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Westminster Blog

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Walking the Line Between Stability and Change
Bob Vernon

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."  Albert Einstein  

This column is about stability and change, necessary opposites that interact to complete the whole.  To create some context, last fall Westminster hosted a visit from our accrediting organization, Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS).  The ISAS Visiting Committee was on campus for three days, and its task was, at it stated in its final report, “to assess the quality of the mission, vision, goals, and program of Westminster.”  We had worked hard to prepare for the visit, and though nerve-wracking and time-consuming, we enjoyed the committee members and appreciated how seriously they took their work.  We were re-accredited for another ten years which is important, but what really matters are the insights and suggestions the Visiting Committee gave us.

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The Surprising Role that Self-Regulation Plays in a Successful Adolescence
Bob Vernon

Have you ever wondered how adolescents survive adolescence? It’s not just the big things—their casual and dangerous experimentation with drugs and sex or their ridiculous drinking games like Edward 40hands. It’s the little things as well, like shoplifting. They almost always have enough money to buy the product, but, as they would explain, “Since I don’t really want it, why would I pay for it?” To which we would respond in amazement, “Why would you steal something you don’t want?” That answer is actually pretty obvious.  It’s not the product; it’s the emotional rush they get from breaking the rules and impressing their friends. Some of you no doubt remember the dare-devil game from the movie, “The Program,” which teenagers across America seized upon two decades ago. In case you’ve forgotten, two teenagers, almost always boys and often as part of some initiation ritual, lie down on the center line of a two lane highway in the dead of night until a car whizzes by. What could go wrong with that?  And then there is social media, which only exacerbates the dangers inherent in drinking, driving, and stealing, not to mention sexting and bullying. Is it really any surprise that the leading cause of death among adolescents is unintentional injuries?

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Three Factors That Help Mold Stress-Resistant and Successful Kids
Bob Vernon

Imagine if scientists discovered a toxic substance that increased the risks of cancer, diabetes, and heart, lung and liver disease for millions of people….something that also increased a child’s risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, and depression….something that reduced the chances of a child succeeding in school and later performing well on a job…something comparable to the hazards for children presented by lead paint, tobacco smoke, and mercury. “We would do everything in our power to contain it and keep it away from children…right?” asks David Bornstein in a recent New York Times article.  Well, there is such a thing, but it’s not a substance. It’s toxic stress.

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Westminster: Pioneering a Culture of Connection, Challenge, Control and Commitment
Bob Vernon

The ISAS Visiting Committee’s first recommendation after its ten year reaccreditation visit to Westminster last year was this:  “Westminster enjoys an enviable stability and has captured a unique position in the local educational market.  As an institution, the School exudes a level of confidence about its core values and the way in which they drive instructional programs.  At this moment in its history, Westminster is uniquely positioned as an institution to take some risks, embark on new initiatives, and move in bold directions.  We were surprised to discover that, despite the School's encouragement of students to take risks and embrace failure, the institution seems reluctant to exhibit this same quality.  The visiting team strongly encourages Westminster to be a pioneer for the local, regional, and national independent school community.”

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Education Upside Down & Flipped Learning
Bob Vernon

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fashion guru, so I was quite surprised last month when an eighth grader commented that she liked my shirt.  At first I thought she was joking.  I was wearing a madras shirt, but then it dawned on me that madras shorts seemed to be popular so maybe madras shirts were as well.  My shirt was probably twenty years old, and I suspect that some of you are not old enough to remember the OSCC—Old School Clothing Company—or for that matter, its parent company, Harolds, where I bought it.  I was reminded of this incident when I saw this headline recently in the morning paper—“Back to the Eighties”—which went on to explain that “oversized jackets, track pants, and Oxfords now set the pace.”  Who knew?  But what it really reminded me is that in education, like fashion, there is very little that is truly new.

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50 Years and Counting
Bob Vernon

Westminster School was founded fifty years ago as an alternative Montessori preschool and has gradually and purposefully evolved through the years.  The Lower School grew one grade at a time between 1970 and 1975.  The Middle School began in 1978 with sixth and seventh graders and graduated its first eighth grade class in 1980.  Thirty-three more have followed, and the School now has over 1700 alums world-wide.  From its beginning in 1963 with ten students and four teachers, the School has grown to over 550 students with a faculty and staff of 90, but it has never lost sight of its purpose—to teach kids to think well, work hard, and work well together.

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