When it comes to academic honors and awards, North Shore schools are second to none. But what these test scores and national rankings often fail to measure is the value of social and emotional learning – and this is where our local private institutions are raising the bar.
“Much more important than what is learned in class is that students from school know how to work hard, think hard and flex all their intellectual muscles,” says Niall Fagan, Principal of Northridge Preparatory School in Niles. “You have to ask yourself again, ‘What’s the big picture of what we want to do for students?'”
Like many of his North Shore private school peers, Fagan has dedicated resources to help fill these gaps, including programs to improve communication between students and with teachers and parents.
He says Northridge has taken steps to help students who may be struggling – matching them with a personal faculty mentor – while empowering them to be independent.
“When you think about the emotional resilience that we want every student to have as an adult, one of the challenges is that we’re trying to protect our children from age-appropriate hardships, and that’s a shame,” says Fagan. “It’s okay to lose. It’s okay not to win a competition, and it’s okay to get a bad grade. Students might end up doing better if their hands weren’t held 24/7.”
Fusion Academy in Lake Forest uses a unique teaching model with a 1:1 student-teacher ratio. Students receive individualized attention in each class, which helps students stay on track both academically and emotionally.
“The student-teacher relationship is important, but we also have other options. Within our school’s ecosystem we have what we call homework cafes,” says Mark Ostap, Principal of Fusion. “The goal is for them to do their homework while they’re still here at school, so don’t take homework home with them.”
The homework cafes are staffed so students have support if they have questions or need help. It aligns with Fusion’s mission to love, motivate and teach. Ostap says love is the focus.
“Love is at the bottom of the triangle because we believe it is the foundation of everything we do. We start building relationships at Fusion,” says Ostap. “Once we have those relationships, we can motivate the students, and once those two things are accomplished, we can teach them.”
Alex Sheridan, director of enrollment, marketing and financial support at Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS), says it’s important to focus on the whole child, and a purely academic record may not tell the whole story.
“An 80 for one student might be a stronger indicator of one student’s progress than a 98 for another student,” says Sheridan. “I would say a school that only evaluates students based on their grades and results like homework, quizzes or tests is missing the mark because a student’s growth and development and their successes and problems account for much more than a letter or.” a number grade they received.”
Sheridan says it’s important that students have support outside of the classroom. At LFCDS High School, every student has an academic advisor who is their one-stop shop for anything they need.
“When you have a teacher who manages not just the academic experience but the social experience as well, it’s like we’re flying at a very low altitude over our students,” Sheridan says. “We have a very detailed understanding of who they are and what their day-to-day life is like.”
Like other administrators, Rocco Gargiulo, director of Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, says the school experience is about preparing students for life.
“What we do is demonstrate to our students that learning is not just a grade, but that it is that lifelong love of learning that we want our students to have well beyond their age and formal education,” says Gargiulo.
Woodlands takes an individualized student approach where each student is known, valued and cared for, and which embraces both the academic and social aspects of the school.
“Our teachers know what makes a student tick and really care about each child’s success,” adds Gargiulo. “We have the support needed so that when a student needs additional help, they need immediate help, so no student ever feels lost or unsuccessful in their academic pursuits.”
Kathy Thompson, principal at the School of St. Mary in Lake Forest, says her school recently launched a program called RESPECT, which aims to connect with students about emotional and social issues.
“Faculty went around looking at social/emotional programs that we could buy for the school, but none of them really suited our needs,” says Thompson. “Since we are a Catholic school, it is important to treat each other with respect and to act as Christ would treat one another.”
Each letter in the word “respect” has a different social and emotional component. Each month there is a different letter and the students gather in small groups with an adult from the school to explain what it means. Finally, the students dealt with empathy.
“They read it in their vocabulary books, but they have to live it and role-play it and see it in action to understand it,” says Thompson. “It’s a huge space for creativity and connecting the dots for the kids. But the bottom line is we encourage them to talk and express themselves.”
Thompson emphasizes that the RESPECT program is homegrown. Teachers identified a need in students’ lives and a way to meet it and make students feel better and supported.
A new initiative this year at the School of Saints Faith Hope & Charity (FHC) in Winnetka will bring in dedicated experts throughout the year to engage with parents and students on relevant topics, such as: B. the impact of social media on mental health (e.g. parents), how to recognize when their child is afraid and how to prevent bullying.
“We are establishing a set of relevant topics for our students and our students’ parents, which I would describe as a set of relevant topics that relate to many of the challenges we face,” says Tom Meagher, Principal of FHC. “It’s a challenging time for middle school students and even 4th and 5th graders, but I see a lot of smiling faces.”
Meagher says the school recently sent parents an academic progress report showing FHC students are testing well against national percentiles.
“We’re very proud of that and we think part of that has to do with the fact that they’ve been to school for the last two years,” he says.
Margaret Webb, principal of Sacred Heart School (SHS) in Winnetka, says when a child comes to her school and a specific need is identified, the school has people to support them.
“Depending on their needs, it can be a small group reading or an individual session if it’s a child with dyslexia, and they get individual dyslexic services,” says Webb. “We can pull them out of class based on the needs of the child.”
She adds that as a private school, SHS is not obligated to provide the service, but because children have different learning needs, it is right for the entire student body.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’m very committed to the Catholic system, which has always met an educational need,” says Webb. “We take kids where they are and we work with them, and we usually have a high bar when it comes to academics. But it’s not just academics. We educate the hearts and minds of the kids, so we mold that moral compass in those kids so they can know right from wrong socially.”
Tom Flemma, principal at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, says the school’s priority is to create a safe environment for children to learn both academically and emotionally.
“We know that it is important for children of all ages to feel safe and belong so that they can learn,” says Flemma. “I’m not just talking about physical safety, although we spend a lot of time on this topic, but about emotional safety.”
NSCDS, says Flemma, has always been a place where children are seen and known, and also a place where children feel they belong. With an increasingly diverse student body, it is imperative that children feel emotionally safe and connected.
The school also offers a wide variety of affinity groups, programs and lessons that emphasize inclusion and empathy, and an academic curriculum that encompasses a wide range of voices and topics to ensure every student feels a sense of belonging. It’s also about getting to know the students.
“When I say kids are well known here, I don’t mean we know their names. That’s done in the first two days,” he says. “We really know them as students and as people – what they can do, where they need to grow, how best to get to where they want to be – and we use that knowledge to guide them to success academically and personally.”