Just a few years ago I was sitting in the admissions office at a highly selective technical institute, asking the question I always ask when I get time alone with a college admissions representative: What do they know of current undergraduates that would inform our work here at Wildwood? What do they see that might help us improve our practice or guide our strategic planning?
In that particular conversation, I was surprised by the response. Noting that this university’s first years (freshmen) were among the most academically successful, driven, and competitive in the world, the admissions rep shared that pressure from alumni employers and graduate schools had led them to introduce what amounted to remedial programming so their students would realize that, having gained admission, it was now time to stop acting as though they were in competition with one another. That university’s big challenge wasn’t supporting students in mastering content and skills, but in guiding students to collaborate, reflect, listen to the ideas and solutions of peers, and to create something together, instead of working against one another in a zero-sum game.
Thinking about the students I’d known, both at Wildwood and at the other schools at which I’d worked, who hadn’t been offered admission to this particular school, I realized that none of them would’ve needed that remediation. I also knew that the reputation of that particular school meant the students who apply are largely a self-selected group who’d be able to do the work.
Obviously, many students aspire to be among the five, ten, or fifteen percent of students who are offered admission to a highly selective college or university, and their aspirations are reasonable. Go for it, I think. Most of those who end up applying have the grades and testing that would make them admissible. They’d be able to do the work and to contribute. That said, it’s understandably challenging for students to appreciate that being in the company of the 85, 90, or 95 percent of those who aren’t offered admission puts them in very good company, as well.
I’ve continued to wonder what we, at the high school level, can do to help colleges and universities see students for the fullness of who they are, not just as test-takers, but as people—individuals who will work tirelessly and with incredible focus to solve a problem, students who will know that someone down the hall needs a chicken-soup run, leaders who will collaborate and create a technology that will have a lasting, positive impact on the world. Eventually, as university graduates with broad-based skills who can garner the kind of financial success that allows for the philanthropy on which all schools depend. Far too often, those students are simply missed because colleges rely too heavily on statistics developed for an oversimplified, industrial-era, Carnegie Unit-based school model.
There’s a better way, and we here at Wildwood are part of a growing new consortium of more than 130 independent schools around the country who are leading the way. Wildwood School is one of 18 Founding Members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC). Urban and rural, large and small, boarding and day, coed and single gender, traditional and progressive—the consortium’s members have one thing in common: the knowledge that the system currently in place isn’t structured to be in service to the young people in our care. And so, together with schools as varied as Andover, Exeter, Dalton, Milton, and Punahou, Wildwood is working to change it.
In the 1990s, Wildwood School’s Board, faculty, and parent volunteers hatched an idea, one that would lead to researching best practices in education and launching a K-12 Wildwood School built on its decades of success as a K-6 school. The idea was that Los Angeles was ready for an independent school based not on what might have worked a century before, but on the skills, habits, and content students would require for the century to come—the one in which they’d lead the majority of their lives.
Wildwood’s leaders were prescient then, and I believe just as that generation of Wildwood School leaders helped to create the conditions for change we’re now seeing in schools across the country, the group of us leading the way with the Mastery Transcript Consortium are paving the way for what will be a sea change in the college admissions process.
I believe in the work we’re doing, which I hope will have a positive impact on Wildwood School students. Beyond that, all the schools that are invested in MTC’s vision and success recognize that this, right here, is some of the most important work that independent schools can do. As smaller, locally managed and discretely governed institutions, we have the tools to be more agile than our larger, public school counterparts, and we can partner with our college admission peers to begin the conversation, structure the solutions, and provide a model that can be replicated in ways that will ultimately benefit every student in every school, public or independent. From the MTC website:
“The initial formation of the MTC hopes to use the collective influence, access and flexibility of established independent schools to change the college preparation model for all high schools…not just private schools. However, we are starting with just independent schools to minimize complication and get a proof of concept built to enable all schools.”
Welcoming parents new to Wildwood School this fall, I’ve described MTC and my enthusiasm for the work. I’ve also noted that I think we will all be hearing more about it in the years to come, even beyond the schools involved now. Associate Head of School Lori Strauss and Director of Upper Jenn Spellman are Wildwood School’s site coordinators, taking the lead in our involvement as the process unfolds. Together with Amy Abrams and Becca Larson, our college counseling team, they’ll be sure that all we’ve learned at Wildwood will benefit the work of MTC and that our current and future students will, in turn, benefit from the best of what our peer schools from around the country share.