Manassas Journal Messenger | ‘Preps’ sharpen the edge

The edge.

Everybody wants it.

The question is: How do you get it?

Representatives of four Virginia college preparatory schools explain how their schools give students an edge getting into college.

Christchurch School

“We are a fully college preparatory, secondary school sending 100 percent of our students to colleges and universities, most of whom attend competitive to very competitive schools,” said Nancy Nolan, assistant head of school for admission and marketing for Christchurch School.

“So we feel that’s our job to make sure our students are well-prepared for the next level,” she said. Christchurch is a boys boarding school with grades 8-12 and a coed day school located on a 125-acre campus on the banks of the Rappahannock River near Urbanna. Nolan said that location and the school’s small size 220 students enhance the academic and extra-curricular curriculum.

“The size of the school lends itself to an intimate academic and overall environment. We’re a real community and a real family and we stay that way forever,” Nolan said.

Another distinguishing factor, Nolan said, is the school’s learning support program, which serves about 25 percent of the school’s population. It offers students with “mild learning issues” extra academic support.

Trinity Episcopal School

Trinity Episcopal School’s headmaster said there are no tricks to preparing students for college.

“The key to kids doing well and getting into colleges is that they are well-prepared and that means you have to have strong teachers, which we do,” said Tom Aycock.

Located in Richmond, Trinity is a college preparatory school offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and a very strong arts program, Aycock said. Emphasis is given to knowing how to study and discipline time factors that Aycock said he thinks make a difference in college.

“The nature of the IB program requires students to develop very good study habits and it places a lot of emphasis on critical thinking and being able to express yourself in writing. Those are certainly important factors that help prepare our students for the college experience,” Aycock said.

He said Trinity’s size around 430 students allows for “an intimate feel where you get to know your students well,” but also allows for the full-blown college preparatory experience.

Aycock said Trinity’s mission and philosophy can be summed up in three words: Discover your path.

St. Margaret’s School

St. Margaret’s mission is educating young women for life, according to Head of School Margaret Broad. “So, sound preparation for college involves both sound academic preparation and preparation in the habits and skills our students will need,” she added.

Some of the habits and skills students gain through living and studying at the Tappahannock school are “time management, appreciation of their own learning style and needs, an ability to advocate for themselves, a sense of independence and personal responsibility, and an appreciation for the skills necessary to work with and lead others. Boarding students have the extra advantage of learning to live with others and all that that entails,” Broad said.

St. Margaret’s, a college preparatory, Episcopal girls school on the banks of the Rappahannock River, has 150 students and 100 percent go on to college, she said.

Broad detailed several programs at St. Margaret’s that give students an edge getting into college:

  • A two-week, minimester program allows students to look in-depth at a subject, or part of the world, or particular skill. Alternatively, seniors can do an internship of their choice instead of participating in a minimester course.
  • All new eighth- and ninthgraders take a study skills program which looks at learning styles, technological literacy, time management and transition to a new school.
  • Leadership programs are offered at two levels.
  • A co-curricular focuses on personal wellness. “Students know how to excel academically and maintain the life balance that is so important for achievement in college and in life,” Broad said.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall, a college preparatory school located in the Shenandoah Valley, offers 100 percent college placement each year, according to Robin von Seldeneck, director of college counseling.

“We start with our students in the ninth grade. At that point, we’re talking with students about general college vocabulary it’s almost like a period of self-discovery. What’s out there for me? What am I good at? And then we build on that each year. We have one period every week that’s focused on college and beyond and all of our students are required to attend that for four years,” von Seldeneck said.

As part of that requirement, at the beginning of their second semester, seniors take Freshman 101 which focuses on such things as roommate issues, credit card debt and financing your education after the first year, she said.

In addition, the Staunton school offers a prep course for the PSAT and, through Kaplan, an SAT prep course.

“In general, it’s the breadth of classes that we offer” that gives Stuart Hall students the edge in getting into college, von Seldeneck said.

She added, “We’re heavily focused on the writing process.”

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