Today, many parents in the United States are worried — worried about their children’s physical health if schools open, worried about their mental health in case they don’t, and worried about the quality of their education in either case. While the worry about health is driven by COVID-19, the concern about how well schools are preparing children to succeed predates the pandemic.
One of the main roles high school plays, aside from providing a general understanding of core subjects, is to create a thirst for learning to accompany young people into their early adulthood and beyond. For many, this means continuing on to higher education. However, the cost of attending college has increased eight times faster than average salaries, making many question whether pursuing a college degree is worth it.
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the tension between the demand for higher education and the cost of that education. While many families face economic hardship or uncertainty, and many colleges and universities face existential threats to their campuses and faculties, overall enrollment is in decline.
High schools should be addressing this tension in three ways.
First, we can work harder to equip students with the skills they need, so that college is an option and not a necessity for a successful career. Students should be equipped with skills beyond subject matter — interdisciplinary skills, like communication, and collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking — the same skills that are crucial for success in the workforce.
Second, high schools can partner with colleges and universities to help students earn college credit as part of their high school coursework, so that students get a jump-start and save money in pursuit of a college degree.
Third, we should do better at helping students with maturation and personal growth. They need to graduate with self-advocacy skills, ready to live on their own, make wise life and early career choices, and to have a solid understanding of their own sense of purpose.
For high schools to do all of this, we have to be deliberate and focused, and more flexible and innovative. We need to accelerate students’ development of essential skills, provide them with opportunities to advance further than current models allow. We need to offer more rigorous courses for college credit and support their exploration of career options.
Many high schools are struggling to understand how to function amidst a pandemic. Few have the ability or the foresight to completely transform their educational programming, leaving many parents wondering how to prepare their students for a clearly uncertain future, especially when the present is so uncertain already.
When considering college, most of us expect to look nationwide for the right fit, but for high school we feel constrained to a handful of local choices.
Knowing that we need to be more innovative and transformative, Laurel Springs School has been working to broaden the options available to high schoolers, especially in a time when many institutions are struggling to adapt to online instruction.
In addition to the personalized online programs we have been successfully offering for more than a decade, we also recently announced the introduction of the Minerva Baccalaureate for incoming ninth graders, which is an accelerated track that incorporates a full year of advanced college coursework in twelfth grade. Students will graduate having fulfilled all the standard requirements for college preparatory high school, as well as earning 32 units of college credit.
Perhaps more importantly, the curriculum is designed to teach skills and concepts that interweave across disciplines and transcend subject matter, abandoning the traditional “siloed” approach to high school instruction. Students will be introduced to concepts in social studies that are reinforced in their language arts, science, and quantitative thinking classes. What’s more, their understanding and ability to apply those concepts and skills is measured and assessed over all four years, and across all the Minerva Baccalaureate courses.
Our new programs are examples of how high schools can, and should, be innovating to address the quickly changing needs of our students. I know we can collectively do more to prepare this generation of young adults, to help them succeed in and after college. I hope Laurel Springs can serve as an inspiration to others, contributing to and encouraging a broader movement.