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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Our House System

Seeking to capitalize on the amazing relationships in our school as a catalyst for teaching leadership, earlier this year we introduced the House system.  Based on the old English/Australian boarding school model, each student is placed in a House, and each of the ten Houses is named after an important attribute such as Curiosity House, Integrity House, Loyalty House, Creativity House, and the like.
Within each House every K-5 student is paired with an older buddy.  In 6th grade they remain with their older buddy (now in 12th grade), but together they are also buddies for a kindergarten student in anticipation of the 6th grader being the sole buddy for that younger student the following year.
One male and one female senior in each House was asked to serve as a House Captain and they responded with great enthusiasm.  During our first House activity our buddies were led through a series of fun activities intended for them to get to know one another and to get them feeling comfortable before we headed to our Founder’s Day Celebration.  At the end of their time together the connection as palpable.  At our most recent middle school football game it was inspiring to see a second grader run up to his sweaty 8th grade buddy to congratulate him on the win.
The next House activity was a competition between Houses to see who could raise the most money for Hurricane Harvey relief.  As a result of manning lemonade stands and engaging in chores, our students raised over $10,000 for the Red Cross! Since that time the lower schoolers have eaten together by House, and various grade levels have gotten together for activities. Last week, 2nd grade students found postcards that their 8th grade buddies had sent from their Washington, D.C. trip. We will continue to engage in these events throughout the year, and beyond.
With such a rapidly evolving and changing world, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine all of the skills that our graduates will need to be successful in college and beyond, but we are confident that a solid grounding in leadership will go a long way.