Positive School Experience

By: Neil Mufson
As a parent who is currently in the college hunt for our son, I was captivated by a recent New York Timesarticle entitled “What Makes a Positive College Experience?”  Writer Tamar Lewin’s piece tells of a Hamilton College sociologist’s decade-long research project aimed at determining the key factors leading students to feeling positively about their college experience.  Forget courses, majors, facilities, athletics, teaching quality, class size, food choice, location, or most of the classroom experience.  What’s left?  People.

I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the human element is what most impacts how students perceive their experience.  Professor Chambliss, the Hamilton professor, states, “What really matters in college is who meets whom, and when.  It’s the people, not the programs, that make a difference…  We found that it only takes two or three close friends… to have a fulfilling experience.”

What was the second biggest factor?  Having at least one or two positive, close, caring interactions with a professor.  One or two positive interactions in four years!  Chambliss found, “Students who had a single dinner at a professor’s house were significantly more likely to say they would choose the college again…  It made a lasting difference if students had at least one experience sitting down with a professor to go over their work, paragraph by paragraph; for the students it was someone serious saying their writing was important.”

Chambliss’ findings are related to independent schools like ours.  One of the key advantages of The Country School is the peer group that surrounds your child.  That peer group, for the most part, is composed of engaged, positive, caring, and bright kids who are achievment-oriented, focused, and well behaved.  Research suggests that children are happy if they have at least one close (not best) friend.  And the quality of your child’s peer group matters.  That peer group helps shape your child’s attitudes towards school, learning, achieving, and having a positive self-image.

What Chambliss said matters most about professors — their willingness to go that extra mile to forge a personal connection and to communicate that they care — stands as a hallmark of Country School teachers.  They provide an abundance of individual attention, they care deeply for their students, and they connect in a meaningful, human way with each child.  It’s the rare student for whom that does not happen daily — forget about once or twice every four years!

I laughed when Chambliss was asked “What do colleges do that doesn’t improve the experience?”  “Strategic plans,” he stated immediately.  Of course we at The Country School are in the process of completing our latest strategic plan, but more on that later…

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