This is the time of year when I have a number of conversations with prospective students and families about the MCDS High School. I get a lot of great questions about our school, but there is one question that tends to be a part of every conversation. This question can take different forms, but the general question is fairly constant: “What makes your school different?”
The reality is that there are a number of ways this question can be answered. The existence of the IB program, the small class sizes, the music ensembles, and our attention to college counseling are a few examples of potential answers, and I would certainly not discount them when looking at our program. In my mind, however, the true answer boils down to the fact that on our sign, it says “college preparatory education” in big letters for everyone to see. So, when I speak with students and families about our school, I seek to define what we mean by “college preparatory education.” In these conversations, I tend to focus on two important components: a skills-based approach to education, and a focus on authenticity.
As I have touched on in previous posts, the ubiquitous presence of smartphones has fundamentally changed the way people go through the world. As a result, we need to prepare students for life after school in a different way. Technologies will continue to evolve, and I suspect that access to information will only get easier. As such, the focus has to shift from simple content retrieval to application. In short, students need to learn skills, not just content.
One of the reasons I appreciate the IB curriculum is that it emphasizes these skills. That approach is not simply from IB however; as a faculty, we frequently engage in discussions about how we are asking students to think, and we share ideas about assessment methods that are designed to drive student learning forward. Students are asked to evaluate sources, not just the information that the sources convey. In the process, they become savvy critical thinkers. Spend even a few moments discussing a topic of the day with one of our graduates, and you will see what I mean.
As students prepare for college, we place an emphasis on the process, rather than just the product, and it is this approach that I find to be so central as we seek to define what it means to have a college preparatory education. We want to be confident that our graduates will go on to make the most of the opportunities they will have in college—regardless of the direction they might go. As such, it is essential that students develop skills and habits, not just retrieve content, as they will be able to apply these skills to their chosen course of study in college.
A Focus on Authenticity
The second piece I tend to focus on is sometimes referred to as a “soft skill,” but I would argue it is absolutely at the heart of college preparatory education. Simply put, we want students to be themselves. On the back of our high school t-shirts, we have the slogan, “Be your whole self.” So, why does this matter?
The most successful students are those who know themselves. Making the most of the opportunities that present themselves in college require students to possess self-awareness. This is true at all colleges, be they large universities or small liberal arts colleges. There is no shortage of opportunities in college, both in the classroom and out, and so the most successful students are those who are able to evaluate what makes sense for them.
Similarly, authenticity aids in relationship building. Think back on your own college experience and ask yourself how many people you know went to office hours regularly. How many took the time to form relationships with professors? In my experience, this is probably not a big number. When talking with our graduates, one of the common themes is how prepared they were to build those relationships with college professors and how important that was for their future success. This is the reason we emphasize students reaching out to teachers proactively, setting up times for extra help, and taking ownership of this communication when they are in high school. These skills are an essential part of college preparation.
As your children move forward, I hope we will continue to partner together to build these skills in them. In the process, we will be working together to reiterate why “college preparatory education” is so meaningful.