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Educating the Whole Child: No Trade-offs Required

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Dear Parent,

The egg-head geek or the dull-witted jock? The brilliant but nerdy scientist or the talented but troubled actress? The boy who knows everything or the girl who knows everybody? Take your pick--either/or--because you can't have both.

Or so it would seem.

One of the best compliments we receive from parents is that we "truly educate the whole child", that we "take academics and character seriously". It's hard to express how much we love hearing this feedback, for it's so in line with our mission to prepare children in their whole being for the adventure of life.

In our school, students don't fit nicely into stereotypical "either/or"s. They are neither mere geeky minds nor simply popular stars. Rather, they combine the best of both worlds (while discarding the worst): they unite smarts with self-esteem, deep thinking with profound feeling--a seemingly rare combination, but one that need not be.

By building rich intellects with the knowledge to succeed and joyous spirits with the confidence to ensure success, LePort students grow to become their own heroes. They do not cower at either academic failure or social fault, because they discover that the excitement and pride of earned success in either realm, even if it takes some stumbling to achieve, is just too good to pass up. Ultimately, children emerge as balanced young men and women, whose faces seem to sing an anthem of "Let the adventure begin!"

I'd like to give you a glimpse into this environment, so below are a few relevant principles we use daily as educators, along with excerpts from teacher communication to parents that illustrate our approach to the personalized development of each unique student.*

*Note that names have been changed for privacy.

1. Instead of just accepting weaknesses or criticizing and punishing mistakes, we focus on enabling success--in academics, in organization, in inter-personal skills ... in life.

... Mr. Robles emailed me tonight to let me know that Christina felt very unprepared for her grammar test today because of the homework assignment she missed. He said she even got a little teary-eyed, but he gently reassured her and told her to do her best.... I am willing to let Christina retake the portion she was unsure of, or the entire test if necessary....

... Martin's improved focus this semester is clearly translating into his organization.... It makes me so happy to see that all of these things are really becoming habits that don't require the same level of effort that they did before. What's even more exciting is that these habits go far beyond keeping his papers filed correctly or knowing what work is left to complete in his classes. Martin is actually training himself to be a more aware, organized person in general....

... It's a *very* tough situation--this is a very close-knit class, and while I have every reason to think Charisse is well-liked and appreciated, it's probably impossible for anyone to come into such a class and feel like an equal right away.... For what it's worth, we did add one new girl last year, and she had a similar experience--but by now, she's so much a part of the class socially that I bet Charisse couldn't guess who it is!...

2. We take the time to get to know each child, and personalize our approach to fit his unique educational and emotional needs.

... I just wanted to touch base about a very interesting conversation I had with Sarah that really gave me a glimpse into her world and what motivates and drives her.... This conversation really solidified the fact that Sarah views assignments in a much broader sense, and needs to see the worth behind all the components. And what a rightful position to take!... My goal this year will be to encourage her to excavate the deeper meanings behind seemingly simple topics, to push her to constantly question what seems obvious, and to challenge her to bring new perspectives to that which seems only two-dimensional....

... Very early in the school year I found that every now and again Cary would raise his hand in history class to (seemingly) answer a question, but what he'd end up saying was instead some silly comment. After a few such occurrences, I talked to him after class, asking why he thinks he does this. His response, said a little awkwardly, was, "Because I'm a Thompson; that's what Thompsons do." It was clear to me that 'being silly' was becoming a part of who he was, almost as if he had to keep up with his own reputation for being the funny kid in the class.... that that was his role. During the weeks after the conversation I'd chat with him every now and again about my wanting to hear his real commentary in class, not just silly stuff, for he often had such great questions, such thoughtful comments to share. Commendably, over the last few months Cary has developed himself into a real student of history! When he raises his hand now, he usually has something insightful to offer or has an intriguing question to ask. And, best of all, he hasn't had to give up the charm that's uniquely and fittingly his own: he's now just more thoughtful and selective with his humor.

Well, last week I decided I wanted to make this gradual change I saw in Cary explicit, to let him know how significant and admirable it really is. So I pulled him aside after class one day and reminded him of the talk we had had way earlier in the school year about his being overly silly when he should instead be focused on his 'smarts'. He didn't need reminding; he seemed to remember very clearly. I told him about the change I've seen in him, how now he's one of my go-to students in class when I'm looking for clear answers and thoughtful questions (and occasionally when I need someone to add a little funny spunk to it all!). He seemed very pleased with himself. Understandably so. :) ...

3. We strive to ensure our students graduate as well-rounded individuals, with the benevolent view that life is truly theirs to enjoy.

The following is an excerpt from an 8th-grade student's final report card.

Anyone who knows Kim is aware that he is poised for academic success. We are all familiar with his ability to write clear and convincing essays, his practice of methodical and accurate mathematical computations, and his organizational efficacy. But although most are familiar with Kim's academic strengths, up until now the growth of his social abilities might not have been as obvious. This school year ... his ever-present helpful and amiable nature, which makes him a friend to everyone around him, can be seen in his lighthearted interactions with peers; for example, he might stay around after class to walk down to recess with a fellow 8th grader, or take part in teasing repartee at the lunch table. With Kim's academic dedication and social maturity, he is well on his way to accomplishing anything he sets his sights on....

I hope the notes above have given you a window into our world at LePort--into the type of school I myself sincerely wish I had attended as a child. For when I was young, there was no LePort Schools. There was either private school, where one went to become really smart, but a bore, or public school, where one became socially adept, but mindless in the making.

Fortunately, we believe that that false choice no longer has to be. At our school, each student learns an impressive wealth of knowledge, but without sacrificing the joy of earned friendships; he develops a strong mind, alongside an equally impressive character; he becomes, ultimately, a student of self-made soul, delighting in the adventures of today, and prepared in his whole being for those of tomorrow.

I really love this school, and think that you will too. But words can only convey so much. If you are considering LePort as a potential school for your child, please give us a call to arrange a visit, to see in action just what great heights students can truly reach.

Jesse McCarthy is the founder of jemslife, an educational resource offering personalized teacher and parent coaching.

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