Mother: How the focus of academic might be different from public schools?
Emily: At Chapin, the strongest academic departments are in the humanities. Private schools focus on building a strong foundation for their students in reading and writing, not just for students who enjoy English or history, but as a life skill. We begin reading advanced English literature at a younger age than many public schools (for example, Shakespeare and To Kill a Mockingbird in seventh grade), and because our classes are so small, we can explore these texts by discussing our ideas out loud with each other. Chapin especially focuses on teaching its students to have strong analytical skills; we write analytical essays or complete assessments where we engage in literary analysis for each book that we read, and in both English and History classes we complete several independent long-term research projects.
In terms of teaching style, Chapin and other progressive private schools want their students to learn not by sitting in a classroom with rows of desks listening to the teacher, but rather engaging actively and collaboratively in their own learning. Most of our classes, even math, are arranged so that our desks are in a semicircle so we can all see each other and one person at one end of the semicircle can communicate with the person at the other end. My teacher taught my seven-person calculus class last year by allowing us to figure out problem sets on our own before giving us the formula or theorem we had to learn. Chapin requires all ninth graders to take a public speaking class, and the strong focus on the humanities prepares students to present their ideas to others and speak in front of the public. Students gain the skills to think on their feet, have intelligent conversations with my teachers, and even speak in front of three hundred students and teachers.
Mother: How has the community at private school helped with your personal development?
Emily: The Chapin School’s mission is to cultivate “a love of learning, independent thinking, emotional resilience and a dedication to serving others.” Chapin has a strong history and a strong sense of community that has impacted my personal development. On one hand, it is a place where I feel grounded in traditions, such as our all-school assemblies where we all gather to hear the Head of school speak, and a familiar community that you have from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, depending on when you arrive. Our grades are very small, ranging from fifty to sixty-five people, and as a result are very tight-knit and supportive. In addition, we are given ample counseling and mental health support, both individually and as groups. On the other hand, Chapin connects us to the new opportunities in the outside world through its strong alumnae network. The Upper School has a “News” assembly every week, during which a speaker will come talk to us for about forty minutes about her (or his) work and how she got there. Those presentations allow us to think about what life after Chapin looks like and empowers us further than just making us good students.
Mother: What kinds of extracurricular or other resources that private school offers to you?
Emily: Chapin offers many leadership opportunities outside of the classroom. All of the clubs and publications are student-led, and students are even encouraged to start their own clubs and initiatives. We have several all-school elected positions, such as president of arts, athletics, and community service. One unique program that has gained much momentum and success in the past few years is the internship program. Chapin has a strong and far-reaching alumnae network, and the school connects the alumnae to current students to offer us opportunities to intern with professionals. Beginning in the tenth grade, we have access to an online blog that posts internship opportunities that arise throughout the year that we can apply to. We have a point person who works especially to gather these internships and conducts resume writing workshops and interview practices. In our senior year, we devote one week to participating full-time in an internship at a business, gallery, or laboratory in New York City.
Two unique leadership programs that Chapin participates in are the Peer Leadership program and Student Global Leadership Institute (SGLI). Peer Leadership trains a group of seniors to guide the ninth graders in small groups to discuss social and personal issues that face young high school students. The seniors learn how to lead group conversations and activities, mentor younger students, and facilitate bonding, and the program is one of the highlights of Chapin. For SGLI, a cohort of three seniors travels to Hawaii to meet with other groups of students from schools around the world. They learn about global citizenship and problem-solving in regards to a particular theme or global issue. The Chapin students then return to Chapin to carry out a year-long project to address that issue within the school community.
One opportunity that I took advantage of was the French exchange program in the tenth grade. For two weeks during Spring Break, two Chapin French teachers bring a group of students to Paris. Each student is paired with a student from our partner school in Paris, and we live with the students’ families for the two weeks while attending classes with them in the mornings and then touring the city with our classmates in the afternoons. After those two weeks, the Chapin students are able to host their partners for two weeks in New York. Chapin encourages Upper Students to study abroad, interact with their peers from all over the world, and be immersed in their studies. The history and classics departments also organize trips to Rome and Greece over Spring Break, and many students have studied abroad in places like Switzerland and Italy.
Mother: How were the relationships between students and between teacher and students at private school?
Emily: One of the best things about going to a small private school is that our tight-knit community includes our teachers. In classes of sixteen students or less, each individual student receives great attention from her teacher. Our teachers are always available to meet with to talk about academic and even personal matters, and they are extremely attentive to each student’s learning differences and needs. It isn’t uncommon to meet with a teacher over snack or lunch, and students are able to maintain close relationships with their teachers over many years (I still speak to my Middle School teachers and reach out to them for advice and guidance). The teachers at Chapin genuinely care about the success and well-being of their students, and that is a truly unparalleled experience that the small student-teacher ratio of a private school offers.
Mother: Can you talk a little bit about college application process at private school?
Emily: My school has two college guidance counselors who oversee the college application process and work one-on-one with everyone in the graduating class beginning at the end of their junior year. These counselors work to get to know each student, and they coordinate admissions officer visits to the school, conduct special workshops to prepare us for the application process, and ensure that all of us are able to apply to the schools that we want to go to. Private schools begin helping students think about college beginning in the ninth grade, when we can start taking SAT subject tests. My school organized after-school study sessions for the biology and chemistry SATs, and we were also given diagnostics for the general college admissions exams in our sophomore year. Each step of the college application process was guided by our teachers and counselors and the students are all well-prepared.