Is Walker Worth It?

Every year at this time, independent schools consider tuition options for the coming year.  Budgets are prepared, re-enrollment documents are mailed home, and families consider the question: Is the tuition investment worth it? This is a vitally important question to ask and to have answered.  As you read through the economic conundrum that follows, I think you will come to the same conclusion I have reached. Now more than ever, the tuition investment in your child’s education at The Walker School is worth it.

Consider this confounding question posed in Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed:  “Why are so many American students dropping out of college just as a college degree has become so valuable and just as young people in the rest of the world have begun to graduate in remarkable numbers?”  American high school students do not have a problem with college access but with college completion.  The United States is one of 34 democracies that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD – click for a list of member countries).   The USA ranks eighth among the 34 OECD countries in college enrollment. But in college completion— the percentage of entering college freshman who go on to graduate—the USA ranks second to last, ahead of only Italy.  Not long ago, notes Paul Tough, the “United States led the world in producing college graduates; now it leads the world in producing college dropouts.” In Georgia, one in four (24%) high school graduates complete college in four years, while 52% graduate from college in six years.

Four out of five Walker alumni graduate from college in four years or less – more than three times the state average – and, according our most recent alumni survey, the average college GPA upon graduation is 3.49.

Fresh off their first semesters at colleges across the country, five members of Walker’s Class of 2013 returned to campus on Tuesday, January 7, to speak candidly with current juniors and seniors about collegiate life. Sarah, Lauren, Austin, Brielle, and Melissa glowed with unmistakable confidence as they answered questions from students about managing class schedules, participating in extracurricular activities, getting to know roommates, and more. While their fields of study range from dance to biomedical engineering, the students all had one thing in common: the education they received at Walker had more than prepared them for a rigorous yet fulfilling college experience. AP classes sharpened their critical thinking skills. The variety of extracurricular clubs, athletics, and fine arts offerings taught them to manage time while still refining their unique talents. Walker’s dedicated faculty members nurtured, challenged, and encouraged them throughout their academic career in the Upper School.

Clockwise from top left: Director of Alumni Relations Kaleb McMichen, Dean of College Counseling and Guidance Neil Clark, Registrar Robyn Johnson, Director of College Guidance and Outreach Peter Sullivan, Melissa Pouncey, Brielle Bowerman, Austin Walker, Lauren Bobo, and Sarah Syrop.

Clockwise from top left: Director of Alumni Relations Kaleb McMichen, Dean of College Counseling and Guidance Neil Clark, College Guidance Coordinator Robyn Johnson, Director of College Guidance and Outreach Peter Sullivan, Melissa Pouncey, Brielle Bowerman, Austin Walker, Lauren Bobo, and Sarah Syrop.

As I listened to these five successful young men and women eagerly share stories from their first semester at Brown, USC, Mississippi State, Davidson, and Wake Forest, respectively, I felt proud yet I was not surprised. While independent schools like Walker are college preparatory, our focus is not only on college acceptance, but on the whole student. We believe that students develop self-confidence as they are challenged in small classes, learn to handle success and failure, and are supported by teachers who genuinely care about their students and subject.  Now more than ever, the present investment in a Walker education yields a profound return.

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The 21st Century Flame

There are few phrases that you can utter in front of a room full of parents that will immediately grab their attention. Social media is one of these phrases and understandably so. While it is a daunting realm, one that changes with every passing day, hour, minute, even second, this idea of social networking isn’t wholly unfamiliar to most of us. While words like Snapchat, hashtag, or – shudder – Ask.fm, might silence a room of parents and educators, we cannot deny that technology, social media, and other forms of communication are rapidly evolving. Rather than tell our students to avoid these things at all costs, it is crucial to instead demonstrate the beneficial power that technology and social media possess when used properly.

On Monday, along with faculty members from Walker’s Middle and Upper Schools, technology staff, and guidance counselors, I attended a workshop on social media snares and digital consciousness. The dynamic Richard Guerry, founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication, kicked off our morning by holding – not a smart phone or an iPad – but a lighter. When our ancestors initially discovered fire, he explained, it was undoubtedly terrifying and lots of people were, quite literally, burned by its use. However, after centuries of trial-and-error, it became quite clear that the immeasurable power of the flame had many beneficial uses that would alter the course of humanity.

You see, technology is the 21st century equivalent of fire – scary yet powerful beyond measure. Yes, it can put us in direct contact with faceless, thoughtless, power-hungry individuals who are intent on ruining the lives of people they know they will never meet – or worse, people they see on an every day basis. It can also ignite passions we didn’t know we had, connect us with people we might have never had a chance to interact with, or allow us to share our work with an audience of 7 billion.

Can you imagine how amazing it would be to read an archive of tweets from the 250,000 people who witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech? To only have to visit YouTube to see a video of your great-great-great grandparents walking, talking, singing, and laughing? To realize your dream of becoming a published author and photographer, simply because half a million people check your Instagram account daily to see what your dog is up to?

Along with division leaders from our Lower and Middle Schools, I have held a number of crash courses in social media for parents this school year, and the most common concern I hear is the difficulty of staying up to date with the ever-evolving world of social media networks. “The second I finally understand Vine, here comes Instagram Video!” they lament. “How on earth am I supposed keep up?” Simply put, you can’t. It is impossible to name every single tool that uses fire; however, what we can do is model fire safety for our students while setting clear and defined guidelines for how to safely harness the power of fire.

We don’t need to berate ourselves for not knowing every single app, just like we don’t need to scare children away from technology. Ask your student what he or she enjoys about Instagram, Snapchat, or Vine.  Use social networking as an alternative way to help with homework.  Stay up-to-date on trends in social media and apps by browsing websites like Mashable and Common Sense Media over your morning coffee. Create a social media contract with your family and abide by those guidelines. The more students see you using social media in a positive way, the more likely they are to do the same.

I nearly titled this blog entry, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  At first I attributed this famous quote to Stan Lee, of Marvel Comics fame; however, a quick Google search revealed it was actually Voltaire.  See? Technology isn’t all that bad.

Why Twitter? For Learning and Connecting!

If I used Twitter the way most people think Twitter is used, last week I would have posted:

  • A re-tweet of The Walker School announcement that school was closed on Monday
  • A picture-tweet of the thermometer prior to morning carpool on Tuesday showing 5°F
  • A tweet saying how yummy the SAGE vegetable soup was for lunch on Wednesday
  • A video of Maisie bouncing at the door, welcoming me home from work late on a Thursday
  • A tweet saying that I had procrastinated in writing this blog entry on Friday afternoon

Why TweetBut the reality is that as the Lower School Principal and as an ongoing learner, I use Twitter for so many different reasons. While I did not actually tweet any of the examples above, the mundane occasionally makes it into a tweet. But as a professional educator and leader, I see Twitter is the place where I primarily go to amplify my professional learning, connect with other administrators and teachers to glean ideas and best practices, and share the dynamic teaching and learning that happens within (and outside) of the walls of the Lower School at The Walker School.

One specific way that Assistant Principal Liz Meadows and I use to Twitter amplify, connect, and share is by documenting our Lower School Learning Walks using the hashtag #LSLearningWalk. A goal of ours is to informally observe (and offer feedback to teachers and even students) on a regular basis. We often schedule a LS Learning Walk on our calendar because it’s as important a commitment as a meeting with a parent or teacher. Once a Learning Walk is scheduled, we do just that: we learn and we walk. And we use Twitter to document and share the teaching and learning that we happen upon in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom, or even out at recess! We kicked off 2014 with three days of learning walks which we not only documented on Twitter but also on the Lower School Learning blog in a post full of visuals and videos titled “Lower School Learning Walk – First Week of 2104.”

Fifth grade Language Arts teacher Kate Carter also uses Twitter for learning and connecting. She shares, “Although I wish I could tweet more during the school day, I love that Twitter allows me to celebrate those special learning moments in the classroom that usually only I, as the teacher, get to see. I can’t tell you how many times in prior years I said to my students, “I wish your mom/dad was here to see this!” Now, they often hear me say, “Oh my goodness, I have to tweet this!!” Having a twitter handle (@KateCarter15) helps me connect and also reminds me to celebrate the special little moments that happen every day here at school.”

Fifth Grade Twitter

Mrs. Carter also invites her students to tweet. At any point during the school day, a student can share something they learned by completing the paper form that’s in her classroom. It’s a learning experience in itself to synthesize and summarize new information in 140 characters or less! It’s also a great way for Mrs. Carter to assess what students are learning and to evaluate what they find powerful in their classroom experiences.

All in all, Twitter is certainly something extra. It’s another social networking tool, but as an educational leader, it’s the tool I (and many others) use to amplify professional learning, connect with other administrators and teachers, and share the dynamic teaching and learning that happens within (and outside) of the walls of the school. A lot of teachers and parents at The Walker School are giving it a try — ask around and you may find it a helpful way to learn even more about how this social networking tool is inspiring meaningful relationships and engendering transformative learning!

You do not have to have a Twitter account to follow The Walker School on Twitter. Click here to access the School’s profile and Twitter handle (@thewalkerschool).