Wednesday, January 10, 2018

1,000 Books

Coming from a family of educators, it is little surprise that I was inspired to read at a very early age and have been an avid reader my entire life.  On every car trip, every trip to the beach, and everywhere in between, I had -- and continue to have -- a book in my hand.

In 1995, for some reason that I cannot quite remember, I began writing the title and author of every book I read, and even included a rating for each, should I decide to go back for a re-read or choose something from the same author.

My “book-of-lists-of-books” has become a journal of sorts.  As I look through past years, I can see that the year my second son was born I read the fewest (21), and the year we suffered through a freezing Cleveland winter, I read the most (77).  I can remember when and where I read many of them, from a hospital stay recovering from a hockey injury to different vacations to all of the summer readings from school reading lists or required professional development.  From my ratings, I can identify books I rated so low that I never hope to see them again to others I have read over and over, with my all-time favorite being Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (four times since 2011).

There are authors -- Stewart O’Nan, Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, and Dennis Lehane, to name a few -- whose every book makes my reading list, and others still who clearly fall into the “one and done” category.  I am also in the enviable position of having sons who are old enough to share books of mutual interest, and both parents who are avid book club participants and with whom I share books. 

Almost 20 years ago, when the internet was gaining traction, a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote a piece about using the internet as a tool to track down a beloved kindergarten teacher who had taught her to read many, many years earlier.  She described the impact this teacher had on her life, and the trajectory that led her to be a reporter for such a renowned newspaper.  She eventually found the teacher, and called her number.  When she introduced herself and explained the project, my mother immediately remembered her and couldn’t wait to hear all about her journey.

As I pencil in book number 1,000 (since 1995 when I started keeping track), I remain thankful to have been raised by such talented educators and to have been given the gift of reading.

When I see our students getting out of their cars in the morning, book in hand, I cannot help but think that Trinity Valley School is  also maintaining an atmosphere that prioritizes, and values, reading.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The College Search

The college landscape has been continually changing in terms of process, deadlines, and expectations, with a great number of misconceptions relative to what colleges are looking for in an applicant, their priorities for admitting those applicants and even how they read their folders.  Consequently, a couple of weeks ago I took some time to visit with five universities around the state in order to discuss some of the college trends.

On my trip from San Antonio to Austin and back again, I visited with two small, private universities, a large, public university, and also two mid-sized universities.  At each stop I met with their director of admissions, took a student tour and in some cases met with their chancellor and/or some of our TVS alums at those schools.

There were several things that were abundantly clear from my visits.  Firstly, it’s clear that the colleges know our counselors and TVS well, and are clear about the academic preparation that our students receive and the character that they display.

They also work diligently to try to get to know our families and our students, including their strengths and weaknesses and while they are looking for students with a diversity of interests, they certainly want students that have had some depth in their interests, rather than simply the salad bar approach (just a little taste of a large number of experiences).

These colleges are also unabashedly places with high expectations for rigor (at one university I visited, every TVS alum I met with was a double major) but with the commensurate areas of support for students.  From literacy centers to math labs to counseling centers, there were significant resources available, but students certainly need the skills of self-advocacy that we preach here at TVS in order to avail themselves.

Student health was also clearly a priority.  In one university we passed a group of students taking a karate class, in another it was an introduction to physical fitness and another boasted an incredible student center with hundreds of pieces of workout equipment, climbing walls, numerous basketball courts and even two swimming pools (in the interest of full disclosure, there was more tanning than swimming when I visited).  The food services were also clearly much healthier and diverse than when I attended Syracuse in the eighties, to say the least.

I asked the directors what some of the trends were that they were seeing in their incoming freshman, and what advice might they give sending high schools.  Their comments included:

  • The content is important, but it’s even more important to be able to communicate effectively orally and in written form (one mentioned this as a lost art)
  • Students need not overload themselves in high school to be seen as capable applicants - they need depth in their interests as well
  • Depending on the college, they don’t necessarily need to know specifically their area of study as the declaration of a major can vary and this can be an important part of choosing the right school
  • Some of the colleges mentioned students that had accelerated or taken de facto online courses and seemed to have missed some of the important foundational steps or skills
  • Several folks pointed to a higher level of student stress and communicated their growing health center staffing as an indicator.  To this end, they emphasized the importance of students identifying the right school for them.

In the end it was a wonderful opportunity to make connections with some of  the universities that are among the more popular choices for our students and to get a sense of the process from the college side.

It was also an affirmation of our approach to the combination of rigorous academic preparation with wide constructive interests in a caring and nurturing environment that prepares our students for the next level, and beyond.