Monday, September 9, 2019

Why Choose an Independent School?

Larry Goodman, Ph.D.
Andrews Osborne Academy Head of School


Generally speaking, schools in the United States are either “public” - funded through taxes and public funds - or “private” - funded through tuition and donations - (excluding those parents who choose to home-school their children). And within the category of “private” schools, there are two major clusters of schools - religious/parochial schools and independent schools. The religious/parochial schools are owned by, or beholden to, a religious organization or creed. The independent schools, on the other hand, are beholden only to their stated mission and their independent board of directors. Statistically, many more families choose public schools (90%) over private schools (10%);1 and within the private school group, many more families choose the religious/parochial schools (87%) over independent schools (11%).2 This effectively means that only 1% of Americans students attend an “independent school.” Given that they are in such a large minority, why DO the families who choose to send their children to an independent school make that choice?

College admission and college-readiness

Graduates from independent schools enjoy a strong edge in college admissions. In “Is there a Private School Advantage in College Admissions,” Dave Bergman notes: “Roughly 95% of non-parochial private high school grads go on to four-year postsecondary institutions compared with 49% of public school grads. And it’s also worth keeping in mind that only 10% of children in the U.S. attend private school, yet make up a disproportionately high percentage of accepted students at elite colleges.”3 Said differently, students who attend an independent (non-parochial private) school are twice as likely to attend a 4-year college/university as public school students - and more likely to do so than parochial/religious school students. Moreover, independent school students have a significant edge in admission to competitive colleges and universities over both public school students and parochial/religious school students.

And because of the small class size and high-caliber academic programs at independent schools, students who go to college from these schools also perform better once they get into college. This can be seen in the time it takes students entering college to graduate with a bachelor’s degree; over a 6-year period, 60% MORE independent school students will have completed their bachelor’s degree than their public school counterparts.4

Student-focused model

Independent schools are able to operate in a student-centered way, while public schools are often limited in their ability to do this due to government oversight and class size. When No Child Left Behind became the law of the land in 2001, one of the unintended consequences was that the educators in public schools were forced to focus on the metrics by which students are evaluated - not on the students themselves. In pursuit of more academically successful groups of students, individual students' needs became increasingly overlooked.

Because independent schools do not receive federal funding (for the most part), they were not impacted by NCLB - and while the public schools were moving away from a student-centered classroom, there was a trend in independent schools (aided by the burgeoning digital revolution) to try and tailor the educational formats and programs to the individual students’ needs. An old term - “differentiated instruction” - was being resuscitated and practiced in the classroom.

Average class size amplifies this difference. According to one writer, public school classrooms in urban areas are 2 or more times larger than independent schools in those same areas.5 So not only were the classrooms in the independent schools unimpacted by the federal mandates from NCLB, the student-to-teacher ratios were significantly smaller, which further enabled “differentiated instruction.”

More Opportunity Outside of the Classroom

The size of the overall student body in independent schools also creates an important advantage. As a rule, independent high schools are significantly smaller than their parochial and public counterparts - often 2 to 3 times smaller. This means that a student’s chances of making the soccer team, or getting a role in the school play, or being a part of the yearbook staff are 2 to 3 times better at an independent school.

This naturally creates a very different culture at independent schools versus public schools. At public schools, the shear size of the student body tends to segregate by interests and talents (the athletes are in one group, the artsy people are in another group, the bookworms are in a different group, and so on). At independent schools, however, the reverse is true. Because the schools tend to be significantly smaller, many students are part of multiple groups. The star of the basketball team can also be in the school play and be part of the school’s Mock Trial team; in fact, the small numbers almost require this kind of participation across groups. And so the culture that develops is one of shared experiences and closeness.

While this is good news for students who know they want to participate in a specific program area, it provides a second benefit. Yes, my volleyball-playing girl will be able to play on the volleyball team at a smaller independent school, whereas she might not make the cut at the large public school, but she will also be stretched by the experience of attending an independent school in a way that she would not be at a public school.

The smaller independent schools provide their students with more options for co-curricular experiences because they have fewer students competing for the same number of positions. The need for student participation across program areas and the culture of “joining” that evolves stimulates a broader co-curricular experience for the students. And, as a result, the students that attend these schools tend to expand their “comfort zones” into areas they may not have otherwise considered.
If you would like to learn more about independent schools, a great place to start is the website for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).

___________________

1Huffpost.com. N. p., 2019. Web. 26 June 2019. Jack Jennings, Former President/CEO Center on Education Policy. 2"CAPE | Private School Facts." Capenet.org. N. p., 2019. Web. 27 June 2019. 3Bergman, Dave. "Is There A Private School Advantage In College Admissions?." College Transitions. N. p., 2017. Web. 27 June 2019. 4Capenet.org. N. p., 2019. Web. 27 June 2019
5"Public Vs. Private Schools: 5 Major Differences." ThoughtCo. N. p., 2019. Web. 27 June 2019.



Monday, July 1, 2019

Making Andrews Osborne Academy Affordable

Rachelle Sundberg
Director of Admission and Financial Aid

Andrews Osborne Academy is committed to making our school affordable to families who qualify. We promote our core value of diversity by awarding $1.4 million in financial assistance to 36% of students who represent a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. The financial assistance program allows families to apply for a reduction in tuition making an Andrews Osborne Academy education affordable to many qualified students who could not otherwise join our school community.

I will share the most frequently asked questions in addition to the top 10 tips for completing a financial assistance application. I encourage all families to apply as everyone’s financial situation is unique.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Andrews Osborne Academy calculate financial assistance awards?
Andrews Osborne Academy partners with School and Student Services (SSS) in our financial aid process which is available to qualifying students in grades 1-12. Families must complete the SSS Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS). The PFS is a comprehensive application that takes some time to complete. Give yourself the time you need by not waiting until our deadline approaches. The school communicates the financial award decision to you. To make the decision, the school uses the information from the PFS as a starting point and considers the school’s policies, practices, and available budget.

When do I apply for financial assistance during the admission process?
Students must first complete the admission process and receive an offer of admission before financial assistance is determined.

How do I know if my family qualifies? 
The basic formula that guides a financial assistance award is:
Tuition - Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Assistance Award

How is an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated? 
The EFC takes into consideration a family’s unique financial situation which includes these major components:
· Income
· Assets – savings
· Taxes paid
· Family Size
· Number of Students attending a tuition-charging institution
· Cost of Living
· Unusual Expenses

What are the considerations for special situations?
If parents are separated or divorced, both parents must complete the PFS and submit all required documentation to SSS. If a parent files as a single parent and the whereabouts of the non-custodial parent are unknown, a written statement from an attorney, pastor/minister, or other appropriate third party official is needed stating that the child has had no contact with the non-custodial parent for a minimum of two years. The statement must be submitted to the Office of Admission at Andrews Osborne Academy.

Does Andrews Osborne Academy have a loan program? 
Yes, Andrews Osborne Academy works with Tuition Solution, an education loan company which offers convenient financing for your child’s education. To apply or calculate payments, please visit tuition solution. You can also call (800) 920-9777 or email info@yourtuitionsolution.com.

What can a family expect from year to year?
Assistance is awarded annually and for one year at a time. All recipients must repeat the full application process each year beginning in October. If a family does not meet the deadlines or follow all the steps correctly, they may not be funded.

How does a family complete the Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS) Online?
· Go to the SSS Family Portal at https://sss.secure.force.com/familyportal.
· Create your Family Portal account with your email address and a password. If you applied for financial aid last year, login to the Family Portal as a Returning Family using the same email address and password.
· Complete a PFS for Academic Year 2019-2020. You can log out of the portal at any time and return later to finish it.
· Once all PFS sections are complete with green checks, the “Submit & Pay” button activates. Follow the prompts to the payment screen. The fee of $51 is nonrefundable. Once your PFS is submitted, it cannot be withdrawn from the SSS system.
· After you pay for and submit your PFS, you have access to the Family Portal’s “My Documents” tab to upload required documents by their deadlines as part of your application process.
· Need help completing the PFS? Contact the SSS Parent Support Team at (800) 344-8328 or sss@communitybrands.com

What is Andrews Osborne Academy’s SSS school code?
· 1292

What documents are required in addition to the PFS?
· 2017 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ with all schedules and worksheets
· 2017 W2 Form
· 2017 1099 Form (if applicable)
· Schedule C (if applicable)
· Self-Employed Parents: Include all related business forms with your 1040 (Schedule C, Schedule E, 1120, 1065, and K-1)

How are the required tax documents submitted? 
· Prepare your documents to be uploaded. Make sure the documents are on your computer and each specific form is saved as a separate file. Remove any security or password protection from your document files.
· Return to the Family Portal and log into your account.
· Select the Academic Year 2019-2020 button.
· Open the “My Documents” tab on the Dashboard.
· On “My Documents,” use the Upload button or hyperlink associated with the specific document name in the "Required Documents" section. Clicking the Upload button or hyperlink leads you through the steps to locate, select, and confirm your file to upload.
· Click “Submit” to complete your file upload. After you do, the date will appear in the “Date Uploaded” column within minutes of the upload. Repeat this process until all required documents are submitted by their deadlines.

Where can you find additional resources?
Families can also visit the school’s website for additional resources:
· Financial Aid Instructions 
· NAIS Family Guide to Financial Aid
· NAIS PFS Workbook
· NAIS Financial Aid Resources

Top 10 Tips for Completing Your Financial Assistance Application
1. Complete only one PFS per household. You can apply for aid to any number of schools for any number of children using just one PFS for the same flat fee.

2. Use your legal name. Make sure your name on your Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS) appears exactly the way your name appears on your tax documents.

3. Enter whole numbers. When entering numbers, do not enter decimals or cents—simply round to the nearest whole number. Understand that all monetary values must be in US Dollars.

4. Differentiate applicants from dependents. Questions about “student applicants” refer to your children who are applying for financial aid via the PFS. Questions about “other dependents” refer to the children (or adults) for whom you provide support but ARE NOT applying for financial aid.

5. Separate salary from profit. If you are a business owner or farm owner, you will be asked about your salary in the Family Income section. Enter only the amount you actually draw as salary (as reported on your W-2). You will provide information about profit/loss elsewhere in the PFS.

6. Estimate your taxes. We realize most tax forms are not available until late January. If you don’t have your current year’s taxes available, it’s okay to estimate your answers based on your prior year’s tax return.

7. Upload or mail your documents. You’re strongly encouraged to upload tax documents via the Family Portal. If you need to mail documents, you must include the cover sheet also found in the Portal. Once your PFS is paid for, just login and click on the “My Documents” tab in the upper right corner. Mail your documents at least 10 days before your school’s deadline.

8. Tell your story. Offer explanations when requested, so your story or situation is clear and understandable to those reviewing your application.

9. Calculate debt and unusual expenses. When asked to report your credit card debt, enter your total outstanding balances and use the Notes section to specify the types of purchases you used these cards for. When asked to total your “unusual expenses,” you’ll find a list of the types of expenses you should and should not include.

10. Be honest. Take time to carefully consider how much you think you can pay towards tuition on your own. Make a budget of income and expenses and see how much you can include for school costs.

Questions about Andrews Osborne Academy’s Financial Assistance Program?

Rachelle Sundberg, Director of Admission & Financial Aid at (440) 942-3600 ext. 114 or RSundberg@AndrewsOsborne.org

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


HOW WILL I PAY FOR COLLEGE? 

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 year...how 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.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

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.

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF FINANCIAL AID?

NEED BASED:

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.

MERIT BASED:

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.

FORMS

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: www.fafsa.com and www.fafsa.net 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.

GATHER YOUR PAPERWORK AND INFORMATION

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.

SAVING FOR COLLEGE

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.

EDUCATIONAL SAVINGS ACCOUNTS or EDUCATIONAL IRA:

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.

WHAT ELSE?

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.