Dear Dr. Loy,
I’m writing to let you know what a great experience I had during my most recent visit to Rutgers Prep. In the past I’ve had the pleasure of attending the performance of a play, as well as participating in Career Day, but the time I spent at Prep this spring during a regular school week gave me a real sense of what the institution is all about.
I’ve always been impressed by the curiosity and confidence of your students, but it was such an insight to see them display these qualities in the course of an average school day.
The community you’ve built seems truly exemplary across the board; from the students themselves to the faculty and class structure. As a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, a small liberal arts school in Westchester, I highly value the concentrated and progressive education I experienced there and I believe it has helped me enormously to build my career since graduation. I do, however, wish I’d had the opportunity to begin earlier with a private primary school. Although the public schools I grew up with in Maryland were decent, upon arriving at Sarah Lawrence I immediately regretted that I’d missed a more comprehensive foundation, like the one clearly available at Rutgers Prep.
One of the first things I noticed during my visit was the small class size, also a hallmark of my college, and the way your students interacted as a result of its intimacy. This feature not only provides for more teacher attention, it creates an atmosphere of positive academic peer pressure, which goes beyond competition over grades or test scores to engender a sense of real intellectual pride. Vying to join one of the many AP classes available, the students obviously revel in their mastery of each subject, rather than simply achieving what is expected. In a small setting, students want to show each other their mastery of the material, as well as have the opportunity to publicly please the teacher. In an elite school such as Rutgers Prep, these teachers are not only gifted educators, but they clearly spend time pursuing their fields outside the classroom. I loved seeing the art department’s work displayed in the Faculty Art Show and hearing about the workshop your government teacher, Stacy McMillen, recently took with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
The students respect their instructors and recognize the opportunity they have to study with such caring and enthusiastic professionals. Coupled with the limited class size, this selectivity creates a de facto sense of respect in the classroom, rather than the resentment and contempt often present at large public schools. In a class of over thirty, the unavoidable anonymity between students and teachers is a roadblock to respect, which I think is a key aspect of learning. Your students demonstrate the confidence that comes from feeling known and respected by their teachers.
I see this respect and the limited class size as the basis of intimate community you’ve built, a personal atmosphere which fuels accountability. True learning is not an SAT score or an aptitude test, a multiple choice box or rote memorization. Most students must wait for college to learn how to think, and then only if they are lucky. I believe Rutgers Prep allows for a head start on this concept; a carefully crafted launching pad for a lifetime of intellectual engagement among students who are both interesting and interested. Organizing roundtable discussions, pushing students to develop opinions, defend their convictions and thoughtfully listening to a broad spectrum of viewpoints, rather than relying on a lecture based curriculum, is a rare opportunity before college, and one I wish I’d had.
In my experience, most students get exactly what they don’t need in school; bright students are bored and challenged students are ignored. The Rutgers Prep community obviously works hard to calibrate its curriculum to satisfy the entire spectrum of academic needs. As I observed, classes almost become tutoring sessions, with each student afforded the opportunity to grasp key concepts at their own pace. This careful individuality and equality of voice was very happily present on a larger scale during the Rutgers Prep Upper School morning meeting I sat in on, which immediately struck me as such an innovative way to replace T.V. or P.A. announcements. Gathering by grade, students listened to short in-person presentations and reminders about upcoming events given by both faculty and peers. The constant interaction between age groups, even between the upper and lower schools of children and teenagers, surprised me. This integration was most notable during the meeting, as it was a true forum with open participation, providing exposure to a wide range of students, mixing ages and social spheres. The clearly diverse student body, which draws from a very global background, displayed no shyness about interacting with one another. Just as the students were carefully respectful of one another’s opinions during class, they honored their differences in a public way during the assembly. When I learned this meeting is a daily occurrence, I was even more surprised and impressed that Rutgers takes the time out of the hectic school day to recognize the importance of forging a connection between students and faculty. The respect between all groups was clear as I watched both students and teachers actively engage with each other during the entire meeting.
From the wide range of activities and clubs represented at the morning meeting it was obvious that students relish participating in their chosen area of interest, as well as in the support of other groups. From the school play to plans for school sponsored summer trips or team sports, these students seem busy but not anxious or overwhelmed. The kind of passion I’ve seen while working in a creative field in New York, where everyone seems to simultaneously pursue a string of personal and professional projects, was also noticeable among all the classes at Prep. Above all, I’d have to say this palpable sense of curiosity and drive was the most surprising and remarkable thing I learned about your school, a subtle quality that cannot be gleaned from a list of courses or facts.
Although I didn’t get the chance to attend a school like Rutgers Prep, I sincerely hope one day I’ll be able to participate in a community like yours by enrolling my own child in a similar institution. I feel they would gain an academic and social advantage that is invaluable in a modern world where so much has become anonymous. Creating a sense of safety along with unrestricted freedom is so important for learning, especially at an early age. I think this is truly possible at Prep, where the students I’ve interacted with extensively were both inquisitive and self-assured, ambitious and yet sensitive to others. Thank you for showing me the Rutgers Prep experience over the years through the well-produced events I’ve attended, as well as my more intimate recent look at a typical day. As a newcomer to the private school world, I’ve found what I expected and more in your organization.
I wish you, your faculty and students the best in all future endeavors.