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Southlake Style

Preparation for College Success

Nov 15, 2011 08:57AM ● By Mike

by Jennifer Fox

Even parents of the youngest students in our school consider their child’s education a preparation. But what exactly are we preparing them for? By definition, when we prepare people, we are making them ready for use. With regard to education, the fundamental question should be, “what is the use for which we are preparing learners?” The answer to this basic question challenges teachers, administrators and parents and therefore, it is too often side stepped. Our rhetoric too often simply refers to the destination without contemplating the purpose of the journey. This is the reason why young people lose motivation in school. Learning to simply get to the next level does not inspire powerful engagement in learning.

Applying to college and getting into a "good school" has become an intensely competitive process. Getting in is the goal. We learn in elementary school to be prepared for high school and we learn in high school to be prepared for college. Rarely do we stop and consider what students are being prepared for. This is the cause of much anxiety in the lives of young people. They do not know their options for careers, they are uncertain about what they want in life, where they will live, how they will connect to others and what their purpose will be. We focus them on achievements: grades, accolades, scores-- and devote little time to helping them discover purpose, meaning and passion.

The drive to prepare students for college causes intense anxiety for students. This anxiety is exacerbated by the race to the brand name college or university.

Annually since 1983, U.S. News & World Report magazine has ranked America's 100 Best Colleges. This publication has changed the way parents and students choose institutions of higher education, leading them to believe that the value of a college degree is only as good as its brand name.

For the past twenty-five years, this annual ranking system has almost guaranteed that SAT scores are considered the most important factor in college admission. In reality, SAT scores remain a notoriously poor measure of both student ability and likelihood of success in college.

Success in college is largely a result of a number of wellness indicators rather than standardized test scores that have no correlation to daily stresses and challenges of college life. The following traits are some of the most important for navigating college life successfully:

• Adaptability
• Self esteem
• Time management skills
• Sense of purpose and direction
• Understanding strengths
• Physical health
• Self control
• Resiliency

If educators are truly interested in preparing students to be successful at the next level, they will prepare them in these indicators rather than solely focusing on scores and grades.

Truly prepared students are engaged in meaningful learning that directs their lives toward authentic success. Here is how to do this:

• Provide context and relevance for learning rather than simply learning to get to the next level.
• Help young people discover their strengths-- the things that energize and interest them enough to build a career from them.
• Differentiate instruction so learners can discover individual systems to manage time, and work loads.
• Offer courses and programs in relationship building, resilience and conflict management.
• Place the focus on fulfillment and contribution rather than achievement for its own sake. 

Educators know intuitively that real preparation involves the above suggestions. It will take bold leadership and acts of faith to push these agendas in schools. And the leaders who embrace these concepts will ultimately push the standardized test makers to retool their assessments to include wellness indicators to determine future success. The Clariden School begins this kind of preparation as early as three years old. Over the next several years, our program will grow to extend these ideas into the middle and upper grades thus leading the way for a true 21st Century in North Dallas.