Sierra has always been a diligent student—doing the requisite studying for tests and completing assignments on time. Her grades have been good and her teachers’ feedback positive. However, with the exception of a couple of classes with very dynamic teachers, she didn’t care about what she was studying. She would ask, “When will I use the math I am learning?” “If people understand what I mean, why should I worry about how I write it?” “When am I going to speak Spanish?” Her skepticism about the relevance of her education certainly limited her engagement in and enjoyment of it; we also saw a lack of interest in extracurricular opportunities. She usually opted to stay in her room to read rather than try something new.
After a very disappointing 7th grade year at our local middle school and the prospect of having four years of high school in a similar school environment, Sierra decided she would be willing to try a new school.
Last year when we picked her up at school, she would have little to report about what she had learned and grab her latest fantasy book to read on the way home.
After just a couple of days at USL, we saw dramatic changes. She talked non stop during the ride home from school, initiated discussions at the dinner table about what she was learning, asked us to look at a website she had learned about at school, and wanted us to read her first writing assignment.
Everything she studies at USL—whether it’s how to tell time in Spanish or write up a lab report—has captured her interest. Sierra is asking questions, sharing ideas, and choosing to venture outside of her comfort zone—both in and out of school. When we ask Sierra what she likes so much about USL, she mentions how important it is to be a part of a stimulating learning community in which everyone has responsibilities and is invested in each other’s success. She enjoys the discussions that link current events to the curriculum and is thrilled by what Mr. Kreutner brings into the classroom such as online Harvard philosophy classes. She is delighting in learning for its own sake.
Rather than speaking about the relevance of what she is discovering, Sierra is on fire—so there’s no need to talk about the utility of Latin or fractions or hypotheses. Perhaps the most powerful endorsement of the school is that she offered to earn whatever amount is necessary—mowing lawns, babysitting, cleaning homes—to attend the school for another year.
Mary Johnston and John Zardus