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Letting Our Students Flourish

Katherine Dinh, Head of School at Prospect Sierra, addresses the role that education plays in encouraging our students toward a life of “human flourishing."

By Start Empathy

September 23, 2013

Editor's Note: This post was originally published here on Changemaker School Prospect Sierra's website.

At the first Kindergarten Parent Coffee every year, I ask parents to respond to the following question, “As far as education is concerned, what is your long-term goal or hope for your child?” We go around the room and hear from everyone. I’ve collected hundreds of answers. They often sound like this:

  • For my child to develop a love of learning.
  • For my child to make friends and feel comfortable in social settings.
  • For my child to be happy.

Not once have I heard a parent say, “For my child to get into an Ivy League school.”

I don’t have anything against Ivy League schools per se. Yet research has shown that where a person attends college matters less to their future success than other factors, such as supportive relationships, emotional intelligence, perseverance, and resilience. The philosopher Aristotle coined the phrase, “human flourishing,” which is our ultimate hope for each Prospect Sierra student: that they may attain a life of human flourishing.

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At Prospect Sierra, we create an environment that allows students to take full advantage of learning opportunities–including experiencing disappointment to build resilience; by figuring out solutions to problems on their own; to developing awareness of their emotions in order to cultivate greater self-knowledge.

By the time our students graduate, just as our most recent alumni did last June, they are confident, successful, and ready to take on the next stage in their education and life.

As a stark contrast to Prospect Sierra’s environment, I provide this little story. Once upon a time, some years ago, I was approached by an historic, brand name school where children of internationally-famous and powerful parents are educated. I was recruited to take on a key leadership role. The school’s reputation stands on its own. It hardly mattered what happened in the classrooms because there would always be massive competition for seats. Yet, somehow I sensed something was missing or wrong.

After a whirlwind of interviews, I found myself in front of the board. One very successful working mother told me I should lower my expectations for how much time I would spend with my young son, should I be so lucky to get the job. Another told me, not bragging—-more as matter of fact, that their alums go to the best colleges and become ambassadors, editors-in-chief, presidents, and CEO’s of major companies.

Finally, they asked, “Do you have any questions for us?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Is this a joyful place?”

My question was met with silence. A room full of extremely intelligent, sharply dressed executives and investors could not answer my question. Finally, a senior trustee-emeritus spoke. “We take joy in our children’s accomplishments.”

I flew home, called the search chair, and humbly removed myself from the search. They were shocked. It appears I was—somehow—their top candidate. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my path to find a joyful place of learning, leading me eventually to Prospect Sierra School.

While I could easily rattle off our students’ accomplishments, and our alumni college list, I also know that this matters less in the whole path towards human flourishing. Thanks to a well-trained, experienced, and child-centered staff, our students receive the guidance, support, and skills they need to flourish in school and beyond.