For many years families have asked about the possibility of a St. Catherine’s high school. Last year an exploratory committee of faculty, parents, students and administrators met to assess the needs of our students and the possibility of extending our Montessori program through the 12th grade.
We began by returning to Maria Montessori’s model for the developing child and her specific insights about the needs of adolescents. Montessori’s model—increasingly corroborated by research in neuroscience, psychology and education—consists of four periods, or “planes” of development from birth to age 24. The adolescent period, or third plane, lasts from ages 12-18. While our current Adolescent Community supports students through the first half of adolescence, those students are leaving our school at a critical time in their development.
St. Catherine’s graduates frequently go on to become notably successful at area high schools and beyond. But these same young alumni and our current Adolescent Community students eagerly envision a high school experience that could be more suited to their Montessori perspective—an education that would embrace the curiosity, creative thinking, intrinsic motivation, collaborative work, community activism, and spiritual growth fostered during their formative years at St. Catherine’s. We believe our school is ready to fulfill our duty to provide students with a high school education adapted to their needs.
Supporting Older Adolescents, Ages 15-18
Montessori thought of all adolescents (ages 12-18) as “newborn” adults, but she observed that the final three years of this period are comparatively calm. They are a time when adolescents are driven to share their skills and gifts with the greater community. An education best suited to these young adults would center on student interest and choice, rather than a rigid, set curriculum. Characteristics of late adolescence also include:
- Increased critical thinking, metacognition and analysis
- Questioning of laws, systems and authorities
- A great need to express ideas and increased self-confidence
- A desire to be recognized as an individual
- Increasing emotional stability (compared with the first three years of adolescence)
- More reasoned, rational responses and decision-making
- A desire to seek greater personal challenge and risk
- Extraordinary creativity (Montessori considered all of adolescence a "sensitive period" for poetry)
- A need to explore adult vocations
- A desire to prove financial independence
- An ability to idealize the future for one's self and humankind.
The high school program we’ve designed will accommodate and capitalize upon each of these specific developmental needs. The adolescent period is one of tremendous growth, energy and optimism that with proper guidance can be channeled in powerful and productive ways. This is a time of life in which young people feel powerfully about issues and are willing to effect change. As students come into their own as young adults, we want to provide the environment for them to be active participants in problem-solving and community living. To support the inclinations and assets of this essential period of development, our program will provide:
- Real situations in which students can practice their sense of justice and self-governance.
- A complete cultural background and important work fulfilling to the hands, heart and brain.
- Emphasis on students' intrinsic motivation versus external rewards.
The goal is not to prepare students for the short-term or one particular job, but rather to prepare them for an economy, culture and way of life we can’t anticipate. To achieve this, we will focus on developing four key competencies:
3) Independent thinking
4) Independent learning.
In the process of developing these four basic competencies, our program will also assist students in cultivating the kinds of personal qualities that will help them be successful in the adult world, including:
Adaptability: Key to developing resilience, students will be exposed to a variety of situations in which they’re asked to make quick assessments and devise solutions for success. Group and individual travel encourage this kind of learning, and our students will have opportunities to travel internationally with the responsibility of building their own itineraries and budgeting.
Critical Thinking: We will help students enhance their heightened analytical abilities by providing integrated studies, as opposed to separating different disciplines into set schedules and projects. Integrating the curriculum encourages creative thinking and application of ideas.
Autonomy in Building Knowledge: Our emphasis will be on encouraging students to lead the way in their pursuit of new knowledge. Rather than being limited to one strict curriculum, students will have greater flexibility and choice compared with traditional programs.
Working Productively With Others: Collaborative work will be an everyday feature of our community and an extension of the work of the current Adolescent Community. Older adolescents might, for example, continue to help with the Adolescent Market, but in a leadership or supervisory role. Students might also choose to present work in a colloquium setting or to engage in independent studies with a small group of peers.
Active Citizenship in Local and Global Communities: Older adolescents have a drive to question existing laws, systems, moral principles and authorities. This is the opportune time for them to experience self-governance and to debate ideas. Students will continue to hold community meetings and have greater freedom in decision-making. They will also reach out to local governmental bodies outside the school community. Independent or group work related to theological or philosophical inquiry will also be available, including a deeper study of the Dominican Pillars. Using their increasing capacity for benevolent behavior, students will also devise their own service-oriented work.
Preparation for College and Beyond
In addition to supporting students through adolescence, we want to ensure that they are prepared for university study and professional life. Colleges and universities are increasingly indicating that performing well in a traditional high school is no longer enough to be prepared for the rigors of undergraduate and graduate programs. The Ivy League and other universities are moving away from admissions based solely on the Common Application, grades and standardized test scores, as these metrics are falling short. Instead, colleges are looking to attract students who can demonstrate the kinds of qualities our program emphasizes.
Employers, likewise, are seeking professionals with strong skills in verbal and written communication, collaborative work, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, ethical judgment, intercultural understanding, and applied knowledge in real-world settings. The handouts and short bibliography provided with this section further address the concerns of universities and employers, as will our next Town Hall meeting and screening of the film Most Likely To Succeed.