If you read through the BASIS Independent McLean brochure, you’ll see we end with a quote from co-founders Dr. Michael and Olga Block, “We teach. It’s fun. It’s hard. It’s all about the future.” It’s important to us that we do not shy away from the fact that our curriculum is advanced. We know that your kids are up to the challenge. Almost 20 years, 26 schools, and 18,000 students achieving at the highest world standards prove this. So how do we do it?
One of the first “ingredients” we talk about is our teachers. As one BASIS Independent student says about his math teacher, “When he’s teaching math, he’s in the zone.” The “zone” he is talking about is the kind of flow that is generated naturally when you find your life’s purpose. It’s the ability to tap into that place deep inside you that calls you to open your heart to your passion.
Finding your calling is no easy task. It starts with the hard work of developing character traits like grit, resilience, a growth mindset, and learning from failure. These are the buzzwords on the tip of every educator’s tongue for a reason.
The world we live in is a tough, complicated place. It’s going to get harder and even more complicated as our children continue forth in their education, graduate from college, and take the next steps in their lives. As parents, we have to allow our children to feel the discomfort (and joy) of hard work early on when they are surrounded by our love and support.
The BASIS Independent student support system goes hand-in-hand with our students living the value of hard work. Coordinated by our deans, our student support system is not only about the academics but also about overcoming the psychological and emotional barriers to success. We have three deans at BASIS Independent Mclean who each focus on supporting specific grades: Colleen Crable supports primary students, Julie Walthall-Eisman supports our middle schoolers, and Debra Garcia is our high school dean.
I sat down with our merry band of deans to see how they weave this safety net of support around your child so that he or she has the confidence to reach his or her full potential. All deans, regardless of the grades they serve, echoed that everything we do, including how we support out students, grows out of our Community Values: Show Respect, Take Responsibility, and Make Improvements. “We want our students to understand that their choices not only impact themselves, but also the community.”
Filling Your Child’s Bucket in Primary School
Primary School Dean Crable has the glow of your favorite kindergarten teacher, even though shehas experience working with all age groups as an art teacher. When a child walks into her office her first question is “How do we help you get unstuck?” She wants her students “to leave with a sense of renewal and getting back on the right track.”
In Primary, it’s mainly the Learning Expert Teachers (LETs) who handle the academic support. Because they travel from class to class with your child, they’re the ones who know exactly what your child needs at any given moment during his or her learning experience – whether it’s extra practice with phonemes in the Humanities or an explanation of symmetry in Science.
In the dean’s office, it’s all about character building and “filling your child’s bucket” – from Dr. Donald O. Clifton’s beloved “Dipper and Bucket” story, the idea that a bucket represents your child’s sense of self-worth. On the “Show Take Make” wall, teachers write raindrop shaped notes like, “Teagan lost her poem, but instead of being discouraged, she recreated it all while showing a great attitude.” In November, primary students celebrated World Kindness Day. In December, students are focusing on gratitude.
Taking Responsibility for Learning in Middle School
At the middle school level, Dean Walthall-Eisman focuses as much on meeting with and coaching parents as she does students. As I have written about in a previous blog, it can sometimes be harder for parents than students to adjust to the BASIS Independent school culture. We want our students to take responsibility for their own learning, so the analogue Communication Journal (CJ) can be quite a departure to moms and dads who are used to having their child’s grades and homework assignments online at their fingertips.
That said, the BASIS Independent curriculum is challenging, and if your child is taking physics for the first time in the sixth or seventh grade and is truly struggling, an academic support advisor will be assigned to him or her to make sure he or she has the tools and strategies he or she needs in order to succeed. This can be as simple as a one-time reorganizing the locker and going through the CJ, or a more long-term ongoing relationship where the dean coordinates weekly student-teacher hours and coaches your child on good study habits and note-taking.
Developing Mental Toughness in High School
Our high school Dean Debra Garcia sees herself as a “non-judgmental support advocate.” Her students are getting ready to apply to college and some have brought their academic anxiety with them. They’re new to the BASIS Independent school culture so they haven’t learned the type of time management skills we teach or how to become truly independent learners yet. “They think they can figure it out on their own. They don’t want other students to know they don’t know how to do something.”
At a BASIS Independent school, it is so important to learn to ask for help. “This is a life skill,” as Dean Garcia points out, “When you’re in a class of 300 students at university and you only have your professor for two to three days a week, you can’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Dean Garcia is trying to cultivate what she calls “mental toughness.” How are students handling not getting an A? She compares her experience as a dean to her experience as a field hockey coach for the high school varsity team. “What happens when you were a super star 8th grader, a top player, and you make it onto the varsity team as a freshman? You find out you’re no longer the fastest player with the best moves. You can either give up or you can move to that next level of play by changing your tactics and improving your skills.” It’s all in the attitude.
As World History teacher and college counselor Dr. John Hight told me, given the level of support BASIS.ed offers its students, “It’s better that it’s hard now. You won’t have this support in college. You’ll be all on your own.” The top colleges and universities are looking less at your GPA and more at your challenging course load. “They also want passion. What are you interested in? And how can you take that to a new level?”
At BASIS Independent McLean, we are there to support your whole child’s social, emotional, psychological, and academic development while they are able to explore who they really are and go beyond what they thought was possible within the safety of our school walls.
BASIS Independent McLean is a preschool-12 private school located in McLean, Virginia providing students an acclaimed liberal arts and science curriculum. Learn more about our program at an informational event or attend a school tour.