It’s easy for students to get lost in the crowd at large schools. Schools where your student feels like their teachers don’t even know them. The student may be trying to get more attention from the teacher when they need academic support. Or they may be hiding in the back row to avoid having to work hard.
Often, the students who need help don’t get it because they might not ask. Maybe they appear to be doing “just fine” when really, they are quiet or hesitant to speak up in that class. There is a lot more going on under the surface when we’re talking about student learning and success.
What families want to know
When you are trying to understand a school’s culture, what you really want to know is:
- Will my student fit in?
- Will they thrive emotionally?
- Will my student be challenged?
- Will they be supported along the way?
- Will they have as many options open to them as possible upon graduation?
The “secret sauce,” you might say, is being small enough for individualized attention, but not so small that students are stuck with the same group of students in every classroom or stifled because of limited electives. You want to see that everyone, including the Head of School, knows their name. And that someone will care if your student is having a bad day.
Celebrating our students’ success and hard work
At the 2021 Menaul School Honors Ceremony on Thursday, May 6, it was fun watching the faculty and families root for all our students. It was especially encouraging is to see the many new additions to Menaul School collect honors right alongside students who have been here since sixth grade.
It was easy to see that the faculty constantly encourages every student, evidenced in the Perseverance Awards in Middle School. The Perseverance awards recognize students who brought their all, making significant improvement in their academic, elective, and athletics skills. In the Menaul Middle School, students achieve recognition in categories of “mind,” “body,” and “spirit,” which echoes our school’s mission.
A strengths–based approach
As one faculty member said, “We take a strengths-based approach to working with students—finding their strengths and emphasizing them to boost confidence, teaching them to use their strengths to support them as they approach areas of challenge.”
Here is a snapshot of students who earned awards on Honors night:
- New 7th-grade student Alannah was awarded the “Excellence of Mind” award for Humanities.
- 8th-grade student Brayden walked away with the award for The Trinity Award – Excellence in Mind, Body, and Spirit. This award recognizes the 8th-grade student who best models excellence and perseverance in all three aspects of our tripartite mission: to educate in mind, body, and spirit.
- 9th-grade student Mary earned several awards, including an Academic Letter (for being on honor roll two or more semesters in a row), the award for Chinese Language/Best Communication, and Excellence in Humanities.
- New 9th-grade student Andrew walked away with several awards including Excellence in STEM/Physical Science, and Humanities.
- 10th-grade student James earned an Academic Letter, an award in Advanced Spanish, a “bar” in Football, and the Alumni Global Promising Ambassador Award, recognizing his potential as a leader.
- 11th-grade Samual received awards in English, U.S. History, Biology, Ethics, History of Science and Upper School Strings. He also earned an academic letter, and the Intellectual Courage Award from St. John’s College.
- Senior Celeste earned the Rev. Buddy Monahan Spirit and Service Award for demonstrating love, joy, kindness to others, and for being a servant leader on our campus for seven years.
Because Menaul School is small (we typically are between 185-200), our staff and faculty work with students whose needs are as unique as they are. The goal is to get students to where they want and need to be — the best version of themselves possible.
Attention and support
At Menaul, attention and support show in obvious ways, such as teachers spending lunch or after school working with a student on a difficult math problem or coaching a nervous student on a presentation during advisory.
A faculty or staff member might sit with a student to guide them through the application for a prestigious summer program or even an application for a competitive scholarship to study abroad. These types of scenarios happen at Menaul School regularly.
Individualized attention at Menaul School is as unique as our students’ needs and goals.
Several of our staff and faculty offered to highlight what “individualized attention” looks like in their area, with some insights into the overall school culture.
Faculty insights—building confidence and resilience
Menaul School Chaplain, Rev. Takako Terino, says that she listens actively and deeply to students to create a safe space where the student can begin to express him or herself, with the knowledge that his or her lived experience is validated.
“This builds trust, which I believe is foundational to communicating to students that they are accepted, are welcome, and belong to this community.” She feels a calling to “listen to the movement of the Spirit in the lives of individual students and in the community we create together.”
Our Residential Life Coordinator Ms. Webb says that homesickness can be difficult for most dorm students because they are so far away from home. “The culture, food, and daily schedule are different than the student is accustomed to. We ask them about their culture, favorite foods, and home life so we can make them feel more at home.” She and her staff say that it typically takes three weeks for a dorm student to feel acclimated with their new life away from home, even with such attention and care to their well-being.
Teaching the whole student
Sometimes all it takes to get past a period of struggle is to know that someone sees you and cares about you. That “someone” is often a faculty member who a student sees as having enough experience and knowledge for their opinion to matter. Or it might be that annoying teacher who is always telling a student, “I know you can do better,” even when the student doesn’t yet believe it.
What about non-academic subjects, like athletics? Upper School Athletic Director Coach Boatman says the Menaul School coaching staff works with students “wherever they are.”
Maybe they have never been in a weight room before. Maybe it’s the first time a student is trying a sport. Or they haven’t played a particular position before. Or they are trying a new event in a sport, such as track and field.
Because Menaul Athletics teams are “no-cut,” our coaches work with every student across all skill levels. According to Coach Boatman, “You just got to show up and practice. We coach every kid. But you got to show up.” Showing up physically is one thing, but showing up with an intention to participate fully, is equally important.
“They need to pull their weight on the team,” Boatman says. Weekly meetings include check-ins and lectures that touch on academics as well as well-being. Especially during the pandemic year, which was so tough on athletes and coaches, students needed someone they trust and respect to ask them, “Are you doing ok?”
With younger students, Boatman says coaches help students work on agility and body awareness. They also encourage students to use bodyweight resistance to keep them active and get them ready for their sport.
“Menaul supports students’ academic success by nurturing the whole child—mind, body, and spirit. Our small class sizes allow for deep diving into topics and curriculum where students feel safe expressing themselves and taking risks to further their learning. Menaul recognizes that to thrive academically, students’ emotional well-being must be nurtured”, says Ms. Roesler (Humanities).