K-12 School. How do we get it right? What is the magical potion of successfully matching so many students with their best college choice year in and year out? How do our students become top-notch academicians who develop critical thinking skills and can write, plan, perform, and progress in a competitive college prep program? And, how do these students then switch gears to dance, sing, act, debate, throw, catch, run, swim, lead, and serve after school?
As Director of Admissions, I am often asked by prospective students applying for Charlotte Latin’s Upper School, how do your students do everything so well? What is the secret? Why Latin?
Like a well-built house, it all starts with the foundation. We do Beginning School really, really well.
We admit healthy, happy five-year-olds each winter for matriculation the following August. When school begins every Fall, our loving, doting, devoted teachers embrace their precious little flock. With patience and poise, these teachers are about as wide-eyed as the children. When our Kindergarten students arrive, many know their numbers, letters and some can master the ultimate parent-of-a five-year-old bragging right, they can read. Some can cut out a star, a snowflake, and a Thanksgiving turkey even before November. And, our youngest students are typically beyond proficient in swiping a tablet and finding the app that can bring them hours of entertainment. Many of our youngest students have been exposed to extensive travel, amazing interactive toys, a library of books, high tech clothing, and a resume of enriching, structured activities like swimming, Spanish, tumbling, soccer, computer, and organic gardening.
And yet every year, when these children first arrive, our teachers take a deep breath and hit the ground running to create the most intense and incredible year of teaching children the world of school. Because with all the thoughtful, appropriate and deliberate child rearing they have had, they do not “appear” ready. This is where Latin’s magic begins.
Even with the brightest of the bright, our little friends do not arrive with any knowledge of how to “Do School” until 1:30—and this is important to note, five- and six-year-olds should not know how to do school because no book or activity or practice round can map out such a journey. Pre-schools and child care centers are critical early passages and are some of the most important years in a young child’s development, but they are not designed to be school. But in a K-12 school, if we are going to get it right in high school, we have to set up the most valuable tenets of success in the beginning: community, independence, empathy, resilience, and a love of learning. Throw in Charlotte Latin’s extra commitment to honor, civility and balance, and we embed the most important wiring these students will ever have.
How do we do it? We weave it into everything we do. If we have four buckets to fill every day, we fill them equally. We don’t put too much reading instruction in one bucket without putting enough math instruction in another. We don’t overload the leadership bucket without reserving plenty of empathy for the compassion bucket. We don’t overfill academics without allocating a bucket for reflection. And we don’t waste time on pressure, when we can use it for joy. It is all a balance and a thoughtful measured effort to weave the fabric of educating the head and the heart every day.
This approach to learning works because science backs it. While it would seem that instruction based on practice, drilling, and repetition is the answer to mastering material, it is reflection that triggers the brain to learn.
So as I wandered the Kindergarten halls in September, I was charmed by the effort everyone in our community was making to learn and teach how to “do school”. I saw a friend or two on a teacher’s lap at circle, a friend or two concentrating on every turn of the scissor, a friend or two inching up to be closer to a neighbor, and even a friend or two headed to the wrong class after recess. And at each place, I observed a teacher or two gently comfort, a teacher or two redirect, and a teacher or two encourage our beginning children and reassure them that they were getting school right.
And while Charlotte Latin is known for the academic, athletic, and artistic successes of our high school students, it is our beginning school that teaches all of our students how to “do school.” Many of our National Merit Semi-Finalists, Gold Key Winners, All-Americans, and Debate Champions were once in those same teachers’ laps during circle time. They were embraced, encouraged, redirected, and loved. That is the most important response I have for “Why Latin?”