The intersection of big, tough issues facing society, perfectionism projected into the lives of adolescents through social media and parental expectations, and a desire to support students through the COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment in our schools where we must delicately balance student well-being and expectations. How do we authentically manufacture adversity for young people who live in a world that seeks to shelter them from it?
Each Proctor student graduates with a transcript filled with numbers and letters, a snapshot of their Proctor experience. While useful in some ways, this quick reference guide originally developed to standardize our assessment of a student’s “intelligence” for college admissions counselors insufficiently captures the entirety of a student’s growth journey through their high school years.
If your mind is in anything like mine, it has spent the past few weeks spinning: the final weeks of Winter Term, final exams, final arts performances and games last weekend, rational (and irrational) fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on Proctor, Super Tuesday primaries, and so much more.
Intuitively, I feel my students’ experiences, reflections, and actions influence who they are and what they do. However, the more I learn about neuroscience, the more research released on brain plasticity and metacognition, the more I realize these intuitions that have guided my work over the past twenty years as a Learning Specialist, and Proctor’s work over the past seventy, are based in scientific fact. Adolescent brain development is a biological process, but it is also a dynamic process that is enhanced through experiences. In other words, what teenagers learn, practice, and think develops neural pathways, which fundamentally restructures their brains over time.
Last evening I watched the late innings of a baseball game against St. Paul’s School. It was a tight one, the score see-sawing back and forth. We’re up, they’re up, then we’re catching up. The sun cut shadow from trees to the west, the outfield was a deep green, the chatter of the benches (and some rowdy fans from Carr House) peppered the evening. I could lean against the white fence near the right field foul pole, my favorite spot on a perfect evening. I could lean against that fence on evenings like that - baseball, no bugs, no wind, warm enough for just a light fleece - for hours.
Little by little the days are getting longer. This week’s sun and warmer temperatures have buoyed our spirits and put a noticeable bounce in everyone’s step. Overnight rain and ice reminded us how closely tied our emotional state can be to the barometric pressure. As we look toward the final three and a half weeks of the Winter Term, we lean into the scaffolding of support that surrounds each of us at Proctor.
I cannot recall a moment over the past five years when there has not been the background noise of construction on Proctor’s campus. The beeping of excavators in reverse, air compressors turning on and off as nail guns adhere new siding to buildings, dump trucks driving in and out of campus. This constant state of construction, while inconvenient at times, illustrates our community’s deep belief in our mission and willingness to invest in Proctor’s future through The Campaign for Proctor. However, visits to classes this week reminded us it is not just our campus that is under constant construction, but our students brains are works in progress as well.
Early in his career former Proctor Academy Head of School Lyle Farrell (1952-1971) worked alongside Dr. Samuel T. Orton to pioneer the psychometrics and pedagogy of reading disabilities. Farrell would take what he learned from Orton and establish the nation's leading tutorial support system for college-bound, dyslexic students in the early 1950s at Proctor. Through intentional programming aimed at helping young dyslexic boys, the predecessor to Proctor’s Learning Skills program changed countless young people’s lives.