When we say that Saint Stephen’s provides a “world-class” education, what does that mean and how do we define it on our campus? Our history of high academic achievement speaks for itself, but ask SSES teachers, students, parents, and administrators and it’s clear that “world-class” means different things at different times during their experience.
Amanda Ripley, contributing writer for Time and Atlantic magazines, and author of a global look at education entitled, The Smartest Kids in the World, offers several cues to identifying world-class education. She says the best way to gauge the quality of a school is to spend time while the school is in session and watch the students. Are they interested in what they’re doing and working hard?
“Don’t check for signs of order,” she writes. “Sometimes learning happens in a lecture hall, but more often it happens in noisy places where the kids are working in groups without much input from the teacher. Some of the worst classrooms are quiet, tidy places that look, to adults, reassuringly calm. Remember that rigorous learning actually looks rigorous.”
Despite a sometimes shifting definition of world-class, there are common threads.
LEARNING TO THINK CRITICALLY
A school can't provide education in a bubble. By nature, students must study the same subjects as their peers at other schools and be skilled across academic disciplines. But more importantly, Saint Stephen’s students demonstrate strong critical thinking skills that let them dialog with their peers and continue their learning outside the classroom, adapting their opinions as they consider others' points of view.
“Saint Stephen’s teaches students, rather than just subjects,” Librarian Maggie Von Aken says. “Our teachers are highly qualified and passionate about their work. They help students analyze and think critically about information. They encourage them to ask questions and actively use what they learn.”
TEACHERS OF INCREDIBLE QUALITY
At Saint Stephens, the faculty spends a great deal of time getting to know the "whole" child, including his or her interests outside of the classroom. In many ways, the faculty is as dedicated to the task of learning as the students. Teachers willingly share their areas of expertise with peers who want to learn more about a specific subject matter.
“The faculty regularly seeks to integrate the knowledge we teach across academic disciplines,” Bernie Yanelli, Upper School History/Economics Teacher says. “This type of teaching/learning style is essential in the 21st century, since the complex problems facing the world today often require a person to have knowledge that spans more than one discipline.”
AN INCLUSIVE CAMPUS CULTURE
Saint Stephen's embraces a culture of civility. Consider the number of people who have striven to make a positive difference, each building on the actions of the previous era. Students, teachers, and staff see themselves as unique individuals that are part of a family. Instead of marking differences, we embrace the diversity that makes us stronger. Students who graduate from Saint Stephen's are confident, collaborative young adults who are ready to meet challenges and lead by example.
“Every child that enters our school is greeted by a host of dedicated people who intend to put their heart and soul into an education with depth and caring for that child,” Middle School Science Teacher Cindy Ackerman says.
EDUCATION BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
An SSES education is authentic and teaches students to deal with (and attempt to solve) real-world problems, not just textbook lessons. Students are taught from a young age that they're the leaders of tomorrow, poised and able to tackle global problems such as the necessity for clean water and alleviating world hunger and disease. Student exposure to community service allows them to be engaged in real teaching moments and the volunteer efforts undertaken are educational, rewarding, and inspiring. Alumni more often than not continue to live out their lives punctuated by community service endeavors.
A Saint Stephen's graduate is flexible, nimble, with highly developed skills that enable him/her to succeed anywhere. It’s more than just an academic education.
“Students graduate ready for our world today and with a variety of experiences and opportunities for learning that go beyond our classroom walls. They learn about life, the arts, other cultures, and themselves,” Intermediate School Teacher Shannon Dodge says.
STOKING STUDENT PASSION
Families who have the choice of an education anywhere in the world come to Saint Stephen’s because we offer a supportive educational environment that serves as a model for others. Our students are encouraged to chase their passions and gain the skills to understand and contribute to meeting the global challenges of the 21st century.
For Intermediate School English Teacher Tanya Creneti, providing a world-class education begins with selecting and promoting literature that opens our students up to the world beyond their own lives. Books can serve as windows and doorways to diverse perspectives, and can foster respect and empathy for individuals whose experiences differ from our own.
“As our students go on to develop their intellectual passions, having a more global outlook positions them to use their talents to make an impact,” she says. “To me, that is the ultimate end of a world-class education.”