The Right School (for you)

Michael Kinnealey
Director of Admission

Embrace the process! question-mark-red
The oldest, most trite, and sometimes best advice an applicant will hear is to “be yourself” in this process. Given the dramatic physical, intellectual and emotional changes ongoing in a 14 year old, this can be confusing advice, however! My advice is a variation of the standard: think about your story and tell it. This is a long process that fundamentally asks an applicant to tell- and then write- an autobiography while also asking others to submit a biography about them while acknowledging that others will evaluate its strength against other submissions. On the face of it, it is a daunting task. However, if it becomes a search for a school and home that fits the needs of applicant and family, then the understanding of that 14 year old’s story- with some thought about how that 18 year old version of the applicant will tell her story- then the process can be powerfully positive. Please know that we are waiting and excited to hear the story you have to tell!

How do I pick the right school?
The decision to apply to a private school is a significant one for an applicant and for a family. Once the choice has been made to dive into those waters, the confidence and conviction of child and family is often shaken by how many fish are in the sea of independent schools. While the choice of the right school is intensely personal, here are a few more strategies that could be useful.

What is important and where do I want to be?
Some applicants will only apply within an hour of home or know that there is a particular academic need- whether rigor or support- to be met. Others will consider considerable travel to apply to a school that has a curricular or co-curricular program that is most important. Much of this research can be done on the web- and it needs to be done. A family from the North Shore of Boston often has a loop of schools in mind from the start, and often they are appropriate ones as we are blessed with many types of schools, all of which are wonderful educational environments. Yet, it is important to talk at home about single gender AND co-ed schools and whether a boarding school would work in family dynamics- or may actually be better than a day option for the applicant’s needs. Do the research. Have the hard conversations at home. Then pick schools that fit your criterion, but be sure to have some which were not on the initial list and see if you might have a pleasant surprise.

Who I am may be different from who I will be.
The choice to look at private schools is often predicated on a child’s particular talent or need, and that is both good and risky. If a student has a particular academic proclivity or passion or a wonderful talent in a co-curricular area, it is, of course, important to make sure that the choice of school has depth and stability in that area. That said, I would offer that the 14 year old who enters the admission process will have changed as much by the time she is 18 years old as she has between 10 and 14. This is a harder concept for the student to embrace, but it is important to look at new interests and passions, even though they may not yet be considered talents, and consider whether the best school may be one with depth in an area of known strength and the range of offerings that may capture a future talent or need.

The school visit is a two way experience.
With schools chosen to visit- including a few less well known in the mix- make sure to look upon the visit as a shared evaluation. It is normal for an applicant to be apprehensive about being evaluated by an admission officer in an interview setting. However, it is also crucial that she and her parents listen as much as talk. I will tell my admission team that the key to a good interview is not to think up the perfect question, but to discover the questions that elicit the longest and best responses- that is what allows us to evaluate a candidate. The same holds true for a family who is visiting schools. Think about questions that will elicit the information you need to evaluate the school, and then concentrate on the answer. You may ask to meet a department head or director or coach on a visit, and, while it is not a guarantee that they will be available when you arrive- they are teachers with a schedule and students to inspire- they will either speak with an applicant during a visit or follow up afterwards. Yes, a lot of information comes from a website, but it is important to hear how – and whether- a school tells its story to you, in person.

Next post coming soon: School Visit Expectations & the Interview


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Liberal Arts at Independent Schools

The below is an excerpt from Headmaster Dr. Peter Quimby’s address at the 2013 Boston Business Leaders Luncheon.

Master Moody (the first headmaster at The Governor’s Academy) created a curriculum that he believed would prepare students for college and life beyond college—to be leaders in a rapidly changing social and political landscape. In those days, preparation for leadership was not related to any particular vocation—it was a broad-based training of the mind that would allow people to succeed in many different areas of life.

As we enter the midway point of a curricular review at the Academy, we are focused on the skills that we believe students need to be successful when they leave Byfield, no matter where their future studies or careers might take them. This is not a set of work-readiness skills, but a set of competencies that we believe will establish a solid foundation for students as they continue to grow and develop as productive citizens and members of society. To let the cat only partially out of the bag, let me give you a sense of what we have in mind. Students should be able to:

  • Think critically and solve problems
  • Collaborate effectively with other people to achieve a common goal
  • Communicate effectively in written, oral, and electronic forms
  • Be thoughtful and engaged readers
  • Access and analyze information
  • Adapt readily to new situations and information
  • Understand themselves as members of a larger community, acting within a moral and ethical framework

These skills will be further refined, and there are at least as many skills on the list as may seem to have been left off. What is important to note for this conversation is that none of these skills are tied to a particular discipline. They are all, however, tied to our mission of moving students from the beginning of adolescence to the threshold of adulthood. When I speak to prospective parents, I tell them that we seek to turn boys and girls into young men and women of character. This isn’t something that happens solely in algebra I, or a fine arts course, or in a science lab. It happens when adults share their lives with adolescents and push them to see talents within themselves that lead to accomplishments they may not otherwise have believed possible. At its core, this holistic experience we offer is a liberal arts education. When we hear the phrase, the liberal arts, we tend to think of higher education, but liberal arts values are our values.

In classical antiquity, the liberal arts, or artes liberales, were subjects of study that were deemed essential for a free person to master in order to serve as a productive citizen. Liberales derives from the Latin root “liber” or “free,” to distinguish free persons, that is to say citizens, from slaves. To be a citizen was to be free, both legally and intellectually—free to think creatively, to solve complex social problems, to bring ethical and moral values to bear on critical issues of the day. While the content of a liberal arts education may have changed since classical times, or since Master Moody created the Academy’s first curriculum 250 years ago, the goal of preparing citizen leaders has not.

As we enter what may be the most important year in a long and distinguished history—our 251st year—the signs of future success for the Academy are promising, indeed. A seat in a Governor’s classroom has never been harder to land as we saw record numbers of campus visits and applications in the admission cycle just completed. The incoming freshman class will be the most talented in the history of the school—I told the parents of admitted students that when I listened to the accomplishments of their children, I wondered as an alumnus whether I would now be admitted to the school I now lead!—yet the quality of our pool has not caused us to stray from our core values. We still look for students of character who will contribute to making Governor’s the closely-knit community that had led so many of us to stay so close to our school for so long.

Independent schools are able to offer students the kind of holistic education that for generations has served our country well. It is no accident that parents from other countries send their children in large numbers to be educated in the United States. Our system of higher education, and our boarding schools, are the envy of much of the world. And yet, most international indicators of primary and secondary school achievement suggest that as a country we lag significantly behind our peers in both the developed and developing world. As we eliminate artistic and musical programs from our public schools, cut back on recess, eliminate field trips that have the potential to broaden children’s minds and lift their sights to new possibilities, and tie teacher’s hands by measuring their success through the standardized test results of their students all in the name of achievement and accountability, we drain creativity and a love of learning from our classrooms, and from a future generation of citizens.

We are seeing a shift away from a liberal arts education at the high school level and toward a more utilitarian, vocational model that represents a radical departure from the educational practices that have served our nation so well. But despite this fact, I remain hopeful about the future of education in our country. Independent schools like Governor’s are able to offer something of value that preserves the very features that have distinguished our nation’s educational system for generations, even if that goes against other contemporary educational trends. From where I sit, the future of both our school and our country look bright, indeed, so long as we invest in our most precious resource, our children.

You will have an opportunity in a moment to witness first-hand the reason for my optimism. Our next speaker, Andy Werchniak, is a senior from Hampton Falls, NH, who has immersed himself fully in all aspects of school life. He leads the band that plays in the auditorium on Friday’s as the school assembles for morning meeting, he is a two-sport varsity athlete, competing in both soccer and wrestling, he runs our Guild program that showcases individual student artistic performances and has for the last three years been a peer leader and trainer for our Anti-Defamation League group. He volunteers for the Special Olympics, plays in an elite Jazz combo group, and on top of all of this has an academic record that would knock your socks off. He was elected to membership in the Cum Laude Society in the fall of his senior year, a singular honor, and received the Harvard Book Prize at the end of his junior year. But Andy’s greatest claim to fame may be that he was the subject of one of my tweets—for the record, I have tweeted 10 times. I was so moved by the remarks that Andy made to the freshman class in the fall that I tweeted the following quotation from his address: I am a stronger college applicant, a stronger student, and a stronger person because of Governor’s. No words could please a headmaster more.

When I invited Andy to speak, I asked him to talk about the ways in which he believes his education at Governor’s has broadened his horizons. Andy will attend Dartmouth College, and I am delighted that he is here to speak to you today.

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Founder’s Day

  1. Founder’s Day 2013 was a time to celebrate both the past
    and the future of The Academy. The day was honored with a
    Revolutionary drill reenactment, student presentations, luncheon with
    keynote address, fine and performing art open studios, an alumni art
    show with opening reception, and a live concert in the evening.

  2. Fun to see all the spirit today for ‘Getting Excited for Spring Day.’ Good warm-up to Founder’s Day tomorrow! #Govs250
  3. Gotta wonder what the Founders wore on the first day of school. #Govs250
    #what NOT to wear
  4. Happy Birthday @GovsAcademy! Enjoy the Founder’s Day Celebrations! I’m proud to say I’m a Governor… GO GOVS! #GOVS250
  5. A piece from the art show on interpretations of the Academy. “What To Do With the Estate” #GOVS250
  6. Great panel of alums discussing their paths after govs. #govs250
  7. Alumni Experiences in Athletics panel well attended! #GOVS250
  8. Mr Quigley and keynote speaker John Stauffer of @Harvard prior to the luncheon. #GOVS250
  9. Congrats on 250 yrs @GovsAcademy ! Glad I celebrated 225 in ’89. Flag over Capitol looks great. #GOVS250 #hbc2
  10. Dr. Alex and students demonstrating neuron firing and adaptation using cockroaches, backyard brains, and audacity. #govs250
  11. Happy 250th to my HS and home @GovsAcademy! Party like its 1763!
  12. RT “@KBarnett8: Party like its 1763�� Happy 250th Birthday GDA #gogovs #Govs250
  13. Happy Birthday to @GovsAcademy where I did my first Newscast. Especially to the Class of 007! Can’t wait to get back soon, #GoGovs
  14. Happy 250 to the school named “Governor Dummer Academy.” All the best from the Capitol. J. Cummings ’84 #govs250
  15. The Governor’s Academy – US Capitol Flag Presented on the 250th Birthday
  16. So great to see Kelsey Quigley and Mark Lipman on stage! #govs250
  17. Great day for Productions and Govs. We presented the first step to the digital entry of the Academy through an iPhone app. #GOVS250

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Having No Memory

The Governor’s Academy had fifteen students who garnered nineteen writing awards in the 2013 Boston Globe Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (lean more about the art award winners here). The students won twice as many awards this year as last.

Below is a poem that garnered an Honorable Mention. A full list of winners can be found here.

Having No Memory 
Jie-Ling Ngo ’15

When summer dream tickles your lips lightly

And vibrant hues glow amid trees today,

Late sunset shall love you wholly nightly

As sea breeze lingers against your body.

Nothing retains this rose passion foregone

Till his heart trembles for the Godly hopes;

Faith simmers under dying sunshine bonds

The sands of time shall tell you in scope.

Vowed to stay loyal till dawn settles in

But bitter lies left pure sorrow untold—

When he fled like sea breeze stinging within,

No such memory lay for faith bore cold.

To trust and to trust is to learn friction,

To know and to know is all but fiction.

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The Annex

ImageAs the Academy changes with the times and in our drive to innovate, we also know which parts of our heritage, which traditions, and which pillars are worth preserving. The history research paper is one of those, and The Governor’s Academy is among a dwindling number of schools today that still require all of their students to write history research papers. Mindful of the Academy’s 250th anniversary, history teacher Bill Quigley last year asked students in his AP US history class – all of them members of the sestercentennial Class of 2013 – to research subjects related to our school’s history, drawing as much as possible from archival records. Three other members of the senior class, in US history sections taught last year by other teachers, chose to do the same. Exemplars of independent, authentic learning, their papers artfully present some of the most marvelous highlights of the Academy’s storied history.

The Annex
Imogene Robinson ’13

The Commencement of 1939 at Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, was in many ways no different from the 176 graduations that had preceded it. Ranks of young men strolled proudly up to the podium to receive their diplomas, having just completed a rigorous four-year education at the Academy. Then, an older person approached the podium, exceptionally gray haired and wrinkled, amidst the strapping teenage boys. Even more unusual, however, was her gender, for Governor Dummer Academy was then the oldest nonsectarian boy’s boarding school in America. Or so people thought. That fine spring day, the Academy Board of Trustees awarded Carrie Dummer a certificate of graduation, recognizing her completion of the Academy’s course of study sixty years earlier, in 1879 (Ragle 142).

Dummer and her company of young women had attended classes at Dummer Academy during a 10-year period of coeducation administered by Headmaster Ebenezer Greenleaf Parsons, 1872-1882, an experiment which would be repeated a second time during the headmastership of Perley Leonard Horne, 1896-1904 (Ragle 76, 85, 174). Those excursions from a strictly all-male institution, a haven for legacies of dynastic New England families that sent generations of sons to the Academy, are barely acknowledged in histories of the Governor’s Academy, and records concerning those periods of coeducation are scarce or else in disarray. The presence of females within the stone walls of the Academy, a century prior to its permanent transition to coeducation in 1971, apparently caused too much of an embarrassment to merit much attention in the school’s proud history.

What, then, could have prompted such an undesirable measure? The traditional view, in John W. Ragle’s bicentennial history of the Academy and in popular lore, is that the coeducational experiments at the Academy were temporary expedients to raise enrollments and revenues at a time when the school teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Coeducation could not have endured at the Academy for as long as it did, or even occur at all, however, without the active moral support of Ebenezer Parsons and Perley Horne, whose headmasterships are more than coincidentally associated with the Academy’s first ambivalent enrollments of girls.

To read the remainder of the paper, please click here.

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Morning Meeting

Isabel M.
Westport, CT
Boarding Student

I often take it for granted. Those mornings when I wish I could just shut off my alarm and get back in bed only seem to get harder as the year comes to an end. For the past four years, my Monday’s and Friday’s have started off the same way: at around 7:40 every morning I push aside my window curtain to see a line of my classmates piling into the PAC for morning meeting; I know it’s time.

We often complain about our early wakeup call, saying the announcements were “pointless” and could have easily been outlined in a simple email. But, in my opinion, Morning Meeting sets a certain tone for the entire day. This provides us with the opportunity to start our day off on a good note; being greeted by our classmates, friends, and faculty while hearing about the exciting upcoming plans and events coming to campus and acknowledging some community members’ recent achievements. One particular Morning Meeting tradition I will never forget is “Monday morning Kudos” in which Dr. Quimby distributes Kudos bars by throwing them into the crowd to members of our community whom he feels deserve recognition for their notable efforts and achievements.

Although, at times, it may seem more appealing to use the fifteen minutes of allotted time for Morning Meeting to get some extra sleep or studying done, it is a time for our entire school to come together as one. It is a time for sharing and connecting and I am grateful that it has always been this way. I know that even though next year I will appreciate a few extra minutes of sleep with my new college schedule, I will miss Morning Meeting and the cheer it brought to my day.

At most other schools, it is a rare occurrence for the entire community to come together. To be all together in one room, sitting amongst classmates, friends and faculty probably won’t ever happen when I’m in college. It’s important that I appreciate it now, instead of wishing this precious, unique type of time away. I don’t like Morning Meeting because it’s finally a time for me to give announcements about things I had been waiting to share with the school. I like it because it’s a time for me to listen. I sit back in my chair and simply listen; to my classmates, teachers, headmaster and anyone else that has something to say. Although it may get old after a few years, I’ve realized that it’s going to be these times that I’ll miss when I leave Govs. It’s these times we spend together that shape and form our community into what it is today. 

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To AP or Not to AP…

Julia H.
Merrimac, MA
Day Student

I am sure there are many students who enroll in AP courses because they truly want a challenge. However, I believe many students have lost sight of this reason. I will admit, I am one of them.

If I was to poll high school students on the reasons why they signed up for AP courses, I am almost positive the number one answer would be: “because it looks better on my college application.” But isn’t the point of APs to prepare the student better for college, not to help them get into it? College Board states that AP classes are for students to “find their passion, prepare to succeed in college, experience a different kind of class, and to earn college credit.” But in reality, these are not the only motivations.

The pressure put on high school students to take APs for college is extremely high. In my experience, for some colleges it is a make-or-break deal whether AP grades are on a transcript or not. The influence these classes have on college decision represents a severe drawback to the AP system and a glaring inconsistency.

This however, raises another question: should those students who take AP courses not get benefits for extra work and dedicating significant amounts of time into the courses, both in class and out? The AP system is a bit of a Catch 22: there is no way to solve the dilemma because APs themselves are the problem. Although some positives do exist, overall I find the system to be seriously flawed.  

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