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Academic Lens: Valuing Engagement

This past weekend’s faculty, staff, and trustee retreat proved an incredibly powerful time for the Proctor community. While plenty of weaknesses and threats to Proctor emerged from the six focus groups, the school’s strengths and opportunities more than balance any potential concerns. Consistent themes of offering a transformative education, off-campus programs, experiential learning, and deep, authentic relationships between faculty and students unify all those who are part of providing a Proctor education.

The themes that came out of the retreat reinforce this article Academic Dean Doug Houston forwarded to faculty last winter. The article, part of the Great Divide series on inequality for the New York Times, was written by Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys" and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Sommers references a recent study in which authors found boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

What makes this study, and this article, interesting is that the authors found the differences in performance to be caused by, "non-cognitive skills: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn and the ability to sit still and work independently." The question then becomes, is the widely accepted model of 'school' conducive to academic achievement, not just in boys, but in all students?

Sommers believes it is not, and urges society to ask the question, "If boys are restless and unfocused [in our current school system], why not look for ways to help them do better?" The model school Sommers uses to support her perspective can be seen at the Aviation High School in New York City where students spend half of their day in hands-on classes on airframes, etc. and the other half in demanding English and History classes.

Proctor’s solution is very similar as we provide hands on experience in a wide variety of disciplines in order to fully engage students in the process of learning. More than 70% of our students spend a full academic term studying in one of five off-campus programs. Every student takes part in a week-long experiential immersion program called Project Period, and every graduating senior has the opportunity to spend his or her final three weeks in Senior Project.

In addition to those off-campus experiential learning programs, every course on-campus capitalizes on teachers who believe wholeheartedly in Proctor’s motto: Live to Learn, Learn to Live. As the pictures from this blog post suggest, members of Dave Pilla's Wildlife Science and Forestry classes and Alan McIntyre's AP Environmental Science course are a shining example of what a Proctor education looks like. Students are not just engaged because of Dave and Alan's gifts as a teacher, but because they are physically immersed in the content they are studying.

We know Proctor’s educational model works and we hope to be an example to other schools as we take the momentum from last week’s retreat and launch into the coming school year!
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Located in  Andover, NH,  Proctor Academy is a private coeducational day and boarding school for grades 912. Students benefit from a rigorous academic program, experiential off-campus programs, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.
204 Main Street  .  PO Box 500  .  Andover, NH 03216
p. (603) 735-6000   f. (603) 735-6300