High school is about many things — social-emotional development, growing from a young adolescent into an almost-adult, exploring intellectually, and honing skills. All of this, in the end, translates into teenagers’ preparation for college and the rest of their lives. The way we do that at St. Francis — even in pandemic times — is distinct from other schools. We talk about preparation for college and life. Another way of putting it is that we prepare students for all aspects of college, not just academics. 

Academics, of course, are foremost. Our curriculum is designed to focus on close reading, writing of all kinds (beginning with major research papers in 9th grade), critical thinking, discourse, problem-solving, and analysis. We go both broad and deep, with AP courses and non-AP electives in every department, challenging students at all levels and preparing them for any college classes they may encounter. There is no doubt that our graduates are ready to handle college academics.

However, the non-academic aspects of college preparation have always been a focus at St. Francis, and seem to be increasingly important as articles abound these days about college students’ inability to handle life outside the classroom. As such, we work hard to help students build resilience, competence, independence, and self-reliance. We believe that letting students “test drive” some responsibility is the best way to help them handle full independence in four years. Here at the High School, our sign-out system helps students develop time management skills and independence, and has the added benefit of teaching students how to budget for lunch. The no-cut athletics policy allows students to be involved in any sport they like, thus gaining all the benefits of being part of a team in these critical adolescent years. The strong bonds that students and faculty form help students develop confidence in themselves and their voice, and encourage them to seek out help from teachers and to advocate for themselves. Focusing on the idea that students should have a say and a stake in their own education translates into young adults who are able to handle themselves on any college campus, large or small. Letting students take these steps — always with the strong safety net our low student:teacher ratio provides — is the best way to prepare them for the independence and self-reliance that college demands. 

Each year, as we look at our incoming 9th grade class, it is hard to believe that in four more short years, their parents will be dropping them off on college campuses. But this is so, and as a result, our job (along with parents) is to get them ready for it in all respects. Year after year, our recent graduates tell us how well prepared they are for the academic load, as well as for managing the rest of life on a college campus — a testament to the full St. Francis education they have received. This year was no exception: as a recent Class of 2020 parent commented about her daughter’s transition to college courses, “St. Francis says it’s the ‘School of Thought’ and it certainly lives up to that!”