How can you make the most of Upper School?

As a college counselor, I have the privilege of witnessing students reflect on their time at Colorado Academy and helping them weave their experiences, joys, failures, and dreams into an authentic story that launches them to their next chapter. The other college counselors and I have often wished that students’ Senior year selves could visit their Ninth Grade selves, to let them know that it all works out and to give them some perspective on what matters (and what’s not worth stressing over).

A version of this does exist in our Community Leadership Team (CLT), in which a cohort of Senior leaders are assigned to Freshman Advisories to serve as mentors and help students connect within the CA community, get questions answered on multiple topics, and make the most of their time in the Upper School.

As I spoke with two members of CLT, Camille Doherty and Avery Lin, as well as Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels and Freshman Dean Meg Hill, a few common themes quickly became apparent in their advice for incoming students.

Take healthy academic, extracurricular, and social risks

Taking healthy risks and getting involved set the framework for growth and happiness in high school. “Get involved!” Dr. Vogels says. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and know that there are supportive peers and faculty out there in whatever you try.”

Taking charge of your education and experience is easier said than done, and putting yourself out there can be stressful and challenging at times. What’s important is how you deal with those challenges. Do you give up or do you try again? The supportive CA community is the ideal place to get out of your comfort zone, because that is where real learning begins.

CLT members will be imparting this wise advice to Freshmen in the coming weeks. “The things that I was scared to try turned out to be things that I now love, like cross country running, Mock Trial, talking in class discussions, and going to school dances,” says Avery Lin. “CA is an amazingly supportive community for people of many backgrounds to try something new, and I encourage anybody and everybody to step out of their comfort zone a little and embrace being a little afraid. It pays off in the end.”

Build your curiosity and joy of learning

CA students have access to incredibly talented and caring teachers who are the ideal mentors as students develop the skills of critical thinking and creativity and embrace authentic curiosity and lifelong learning. Notice that I’ve talked about learning without using the terms “good grades” or “success.”

“Grades are not everything,” says Camille Doherty. “Challenge and train yourself to learn for fun and seek interesting connections in your material.”

Curiosity and joy of learning are also intrinsically linked to taking risks, learning from mistakes, and dealing with ambiguity. “Students best connect and make the most of their CA experience when they’re willing to accept the discomfort of not knowing or needing to know everything,” says Dean Hill. “When they explore new activities and environments with a sense of wonder, gratitude, and courage, they will learn to internalize and act upon the adage, ‘Success isn’t about doing well and being good but about being well and doing good.’”

Develop connection to your community

CA’s kind, inclusive, and close-knit community is one of the qualities that makes the school so special. Getting involved at the beginning of Upper School helps students form connections and grow through community. “Join teams!” suggests Camille. “They create such an important and unique bond with your peers that a classroom setting can’t provide. Be grateful and have empathy for your teachers. Thank them and engage in conversations outside of class.”

Camille also reminds students to stay connected with their other communities and support networks, like family. “Eat dinner with your family if you can,” she says. “High school can get busy but family matters, too.”

Seniors’ reflections often evoke feelings of gratitude for this place, its people, and the impact the CA community has made on their lives. Avery sums it up beautifully:

“For me, I wish that I’d known from the start to live the whole CA experience from a place of love. Love what you learn, or love the fact that CA makes it hard to decide on a single thing you love to learn. Love your friends deeply and authentically. Love your teachers for the way they spend hours in and outside of class committed to building your mind and character. And finally, love the small moments where you are consumed in a feeling of extraordinary gratitude for the people you’re around and the places you’ve been. Anyone who has graduated from CA could tell you about the small moments they remember, but that’s the catch—nobody can tell you where they’ll happen. All I can guarantee is that the more love you give, the more of small moments you’ll make.”

So, incoming freshmen, that is the formula: Risk + Curiosity + Community = Love. And that is what we all hope you will come to know through your CA experience.