Focus on: Why Independent Schools?
Dr. Scott D. Fech

Since their very inception, independent schools have always led the way in teaching and learning. Often focused on college preparation, founders across the country opened schools that would stand out from the local public school options. Freed from the constraints of educational mandates, educators could focus on what was best for students and create a personalized learning experience for each one of them. And frequently these innovative approaches made their way into public schools, thus becoming a driving force in the broader world of education.

Self-paced Algebra in Middle School empowers students to pursue their learning at a pace appropriate to their mastery of the content.

The importance and value of independent schools has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. Independent schools led the way on how to reopen schools safely while still delivering a highly engaging program whether online, in-person, or hybrid. Even now, as we maneuver through the third school year impacted by COVID-19, independent schools continue to demonstrate more flexibility to make changes quickly as new information becomes available.

Frequently these innovative approaches made their way into public schools, thus becoming a driving force in the broader world of education.

Even prior to the pandemic, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) was researching how our schools can continue "to transform themselves in ways that allow them to maintain their core character while becoming more competitive, relevant, and viable," as noted in their 2019 report Defining the Role of Independent Schools in the 21st Century Economy. One area of the research honed in on the workforce trends in this economy, an important area to which schools must continually respond so that curricula are several steps ahead of the trends as we prepare students for success in the future.

Hands-on projects that use real materials rather than relying solely on textbooks allow students to build knowledge that "sticks."

A Gallup survey found that only 35% of undergraduates feel that they are well-prepared to enter the workplace and only 11% of businesses find that graduates are adequately prepared. NAIS found that "Employers consistently rank both technical/digital skills and 21st century workplace competencies, such as critical thinking skills, as the hardest to find in potential employees." In addition, skills in complex problem-solving, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation skills, and cognitive flexibility combined with core knowledge expertise will provide students the necessary tools to be successful in the workplace.

Independent Schools, WT in particular, have always thrived in providing educational experiences that instill these very qualities. Our faculty develop City as Our Campus programs that teach these skills directly. As students move through these opportunities, from their earliest years with us through their graduation, these skills build and embed in their daily practice. While learning content for content's sake has value, it is in the application of that content through hands-on experiences and real-world scenarios that demonstrates if the learning has "stuck." 

Hands-on projects that use real materials rather than relying solely on textbooks allow students to build knowledge that "sticks."

Several years ago, WT engaged the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center to unpack the core components and driving qualities of our City as Our Campus program as well as understanding student experiences and outcomes from it. Perhaps most notably, after engaging with our alumnae/i the researchers noted, "The purpose of City as Our Campus positively contributes to students' development and helps to ground them in the broader world around them. Some alumnae/i suggested that City as Our Campus also influenced their life after high school by preparing them for future learning and career experiences, building connections to members of the community, and helping them to identify a career path."

Alumnae/i suggested that City as Our Campus also influenced their life after high school by preparing them for future learning and career experiences.

A collaborative Urban Art project with students enrolled in City College of New York motivates students to communicate and exchange ideas about social justice through art.

I am especially proud that, despite the pandemic, WT is not just surviving but thriving. We have made great strides on our strategic priorities, positioning WT for a bright future filled with continued opportunities for innovation and leadership. From the creation of the Joan Clark Davis Center for Interdisciplinary Learning to the acquisition of the Bayard Street property to the shift to more engaging and relevant courses other than APs, WT is at the forefront of education in Pittsburgh and beyond.

 



WT’s Head of School, Dr. Scott D. Fech, has a distinguished career of academic and administrative experience in a variety of school settings, including the acclaimed University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

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