K-12

Maximizing the High School Experience: A Teacher’s Perspective

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Today’s post is brought to you by McClain Herman, one of our fantastic essay coaches!

High school: two words that ignite strong emotional reactions in adults everywhere.

For many of us, these words bring back memories of a carefree time. For others, high school may be associated with awkward school dances or that one teacher.

Today, however, for adults whose kids are quickly approaching the teenage years, the term high school can trigger a very different reaction. Anticipation. Anxiety. Confusion. Due to the constantly evolving nature of technology and advances in pedagogical theory, school looks much different today than it did 20 years ago. I have no doubt that these advancements, coupled with the fact that the college process becomes more competitive every year, contribute to any nervousness parents may feel as their children approach high school.

I’ve been fortunate to work both as an English teacher and an administrator at two very different local schools--a JK-12 independent school and a public high school. In my current position, I teach the most advanced level of English offered at my school, as well as general education English. What I’ve learned is that regardless of the type of school your child attends or the academic rigor of their classes, the recipe for success is largely the same. With the right habits, high school doesn’t have to be something your children get through. It can be something they actually enjoy.

Here are some suggestions to promote your child’s success in high school:

Create a routine. Especially if your child is taking a rigorous course load, transitioning from middle to high school, the workload can feel overwhelming. It is essential for students to create a consistent after-school routine to juggle their many academic and extracurricular demands. This will look different for each student. Most kids need a short break after school before diving back into school work. But the students I teach who struggle with procrastination and completing work lack a set schedule outside of school, and this often leads to working into the early morning hours. This obviously takes a toll on not only their academic records, but also their physical and mental health.

Discover and pursue interests. It’s not a coincidence that the most involved students in high school are also some of the most successful. Encourage your children to get involved with something they are truly passionate about (or to discover what that even is). Whether it’s sports, clubs, the arts, or student government, extracurricular involvement will enable them to form connections with their school beyond the classroom. Students who invest in their schools in this way often begin to care more about how they do in the classroom as well.

Self-advocate. Changes in best practices have led schools to offer many opportunities we simply weren’t afforded as students. These include the ability to ask for more time on assignments, and to retake or make corrections to assessments. Most teachers offer these supports, but in most cases, your child will have to ask for them. Many schools also build study hall time into their schedules for students to seek help from teachers.

Build relationships with teachers. I continually tell my students that they will catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This of course leads to laughter and that classic teen eye roll, but it’s true! Students who create a positive, respectful, and friendly rapport with the adults in the building reap the benefits, whether that means using their classroom as a quiet study space after school, getting extra help, or receiving glowing recommendations for leadership opportunities or even college.

Do things right the first time. I teach students who, feeling stressed about everything on their plates, often rush through reading or assignments just to get them done. While this can be tempting, even for adults, rushing through work often results in students having to redo their work or relearn concepts, and performing poorly on large assessments. Making sure their academic work is done right will actually save your child time in the long run, and make the learning stick.

After graduating from Clemson University, McClain began her career in education at Flint Hill School, where she worked in Upper School Admission and coached field hockey and lacrosse. McClain then graduated from George Mason University with a masters degree in Secondary Education English and Curriculum & Instruction, and began to work for Fairfax County Public Schools as an English teacher. Currently, she teaches IB English Literature II and English 11.

Future clients interested in more tips to help maximize the high school experience can book a Strategy Session here.

Current students interested in working with McClain on their college essays can make an appointment here.

Independent School Admission Tips for Success

In my last post, I briefly discussed the two top considerations that independent school admission officers use to evaluate a candidate’s fit. This time around, I’d like to share some practical tips to help families achieve success in this process:

  • Do your own research and keep an open mind. It can be really easy to make decisions about the right school for your child based on information from your friends or even friends of friends. However, you will receive the best information about a school from the school itself. Scour their website (i.e., go beyond the admission page). Have conversations with not just admission professionals, but also current parents, students, and faculty (many schools can make these connections for you if requested). It is important to keep an open mind when considering the “best fit school” in which your child will thrive.

  • Visit schools, and visit early! I encourage you to schedule tours at a wide variety of local private schools with your child. This will enable you both to determine what you are really hoping to find in a school, and to ensure that you are applying for the right reasons. Most tours include conversations with not just admission officers, but also teachers, coaches, and administrators, making them a great opportunity to learn about schools’ communities and values. I suggest visiting schools the spring before your child applies so that you know exactly where you will apply as you enter the fall admission season.

  • Be aware of admission deadlines. Most local private schools require that applicants complete all steps of the admission process by mid to late January for admission the following year. Many won’t even consider an application if even a small part of it is submitted late.

  • Attend school events.  A great way to get to know a school is to attend its events. Admission events are effective for learning the nuts and bolts of a school, and spending quality time with the admission team and some administrators. However, even more valuable to truly understanding a school is attending community events--homecoming, sports games, arts events, etc. This will enable you to observe and interact with students, parents, and teachers in an authentic environment. Also, attending multiple events, admission or otherwise, sends the message that you are serious about the school and helps admission committees remember your child come decision time.

  • Schedule a shadow visit. If you move forward with submitting an application to a school, most private middle and high schools will offer you the opportunity to schedule a “shadow visit.” This means that your child will have the chance to actually attend classes at the given school for a half or full day. You should take this opportunity, as it will help your child determine if he or she can see themselves in each school environment. On the other hand, passing on a shadow visit suggests to the admission committee that a family might not really be interested.

  • Prepare your child, but don’t overdo it. Most admission processes for middle and high school require a student interview. It is important to talk to your child about what that will be like. Share that they will have a conversation with a member of the admission committee, and that this is an opportunity for them to get to know him/her as a candidate “off paper.” The admission committee will ask questions about the student’s interests, educational habits, home life, etc. Parents should also encourage students to be themselves and relax. Over-preparing your child will often lead to anxiety, a robotic conversation, or excessively rehearsed responses.

  • Follow through on the little things. Encourage your child to write handwritten thank you notes to tour guides, the interviewer, any coaches/teachers who met with him/her, etc. You as a parent should also do the same, either with a handwritten note or email. This may seem like a small gesture, but these personal efforts are remembered.

Hitting the Rewind Button: Independent School Admission in the D.C. Area

There are many benefits to living so close to our nation’s capital, including the incredible options we are able to pursue for our children’s education. Not only is the D.C. area home to some of the best public education systems in the country, but it also includes excellent private options. On the other hand, these many great choices can create confusion. Where should my child apply? What is the process like? What are her chances of getting in? It’s not an easy decision and it’s one with which I continue to struggle myself, as a parent.

Northern Virginia Private School Admission Consulting

When I started DC College Counseling back in 2010, my goal was to use my expert knowledge to guide families through the college admission process. Even though I ultimately spent eight years of my career working in independent schools, independent school admission was not on my radar. However, along the way, two developments occurred: first, families began to ask if we could assist their younger children with private school admission after we worked with their older children during the college admission process. These parents realized how much we were able to help simplify everything and wanted the same level of assistance at an earlier stage.

After guiding families through that process a few times, the next development occurred in the form of a lightbulb that went off- we realized that we were actually uniquely poised to do so with an insider’s perspective on each school community, because of our college admission work! We assist so many area private school students with the college admission process that we have picked up quite a bit of insider knowledge along the way. While it wasn’t initially our intent to use it in this capacity, we actually have a pretty clear view on the strengths and challenges of many area schools. Not only do we know their communities, their administrators, their curriculums, and their teachers - we are able to learn about the school within the context of the very reason many parents opt for private school in the first place - outcomes.

If you are stressed about the private school admission process, remember these key points:

Schools genuinely want to set your child up for success. They are looking for students who they believe, first and foremost, can thrive academically within their specific rigorous college preparatory environment.

Schools also seek students who will diversify their student body. Yes, this means fostering racial and ethnic diversity within the community. However, diversifying student interests and talents is considered to be just as important. Independent schools want to welcome students who have genuine and unique passions and who will be engaged in the life of the school.

Try to move forward while keeping these ideas in mind, and begin to develop a strategy to show your student’s diversity and potential for engagement. However, you also need to make sure that you are putting your child in the right environment. If they don’t have the capacity to succeed, it’s not the right fit.

Stay tuned for more specific tips in our next post, and good luck to all of the families hearing their independent school decisions in the next week!