Head of School's Blog
Last spring you may have heard the buzz about a course offered at Yale University devoted to “Psychology and the Good Life,”* essentially an examination of the values that undergird American society today and the behaviors we seem to have adopted as a society as a result of these values. An article in the New York Times and several treatments on the national news drew attention to the content of the course as well as to the shock that reverberated throughout the university as a full one-fourth of the undergraduate student body, or 1200 students, signed up. The practical challenges of accommodating all these students, in terms of finding adequate seating and enlisting a sufficient number of teaching fellows (24!), stretched the resources of even such a resource-rich environment as Yale.
Apart from the logistical issues, the fact that students in such number – and privileged ones at that – were flocking to an exploration of what constitutes the “good life” came as a profound surprise to many on the Yale campus. From an historical perspective, it has become axiomatic to note that most members of the baby-boomer generation (of which I am one) never wrestled much with the happiness/fulfillment question, and our parents, those who had experienced the Great Depression and WW II first hand, even less so. For both groups throughout the 20th century, family, work, faith community and neighborhood community filled the hours, weeks, and months with all the meaning we thought we had a right to expect, at least for most. And a deep sense of patriotism pervaded all of it.
It turns out that Yale’s experience is reflected in other universities, who have offered similar courses and witnessed a similar student response, and this phenomenon invites us to speculate as to how we arrived at this particular place. The search for deeper meaning is, of course, always a laudable thing, but what we see in the Yale example feels like something else: more like the reaction of a society that is searching for its roots. And when we consider the dramatic cultural shifts of the last 20 years, as seen in the omnipresence of technology and entertainment, the collective decline of confidence in important social institutions (the media, banks, religious institutions, and government – to name a few!) and the increase in anxiety across the demographics, it is no wonder that this generation of university students would feel the need to reevaluate their values, behaviors, motivations, and goals. And to that extent, this vignette represents, I believe, a positive trend.
As for the relevance of this story for Whitfield, it is an affirmation of our school’s mission to cultivate the growth of the whole child and to esteem moral development as a part of, and not isolated from, academic achievement. Based on the example of hundreds of Whitfield graduates over the decades and the excellent college choices they consistently enjoy, we know that our students will be well prepared for their studies at the next level: they will have the academic tools to establish virtually any kind of professional niche they desire. But we also believe that their ultimate success - and happiness - will depend on other criteria: the ability to create and sustain healthy relationships, to apply their talents with diligence until a task is completed, to remain open to new ideas, to develop compassion for others and especially people different from themselves, to participate meaningfully in the life of a community, and so on.
And so again we are reminded that education is as much a matter of the heart as of the mind.
*For those who would like more information about the Yale course, it is available online at Coursera.org under the title, “The Science of Well-Being.”
John Delautre and Shaozhou Cui, principal of Beijing Xinfuxue International Academy
Earlier this month I visited the campus of Xinfuxue (“new classical”) school in Beijing to formalize a partnership that both schools have been discussing since last year. Xinfuxue is an independent school in the northern suburbs of Beijing, not too far from the airport; it occupies the campus of a former college and houses about 400 students in grades K – 12, all of whom expect eventually to matriculate to universities in the west. Typical of independent schools in China, Xinfuxue’s classes are much smaller than those found in public schools, averaging about 30 students per group, and the instructional approach is much closer to what you expect to find in a Whitfield classroom. The teachers and administrators, along with most of the students, have a western orientation and tend to speak English well.
The purpose of this new partnership is multi-dimensional. In the first phase, next year, Whitfield will help Xinfuxue staff and implement a hybrid Chinese/American curriculum for a new degree program within their larger program, on their campus. In case you are wondering, we will be hiring new (outside) staff for this teaching assignment rather than seeking a teacher from our current Whitfield faculty. Year one of this arrangement is a modest step that will not impact life on our St. Louis campus noticeably. Years two, three and beyond, however, hold greater promise for collaboration between our two schools involving student and teacher visits in both directions, and eventually our enrolling a small, select number of Xinfuxue juniors and seniors in Creve Coeur.
We are currently in year three of our international student program, which now involves a total of 20 students from 8 different countries, we have learned and gained much. We knew from the start it would be wise to move slowly in order to guarantee the quality of the experience for all our students. Along the way we have refined the criteria for success among our international candidate pool, and we now understand the challenges of housing our guests from other countries. Most of all, I believe we have learned the value of having students from other parts of the world in our midst, in the classroom as well as other aspects of school life. Though the effort has been demanding, the benefits are also undeniable in terms of increasing this community’s collective global awareness and cultural competence.
The success of Whitfield’s international program is to the credit of this school’s openness to new ideas, to our mutual recognition of the need to adapt to global realities, and to our warmth and hospitality as a community. There is no doubt, as we prepare our students for the 21st workplace and society, that there is strategic value in adding students from different parts of the world to our mix; but beyond that practical value, the benefits of interacting on a daily basis with friends and colleagues from around the world cannot be overestimated. And in the process we learn as much about ourselves as we do about others.
Though we always begin the new school year on a high note, the sustained energy and optimism we have experienced so far is worth special mention. No doubt the growth in the student body from last year to this—a net increase of more than 40 so far— accounts for some of this energy, and the enthusiasm of our new families has added palpably to the atmosphere. More and more we sense that St. Louisans are choosing Whitfield with a deep appreciation of our school’s mission and culture and with confidence in our commitment to their child’s growth as a self-directed learner and ethical citizen of the world.
We are also encouraged that the number of feeder schools who contribute to our student body jumped to 150 this year, a number that is reflective of growth in Whitfield’s admission inquiries overall. This past admissions season also saw a significant rise in the number of applicants from the area’s independent K – 6 schools.
Returning families will remember we issued an all school survey last June, and I will make reference to that feedback as the year proceeds. For the moment, I want to thank all those who participated—the response was very strong—and to make note of the value and sincerity of your input. One opportunity for improvement that emerged from the survey was lunch: 30% of you thought we could do better in this area, and I want our families to know that we have worked with SAGE Dining Services to provide options that will appeal to these families as well. So far this year, the feedback about lunch has been positive, and we are definitely serving a LOT of food at midday. If you missed the school communication promoting the new SAGE app, which allows instant feedback and announces upcoming menus, it can be downloaded from either Google Play or the iTunes store. Just look for The Touch of SAGE by SAGE Dining Services. The SAGE app is for use by both parents and students.
In the meantime, if your child is having trouble finding good choices, PLEASE come visit the Dining Room at lunch to see for yourself, and don’t hesitate to give us suggestions for items that your child will like.
On a different note, parental feedback on our new student information system, “Warrior Web,” has been uniformly positive, and we are all enjoying a new level of reliability and convenience. Kudos to Whitfield’s Director of Technology Matt DiGiulio and his team for their leadership in this area.
Last but definitely not least for this installment, thanks to those parents who were able to attend our Town Hall meeting on October 10. Our public kickoff of Achieving the Vision: The Campaign for Whitfield received good reviews from attendees, and I hope you have heard by now that we have already raised $9.2 million toward our $10 million goal to support teacher compensation and benefits, and to keep Whitfield’s tuition within reach of our families. Please see this page on our website explaining the campaign in more detail: www.whitfieldschool.org/achievingthevision.
You will not want to miss the video featuring some recent alumni!
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