridge?” And without missing a beat, Peter said, “Nice kids. Nice kids do well here.”
What a great mandate! That kind of makes me St. Peter at the Pearly Gate. Don’t get me wrong: The previous year, the faculty had put together a list of things they wanted to see in the student body, from greater diversity to stronger academic abilities to great artists and athletes. But the sine qua non, that one indispensable essential? Nice kids.
Every school is different, but the very best have one thing in common: They are a function of the Head’s vision. And so every admissions season, we set out to maintain that vision, to bring in capable, kind, generous, balanced and high-achieving students.
So what does that vision look like on campus?
In the classroom, you’ll see kids filling the front seats. You’ll see a room full of raised hands. They’ll express diverse viewpoints and experiences, creating a dynamic class experience. After class, you’ll see impromptu conversations and debates picking up right where they left off when the lunch bell rang.
I’m taken back to a few years ago, when a student named Dante went from leading the score count at the Prep basketball team’s CIF final to playing an ocean liner captain onstage in Anything Goes in just a matter of hours. And the Flintridge community was on hand to applaud him at both.
After all, Prep students are doers. They’re musicians and athletes, actors and scholars, artists and discoverers. They roll up their sleeves, jump in and—if it doesn’t work out—they try, try again. Their successes make campus an impressive place to be, but it’s their spirit of kindness that makes it truly extraordinary.
People are the heart and soul of a school. They are what makes kids happy and successful here. I can only speak from my own experience: I went from a large school with large classes and tired, overworked faculty to a small school with small classes and dedicated and impassioned faculty. I thought I had been getting a good education. Only when I went through the looking glass did I see what a great high school experience really looked like.
I can tell you with absolute conviction that, although I attended the college of my choice, the faculty, classmates and educational experience I lucked into during my high school journey impacted who I am today far and away more than my college experience. My high school classmates are people with whom I communicate daily, over 40 years later and 3,000 miles apart.
Through our admissions process, we strive to create that same reality for kids at Prep. May they look back on these years as some of the most formative and inspiring years; may they come away feeling challenged and prepared; and—most of all—may they feel surrounded by nice kids and caring adults during the journey.
By Gloria Diaz Ventura
Director of College Counseling
Summertime held a different meaning for me prior to becoming a parent. I hadn’t realized how challenging this time of year can be logistically and emotionally. We shuttle our kids from place to place, trying to keep them busy and tech-free, making summertime just as busy as any other time of year. However, there is a consistent idea about summer that remains, and that is the intent of the season: a time for students to decompress and rest.
Given the intense academic community of which we are a part, it is ever more important for us to rest and disconnect. Our students work extremely hard during the year, and it is developmentally necessary for them to take advantage of the intellectual freedom summer brings.
A question included in College Counseling’s initial questionnaire for juniors asks whether they read for pleasure. Very few have the time to do so, and summer provides them with this time. For a question that asks juniors to describe their favorite place, summer allows the time to explore and uncover such spaces.
Summer offers more time to live and experience, which in turn provides students with rich material to then use in the college application process—experiences which will help them uncover why they are the way they are. Self-discovery and self-awareness are the outcomes of a healthy summer; the tangible take-aways of growth.
The following are summer recommendations by grade level:
Middle School through 9th grade
Parents, begin to observe the areas your student is naturally gravitating towards. Academic programs out of the state or country are not necessary. Most include a high price tag and colleges will not consider such programs in their evaluation because it’s so early in the student’s academic career and because such programs are not accessible to most. That said, if your student has not experienced travel out of the country or state and you would like to travel as a family, this will most certainly contribute to their personal development and broaden the lens through which they see the world.
Therefore, a local academic course at a community college or online university will serve students well, prompting them to further explore the areas of interest they find most engaging. If students lean toward the arts or athletics, the 9th grade summer should immerse them in this interest. This summer is meant to offer time and flexibility.
This is the summer to dedicate to a student’s extracurricular focus. We want to present each student in a way that will highlight their layered personality. Thus, expanding on what they enjoy outside the classroom will be helpful when writing short essays and when interviewing.
A student may want to pursue a community college course this summer, in addition to their extracurricular activity, which is fine. Community college courses in one of the main academic areas (math, English, history, world language and science) may be incorporated into the student’s GPA by each college (not by Prep). Depending on the course, the University of California will designate an extra point for having completed a college-level course, and private institutions will average the grade as a non-weighted course.
When the college counselors begin with juniors in January, our initial conversation includes a discussion about summer plans. There are many expensive programs hosted on college campuses, and college counselors are experienced in knowing which programs are valuable and worthwhile.
Students interested in pursuing a science or engineering major will be guided towards an opportunity to conduct research or enroll in a program offering hands-on experience. In order to be competitive in the admission review process, science and engineering candidates must have completed a summer program to demonstrate their understanding of the subject. There are several local programs that seek Prep students, and we refer students to such programs when applicable.
Community college courses will be recommended to students who would benefit from an outside course to increase their GPA. Such courses will also be recommended to students who would like to demonstrate a genuine love of learning (compelling to liberal arts colleges) in a specific area of study. Residential summer programs (e.g., Brown, Columbia, Stanford) simply serve the purpose of exposing students to college dorm life and living away from home. Such academic courses are not considered more valuable or compelling in the admission process than a community college course, however.
I hope you have found this information helpful. In closing, successful applications are the ones that “pack a powerful punch.” With every turn of the page, they introduce a new topic, area of involvement, experience. Therefore, summer should aim to create experiences, exposing students to diverse perspectives and new surroundings. As parents, we know our children best, and I encourage you to continue guiding your student to pursue opportunities you feel would best shape and inspire them.
Several years ago, Headmaster Peter Bachmann noticed that more of his students were feeling as though their own success should be measured by what they do rather than who they are as people. Curious about this phenomenon, Bachmann found that his usual sources—from philosophy, literature and history—were insufficient. He turned to contemporary scientific research for insight.
The Flintridge Prep Community Speaker Series was also fascinated by his studies, and they invited Bachmann to speak on the topic. He agreed, on the condition that he be introduced as a teacher and a student, not as the school headmaster. The resulting presentation is a peek into a typical Bachmann Great Books lecture, one where as many questions are raised as are answered and where Tolstoy rubs noses with Carol Dweck.
While a full appreciation of Bachmann’s talk is impossible, here are a few of the takeaways.
What we say, and how we say it, has value
It may seem obvious that we have a fundamental influence on our kids’ lives, but Bachmann finds it “both terrifying and inspiring” that we have a profound ability to influence children. He references Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, who says the ability to break our children free of fixed ideas about their skills and abilities can encourage their lifelong development.
Such openness to growth can also reduce their stress substantially, he notes, according to Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit. Duckworth extends Dweck’s research, noting that individuals’ willingness to overcome obstacles and finish what they start, even in the face of extremely difficult circumstances, is the greatest testament to future success and happiness.
Cultivate a gratitude practice
According to Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, affluent schools are “entitlement incubators,” and entitlement is fatal to both gratitude and joy. As Bachmann observed, Brown’s research shows that consciously promoting joy – honoring small moments of pleasure and thankfulness with daily regularity – takes the “me” out of the equation, diminishing entitlement and increasing joy in students.
Brown says that nurturing groundedness in moments when students have control over their circumstances, and encouraging them to let go when things are beyond their control, is very important to their overall happiness. Such resilience especially comes in handy when the stakes are high, Bachmann says, as with the college application process — a deeply personal process for students and a business decision for colleges.
Encourage play, free time and daydreaming
Bachmann referred to one of the first Speaker Series presenters, Dr. Peter Gray, who encouraged parents to give students much more freedom and independence. Bachmann told the audience of parents to allow children to feel uncomfortable for a little while as they struggle for a solution. He discouraged parents from communicating with students multiple times per day during school hours. And he suggested that students need time to daydream, take a walk or play a game. Most of all, he encouraged parents to limit access to mobile devices when possible.
Follow Bachmann’s lead
Much of Bachmann’s research shows that the brain is plastic and that we can continue to learn and evolve over the course of a lifetime. You can follow his lead by studying on your own.
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