Dear Flint Hill School Families,
The Closing Ceremonies and Promotions truly bring the school year to an end. However, the big event is still ahead with Commencement this Friday. And for all the students who are experiencing these transitions, this is an exciting moment in their lives. The fourth-graders, for example, are looking ahead at joining the Middle School. Eighth-graders are getting ready for Upper School experiences. And, Seniors will soon be heading to colleges and universities around the country. As parents and educators, we need to carefully think about the advice and support we can offer at this time, both to the students and to one another. These are significant steps each of those groups will be taking. All of them will be pushed out of their comfort zones, and that can cause both excitement and anxiety.
What type of wisdom can we offer? I am sure many of our Fourth, Eighth and Twelfth Grade parents have plenty of thoughts and have probably shared some things with your children already. But for parents with children in the other grades, it is never too soon think about what we should say and encourage them to do in these moments, and I’d like to offer some suggestions in my letter this week.
From Fourth to Fifth Grade
As children move to the Middle School, they will begin to realize that they will have more independence and a chance to start to make some choices regarding the classes they take. Academic work will become more challenging and will come with higher expectations. They will be exposed to more of the arts. Athletics will soon become a part of the everyday experience, and there are more and more leadership opportunities. The hope is that each student will engage in the daily life that is before them. That is how they will begin to learn about themselves and others. They know already that learning is never passive. Their active participation is needed.
The middle school years are also a time of great sensitivity. Whether it is through their friends, watching movies or television, children begin to learn words and concepts that can be hurtful, hateful and painful. Students need to realize that their actions and their words will have an impact on others, and they need to become very conscious of how they treat other people at all times.
Finally, this early adolescent period is filled with changes, physically, emotionally and intellectually. They may become argumentative and more quick to challenge others. And sometimes, they may not even understand the changes in their own behavior. But please know that while they are navigating these changes, they have their parents and their school right there for them. We want to be as helpful as we can.
From Eighth to Ninth Grade/Upper School
This is a huge step, and if anything, this step requires some careful planning. Students must think not only about their courses for next year but for the next four. Some may be thinking about leadership opportunities or the co-curricular activities on which they want to focus. In a few years, colleges and universities will be looking at all they have done from Ninth Grade on. They will look at students’ grades, analyze their activities, review their progress, and consider unique challenges they have overcome that could contribute to an institution’s community. At the same time, students are truly beginning to discover who they are and what that means.
So what should they do? We can start with our vision statement by asking students to take those meaningful risks. They should try classes they never thought they would try. Try a new sport. Audition for a play or Major Minors. Join clubs. Take part in activities. Consider taking on a leadership role whether it is the Student Council, being an ambassador for the Admission Office or serving as a peer counselor. The bottom line is that students should push themselves outside of their comfort zones to identify the passions that will determine their future.
I must also emphasize the importance of values. Life is filled with many more temptations as you move to high school, some of which are dangerous. Kids must proactively think about how they are going to handle these issues when they are confronted with them. I strongly urged our boys when they were at this stage to do the, “What if?” game. What if somebody offers you “x”? How will you handle that? They need to practice and rehearse in their minds or out loud what they will do. A child’s circle of friends is a critical component to this piece. The temptations that life can bring aren’t just about our individual experiences. They also have to do with the friends who surround us, and we need to choose wisely.
At the high school level, students also begin to find that their teachers are far more than just people who stand at the front of a room. They are facilitators; people who will challenge them but are also there to work with them. These are people who want to be their mentors and who will be available to them for support, advice and camaraderie for years to come.
From Upper School to College
There is no question that our Seniors are ready for college. They have been exposed to a great educational experience that has given them an enormous amount of skills, helped them develop a work ethic, and has prepared them to move forward in the most positive way possible. We hear that time and time again from our alumni, and here are some of the reasons why.
First, students at Flint Hill have gotten used to office hours, which, as you know, are also available at colleges. Our students who have the seamless transitions to college go out of their way to meet their professors personally. This way professors get to know the student, their interests and how they can support them. These one-on-one interactions also help students to form the kinds of strong relationships with their professors that they had with faculty at Flint Hill. You may also be surprised to find that when many professors do research projects during the summer, they turn to the students they have gotten to know during the school year to help them in that process. That additional experience can be transformative.
I also want to touch on the importance of our students continuing to pursue their passions after high school. Whether they are student-athletes, budding artists, engaged in student
leadership or all of the above, athletically, artistically, please encourage your children to “stick with it” in college. College presents the opportunities to engage in those areas at a higher level and enriches the learning experience.
Enjoy the start of summer! And if you want to see an incredible class reach their final moment of recognition, join us at Commencement on Friday. This year’s Senior Class has been phenomenal in every aspect, and we look forward to celebrating them as they get ready to take the next step.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas