Just a few days after the FBI arrested fifty people in the college admissions bribery scandal, Harvard University’s Making Caring Common project published a report called Turning the Tide II: How Parents and High Schools Can Cultivate Ethical Character and Reduce Distress in The College Admissions Process.
This report reads like a roadmap for everyone hoping not to lose their minds—and their morals—over the college admission process. It includes actionable guideposts for parents and for high schools that wish to “put young people’s character and well-being at the center of a healthier, more sane college admissions process.” Hear, hear!
As I read, I was pleased to note that St. Luke’s is doing much of the work recommended in the report. Areas of strength that stood out to me:
1) St. Luke’s Focus on Service & Character
A central message in Turning the Tide II is that much of the college admissions insanity is due to “an intense focus on academic achievement” which has “squeezed out serious attention to ethical character…” This is not the case at St. Luke’s—as reflected by our Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve motto, our mission built around a strong moral compass and the commitment to serve, and the Center for Leadership’s call to find your voice, make a difference.
Turning the Tide II emphasizes the need for authentic service as opposed to “community service Olympics, a contest to see who can get an edge in their applications..." Kate Parker-Burgard, Director of the Center for Leadership, points out that every year our students far surpass their required service hours because so many discover The Rewards of Caring (a beautiful piece by Connor Rosow ‘20).
2) Prioritizing Student Wellness
At the 2018 State of the School Head of School Mark Davis declared, “The well-being of our students trumps everything else. If we want them to thrive we need to consistently evaluate our culture and ask: Is what we’re doing good for students?” Many wonderful initiatives fall under this banner including limits on homework and later start times. (see Teens & Sleep: Every Minute Matters, The Pressured Child: Let’s Do Something About It, Parenting Teens: Anybody Have a Map?).
Shouting this student-first philosophy from the Hilltop distinguishes this School and this community. We have taken a stance: We will not jump on the achievement-at-any-cost bandwagon. We will be guided by what is best for our students and will protect their well-being. We know this philosophy, shaped by love, will help them thrive—here and throughout life.
3) College Counseling that Walks the Walk
Knowing the strong moral compass that is at the heart of our school, and at the heart of our college counseling office, I was heartened to read in the report something that College Counseling Director Sonia Bell and her team frequently reiterate:
“At the core of excessive achievement pressure in middle- and upper-class communities is one fundamental myth: Only a small number of highly selective colleges will position students for success.”
Our college counseling team is one key way we combat that myth. Sonia and her team are a grounding force for families. There is a letter by Sonia written to students that says it all. Knowledge is the Prize was turned into a Leading Voices blog post. Read it and instantly understand why we are so grateful for the sanity and wisdom Sonia and her team bring to an area in dire need of common sense.
4) Knowing We Don’t Know It All
St. Luke’s does not work in a vacuum assuming we’ll get it right. We seek expertise (Dr. Lisa D’Amour, Dr. Suniya Luthar, Julie Lythcott-Haims, Dr. Michael Thompson) and collaborate with independent schools and education consortiums.
St. Luke’s joined Harvard’s Making Caring Common in 2018 committing to "help educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice." St. Luke’s work as a Caring School was featured on the Making Caring blog: Talking Across the Aisle at St. Luke’s School.
Earlier this year, St. Luke’s also joined a consortium of independent schools called the Tristate Learning Partnership which provides resources and best practices in all areas of educational testing and learning support. Member schools are taking an important step in reducing phony educational testing for accommodations (an element of the college admission scandal).
And so I am pleased— and maybe comforted— to read Turning the Tide II and see our work validated. Pleased, comforted, but not delusional. I’m fully aware we, like all schools (and society), have work to do in ensuring Knowledge is the Prize. It’s our job as the adults to teach our children that who they are matters more than where they go. And when they arrive in college, what will matter is their curiosity, their work ethic, their openness to relationships and new perspectives, their ability to function independently, their ethical center. The bumper sticker on the back of the car is irrelevant to their happiness and success—what matters is who they are.
Resources for Sane College Admissions...
St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.
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