An independent high school education is a considerable financial investment. Parents naturally want the best education for their children, but many question the value of an independent education in light of free public and charter opportunities.
Independent education is an investment in your child’s future. The value of an independent education extends far beyond a high school diploma. Independent high school graduates are uniquely prepared to succeed in college and their adult lives in comparison to graduates from public schools, other private schools, and homeschooling. (Independent School Graduates as College Freshmen: 2015 Data from the Higher Education Research Institute)
Quality independent high schools teach past state benchmarks and standardized tests. Students learn academic and personal skills critical to becoming independent thinkers and voracious learners. Independent schools keep the well-being of each student at the heart of every conversation: students are encouraged to be their best selves in the present as well as be mindful of the adults they wish to become.
Here are five ways independent high schools prepare their students for future success.
High school is often a time adolescents want to disappear into a crowd, to be seen as just the same as all their peers, and to dismiss adults as out of touch. These issues are often magnified in large public schools that lack the financial resources and teaching faculty to address individual student needs. At independent high schools, students receive more personalized attention from teachers as a result of smaller class sizes. The average class size in public high schools is 24.2, whereas the average class size in private secondary schools is 10.8 (National Center for Education Statistics).
Small class sizes prevent students from slipping through the cracks; students are seen and known by teachers they respect and trust. Small classroom settings provide independent school teachers with the time and resources needed to assess the academic progress of each of their students on a daily basis. Teachers are able to provide differentiated instruction by identifying and supporting students who may struggle academically as well as extend and advance the material for students who may be ready to take on more rigorous coursework in a particular subject. This environment also gives teachers more time to dedicate to quality assignment feedback and detailed report cards so students and parents are fully informed of student progress and class expectations.
Small class sizes encourage students to develop meaningful relationships with their teachers. Research shows that small classrooms create more opportunities for direct student-teacher interaction (Public School Review). Through these interactions, teachers come to know each student individually and work to maximize their capacities through personalized instruction. The positive effect of small class sizes on student-teacher interactions is even more pronounced in independent school settings. In a study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), more independent school seniors reported asking teachers for advice after class and talking with their teachers outside of class compared to their public school graduate peers.
Waterford’s small class sizes allow for teachers to notice subtle and important details about every student. At Waterford, your child will be seen and known by teachers they will respect and trust. Waterford teachers make a daily practice of supporting individuals’ needs, and lighting the kind of intellectual fires that take students far beyond what they thought they could achieve.
Waterford offers a unique structure in the Upper School. Every class has a Class Dean who has responsibility for tracking and supporting the academic progress of each member of their class. Class Deans work closely with the School Dean to coordinate strategy in supporting students. The School Dean, and the team of Class Deans, meet weekly to discuss individual students, and to plan efforts to solve problems and to have a positive influence on student life. Additionally, as a support and guide through the Upper School years, an Advisor is assigned to each student in Upper School. Seven to ten students meet regularly with the Advisor. The Advisor’s role is one of counselor for the student. The Advisor is involved in tracking the overall progress of the student, guiding him/her through the planning and process of registration, and distributing Term grades. The Advisor Group represents a small and informal community of support for each student.
Independent high schools hold students to high standards of academic excellence. Teachers set high expectations that push students to reach their full potential. Independent schools provide a stimulating learning environment alongside a demanding curriculum, a combination that spurs academic achievement and personal growth amongst students.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Independent high schools typically have more demanding graduation requirements than public high schools and independent school graduates are more likely than their public school peers to have completed advanced-level courses in three academic subject areas. Independent school students also outperform their public school peers on standardized achievement tests. In 2015, independent school graduates entered college with higher SAT scores in critical reading (630 vs. 570), mathematics (653 vs. 600), and writing (640 vs. 570) and median ACT composite scores (28 vs. 21) than public school graduates (HERI).
Key elements of an independent high school education are a challenging and engaging curriculum and teachers who are given the freedom to develop a rigorous curriculum that challenges students to meet high academic expectations as well as develops their critical thinking skills. Independent school graduates report having spent more time during their last year in high school than public school students integrating skills and knowledge from different sources and experiences and seeking solutions to problems and explaining them to others (HERI). Students who attend independent schools are encouraged to seek connections between their courses and draw on their curricular knowledge when crafting solutions to new problems.
In Waterford’s Upper School, students reap the benefits and value of a liberal arts education as they move into advanced courses in English, history, math, science, foreign language, physical education, and fine arts – including a wide selection of 15 AP courses. Every course, regardless of subject, is infused with passion, clarity, insight, and critical thinking. The classroom experience is defined by the hallmarks of excellent teaching: effective classroom decorum, a well-rounded curriculum, clear expectations, thorough preparation, careful evaluation, and meaningful dialogue with students. These elements come together to create a unified and fulfilling educational experience that expands intellectual boundaries, creates good habits, builds confidence, and – ultimately – prepares students for college and for life.
Independent high school students are motivated to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Higher learning is deeply valued at independent schools, and most independent school graduates will matriculate to a four-year college or university. According to a report released in 2014 by the National Center for Education Statistics, tenth graders in private high schools in 2002 were nearly twice as likely as their public school counterparts to receive a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2012 (CAPE).
An independent high school is uniquely able to offer its students personalized college counseling. Many public high school counselors are overwhelmed by huge caseloads and lack sufficient time to address the college-specific needs of their students. A recent survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling revealed that, on average, public school counselors spent 22 percent of their time on postsecondary counseling in 2014, while their private school counterparts spent 55 percent of their time on college counseling. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-student counselor ratio of 250:1. According to the most recent data, the national average is 491:1, with only three states meeting that recommendation.
Independent schools employ full-time college counselors who are dedicated to helping students gain admission to colleges aligned with their individual interests and needs. Counselors work closely with students and parents to ensure families are informed of every step in the college process.
The Waterford School College Counseling Office guides, supports, and serves as an advocate for our students as they consider an exciting variety of undergraduate options. Recognizing that this transition is important both for students and their families, the Waterford School has college counselors who have extensive experience in both secondary education and in college admissions and have developed a program to guide, educate, and encourage students to take responsibility for meeting deadlines and making important decisions. Waterford employs two dedicated and highly-experienced College Counselors who serve graduating classes that average 70 students annually. This 1:35 counselor-to-student ratio allows for counselors to meet weekly with juniors and seniors. Waterford’s college counselors work with students to select appropriate colleges, build application elements, write application essays, and assist with application submissions and interviews.
Acceptance rates far above national averages place the Waterford Class of 2016 among the top students in the country. To learn more about the Waterford Class of 2016, click here.
Independent schools are invested in educating the whole child. Independent schools believe a rich educational experience is the product of a rigorous core curriculum interwoven with the fine arts, athletics, extracurricular activities, and social development. Students are allowed and expected to find new interests and deeply explore their passions within a broad, liberal arts program.
As public schools continue to face budget cuts in the wake of the recession, many have chosen to reduce or eliminate their arts and extracurricular programs (USA News). These programs, however, play a critical role in strengthening young minds. Studies have shown exposure to music, foreign language, and physical exercise boosts brain development and has lasting impacts on cognitive, concentration, and communication skills.
Fareed Zakaria, author of In Defense of a Liberal Education, argues, “as we work with computers (which is really the future of all work), the most valuable skills will be the ones that are uniquely human, that computers cannot quite figure out — yet. And for those jobs, and that life, you could not do better than to follow your passion, engage with a breadth of material in both science and the humanities, and perhaps above all, study the human condition.” (Washington Post)
A broad-based, liberal arts education is key to fostering innovation, creativity, and critical thinking — skills that allow high school graduates to succeed in college and the workforce. Independent school graduates learn the technical skills needed for 21st century success, but they also learn lessons about tenacity, empathy, generosity, self-advocacy, willpower, wit, and wisdom. These lessons prepare students to excel in a rapidly changing workplace that demands mental agility, historical consciousness, and relentless curiosity (Fast Company).
The Waterford School understands the importance of educating the whole child. At Waterford, a range of programs both broad and deep – from music, theater, visual arts and dance, to international travel and competitive sports – enables students to explore their interests, form lifelong friendships, and discover new opportunities. These elements combine to create an environment where learning becomes an adventure. Where academic excellence becomes a natural byproduct of a deep passion for knowledge and understanding. And where academics, fine arts, sports, and social development become parts of a unified and meaningful educational experience. Learn more about Waterford’s athletics, arts, and extracurricular programs.
High school students spend a large portion of their days at school, interacting with peers, teachers, coaches, and other adults. School culture largely influences the nature of these interactions — a school’s values shape the relationships within its community and have the power to positively impact students’ character development (School Culture and the Moral Development of Children).
Independent schools believe they are responsible for the personal growth and character development of their students. Independent schools highly value teachers capable of developing strong relationships with students (On Teacher Quality in Independent Schools). Strong teacher-student relationships are critical to positive student character development. Teens learn moral values from adults they respect, and “when they feel cared about and respected, students are more likely to develop key emotional and social capacities” (NSCC). Independent school teachers also serve as advisors, coaches, and extracurricular leaders, uniquely enabling them to cultivate strong relationships with their students across a variety of activities.
Dr. Thomas Armstrong, author of The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students, explains, “The adolescent brain is extraordinarily sensitive to its surroundings...Teens are primed to be positively influenced by role models, dynamic classroom strategies, school-wide innovations, and a rich learning environment at home.” Independent school teachers are expected to model, teach, and reinforce moral, ethical, and social behavior; character development is taught alongside, not independently of core subjects. Faculty intentionally create opportunities for students to work with their peers and practice skills like empathy and conflict resolution. Studies show independent school graduates are more likely than public school peers to identify the following as a major area of strength: being tolerant of others with different beliefs, seeing the world from someone else’s perspective, and working cooperatively with diverse people (HERI).
Character development is central to the Waterford mission. Over the course of their Waterford journey, Waterford students discover the joys of learning and the importance of service to others; they develop into poised and passionate young adults who are equipped to lead meaningful lives. Students develop strong relationships with teachers, mentors, and coaches who are invested in the growth and development of their students. Waterford students have opportunities to practice personal skills in and outside the classroom--the school day is designed to foster healthy peer and adult interactions across a variety of activities. In addition to Waterford’s talented teaching faculty, every student has access to a Class Dean, advisor, and school counselor; students have multiple adults, who are truly people of influence, in their lives who exhibit a growth mindset and model healthy behaviors.
Independent schools understand quality high school education is much more than a high SAT score or good grades. They understand that an exceptional education prepares students for success in all areas of life. Independent school students are pushed to excel beyond what they thought was possible and to see their failings as opportunities for reflection, revision, regrouping and growth. Teachers develop strong and lasting relationships with their students and serve as positive adult role models. Students graduate from independent schools with a strong sense of self and compassion for others as they go on to some of the top colleges and universities in the nation to pursue their dreams.
We would be delighted for you to be our honored guest and invite you to schedule a campus visit to Waterford School. Come see for yourself why Waterford is a leader in High School education.