The recent protests from the local community regarding the new common core curriculum for public schools prompted me to reflect on some of the differences between the common core program and our independent school program here at Staten Island Academy.
The first difference that I see is in the admissions process. The critics of the common core cite that there has been an ineffective dialogue between the families, communities and the administrations on how and what their children are going to learn. Here at the Academy, before a child enrolls, they have to go through extensive interviews at the school where we can assess each student individually in order to come up with an academic program that suits each child based on their interests, their strengths and their weaknesses.
Another difference is the core’s focus on standardized testing and facts. At an independent school like ours, we want you to think and question on your own. It is not enough to know that the American Civil War took place from 1861-1865. Our students need to know the cause of a civil war and what constitutes a civil war, be it in the Balkans, Africa or Western Europe. As advocated by the Harvard School of Education we want our students to arrive at unexpected answers, ask unfamiliar questions and seek fresh ways of thinking. We believe that in order for students to maximize the highest quality of their minds they must have the time to play with ideas.
We are also very proud of the versatility of our academic program, which is crucial for students’ success in today’s ever-changing and dynamic world. The common core program, which has been adopted in 46 states, is such a large standardization of education that, to a degree, it renders its program static. At the Academy, when we looked at the needs of each and every child in the 21st century, we were immediately and seamlessly able to incorporate programs in coding, robotics and Singapore mathematics to our curriculum. To that end, we like to think that ours is a program that is agile, unique and uncommon.
I applaud the fact that the Common Core is trying to improve its students for better performances in colleges and universities. While we are proud of SIA’s college matriculation list and how our students perform in colleges, at the Academy, getting into a good college is only a small part of what we are trying to accomplish with our students. We want our students to have a love of learning for a lifetime and to be the next great innovators or inventors of their century. The complexity of issues that will confront our students cannot be evaluated by simply standardized testing. Therefore, we offer a multitude of learning experiences by having our students work in collaborative learning groups, by having them enjoy experiential learning experiences in London, England and NYC as a class in Grades 9 and 10, by having them contribute to artistic endeavors where they learn the relationship between discipline and creativity, by having them engage in athletics where they learn teamwork in competition and by having service learning opportunities where they learn that it is a privilege to serve others.
Ultimately, we want our children to plumb the depths of each and every issue that they encounter with curiosity and joy. The students who will be empowered today will be those students who are in possession of great imaginations and intellects, with an eye on innovation and entrepreneurship. Our aim is to prepare students for life so that they are able to know clearly, serve humbly and lead firmly.