Last Thursday, the Prep School English department held its annual Summer Reading Symposium for 11th and 12th grade students.
Eighth graders truly enjoy the transition to the Prep School, where they have many new freedoms and chances to exercise greater independence, from spending time at a location of their choice during lunch — the cafeteria, library, Writing Center or student lounge — to traveling with their backpacks to and from their classrooms around the campus. They enjoy eating together with all the other eighth graders at the same time each day, and they love their once-per-cycle outside lunch privilege. Eighth graders have a full academic schedule: algebra, earth science, English, global history, language, physical education, music, studio and performing arts, and technology. In addition, they discuss important topics during Social Issues meetings with the Prep School's team of counselors, and they have the chance to improve their organization and develop a greater sense of community at once-per-cycle meetings with their Dean. Highlights of the eighth grade curriculum include staged Romeo & Juliet performances in English; Pi-athlon games and competitions in algebra; the Earthquake Engineering Project in earth science; and the Columbian Trade research paper and presentation in history. Eighth grade scholars find study halls and individual meetings with teachers very useful, and they like the chance to unwind and have fun in a range of clubs featuring activities such as chess, debate, math games, meditation, sewing and more. Many eighth graders also participate in a wide variety of athletic teams. All in all, the eighth grade is a demanding yet wonderfully stimulating first year in the Prep School.
Ninth graders are excited about the growing opportunities that are available to them in the Prep School. They can choose from many club and non-academic elective options, which are open to them as elective options. In the fall, they participate in the Peer Leadership program once a cycle. This is an opportunity for ninth graders to meet and get to know senior Peer Leaders and their own ninth grade peers in a small group setting. They go on the ninth grade overnight in September, and then they participate in a follow-up event in January. In the fall semester, ninth graders can go out to lunch twice a week, and in the spring semester they can go out three times a week. Ninth graders play on JV and Varsity athletic teams; they perform in the eighth & ninth grade musical and the spring play production. Deans meet individually with students at least twice a year and then additionally as needed. The class meets as a whole group several times a year.
Tenth grade is a year when students truly begin to define themselves. With more time for electives, they focus on interests that will take them through high school and beyond. They are encouraged to explore opportunities in the arts and technology and can even take multiple electives in science and history. Some students play on varsity teams, and actors and musicians play increasingly important roles in concerts and productions. In the spring they meet with their Dean to discuss eleventh grade and the opportunities and challenges it presents, including the increased autonomy in determining their coursework as upperclassmen and eligibility for Advanced Placement courses for the first time. The Dean is an important part of the team that will guide them through their choices and help them create a challenging, balanced program that will lead them to graduation. Students take both the pre-ACT and PSAT, and a spring meeting with the college counseling team begins the college process. For the first time, many students take advantage of our excellent internship program during the summer between tenth and eleventh grade.
Junior year begins with an individualized meeting with the Dean to discuss goals and plans for the year. During an overnight college trip in the first semester, where they visit several colleges and universities of varying size, juniors are each assigned one of three full-time college counselors. Day to day, the life of a junior at CGPS is busy as they take the fullest advantage of their increased autonomy, choice and responsibility. Juniors are crafting their course loads to best reflect their interests and strengths, as well as to support their academic, intellectual and artistic growth. Advanced courses are available for qualified students who are looking for a greater challenge. A junior’s daily schedule may have multiple classes in one subject area and/or advanced classes, reflecting the interests and priorities. In the junior year, relationships with faculty and staff become more established, as some students have had the same teacher multiple times. Juniors are also more adept at recognizing when a meeting with a Dean, counselor or other faculty or staff member could be helpful, and reach out to make that happen. Junior club participation is strong and many start to assume leadership roles. Juniors continue to choose how and where they will spend their free periods, whether eating lunch, socializing, studying or meeting with faculty. After school, it’s off to rehearsals and performances, practices and competitions. Attention also turns to preparation for standardized testing and matters related to the college application process. Meetings with college counselors are part of school days.
In a myriad of ways, seniors are the leaders of the student body. They are team captains in athletics, officers of Student Government and members of our selective Peer Leaders group. In the arts, seniors form the core of the Theater Production Workshop. They frequently have prominent roles in plays and musicals, and they lead our choral and instrumental groups. Academically, twelfth graders are taking the most advanced courses the school offers, from the Tufts Seminar, to AP English Literature and the AP-level classes in the sciences. Our elective system is designed to maximize the range of choices available to seniors, and they are allowed to build their academic programs. Seniors are respected by the students in lower grades, and the expectation is that they be good role models and respected members of the community. Thoughts of college loom large in the minds of seniors, and they work intensively with our team in our College Counseling Office to fine tune their college lists and applications. While it can be stressful at times, the college process is an enlightening one for our seniors as they more fully discover and develop their individual strengths and passions. Seniors are encouraged to be supportive and empathetic with one another as they navigate this process.
The counseling division is comprised of three full-time licensed clinical social workers. Students are offered a source of support in order to ensure that they have what they need to develop in a happy, safe and thriving manner. In addition to our individual work, the School offers its unique Issues Program. The Issues Program is designed to help meet the complex needs of the students as they progress through their high school years, taught in a relaxed group setting to build rapport and connection with students. The groups are mainly co-ed, but same-sex groupings are offered. These groups meet once every six-day cycle throughout the year. Our programming allows us to engage in active discussion on many topics such as as substance use, social media, interpersonal relationships and friendships, mental health, sexual health and consent education. While the curriculum encompasses a variety of topics, flexibility is maintained in order to meet students’ needs and address concerns as they arise. Student counseling is a collaborative effort, and the office works closely with our fellow teachers and deans and, most of all, our students and parents. As a supplement to the Issues Program, educators from Freedom Institute/Hallways and Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) visit CGPS. Both are non-profit organizations that provide alcohol, tobacco and drug education in an interactive style. In addition, guest speakers from various health organizations and programs are invited to meet with students to enhance classroom discussions and further understanding.
Every class at the Prep School is assigned a Dean at the beginning of eighth grade. This Dean will accompany the group of students from the beginning of eighth grade until graduation. The Dean oversees each student's academic, social and emotional life and frequently interacts with the students (through private meetings, group meetings and class meetings), their teachers, counselor and parents. They are instrumental in their students' well-being. The Dean organizes grade-level meetings with teachers and counselors, visit classes and clubs, attend school functions and meets with the Director twice a cycle to discuss student progress. This is considered one of the most meaningful programs at the School.
CGPS's Learning Resource Center (LRC) understands that each learner is unique. The LRC offers individualized instruction to students so that each can understand their particular strengths and weaknesses, develop and be able to utilize the strategies they need to be successful learners, and ultimately master the self-advocacy skills needed to arrange for their own support systems and any appropriate accommodations.
The Prep School offers a robust club program, including many clubs related to world languages, music, politics, art, academic subjects, performance and much more. The over 100 active clubs meet during school hours, one period per six-day cycle. Students may participate in one to five clubs each school year; they are full-year commitments. Because clubs at Columbia Prep do not compete with sports, theater or other after-school activities, club involvement is high, and most of our students actively participate and rise to leadership positions over time. Notable clubs include the Blue Key Club, which provides student tour guides to the Admission and Enrollment Management Office; CPTV (pictured below) and Columbia Blue, the School’s television station and newspaper; MECA, the School’s diversity and inclusion club; Model UN, Mock Trial, and Debate clubs; and several music ensembles and singing groups. A full list of clubs offered can be found here.
The fundamental purpose of the Community Service Program in the Prep School is for students to embrace the values of responsibility, empathy and compassion. Students experience the satisfaction of doing service within our community and the world beyond Columbia Prep. Students are encouraged to make community service a regular part of their adult lives. Students are asked to identify the type of community service that they are most interested in and to advocate for themselves in finding such opportunities. The CGPS Community Service Website, which is continually updated, provides specific activities and contact information. Throughout the school year, students are made aware of specific service events in which they can join their friends in serving the community at large. In the spirit of service to others, students are encouraged to work beyond the basic graduation requirement of 60 hours. Community service hours must be spent working directly with the disadvantaged, disabled, elderly or the environment.
The Columbia Prep Career Internship Program aims to introduce students to a wide variety of career paths and provide them with opportunities for real, workplace experience. Created over 17 years ago by the CGPS Parent Association, the program has grown from about a dozen students to nearly 60 participants in 2018. A dedicated group of parent volunteers and a faculty coordinator comprise the Career Internship Committee. While the program runs in the summer, the committee meets regularly throughout the year and continually updates the roster of participants (mentors), most of whom have a relationship to the School as either parents or alumni. Dozens of internships are available in a myriad of professional fields including: medicine, real estate, finance, education, marketing, hospitality, non-profit and law. In addition to career exposure, all interns go through professional etiquette training including what to wear, office conduct and the appropriate use of social media. The students who participate in this program is to develop skills of into resourceful and independent interns.