Dear Friends of Watershed School,
I was reviewing Consumer Reports recently. Each short article either validated or denied my purchasing habits. From laundry soap (Seventh Generation) to lotion (Alba), I looked for evidence that I had made the best choices. But what does it mean to make the best choice? I don’t just want the cheapest product, I want the most effective. I want quality. I want to know that I am getting the best value.
Parents have a similar thought process when they are choosing a school. Is it quality? Is it a good value? Will the education have an impact on my child’s future?
What counts as evidence of a good school? How can we assure our families that they have made the best choice? Most parents, first and foremost, use the happiness indicator. If their child comes home most days enthusiastic and fulfilled, they know that their child is happy at school. They also look for a sense of personal safety and a healthy emotional climate. And finally they look for a meaningful and challenging academic experience for their children.
One indicator of school quality is test scores. At Watershed School, we have been administering the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA) for four years. Each year we have scored in the 95th percentile or above, and last year our students scored in the 99th percentile. The CWRA measures the value that a school adds to the students’ ability to analyze real world problems and write effectively about solutions. These are the skills that young adults will need as they enter college and the workplace. The results of the CWRA tell us that Watershed School’s approach to teaching adds to the students’ abilities as critical thinkers. This is borne out in our college acceptance rate, which is 100%. Last year’s graduating class accepted offers from Brown, Emerson, University of Colorado, Quest College, and Lewis and Clark College, among others.
Of course there are more abstract measures of quality. These I call the goose bump indicators, the stories that bring tears to your eyes and goose bumps to your arms when you hear them. For example, a parent shared that their child was sleeping through the night for the first time since he was three-and-a-half. She attributed his peacefulness to his sense of safety and security at school. In my mind, that is the true test of schooling that works.
One of the best things that students say about Watershed School is that they feel free to be themselves; in other words, they can express their inner hopes, dreams, and yes, even their fears and challenges In Abe Lincoln’s letter to his son’s headmaster he wrote, “Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in a tear.” President Lincoln would like what we do. At Watershed School our community curriculum teaches honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Social relationships and the habits of the mind that are cultivated in middle and high school are formative and foundational. In the best schools, adults mentor students, coach them to bring out their deepest work, and challenge them to be inclusive and compassionate friends to one another. Watershed’s robust advisory program begins each year with a two-week orientation program that builds relationships within a small group of students and caring adults. Weekly community meetings reinforce the sense of belonging and safety as students share ideas and experiences in a structured setting.
So to answer the question, what counts as evidence of a good school, I invite you to stop by 1661 Alpine Avenue in Boulder. I guarantee you will have a goose bump moment that will be all the evidence you need to know that quality teachers, an excellent educational program, and a safe, caring community add up to the best choice for innovative schooling in Boulder.
Elizabeth Meador, Ph.D.
Head of School