As this group of soon-to-be Park graduates thinks about their transition to high school, they deserve credit for navigating a high school search process unlike any we have ever seen before. Whether they were exploring public, independent day or boarding schools, the process was fraught with unexpected changes, challenges, and pitfalls. Covid restrictions mandated distance learning both in the classroom and in the admissions process! As one parent said, “Having already been through this process once before with my older daughter, I was shocked by the challenges presented by all of the changes to the process. Due to COVID-19, we were unable to see schools in person, all interviews were conducted over Zoom, the SSAT testing posed complications.” The parent underscored that these adjustments were in the shadow of increased applications at all area independent schools. In fact, some schools reported that there was a 45% increase in applications!
So, for our students, this fall was filled with Zoom admissions events and interviews as well as hybrid learning and the increased academic expectations characteristic of Park’s eighth grade. Many students submitted applications to schools without having ever stepped onto campuses. Our students deserve all the credit for their patience, resilience, and quality online research. One student mentioned that “researching schools online wasn’t the same as walking through a cafeteria or watching a sporting event” to get a sense of on-campus culture. Instead, this student and others relied on phone conversations with Park graduates as well as opportunities to attend Zoom open houses.
One of the biggest challenges was taking the SSAT online. What we had hoped would be a smooth transition from a paper test in Park’s Dining Room to an at-home remote version became one of the most difficult aspects of the process. Students experienced delayed online registration, unresponsive proctors, and unexpected “platform crashes.” One of our eighth graders shared that both of the times she took the test online something went wrong whether it was the proctor or system failure. Ultimately, students had the option to take a paper test at Park, which created a pathway for success. Many schools dropped the requirement for the SSAT, but we were pleased that students had the chance to take the test at Park if they wanted to. We are so thrilled to share that the SSAT will go back to its prior tried and true paper version next year and that rising eighth graders can expect to take the test on campus and in person next fall.
This year, we also carefully developed a year-long plan to examine equity and inclusion in secondary school counseling. Since no school, Park included, is immune to systemic racism, our work in secondary school counseling is twofold: we looked at how potential next schools are taking action and demonstrating accountability to develop socially-just and racially-equitable communities, and we proactively examined our own office’s practices. Our targeted work included:
- Developing a standard rubric for evaluating student practice interviews
- Providing a list of potential questions for students and families to ask during an open house, tour, or interview that may help assess a school’s commitment to an antiracist education and developing an inclusive school culture.
- Formalizing opportunities for families to receive individualized financial aid application support
- Identifying additional opportunities to enhance the program and reduce the cost of SSAT test preparation.
- Reviewing and publish the standard format for all initial meetings for Grade 7 families
- Measuring and reporting independent secondary school diversity, equity, and inclusion metrics
- Completing outreach to recent Park graduates to gather data about student experience through both survey and in-person/Zoom meetings
- Training current Park teachers about avoiding bias in recommendation writing
- Developing and engaging area secondary school counselors in professional development discussions on antiracist best practices and policies in secondary school counseling
We consider our plan to be a living document and eagerly anticipate continuing this important work in the 2021-22 school year and beyond!
As members of the Class of 2021 transition to high school, we are confident that they will be leaders on their next school campuses. Despite the pandemic, they are academically prepared to excel, and they are sure to be athletic, artistic, and social leaders at their next schools. We consistently hear from secondary school admission teams that our students are sought after applicants because of their character, leadership abilities, and academic readiness. These most recent Park graduates excel in all of these categories and we will miss this amazing group of students!