Peter Klam, Middle School Head
If you’ve never been to a Green Acres graduation, you may not know that at the heart of this ceremony is a performance by each graduating 8th grader: a demonstration of skill and passion that serves as a right-of-passage to the complex lives on their respective horizons. Students should perform as they are moved to perform. They share a part of themselves that they are most proud of or find most meaningful.
Last year, in addition to several singers and a troupe of actors, one student gave a tae kwon do demonstration, while another performed a stand-up routine. Several students gave thoughtful speeches about topics meaningful to them.
These performances are a symbolic manifestation of one of Green Acres School’s core beliefs: students best succeed when they find their passions and develop the courage to pursue them. As their teachers, role models, and mentors, we celebrate them as individuals with unique talents and we urge them to share those talents with the world.
But we also want to help them to develop the broader skillsets they will need for success in the world beyond Green Acres. Although our focus is not exclusively on what kinds of high school students they will become, as the next step on their journey, high school is an important bellwether for us, demanding of them the knowledge, organizational skills, and intellectual curiosity that we hope to cultivate and inspire.
Our results speak well of these efforts.
You may have heard the widely-cited statistic that over the past 10 years or so, 90% of Green Acres students make it into their first- or second-choice school. While this statistic speaks for itself in many ways about the reputation of Green Acres students among admissions officers at the next level, it is even more instructive to dig more deeply into the way the outside world views Green Acres graduates.
I visited 35 high schools and programs over the past year. I always asked the same question of the admissions officers I visited with: what are the qualities of a Green Acres graduate?
Encouraging trends clearly emerged from schools who knew our students.
The folks I talked to spoke of our students as having the important communication skills to navigate the increasingly complex writing and speaking that they were being asked to do. They believed that Green Acres students had strong foundations in math and science, and they were well versed in an intellectual approach to the world around them.
The developmental continuum for our students from highly-scaffolded, carefully-managed projects in 5th grade to multi-faceted tasks that students break down and manage on their own hones the skills necessary to meet the various organizational demands of high school. Admissions officers speak of our students as successfully meeting the time and scaffolding demands of complex assignments. Our graduates are able to complete their work strategically and efficiently, and they understand how to negotiate competing demands from a variety of teachers and assignments. Our graduates consistently demonstrate a work ethic and organizational prowess that helps them to achieve and sustain success in demanding academic programs.
Our attention to the whole child and our focus on the social side of learning at Green Acres has helped our graduates to develop the “soft” skills equated with emotional intelligence that translate to highly effective teamwork. Several admissions officers noted that Green Acres students fit in very well to the social fabric of the school, sparking lasting friendships and garnering leadership roles in group endeavors.
Another consistent theme of my conversations is how well Green Acres students understand their strengths and challenges as learners, how comfortable they are with these personal attributes, and how honestly and tactfully they talk about their learning strategies with their teachers. Our program at Green Acres is designed to encourage a growth mindset. Each of us is on our own journey, and students don’t need to feel inadequate or self-conscious about their needs and challenges. Because of this, our graduates enter high school confident in their abilities to learn and comfortable in their own skin.
Underpinning all of the other skills, abilities, and attitudes is the thirst for learning that our teachers and programs cultivate in students. Green Acres graduates are excited about learning and engaged eagerly in the world around them. Admissions folks talk about how they stand out in their enthusiasm and natural engagement both in class and in other activities. Green Acres students are encouraged to find their passions and to be passionate about the world. They learn that when approached with enthusiasm, anything can be interesting. Their wide-ranging interest in the world is cultivated by the design of activities and projects that allow students to situate themselves as powerful actors in a world that matters.
The fact that admissions officers draw these conclusions about so many of our graduates is testament to our program and approach to learning and to the dedicated professionals who conscientiously design and redesign that program.
And when I watch our 8th graders on the stage—nervous about their performances, excited about their futures, and intrinsically interested in the important ideas of the world around them—I silently tip my hat to a middle school experience that truly distinguishes itself, helping students to master the broad base of knowledge and skills needed beyond middle school together with the inspiration to engage enthusiastically in the world around them.
- High School Placement