From practicing shaking hands (firm grip) to drafting high school application essays (relate your personal information to the essay question), eighth grade students have been preparing to apply to high school. What follows is a look at the high school decision-making process at St. Paul's.
Starting the Process
While many families have high school admissions on their minds from sixth grade onward, the process officially begins at St. Paul's during the summer after seventh grade. Director of Sixth Grade and Middle School Christine Fairless sends a letter to families of incoming eighth graders, including a survey for students to fill out about themselves as learners, their interests and questions about different high school options: How do they learn best - projects, group work, research papers? What do they like to do outside of school? What are some key factors for them in deciding upon a high school - school size, technology, advanced course options, sports?
Using the survey as a starting place for conversation, the student and parents meet with Ms. Fairless over the summer to discuss options. Families may be considering independent, parochial and/or public school options. For families that have decided to enroll their children at Berkeley High School, Oakland Technical High School, or another public school, Ms. Fairless shares her knowledge of that process and refers parents to other St. Paul's families that have students in those schools.
Students Own the Process
Ms. Fairless reviews the student's scores from the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) test that all St. Paul's students take. If a family is considering independent or parochial schools, Ms. Fairless discusses how to prepare for the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) and/or the High School Placement Test (HSPT), which is used by Catholic schools. As she begins to suss out schools of interest, Ms. Fairless directs the conversation toward the student. "This is a time for students to take ownership of the process," says Ms. Fairless.
The two most important elements of the application.
This sense of ownership is key as eighth graders facing a long list of tasks involved in completing applications. Ms. Fairless presents them with a calendar that maps out tasks, including dates to:
Start the essays
Call to make an appointment for an interview
Check the websites for open house
Attend open houses
Ask teachers to fill out recommendation forms
Prepare for the ISEE and/or the HSPT
Share essay drafts with Ms. Fairless or Eighth Grade teachers Mr. Hopkins or Ms. Belkin
Write down questions for the interview
Take the ISEE and/or the HSPT
To prepare for the essay and the interview - two crucial aspects of the application - students can sign up to do a mock interview with Ms. Fairless and turn to Eighth Grade teachers Mr. Hopkins or Ms. Belkin for help refining their writing.
Through the fall, high school representatives come to campus to meet interested St. Paul's students, including representatives of College Preparatory School, Head-Royce, Lick-Wilmerding, Bentley, University High School, Urban, Athenian and more. Bishop O'Dowd and St. Mary's invite visits to their campuses on a half day set aside specifically for St. Paul's students.
Three recommendations are submitted with applications: from the eighth grade English teacher, from the eighth grade Math teacher, and from the Director of the Middle School.
By all measures, the process can be stressful, but Ms. Fairless offers support and encouragement.