At a recent gathering of Colorado Academy alumni in New York City, I was reminded again about the power and impact of the CA experience. I was just coming off a tour of college campuses with my own high school Senior. My son and I visited several colleges, and touring these campuses, I was reminded of the lasting legacy that an institution can have on a young person.
An impactful education
I also found myself in the role of consumer, weighing the cost of higher education and trying to evaluate the potential outcomes. In the role of parent and a Head of School, my main goal is to see that my children and all CA students find a great college fit, where they will be challenged to grow intellectually and to discover more about what interests them in the world. All kinds of questions came to mind as we listened to admissions officers speak proudly about their schools and the impact of programs on graduates. Since I already have two children in college, I also knew that Colorado Academy prepared them so well—not only academically, but also emotionally. I know deep down that no matter where my son ends up, he is going to thrive based on what he learned at CA.
Our alumni gathering in NYC confirmed my feelings. There were graduates from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and the 21st century. In fact, about a third of the attendees had graduated from CA after 2008. That young energy was a great thing to experience, and I loved seeing many of my former students in the audience as I addressed the state of CA. These younger alumni are engaged in all kinds of interesting work. Some are still students at NYU and Columbia. (How cool is that they took the time to come to alumni event?)
Others are launching careers in business and finance. Others were in the tech industry and consulting. No matter, all were excited about their futures and loving being in the hustle and bustle of New York City. During the course of many conversations, one thing was crystal clear: the years at Colorado Academy were critical to their success. A few even shared with me that CA was more impactful than college. Andrew Myers ‘12, a recent CA graduate who has launched his own start-up, told me, “When I think about my CA friends versus my friends at Yale, all of my CA friends are doing much more interesting things with their lives.” Now, that is a quote any Head of School would love to hear!
Make the most of what is here
Both of these experiences drove home for me the impact of all that CA has to offer, and whether you are a Pre-K student or a Senior, there are (at least) eight things that you can do to make the most of all those offerings.
Get to know your teachers
With our small classes, this is a pretty easy thing to do. I hear regularly from our parents about how well our teachers know their students. We know from our surveys that students see teachers as adults they can turn to. But, I do think a little extra effort by a student to check in with a teacher in a conference or to participate more fully in class discussion promotes a professional connection with a teacher. Our teachers chose to work at an institution like CA because they value positive and healthy student relationships. They enjoy discourse and engagement with students on issues. These lead to developing a mentor relationship and to lifelong connections that can be helpful to a young person’s long-term success.
Do your homework (the right way)
Seems like an obvious one and not much of an issue with our motivated students. But, let’s face it—homework can be a drag for young people. I am not sure any adult looks back longingly at nightly homework assignments. Yet, most adults I know regularly take work home with them. Often, adults don’t view this as a unique burden—it’s just a reality with being an adult and holding down a job. For students, engaging in work outside of class can help increase the potential of your learning in the classroom. I use homework in my class as a springboard for the next day’s discussions. Students who don’t read as carefully may be missing out on their own education. Our teachers tend to avoid giving busy work for homework. The assignments they create have a deliberate purpose to help you grow as a thinker and learner. So, if you can go into your homework thinking about how it can help you master certain concepts, that will ultimately make your job as a student easier, and you will find some great results. It’s really about mindset.
Take a music lesson
My children all tried music lessons, and they stayed engaged for different periods of time—my girls just for a brief period of time and my son for much longer. But, there were some long-term benefits. They got immediate rewards on their practice time. All quickly progressed from their first days of playing an instrument. At a young age, they could see the connection between practice and improvement. Also, they experienced what it’s like to perform in public. They took part in recitals in front of a friendly crowd and learned that they could be comfortable with an audience. Finally, taking lessons ignited a lifelong love of music. One of my daughters who only played piano for a year now comes home from college and plays piano on her own at our house. She is basically reteaching herself how to play. My son started on the cello, but now can play an electric bass, as well as the drums. At CA, we have all kinds of different levels of student musicianship and a solid crew of music teachers who love to share their passion with young people. (Many of the young alumni I saw in NYC were deeply involved in music lessons at CA from a young age.)
Play a team sport
There are all kinds of athletic offerings at CA for the traditional and non-traditional athlete. I would encourage all students to play a team sport at least once. First of all, they are fun. It’s really special to be part of something larger than oneself. As a kid, I played on a select club soccer team, but it was never as much fun as playing on my high school team. We are about to enter post-season play for the Fall, and there is nothing cooler than seeing CA fans, including parents, alumni, fellow students, and younger students, come out to cheer on our student-athletes. Team sports build community. They allow students to get to know one another differently as they pull together for a common cause. Younger students have an opportunity to get to know older students and develop friendships. I particularly love it when I see Juniors and Seniors continue to play a team sport even though they have not made the Varsity squad. Even if they are not on Varsity, they are helping the overall program by being involved and giving back to the school.
Take part in visual and performing arts
Just as I would advise a student who may not be so inclined to try team sports, I would also encourage any students to get out of their comfort zone and try something in the Visual and Performing Arts department. Whether it is dance, visual arts, filmmaking, digital media, ceramics, singing, or acting, the possibilities for creative growth, friendships, mentorships, and fun abound. Our faculty-artists are so engaging and so willing to help students find their inner artists. As a student, you will really never get a chance to explore so many things.
Volunteer for a meaningful cause
Students have busy lives, and it can be really hard to volunteer, but it can be so gratifying and fulfilling. Giving back to others who have a different set of life experiences helps students gain more perspective. For a young person to recognize that they can make a difference in helping someone who is suffering can be empowering and liberating. It can help free us from getting caught up in our problems that often pale in significance to others. Find time to take part in our service learning programs.
Go on a wilderness trip
I want to encourage our students to expand their perspectives. Getting outdoors helps each of us grow in a variety of ways. In addition to outdoor adventures offered in our MS and US Interim programs, we have a number of optional weekend wilderness trip offerings that few other schools offer. Like everything I have mentioned, the benefits are long lasting: you’ll gain perspective, overcome challenges, make new friends, find a passion, and get to know teachers and peers better.
Take advantage of teachable moments
There are so many times at our Commencement Exercises when I read the name of a graduate and instantly think of what that student was like in Lower School, Middle School, or their Freshman year of Upper School, and I can see just how far they have come. Being a school with a 14-year span of grades gives students so much time to be their best and worst selves. Developmentally, it is inevitable that students are going to make mistakes. Some will be small. And, some will be whoppers. All have the potential of being what teachers caringly call “teachable moments.” For a student and a parent, they are never fun, but they are important. When I was a kid, I was often the chief suspect in any disciplinary situation, so I have a soft spot for kids who struggle with their decision-making. I learned by leaning in. Many of the teachers who were the best at holding me accountable (i.e., strict) are teachers who made the biggest impact on who I am today.
The journey at CA can be a great one. It will rarely be perfect, but no journey is. I would argue one wouldn’t learn much or be ready for life’s challenges without tackling a few appropriate challenges at a young age. Know there are all kinds of people at CA who will help you along the way. Avail yourselves of what lies in front of you. You’ll be able to look back and say that you are glad you did.