This is an exciting and anxious time for us as parents of a high school senior. While our son is responsible for all the hard effort, we have to live with the decision that we chose when it came to high school.
The biggest choice that we ever had to make came at the end of his freshman year at our local public school. We knew our son was smart (insert parent bias here) but had a streak of disorganization about him. Basically, he forgot to turn in homework. To us this seemed like a fairly small hurdle to overcome; we thought all that was needed was a little basic parent/teacher communication, but by the end of his freshman year it was clear that we needed an “Intervention”.
We had heard talk that a new school (lowercase because they still hadn’t come up with their name yet) was forming and that they were going to have an open house in Inman Park. To say that our son was less than excited by the thought of leaving his friends and current high school would be an understatement, but he agreed to go and sit in on the session. To our surprise, he went prepared and asked a lot of really good questions (hum, maybe we’re on to something we thought?). After the session he went home and immediately filled out the school application all by himself without any prodding (hum, and what have they done with our son?). On the day of the student interview he came home from school went upstairs and showered, put on nice clothes, combed his hair and offered snacks and drinks to Peter and James when they arrived (aliens, must be that aliens swapped kids during the night). Our son was totally on board with The New School (Really? They named it The New School?) next we had to convince TNS that taking on at least one sophomore along with their initial class of freshmen was a good idea, which eventually they did.
Before our son entered The New School, he was one of those shy quiet kids who goes un-noticed in most normal high school classes. Let me tell you, The New School is not your normal high school experience. From day one the kids were thrust out into the community where they were required to actively engage with people on the street, business owners and even the homeless (not as bad as it sounds. Everyone could probably benefit from this exercise). During his first year we started to notice that he became much more self assured and aware of the world around him. Except for the occasional milk in the cupboard and cereal in the refrigerator, we were seeing progress.
Each Friday he would come home excited to talk about the latest speaker and how the students were allowed to be part of the experience by asking questions. One time he mentioned that the speaker was caught off guard because she was not used to having to answer such direct questions and said if she ever came back, she was going to have to do a better job preparing.
We also noticed that our son was starting to see a world where he could effect change and didn’t feel like he had little or no control, I was into my second or third year of college before I got that message. The New School speaks to the kids on more of an adult level. They seem to have greater expectations of the kids, and the kids respond accordingly.
Another change that we notice in our son is that when adults started listening to him and taking his points of view seriously, he started to speak up more and venture out of his shell. He has much more confidence when he talks to adults. I tease him that I think he finds it easier to speak in front of an adult than one of his peers. Additionally, if he decides he would like to try a new activity, he first does a little research and then jumps in head first. Some of these activities came through connections with The New School, such as an internship with a local farmer’s market and an internship with a local serial entrepreneur (now a paid position as a project manager). Other activities are interests of his own design, such as Swing Dancing and Volleyball.
Sure, we have had bumps along the way, as there would be with any startup. At the beginning we were concerned about accreditation, class rigor, and especially how colleges would view a kid graduating from a class of two (That’s not a typo. There are 2 seniors in the class of 2017). Accreditation went smoothly. As for class rigor and the colleges’ perception, we’ll let you know in May.
There are so many other areas I haven’t touched on that have added to the value of the experience our son has received. Hopefully after he graduates, he can write his own blog and say something in his own words. I know that right now our son is feeling a tremendous amount of pressure to prove to everyone that he made the right choice in enrolling in The New School. What he doesn’t know is that he has already shown us that he/we did.
Thank you, New School, for seeing the need for a school where students learn through experience.
Ripp Davey, Parent of a Senior in the TNS Class of 2017