Friday, May 17, 2019

The Economics of Higher Education: When and How to Start Saving So It's Affordable

Melissa Nipper
Director of College Counseling


According to the Wall Street Journal, the average college graduate’s student loan debt is at a whopping $37,172 and that’s just the average! The most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows the overall student loan debt in America hovering just over $1.3 trillion. Trillion!

We all want our kids to go to college debt free (for them AND for us!). But how can we make this possible? What are the ways to pay for college? Well, read on and find out.

First of all: KNOW WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD! No school, no matter how elite, is worth graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt! Parents and students NEED to have a conversation about paying for college well in advance of May 1st- the National college ‘commitment day’.

Is there a college fund? How much can parents pay per much are parents willing to pay per year? Start the conversation with your high school student now!

Second, make sure to take care of yourself first- pay off debts, pay your mortgage, pay into your retirement fund. Don’t forget to take care of YOUR future and your own money goals before saving for college for your child.

Finally, know how much college may cost for your child. If you can estimate this, then you will have a better understanding of just how much you will need to save and can make a well thought out plan from there.

The first step toward getting a realistic understanding of how much a college or university will cost is to use the Net Price Calculator and Estimated Family Contribution Calculator. Many colleges and universities use the College Board’s Net Price Calculator and EFC calculator to estimate how much the student’s family will be expected to contribute for the year. Other colleges and universities have developed their own net price and estimated family contribution calculators.

The Net Price Calculator is a tool that helps you estimate your “net price” (net price = what you will be expected to pay at a specific college or university for one year minus any grants or scholarships for which you might be eligible). The EFC is the expected contribution each family is deemed able to provide each year towards the cost of college.


The Net Price Calculator looks at the “sticker price” of a college, uses your financial information (which you enter), and then estimates the amount of money your family would be expected to contribute to the cost of college. The Net Price Calculator also evaluates your eligibility for financial aid.

Remember - it is possible that a college with a high sticker price might end up costing less than a college with a low sticker price, and the Net Price Calculator can help you to estimate “financial fit” at a variety of colleges and universities.

Because it can be tricky to find the Net Price Calculator on each school’s website, I suggest you consult this list of schools with links to their Net Price Calculators, compiled by U.S. News & World Report.



Loans: these have to be paid back to the lender

Federal aid offers Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. The difference between these two loans is that subsidized loans are based on financial need and the interest does not accrue while the student is in college, as the interest is paid by the federal government. Interest begins accruing for Direct Unsubsidized Loans as soon as the loan is taken out.

PLUS Loans: This is a fixed rate federal loan for parents of dependent undergraduate students. Our advice is to look into other private lending options as well to make sure you are getting the best interest rate available.

Grants: A Grant is money the government provides for students who need it to pay for college. Grants, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid. Eligible students receive a specified amount each year under this program.

Work Study: Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study.


Scholarships are also money awarded that does not need to be repaid. Scholarships can be awarded based on academics, special talents, leadership, athletics, or other aspects that specific schools, companies, community agencies, and organizations would like to recognize and reward. Some scholarships at colleges are automatic while others must be applied for.

It is important that you check each school’s website for information about merit aid/scholarships. Some schools might require a separate application and also could require you to submit additional letters of recommendation and additional essays.

FastWeb is a great scholarship search engine for outside scholarship opportunities. Also, check with any organizations or affiliation groups you or your family belong to. They may have scholarships available.

RaiseMe enables students to earn micro scholarships throughout high school, starting as early as 9th grade, for doing all the things that best prepare them to succeed, whether that’s getting good grades, volunteering in the community or joining an extracurricular activity.


The most common form for financial aid is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is required by every college and university if you apply for financial aid. There is no fee connected to the FAFSA and filing the FAFSA determines your eligibility for Federal financial aid funds, the backbone of most college financial aid programs.

* Note: Both students and parents will first need to register for their own individual FSA ID/PIN numbers. Registering for an FSA ID is the easiest way to make sure the financial aid process runs smoothly as it allows users to electronically access personal information on the FAFSA web site as well as electronically sign a FAFSA.

Prior-Prior Year (PPY) refers to a policy enabling students and families to file the FAFSA using tax information from two years ago. For example, a high school senior planning to enroll in college in Fall 2020 will file the FAFSA using tax information from 2018. The FAFSA opens up annually on October 1st. Students and parents should complete the FAFSA as close to October 1st as possible. Also, many colleges have financial aid deadlines- it is very important to know these!

**Please note: and are the Web sites of private companies who will try to charge you money to fill out your FREE Application for Federal Student Aid. Avoid these sites!

2. The second most common form needed for financial aid is the College Scholarship Service Financial Aid Profile (CSS Profile). The CSS Profile is what colleges and universities use to determine how much non-government financial aid they can award. Most often, private colleges and universities are the ones to require the CSS Profile, however it is your responsibility to check with your colleges and the official list of CSS Profile schools to determine if you need to file a CSS Profile. The CSS can be filled out beginning October 1st. Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS requirements can differ from school to school (deadline dates, whether it needs to be completed every year, which parent/s need to fill out, etc.).

3. The third most common form needed for financial aid is individual college and university institutional forms. Many colleges have online financial aid applications. Make certain to check on the availability of these forms. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact the college’s financial aid office for assistance and guidance during this process.

After they are submitted online, the FAFSA and CSS Profile are sent to central agencies to be processed and forwarded to the colleges to which you plan to apply. Families complete only one FAFSA and one CSS Profile. Institutional forms, on the other hand, are requested directly from each college and submitted to its financial aid office.


What you need varies by application, but a basic checklist includes:
  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • A FSA ID to sign electronically
  • If you are a dependent student, then you will also need most of the above information for your parent(s) 
  • Here is a helpful link that will help explain the CSS Profile vs the FAFSA.


Beyond financial aid, loans, and merit based awards and the ever elusive ‘full ride’, having a college fund is the optimal way to pay. But what is the best way and when should you start saving? Well, one answer would be to start saving the moment you find out you will have a child. We all know however that this isn’t always possible or probable. Let’s just say- it’s never too early, and if you can save anything, then it’s never too late to start!

529 PLAN:

There are 2 types:

Pre-Paid Tuition Plans: You lock in current tuition rates at in-state public institutions. If your child decides to go to a private or out-of-state institution, you might receive only a small return on your original investment.

Savings plans: You contribute regularly and rely on the account’s earnings to grow. You take on more investment risk but give your child the opportunity to use the funds at public and private schools nationwide.

Note that you CAN shop around from state to state. You do not have to automatically get the 529 Plan offered in your home state. Check out this article to help you learn more about 529 plans and which may be the best for you.


An ESA allows you to save $2,000 (after tax) per year, per child. It grows tax-free! If you start when your child is born and save $2,000 a year for 18 years, you would only invest $36,000. While the rate of growth will vary based on the investments in the account, you’ll likely earn a much higher rate of return with an ESA than you would in a regular savings account—and you won’t have to pay taxes when you withdraw the money to pay for education expenses.

UTMA or UGMA (Uniform Transfer/Gift to Minors Act):

An UTMA/UGMA differs from ESAs and 529 Plans in how they aren’t designed just for education savings. The account is in the child’s name but is controlled by a custodian (usually a parent or grandparent). This person manages the account until the child reaches age 21. At age 21 (age 18 for the UGMA), control of the account transfers to the child to use any way they choose.


If a student is considering applying for a school as an early decision candidate BUT is hesitant to do so because of the cost, call the financial aid office and ask if they would be willing to do an early financial read and give you an estimate on what your estimated family contribution would be.

10 Strategies to reduce your "EFC"- I’m putting this here just in case you want to read it. Game the system? Nah, just an interesting article.

Once all the acceptances come in, award letters are sent and financial aid packages are finalized- that is when the determining factor of where to commit takes place. Make sure to sit down with your child and again, have the conversation about funds and paying for college. Review everything. Don’t be afraid to reach back out to a college’s financial aid office to see if they’d be willing to reexamine your aid package and merit awards. The worst they can say is no. But if there is a discrepancy between very similar colleges in what they are awarding you, it never hurts to ask. Also, if something changed affecting finances between the time your child applied to the college and when the award package came in, let them know this information as this could have an impact on the award/aid offered. Best of luck to you. The college search and application process can be really fun! The paying for it part-not so much. However, if you are well informed, then you can be well prepared and hopefully, get through this with minimal financial impact.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Flight Plan - Be Known at AOA

Faith Bordonaro
Upper School Dean of Student Life and Flight Plan Coordinator

Shirley Petersheim
Lower School Teacher

School, by definition, is a place where students come to learn. For earlier generations, the experience may have been almost entirely focused on academics. A swirl of formulas, tenses, rules, and dates reeled off by the teacher resulted in the students’ accumulation of knowledge. However, school and education have evolved and as educators, we must evolve as well. Rather than seeing a classroom full of students, we should see each student as an individual and remain vision-oriented, focusing on the who rather than the what. 

As we designed the Flight Plan program, our goal was to streamline what we were already doing well, such as differentiation and goal setting, and delve even deeper by getting to truly know our students on a personal level. We also needed to have the ability to share their goals and intentions with the students’ classroom teachers and their families. As a pre-K through grade 12 school, we have a special opportunity to observe student growth across many years. 

The mission of the Flight Plan program is to ensure that every student is treated like a VIP, a very INDIVIDUAL person. We focus on understanding who the student is, based on interviews and observations, in addition to their academic work and activities. Students are active contributors in creating their Flight Plans through one-on-one goal setting meetings and follow up conversations. During these meetings, guiding questions are used to lead the student to create his/her own goals and intentions. We focus on the whole child, so the areas of emphasis include individual, academic, social, and extracurricular. The intended result of this program is the development of well-rounded global citizens who reflect the core values of AOA. 

By creating individualized Flight Plans for each student (beginning in third grade), we can help each child navigate his/her journey, rather than just focusing on the destination. We also have the ability to monitor personal growth throughout the course of his/her experience at Andrews Osborne Academy and provide guidance to each student based on his/her needs. Teachers and advisors will have knowledge of each student’s interests and needs on day one by looking at his/her Flight Plans on PhoenixNet. With documentation, comes the ability to grow from past experiences and/or challenges in order to make well-informed decisions in the future. Once the Flight Plans are created, students will have the opportunity to contemplate their goals and reflect on their progress.

During the pilot, a committee of teachers from each division met with their students (lower school) or advisees (middle and upper school) to develop goals and intentions for each of the areas of focus. Throughout this time, we were excited to share with each other the benefits of the conversations. The teachers/ advisors found great value in taking time to talk to each student in a one-on-one setting and the students felt heard and were more excited and open to sharing. This format also helped to further build and strengthen trusted relationships between students and their teachers/ advisors. Students became active contributors rather than passive recipients and were much more prepared to set meaningful goals or intentions based on their discussions. We as teachers have been impressed by the amount of thought the students put into this experience.

What do these one-on-one meetings look like?

Two times per year, teachers meet one-on-one with each of their students/ advisees for Flight Plan development. In the fall, students create their Individual and Academic Flight Plans which they will work on for the next 12 months. After returning from winter break, they create their Social and Extracurricular Flight Plans and again work on these for the next 12 months. As one can see, this is a continual process that is not defined by the school calendar. The conversation begins with the teacher/ advisor asking guiding questions in each area. These questions are designed to help the student reflect and create a meaningful goal or intention, accompanied with action steps to achieve the goal, challenges they may face along the way, and expected outcomes. Check-in meetings are held throughout the year to assess progress, make changes, and continue the journey working towards meeting their objectives.

The Individual Flight Plan focuses on areas such as character development, self-esteem, and balance. An example of a guiding question is, “How do you overcome obstacles or tackle a challenge?”. One lower school student’s response was, “I try to read through the problem and ask questions, but if I still don’t understand I get frustrated.” As a result, she decided her individual intention would be less frustration when she hits an obstacle. Her action steps toward this goal were to give herself more “think time” in order to calm down and figure out why she was so frustrated, and ask for help when needed. She expressed a challenge to meeting her goal would be feeling overwhelmed, but if that happened she could take a break and come back to the problem later. Her expected outcome was to work through problems and challenges without giving up. During a check-in conversation with her teacher, they were both pleased with the progress she had made in this area. 

The Academic Flight Plan focuses on areas such as self-assessment, academic effort, and executive functioning. In the fall, one upper school student chose a goal of balancing classes appropriately. This was a direct result of her experience with AP classes the previous year. She found that she would complete her AP work first, leaving little or no time to work on other assignments even though they could be completed quickly. The resulting action steps towards this goal were to complete shorter, non-AP assignments first and utilize free periods effectively. By managing her time deliberately, she would be able to stay on top of all required work. 

The Social Flight Plan focuses on areas such as exposure to new ideas, participation, and empathy and respect. Regarding her social intentions, one middle-school student replied that she would like to work more on her friendships at school. She expressed that she understands that her friends don't all live in the same neighborhood and that new friends are being added to her class each year. She established her personal intention to reach out and learn more about her friends and make new friends at school. Action steps included being friendly and open to others, collaborating with new students in the classroom, and learning more from peers on athletic teams. One challenge was finding time to hang out with her friends outside of school. 

The Extracurricular Flight Plan focuses on activities that take place outside of school hours such as athletics, community service, and the arts. After a conversation about finding passion in daily life and pursuits, another upper school student decided to focus on developing skills and interests in two select activities (tennis and programming) after exploring a variety of interests as an underclassman. His expectation is to have meaningful experiences to write about as he begins the college application process this fall. 

After this year-long pilot program, it is exciting to see how much better the students are able to articulate their goals and intentions. Ownership in an idea or plan is essential to making it a reality. Once the Flight Plans are created, students will work with their teachers/ advisors to navigate their action plans in order to accomplish their goals, adjusting as necessary. We are thrilled to be launching this program in the 2019-20 school year for all students in grades 3-12 and seeing the students soar.

Friday, February 22, 2019

From Our Town to The Diary of Anne Frank

Darryl Lewis
Visual and Performing Arts Teacher

It was the summer of 2010. I was seated in the very dark, and the very back of Hall Auditorium in Oberlin, Ohio. It was the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival. I would sit in the back of this auditorium for three weeks waiting for act three to begin. On this particular occasion I was not only an audience member but also an actor participant in Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. I was seated in the back of the auditorium because on queue, I would soon to be a part of a funeral procession that entered from the rear of the auditorium. We processed down the aisles passing through a sea of theater goers.

The funeral was for the lead character, Emily Webb, who had just died due to complications in childbirth. Once she is buried and the funeral congregants have left, she converses with friends and neighbors from her past life that were buried alongside her in the local graveyard. They talk to her about how to best adjust to the afterlife. They offer advice. Ignoring that advice, she decides to go back and relive one day from her life. She chooses to relive her 16th birthday. As she travels back in time she realizes that the things are exactly the same, but she is experiencing them differently. Little things that occurred have taken on a fresh, different meaning. Things that seemed mundane to a 16 year old girl now appeared profound to a grown woman, especially since she realizes she will never have these things ever again. Even the act of her mother drawing a warm bath for her was strangely profound to her now.

While I was performing in the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival, I was also working full time as a General Manager for a financial group during the day. But as I sat in the audience waiting for my queue to proceed down the aisle, something was beginning to change in my thinking. I started wondering what my life would look like if I only did things that I truly loved.

When Our Town closed that summer, I quit my job of 10 years to pursue doing what I loved to do, music and theater. I also decided to surround myself with people and things that I loved. I was embracing the essence of Wilder’s play. I believe that Thornton Wilder is saying that life is  short and precious, a gift. We should enjoy every moment and appreciate the time we are given and the people with whom we are sharing time.

The importance of an education that contains the creative and performing arts goes without question. There are many studies that point to its benefits. “Arts learning experiences benefit students in terms of social, emotional, and academic outcomes,” writes researchers Dan Bowen of Texas A&M and Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri. While I believe the prior statement to be true, the creative and performing arts did something much greater for me and I saw something wonderful happen to our community through The Diary of Anne Frank.

For the last 6 weeks, a group of mostly students and I have memorized, blocked and rehearsed every word of Kasselman’ adaptation. The play opened and closed in a single weekend. Even though I believe most of our actors were just looking for something to do, they received something much greater through sharing Anne’s story.. I don't want to seem overly dramatic, even though I am the Drama Teacher, but I have seen compassion, love, encouragement, self-awareness, realization and personal transformation in these short 6 weeks.

One of the young actors had this to say about their experience of being in Anne Frank. "Coming into the Anne Frank project, my only reason was to be back in a show. I hadn't performed since October and needed that rush again. However, before the rehearsal process even began, I was being touched by the show. Playing the role of a person who bettered people's lives to the best of her ability. Knowing her heartbreak, but also the pains and struggles of those she cared for so much. It really digs into you. Even my parents have noticed I've been kinder to my sister lately. Being in this show has reminded me how deeply I need to value the things, and especially the people I love. I am beyond fortunate to have them alive. To not be taken from them. To not have to fear for my or their lives. The show is a very strong symbol of how powerful hate truly is, and how it needs to be stopped for anything to improve."

Another student had this to say. “My participation in The Diary of Anne Frank carries a sense of community. The cast, I feel, has grown very close to each other as we help and support each other through the heavy—but extremely important—message that the show carries. Theatre allows one to project themselves onto a character, simultaneously learning as much about yourself as who one is portraying. Theatre has given me a place to belong, to share, and to express myself.”

The Diary of Anne Frank was only open for one weekend. Between opening night on Friday evening to closing the show at the Sunday matinee, I could see something happening with our young cast. They were understanding the weight of Anne’s story. They were understanding how the weight of oppression and prejudice must have felt for these people. They were realizing how important it is to tell, and retell these stories so that the stories are never forgotten. They were understanding that participating in live performance and connection with an audience has power. They were starting to believe in themselves.

When a show closes there are many, mixed emotions. At the end of Sunday’s matinee there were accolades and there were tears. A woman approached me in the lobby. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to the side. She told me that I saved someone’s life with this production. She said that someone on stage needed this so badly. Someone on stage needed to know they have talent and worth. Someone needed to shine. She wanted to thank me for making this opportunity available for them. I promised her that these opportunities will be abundant here at Andrews Osborne Academy because I know what theater did for me.

Monday, January 14, 2019

How to think about the College Process longitudinally - parents start before students- don’t let the students start too early...or too late!

Melissa Nipper
Director of College Counseling

Constant- that is the word I feel describes what it was like to have a newborn child- constant. We were either constantly feeding, burping, changing, rocking, entertaining, or attempting to get our little creation to sleep. As our first born grew, we grew as well - as did our definition of being parents. Or, maybe we just got use to the  ‘constant’ of parenthood and that simply became the norm. I remember two, what seemed like back then, major milestones that changed the shape of parenthood for us in those distinct moments. First, there was the day that our son properly dressed himself to go out and play in the snow. This process, that typically took the equivalent of a work day, now was taken out of our hands as he achieved full snow gear, boots and all, all by himself. Even better, he could take it all off by himself  when the fun in the snow was done. The second breakthrough and major milestone: being able to get into the car and buckled all by himself. Now THAT was a life changer! I think we gained 10, maybe 15 minutes of our lives each time we got into and out of our vehicle.

Although having been warned time and time again by people having gone through the parenthood process, we were caught off guard by how quickly time passed by. Suddenly, our major decisions of which piece of art work should we remove from the fridge in order to hang an A+ spelling test has turned into the recognition that college for our son is seemingly right around the corner. How did this happen so quickly? Being a college placement counselor for the past 20 years, I have been asked by many parents (most recently, by the parents of my son’s friends): ‘How as parents do we navigate this process? What should we do and where on earth do we even begin?. When should we begin and are we already behind?’.  Although emotionally, I may not be prepared to manage my son packing up and leaving home (his goal of course is to attend a university on the West Coast- way to choose something close buddy), I do feel confident in the process of getting from point A: Freshman year in high school to point B: May 1st- the college admissions decision deadline date- the day the students must declare where they will begin the next phase of their lives.

For most teens, this is their first real decision they have had to make in their lives. Up until now, school was laid out for them. For many,  based on where they lived, they knew where they would be going to elementary, middle, and high school. Attending school was not an option, it was, in fact, the law. However, there is no mandate requiring students to attend college. These new adults have their first taste at freedom.  This is also a very new phase for us as parents. Up until this point in time, what we said carried weight. But now, although we obviously all want to have input, it is ultimately, and should be, up to the student to make the choice in this big milestone in their lives: ‘where do I go after high school?’. This is why having a solid basis for this decision is paramount during high school.

As parents, we want (not to mention our savings accounts may dictate) our children to make well informed decisions and not starry eyed choices based on ‘name brand’ or wanting to attend a college because ‘that is where all my friends are going…’.  A 4 year comprehensive college curriculum program forms the foundation to the college search and application process in the freshman year so by the time the student is formally starting the search and application process (typically during the second semester of the junior year), they will have a much more well developed idea of what they want and need out of a college.  This mindfulness when choosing schools to apply to will help to ease the nervous and anxious parent- who themselves are also facing a transition : learning to allow our children to a make major life decision. Gone are the days of forcing our kids to sit in their high-chair until they finish their peas.  We are now facing the realities of our kids leaving home, some perhaps going hundreds and hundreds of miles away. This is why is is so imperative to start thinking of the process early. By building a solid foundation, the structure will be in place for well informed and thought out choices.

At AOA, we have a 4 year college counseling advisory curriculum. By starting the college process at the beginning of high school, it is my belief that our students will be better prepared to make well informed and thought-out choices regarding their college fit and major.  By the spring of their junior year, when the formal college search process begins, our students will start this phase of their life feeling confident and well informed. Where should they start? What are the building blocks that will inevitably solidify their choices? How can we, as parents, support them and guide them without overwhelming them (and ourselves)?

I cannot help but reflect on the days when my son would hold out his hand for me to take before we crossed the street. Me, grabbing it,  guiding him protectively across the busy path. This image mimics the role of a high school college counselor- holding the hands of our families while guiding them through this new phase in life. The goal is to make the entire process exciting, a bonding experience so to speak between the parent and child, and not to make it seem like a ‘constant’ task being forced on the parent or the student but rather a gradual build into declaring which college to attend.

Freshman year:

The transition from middle school to freshman year can be difficult! This is when everything starts to matter in the eyes of colleges. Students now have transcripts and grades matter. Activities and community service hours become not just extras that students do for fun but have become an essential part of the college application narrative. Some students, and parents, tend to overthink the college search process. On the other hand, some students may see freshman year as just an extension of middle school. These two extremes must be averaged out to create the perfect scenario: a well balanced freshman year that is all about self- discovery. During freshman year, students should:
* Understand that class selection is important- freshman classes are the building blocks for future class opportunities and options.
* Recognize that strength of schedule is very important - many colleges look at how much a student will challenge themselves but students need to be careful. There is a balance between challenging oneself and being successful and challenging oneself and encountering a major academic struggle. For instance, getting an A in an honors or college prep class is much better than earning a C in an AP course.
* Take a practice ACT or SAT. Please do not feel the need to take the real test! Freshman year is JUST. TOO. SOON. Students are still learning higher level math concepts and advancing their reading skills. By taking a practice test, students gain an idea of what the dreaded SAT and ACT will look like. It eliminates the mystery of  these tests allowing for an understanding of how best to prepare for future standardized testing.
* This is the year they should learn and adjust their study skills, learn and practice time management and also develop test taking strategies that match the high school level test.
* Students should also explore activities. Keep in mind, colleges consider quality over quantity when it comes to extra curricular activities. If a student is involved with two or three very meaningful activities, especially those in which they can demonstrate leadership and initiative, this is more highly regarded than being involved in numerous activities in which there is only a peripheral level of involvement.
* Ideally, all freshman should learn about what types of colleges there are: public, private, liberal arts etc. They should experience a ‘taste of college’ and be exposed to what colleges look for in an applicant. This plants the seed of understanding in the freshman student and also will help to enlighten the parents on what colleges are actually looking for when they review applications.
* Freshmen should visit a local college. It doesn’t have to be one they are even interested in BUT by visiting a college early in high school, the idea of a college campus can be demystified.
* Begin a resume, or virtual portfolio, compiling awards, activities, community service projects, and any other significant involvement. When it comes time to apply to colleges in the senior year, It is so easy to forget what took place three years prior. By beginning this list now, a student’s application process will be that much easier.
* Attend college rep visits at your high school to further gain knowledge of what colleges have to offer.

Sophomore year:

The classes taken during sophomore year are also very important. They may satisfy prerequisites for higher level courses. At many schools, placement in honors and AP classes must have teacher approval. By taking the right classes, that fit a student’s ability (challenging them while not overwhelming them), the junior year courses to take become very clear.
* Whichever practice test the student did not take in their freshman year (either the practice ACT or the practice SAT), they should take sophomore year. They should then compare each test. Is one score way above the other? Did they feel more comfortable with one test over the other? If so, this is the test they should focus on and prepare for.
* Don’t forget to continue adding to the resume/virtual portfolio. I tell my student’s all the time- ‘Your future self will thank you!’
* Be mindful of leadership opportunities and seize them when they come along OR find ways (take initiative) to make these opportunities happen.
* Students should begin to explore possible majors or career interests. Shadowing a person in a profession that is of interest to them may solidify whether they want, or in some cases do not want, to pursue that field of study. If a student has no idea what they want to do, that is COMPLETELY FINE AS WELL!  The US Department of Education reports that 1 in 9 college students change their major more than two times during their college career and over 75% of students either begin as ‘undecided’ or change their major at least once before college graduation. Think back to when you were 15 or even 18.  Did you know you would be doing the job you are doing right now? So relax, unless a student wants to go into a specialized field with an accelerated degree, changing majors is the norm. College is a place to explore options and opportunities.
* We have many assessments that the students take to help them get a better idea of their strengths and areas that need improvement, learning style inventories, career interest profiles, and assessments that can help determine appropriate college major and career path based on interest inventories. This gaining of self understanding can be a catalyst to thinking about options they may not have considered in the past.
* Sophomore year is a great year to go more in depth with college visits allowing a student to begin to narrow down the type of college they may want including having a better understanding of the setting, the size, and the academic structure of the school. Visit two different types of colleges and compare. Visit a large public university and visit a smaller private university. Which felt better? What were the pros and cons of each. By comparing these areas, a student can better focus in on what may be the best fit for them.
* Students should attend college representative visits at their high school to further gain knowledge of what colleges have to offer. These information sessions give students  an idea of what individual colleges have to offer. These sessions may also spark questions and lead to areas of interest that the student may not have thought about before. For example, a student may not have thought about study abroad opportunities as an aspect to consider. But, after hearing about a college’s semester in Rome program, this is now a ‘must have’ on the college checklist.

Junior year:

Junior year IS the most important year. This is the year that will produce the final grades on the transcript that the colleges will see when applications are sent in. This can also be the year to even out any bumps in the road a student may have experienced in 9th and 10th grade. Struggled in a class? Didn’t have the outcome hoped for in terms of GPA? Hit a roadblock along the way somewhere? All is not lost! Junior year is the year to show resilience and make up for any concerns the student may have. It also makes for a great essay topic! I also highly recommend that students do as much as they can during the second semester of junior year in order to ease their requirements during their busy first semester of their senior year.
* Virtual portfolio/resume should be completed.
* Activities and involvement- leadership and initiative are highly regarded in the application process. Students should be mindful of the level of involvement in their activities. Again, it is quality over quantity in regards to extra curricular involvement.
* Take the SAT and/or ACT- take a prep class but only if 100% invested in this. Otherwise, just doing one’s homework will be beneficial in two ways: better grades and better preparation for the standardized tests. There are also a number of colleges that have joined the FairTest movement. This allows for students to apply without standardized test scores. They may ask for additional letters of recommendation or copies of graded papers to supplement the application.
* Complete an ESSAY! Look at the Common App prompts. The second semester junior year is the perfect time to begin (maybe even finish) the main personal statement. This should not be a dissertation length paper. In fact, the common application has a 650 word limit. By getting the main personal statement out of the way early, students will have more time and less stress for the supplemental essays some colleges require.
* Teacher recommendations- ask before summer! Colleges typically want to see two letters of recommendation. One should be from a science or math teacher and one should be from an English/humanities teacher. Keep in mind it is very important who is asked. Has the student had more than one class with a teacher? Has the student had significant interactions with the teacher outside of the classroom? Perhaps the teacher is also the student’s coach or an advisor. The teachers that write the recommendation letters should also be from the junior year. By asking the teachers early, they are now given ample time to write the best recommendation possible rather than asking them a week ahead of time- these may not be the best to use...
* Students should: have a working college list and visit as many colleges on the list as possible over the summer. Keep notes for all visits. Send handwritten thank you notes to the admissions counselors that are met with. Make sure these visits are scheduled visits so that they go on record. This demonstrated interest can sometimes help in the college process.
* Speaking of the working college list, I like to take the ladder approach: have schools on the list that are on different levels: safety, realistic/target, and dream/reach. Applying to 5-7 colleges is the norm. Some students may only apply to 1 (be careful as to not put all the eggs in one basket) while others may become obsessed with applying and even hit the maximum level on the common app (that’s 20 colleges by the way). Not only is this a lot of work, it is EXPENSIVE!
* Juniors should attend college rep visits at their high school to further gain knowledge of what colleges have to offer.  By meeting with a college representative of a school of interest, the student is showing  demonstrated interest- have I stressed yet that this is a VERY, VERY important aspect of the college admissions process?
* Speaking of demonstrated interest, I highly recommend a student visit their top choice school if at all feasible for the family. Many of the top choice colleges however also recognize this may not be financially realistic for some.  Many of the top tier schools do not count campus visits towards an applicant’s admission decision. By visiting the college however, a student may solidify their desire to attend and may want to consider an early decision application.
* Attend a college fair but do research ahead of time. Find out which colleges will be in attendance and mark the ones that specifically are of interest. Go in with a game plan, come out with knowledge (and a lot of brochures).
* Begin the common application in late spring. It will be the practice one but much of the information will roll over to the live version that opens each August.
* Be very mindful of the classes selected for senior year. Colleges don’t want to see basket weaving and three classes of physical education. They all look at strength of schedule. Again, this is a balance: student need to have a respectable strength of schedule without overwhelming themselves.

Senior year:

THIS IS IT! All these years later, even though it seems like kindergarten was just yesterday, senior year and application time is here! Senior year is no time to slack off in classes. It is the contrary. Some schools may ask for semester or quarter grades. Teachers also continue to write recommendation letters. As long as students have followed along with what they should be doing every year, they will be ready to solidify all the pieces of the application puzzle during the first semester. Trust me, by keeping up with the small things each year, the craziness of the college process will be MUCH easier and relaxed and even fun (seriously, it CAN be fun!). If done properly, senior year consists of completing:
* FAFSA (only for domestic students) and CSS (if required by the select college). I will save the ‘how to pay for college’ for a different blog.
* Prepare for interviews- some colleges require, some offer, some won’t even consider this.
* If a student hasn’t visited their top choice colleges yet, they should.
* Consider ED/EA/REA/RD applications.
* Be aware of deadlines! I would hate for a student to have a dream school only to miss the application deadline.
* May 1st is National Decision Day. A student does not have to make a deposit to a school until this day. Prior to this day, many schools offer admitted student overnight visit programs. This is like a test drive. My mentor use to say: ‘You wouldn’t marry a blind date, so neither should you choose a college without visiting it.’ It is a great idea for the students to collect all of their acceptances, look at the financial aid and merit packages, consider all other aspects that are of importance to the family, and then after everything is considered, it is time to make the deposit! CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT!

Keep in mind, the college process is a very individualized process for each student. Although I have laid out a general path, what is right for one, may not be right for another. Also, if there was a struggle somewhere along the way, all hope is not lost! Most colleges have a holistic approach to college admissions. This means they look at the whole picture of a student. I liken this to a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece of the application is a piece to the puzzle. The holistic review allows the colleges to put the pieces together and see the full picture of a student and not just the test score and transcript pieces. Also, in terms of essays, I like to anticipate what questions the admissions counselor may have after reviewing the application. It is best to provide answers to these questions before they have a chance to get asked. This is the best time to show grit and resilience and the ability to overcome obstacles.

My final piece of advice, and this may be the most important: It is SO IMPERATIVE to not compare test scores, where a student is applying, where they got accepted, how much of a scholarship they were offered etc. As hard as this may sound, try and ignore all the noise that surrounds the college process. It will be inevitable that a well-meaning family member or neighbor will ask: ‘So, where is your child going to college?’. It is also very acceptable to answer: ‘We are looking at all their options.’ Also keep in mind that you are not graded as a parent based on where your child goes to college. The ultimate goal of going to college is the right fit, leading to a satisfied and productive college student regardless of where they attend. In the end it is all about what they do while at college and not what college they graduate from.

Constant, the college process during the high school years is a constant factor. But,  just as we had to adjust to the demands of becoming new parents, if done properly, the ‘constant’ factor simply becomes the norm and integrates into daily life. Stress is reduced, expectations are known, and the path to crossing the road is safe and clearly laid out. One final thought to leave you with. Please keep in mind that your child’s choice in college should not be based on which college you think sounds good when talking to friends, family, strangers etc. Their choice in college should be about finding a university that will help them develop into the person you always dreamed they would become.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Assessing Creativity

Michael G. Ford, M.Ed, Ph.D.
Co-Department Head, Science Department
Co-Director Global Scholars Program

As a reader of our blog, you are in a position that was shared by our AOA faculty during the start of the Creative Thinking Initiative. You probably value creativity in yourself, your children and your coworkers. You no longer require convincing that creative output is a cornerstone of the modern workplace and a key to the future success of our children. Even if you are already convinced of the value of fostering creative thought, you may have some uncertainty as to how an educational institution could undertake an evaluation of creativity in its students. The prospect of placing a numerical grade on creative student work may be both confusing and a little intimidating. I hope to convince you that the production of creative output arises from a learned set of behaviors and that with systematic and rigorous application of specific principles, it can be evaluated, ranked and scored. In this work, I will attempt to show what we have learned about the process of teaching our students creative thinking, and several ways in which we foster the development of these skills in the classroom.

Before listing a set of characteristics that we seek to encourage, I believe it is useful to consider what must be absent in an environment that seeks to foster creative thinking. A number of stereotypes and preconceptions surround the language used to describe the production of creative work. Additionally, while superficial evaluation of creativity as a line item at the bottom of a rubric has been present for years, it is only by pushing creativity to the forefront that full development of creative thinking can be made possible.

Creativity is Not Character

It is common in many settings to refer to ‘creative people’ as if all of their original, interesting and impactful work is the product of innate inability, instead of the result of long years of training and honing of a specific skill set. If we are to evaluate creativity, we must possess the mindset that creative thought is not solely the product of an inborn proficiency for producing interesting, useful and novel work. This shift does not require us to ignore personality traits and habits of mind that give some advantages in producing creative output, any more than we would be required to ignore writing ability, math proficiency or scientific aptitude. Instead, we strive to set up a process which improves upon areas of weakness and utilizes an individual’s characteristics to their best advantage.

Not a Niche Market

While it is natural to think of creative output being tied tightly to specific subjects such as language arts, visual and performing arts, effective education utilizing the ‘creativity toolbox’ cuts across all disciplines. In math and science, the trend toward Project-Based Learning (PBL) strategies, is really just a specific implementation of a strategy designed to make use of student’s natural curiosity by removing rigid framework, and allowing hands-on exploration of scientific and mathematical principles. As a science teacher, I have found great joy in giving my students the time and space to develop their own questions and to find surprising solutions to open-ended challenges. Placing an institutional emphasis on creativity across grade level and subject has also allowed AOA to develop a common language for encouraging and evaluating creative work.    

Evaluating Creativity - Product and Process

Almost all scholarly work on teaching and evaluating creativity contains some attempt to define creativity, an effort to delineate what it means to ‘teach creativity’. Instead of spending time with this academic exercise, I would like to share a specific set of traits and behaviors that we seek to instill in our students. When the faculty of Andrews Osborne Academy seeks to evaluate creative output, we are evaluating both the product and process of creative thought.

The Product of Creative Work - Novel and Useful

Any valuable piece of creative work must fulfill two basic criteria; it must serve a purpose or perform a function while also containing original thought. The purpose of an assignment seeking to develop creative thinking skills may vary broadly in scope, but always there remains a specific idea that the work seeks to communicate. If the student loses sight of the specific goal, they may turn in novel work which is irrelevant or otherwise unable to meet the requirements set forth by the instructor. Similarly, work which is a simple reworking of existing ideas would likely provide a product that may be minimally functional, but will not convey any sense of the student’s own perspective on the subject at hand.

Consider an assignment in which a student was required to create a graphical personal ad for a character from The Great Gatsby. The requirements of this type of assignment might be to portray the best aspects of one major character in an engaging visual format that would make the viewer curious to know more about them as a person. A student with a design background might spend hours on the interplay of color, font and overall design while ignoring the exploration of the character traits depicted in the novel. Conversely, a bulleted list of all aspects of the character’s personal qualities may lose a reader’s interest before they can engage with the text itself. The search for the ‘sweet spot’ where a novel presentation is able to meet a specific curricular goal is the challenge faced in any classroom seeking to teach the set of skills involved in producing quality creative work.
If we look at companies, groups or individuals that embody the creative spirit, we find this same union of function and novelty. Apple remains a tremendously successful company because its products combine a pleasing form with functions that lead the electronics field. Instead of ‘thinking outside the box’, successful creative endeavors maneuver gracefully within a specific ‘box’ better than their peers. 

Creative Thinking as a Process

As educators we are taught to value the process that leads to an end product even as we grade the end result. Assignments promoting creative thinking are no exception. A brief listing of each aspect of this process is useful in understanding how we develop these skills in our students.

Divergent Thinking - The first part of many creative endeavors is idea generation. Whether called brainstorming, ideation, or divergent thinking we ask students to generate possible ways to fulfill the stated goals of the assignment. In some cases, such as a building project in physics class, we may pay little heed to the feasibility of a given design, and may simply set a goal of generating as many solutions as possible.

Taking the ‘Deep Dive’ - Digging deeply, investigating thoroughly, and researching the work of others can help to provide a first screen of a set of possible solutions, and give fuel for the creative fire. In literature, this may mean a close reading of a specific passage, or the tracking of a character through a novel. In history, it may mean getting closer to primary sources to aid in understanding of the personal effects of important events.

Risk-Taking - Thoughtful risk-taking is part of any creative endeavor, requiring a student to be willing to attempt an unproven technique or design. While risk taking includes the acceptance of failure as part of the growth process (as is so fashionable to discuss in educational circles) it also means being open with personal ideas that may leave many feeling vulnerable. The ability to listen to one’s unique inner voice means accepting the risk that your creative work may not be highly valued by peers and teachers.

Convergent Thinking - Iteration, testing, editing - we have many ways of selecting one solution from many. Ultimately we are guided by our need to fulfil the requirements put forth in the stated goals of the assignment itself. During a long-term assignment - The Big Battery Build, students in my chemistry classes narrowed down possible battery designs based on the directive to produce the highest possible voltage while avoiding toxic or dangerous materials.

While development of the creative skill set requires us to examine both the process and product, it may not be possible (or desirable) to evaluate all aspects of creative thinking in a single assignment. In our science classrooms we might seek to emphasize a ‘deep dive’ - researching current gene therapy techniques, followed by the selection of a single technique (convergent thinking) suited to treating a specific genetic disorder.

While I have not fully explored exactly how creativity is assessed for individual assignments, I have attempted to give you a sense of what traits we seek to impart to our students. I hope to take an opportunity in future blog posts to better illustrate the shared language of assessing creativity and contrast traditional assignments with versions modified to emphasize creative thought. While I may have only begun the process of uncovering what it means to assess a student’s creative work, I hope that you have come to understand the overall goals of evaluating creativity in the AOA classroom, and that it may be less mysterious to those in our community as a whole.

Friday, November 16, 2018

School Athletics in 2018 – How To Do It Well

Scott G. McNevan, MBA
Assistant Head of School – Co-Curriculars & Residential Life
Athletic Director

It has been said routinely by coaches and administrators for years that ‘athletics are an extension of the classroom’.  This very American mantra (most countries do not embrace athletics so formally in their school systems) is more true today than ever.  As technology annually provides our students with more and more opportunity for inactive stimulation, it can be argued that the value of participating in organized school sports is at an all-time high.  While the value is inherently there, just as it is for learning about literature or social sciences, the delivery is something that many schools take for granted and should re-evaluate.  How can schools deliver quality athletic programming well in 2018? 


The traditional measures of athletic success are performance-based statistics.  How many games did the team win?  How many points did the player score?  How many saves did the goalkeeper make?  Similar to test scores in the classroom, these quantitative measurements provide us with information about output.  In this way stats are used to identify high performing teams and individuals.  However, it is very important for school leadership to avoid over-prioritizing traditional stats as the only measure of success.  In over-focusing on wins and losses we lose one of sport’s most teachable moments, context-based reflection.  In addition to competitive results, defining success for a school’s athletic teams and programs must include other contextual considerations like the starting point of pre-season expectations, injuries and other adversity throughout a season, the amount of improvement over time, academic performance of athletes, graduation rates, and representation of community core values.  It is a valuable exercise for school leadership to pause and reflect on what contextual considerations are most important to them outside of competitive results.  The real benefactors of this reflection are the student-athletes, who can begin to learn that winning and losing are relative and that defining success is context-based. 


Every school has a mission statement.  Most athletic departments have a mission statement.  The exercise of creating a mission is important and valuable work.  It helps an organization realize its identity.  However, more important than creating a mission is living it out in day to day operations.  The mission is the lighthouse.  It is there to guide operating decisions through the good and the bad.  When things seem troubled and confusing, the mission is there as a beacon, helping a school to stay on course.  For athletics to be done well, the department, like all others at the school, must align with the mission.  School leadership must be very intentional about its athletic policies, ensuring that decisions are made with intent to reflect the mission, rather than in an arbitrary fashion. As an example, at Andrews Osborne Academy our mission is to develop students who can lead and serve in a global community.  To ensure our student-athletes don’t confuse team goals with the mission, we support participation in school activities outside of athletics, even during the season. This year the senior captain of the boys’ varsity basketball team also pursued a lead role in a school theatre production.  Restricting him from doing this due to ‘team commitments’ would not have aligned with our mission.  By being a part of both experiences, he is becoming more prepared to lead and serve in his community going forward.  


The landscape of youth sports has been changing steadily for the past twenty years.  Much has been documented about the rise of club sports, the loss of unstructured play due to technology, and the more frequent participation in year-round training for kids.  Despite one’s opinions on these topics, it is vital for a school to recognize and accept the reality of this landscape.  We are incapable of changing the greater environment of youth sports.  However, we are very capable of considering the realities of that environment and then being creative.  Many schools have made the mistake of taking a defensive posture regarding their athletics, asking families to ‘choose a side’.  Some have even instituted penalties for those that participate in outside training rather than with the school-endorsed program.  Schools should not so easily choose this adversarial position.  Sports-loving families are always going to find ways for their student-athlete to participate in programming that they believe is best.  Whether or not we agree with their thinking on this, it is a reality we should accept.  Keeping a big perspective on this and choosing to be creative in the ways we approach things can prevent a lot of frustration and encourage stronger relationships with families.  Examples of this usually involve compromise.  If a family would like their middle-school aged daughter to participate on both a club soccer team and the school team, seek a way to make this work.  Instead of blindly sticking to old policies that link attendance to playing time without any conversation, determine to be creative.  Perhaps the club team schedule can take priority and the player can be warmly welcomed to school practices and games when she is available.  Perhaps when she is available a starting role, while warranted based on caliber, is not granted while instead considerable playing time off the bench is agreed upon.  There are many creative ways to provide an outcome that benefits both the school and, most importantly, the student-athlete.


Students are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety today than ever before.  Pressure stemming from parents, outside club sports, social media dynamics, and normal adolescent turbulence is combined with growing academic pressure at many schools to create a very unhealthy equation for the student.  School athletics can avoid contributing to this.  While hard work, determination, and perseverance remain foundational expectations of any good coach, it is vital for all of us to remember that sports are supposed to be fun.  Inside the structures of training and practice, it is not only possible but necessary to incorporate moments of silly, goofy fun for student-athletes.  There are many moments during every season that call for some light-hearted play.  Sometimes it can be spontaneous, providing a disheartened team with 15 minutes to try a new, unstructured game just to break the tension.  Other times it can be planned, scheduling a light, fun practice to compensate for a series of tougher, more physical days.  One goal of every coach should be to see each student-athlete finishing their season loving that sport just as much or more than they did on day one of the season.  If we are not seeing smiles or hearing laughter from our student-athletes, we may be forgetting to incorporate enough fun into the schedule. 


One of the biggest challenges for school athletics is finding, developing, and retaining good coaches.  The demands of coaching in 2018 are significant.  There is a long list of certifications to complete, increased expectations from schools and parents, and evolving needs from student-athletes to deal with.  Schools should be sensitive to these demands on coaches, provide the resources necessary, and support them well.  However, one thing schools cannot afford to do anymore is turn a blind eye towards coaches who continue an outdated, unhealthy, unacceptable cycle of treating student-athletes poorly.  I’m not referring to the need for coaches to maintain high expectations or push their players out of comfort zones at times.  I’m talking about the boundaries regarding language, terminology, and appropriate methods of motivation.  There once was a day when coaches motivated more commonly through yelling, screaming, and emotional outbursts towards student-athletes.  Questionable language and intimidation were more widely accepted.  Thankfully, that day has passed.  Students still need a strong response from coaches at times.  What they don’t need is to be publicly embarrassed or shamed in front of their peers.  They don’t need to be screamed at routinely or motivated frequently through threats or aggressive behavior.  Most of the time when coaches act this way today, they are simply repeating a standard experienced from their playing days in high school.  They are continuing a cycle that must be broken.  The best coaches in 2018 are those who build a deeper toolbox of resources.  They are committed to being good communicators, highlighting goals and objectives, planning well, and staying relatively positive as a role model for their players.  Schools that look the other way and continue to support coaches who perpetuate this cycle do so at the expense of their own student-athlete experience.

At AOA we are committed to doing school athletics well.  We’re adding new programming, re-evaluating the ways in which we measure success, and establishing new goals for our athletic department.  It is an exciting time to be here.  Go Phoenix!

Monday, October 15, 2018

What is a Creative Thinker?

AOA students and teachers talk about their interests and what thinking creatively means to them.
*Editorial credit to Marina Vladova, M.A.Ed., AOA Upper School English Teacher 

Amy Yao
What is creative thinking about? 

For me, it is an openness. It is about discovering objects, stories, and traditions that have either been neglected or forgotten and transforming them into things that people feel will love again. Guo Pei is my favorite designer whose skill and imagination blow me away. She is inspired by tree roots and plants. Although I’m more of a minimalist, I enjoy taking long walks and am also inspired by nature as well as by the fairy tales that my grandmother read to me. Journaling is a great way to explore concepts, questions, and doubts. During our junior year at AOA, we created nature journals where we got to explore and practice some of the Transcendentalist ideas that we read about. For my Senior Experience, my art teacher showed me how to create a tactile idea-journal and helped place me with an incredible local designer who showed me how to incorporate traditional patterns and upcycled pieces into new designs. I got to go through an entire process of creating garments for an individual from start to finish. This involved multiple redos! I’m so excited to study fashion design at Parsons this year!

Amy Yao graduated from AOA and is a freshman at Parsons School of Design in New York.

Madelyn Conley
What is creative thinking about?

For me, it’s about developing a wide perspective and many reference points to draw on. The things I treasure—my maternal Japanese great-grandmother’s red dancing shoes and fan and the soft-shoes (ghillies) from my father’s Irish side of the family—reveal how curious and sentimental I am about the past. I see culture as a spectrum of many components where understanding one drives me to want to dig deeper and know more. As I practiced the traditional Japanese fan dance, I began learning about my great-grandfather’s life in Camp Jerome, an internment camp in Arkansas to which thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated and incarcerated during WWII. AOA has students from every continent, and it’s great to exchange ideas. Drawing on multiple perspectives gives you an opportunity to create a wider, more interdependent web of friends and a dynamic identity for yourself. I look forward to studying environmental science at Reed College.

Maddie graduated from AOA and is a freshman at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Luke Frisbie
What is creative thinking about?

It’s just expressing yourself through whatever shows it best! I love working on my drawing tablet, and I’m really into stop-motion and animation. I can take any question or incident and animate it. For example, is April Fool’s Day a holiday? I have a YouTube channel and like to collaborate with kids here that I know and kids from around the world. Sometimes I’ll team up with others to use their voices for characters that I’ve created. For AOA’s International Week, my friend told me an Indian story and I animated it. I see design as perspective-taking and am always looking for opportunities to work with other kids. I like stories that play with time. Years don’t really go by that fast, it’s just that when you don’t remember what happened you say they do. If people lived forever, they’d probably remember differently, and each year would be like a day. If this suddenly happened to us, we’d have to adjust. It could be a gift or a curse depending on how you lived. Attitude is everything.

Luke is a current seventh grader at AOA.

Dawn Driggs
What is creative thinking about?

I treasure my record albums—Bowie, Beatles, Marillion. I still listen to them and look at the artwork. So much gets lost with downloads. Seeing the artwork on the album gives me a “rounder” experience. This is what I bring into the classroom. This is my fourth year at AOA, and I love finding creative ways for students to have a “rounder” exploration of other cultures. Passport to World Cultures is a program for our first graders. It is a way to cross borders and to invite families to share stories, songs, history, artwork, food, and friendship. Creative thinking isn’t difficult to develop with younger children, because creativity hasn’t yet been “untaught”. Six-year-olds don’t even know yet what’s in the box; everything is outside the box for them. I try to give them the tools and space to not be afraid to make mistakes and to see how mistakes can blossom into new and useful ideas.

Dawn Driggs has an BSBA in Accounting and Finance and is Montessori certified. This is her nineteenth year in education and her fourth year teaching at AOA.

Glenn Pihlak
What is creative thinking about?

It’s about planning and tinkering, a process that begins purposefully but is never really finished, and this is enormously fun. I’ve collected postcards from over forty countries that I have visited, some in which I’ve lived and taught. Travel is an iterative process determined by the traveler, people he or she meets, and unexpected circumstances. This summer, my wife and I went up to Lake Michigan. The only things I had actually planned was to go to a soccer match and kayaking. Otherwise, we had some nebulous ideas. This left us open to experiences where we’d stop and indulge. We met people who shared our passion for hot beignets and blueberries in half-pint containers. Just like I prefer traveling with an open-mind and ill-defined goals to pre-packaged tours, I don’t settle on fixed outcomes in the classroom. In my ninth grade World Literature classes as well as in the Senior English Seminars that I teach, “What if” is a question that always succeeds to bring greater depth to class discussion and written response. Our readings serve to uncover how writers explore new encounters, environments, successes, and failures.

Glenn Pihlak has a MS in Education Policy. He has taught World Literature, American Literature, and several Senior English Seminars and chairs the English department. This is his sixth year teaching at AOA.

Mike Ford
What is creative thinking about?

It’s about beauty and function. I love gadgetry—to use and display. I have a century-old balance. It still works, and I find it beautiful. It’s unusual these days for things to work for more than a few years. I also have a Geiger counter and like to turn it on. Students are surprised to learn that radiation is all around us. In fact, there was a uranium glaze on Fiestaware from the 1950s. Thinking creatively also means digging deeper, being able to see instruction as a set of constraints that function as a launching point and not an end in itself. The paths vary, and some I would have never envisioned. Science is not linear; there is movement and bouncing between hypotheses and experience. Creative thinking also depends on one's willingness to work in groups, break up jobs, and support one another in exploring hunches to the point where students reevaluate their relationship with the subject matter.

Mike Ford has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and has taught Chemistry, Biotechnology, AP Biology, and Genetics. He chairs the science department and co-directs the Global Scholars Program. This is his fourth year teaching at AOA.