Bill Ellis is the Associate Headmaster for Enrollment and Financial Aid at The Kiski School, appointed in 2008. Educated at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bill has been in various admissions roles within private education since 1982. He currently sits on the boards of multiple associations, while serving as a counselor, adviser, and community member here at Kiski.
What is the 30,000 foot view of what we are trying to accomplish at Kiski?
I have written a lot about the crisis in the education of boys and how we potentially have a whole generation of boys who are not functioning well in large and impersonal schools. There seems to be a need for these schools to make one size fit all in terms of its academic policies and discipline decisions. The creativity of the classroom experience is sacrificed so that students can prepare for standardized tests that determine the success of the school and funding. At Kiski, the small student teacher ratio (7 to 1) and the small classroom size, (11) impact boys and engage them in the process of their education. The boy- centric methods we employ, the “best practices for boys” are important factors that ensure students have a stake in their classroom experience. Engagement, motivation, and an ownership of their education leads Kiski boys to achieve at a level that ultimately makes them attractive to highly competitive colleges.
A boy’s commitment to education is instilled at the high school level. At Kiski we combine college preparedness, time management skills, increased responsibility and a requirement for higher maturity, as well as other transitional traits that make the college experience much more manageable. The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) research shows that over 80 percent of boarding school graduates reenroll at the same post high school institution the following year. The national statistics for freshman dropout rates are shown to be as high as 60 percent at some schools. Furthermore, compared to public school, six years after graduation, students in the boarding school group completed their bachelor degree at the same institution at a rate of 61 percent compared to 34 percent public school graduates.
There are many factors that contribute to those strong statistics. At Kiski, we have several reasons why boys are more prepared for college. The first of these reasons is the campus itself. Boys live on a pseudo college campus that requires them to live with a roommate in a dorm environment. They are exposed to the problems that come with living with another person in a building full of personalities. The second reason is the classroom space. Boys are required to learn time management, work in groups, balance athletics and academics and an expectation to be prepared for class on a daily basis. The third reason is that Kiski’s college counseling process ensures each boy gets the individualized attention that he needs to find the college that is the right fit for him. On average, 85 percent of Kiski students are accepted into to U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 colleges and universities. That speaks volumes about the great work that is being done both academically and by the college counseling process. Lastly, because the boys are boarding on campus, they in general face many of the rigors of a college environment with a safety net that allows them to fail, grow, and excel with more flexibility than an university atmosphere.
What I want to emphasize about our approach to education is the big picture. What are we trying to accomplish from a macro point of view? The education at Kiski is a classic one. We are a traditional, liberal arts school. Richard Brodhead, formally the Dean of the College of Yale describes in his 16-month study of the Yale undergraduate curriculum the liberal arts approach as “aiming to train a broadly based disciplined intelligence without specifying in advance what that intelligence would be used for.” That is not to imply that Kiski doesn’t have boys here who know absolutely what they want to be; engineers for example. Our specific emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) certainly does prepare those boys for Cooper Union, MIT or Georgia Tech. But many of our boys don’t have a clue at 13 years old what they want to do. In fact, it is one of the interview questions that I ask them during the Kiski admission process. Followed by a narrower, “where do you want to go to college?” Sometimes the blank stares are followed by the unrealistic verbalization of these 100 pound boys that perhaps the NFL or NBA may still work out for them. Naturally, we do not want to squelch those young adolescent dreams and I remember vividly when I was 100 pounds and in 8th grade that I still thought I could “out work” the larger boys and eventually play for the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C. But in general, our job is to select the right 8th graders whose parents support our college preparation mission and over the next four years prepare them to succeed in college and life.
Brodhead further describes the liberal arts approach as different from specific training in three main ways. First he states, “Liberal arts education should be a time of exploration of new interests and abilities, not development of interests already fully determined in advance.” Second, “It aims at significant breadth of preparation in many areas, not strength in one area.” Third, the goal is “To develop deep skills that people can bring to bear in whatever career they eventually choose.” Kiski will prepare the boys to use calculus and then write a paper about the unification of Germany. We will teach them to notate a lab report then speak in front of large groups of their peers and strangers. We will teach them if not to love reading at least a tolerance for it. They will be able to converse in Spanish and then develop a website that outlines the timeline of the Civil War. Regardless of what they decide to pursue in college, they will be prepared. Regardless of what field they choose beyond that, their time at Kiski will provide them with the 21st century skills and academic knowledge needed to compete. We will teach them how to be good teammates, how to think creatively, how to solve problems. Our leadership courses will show them how to take command and assert themselves. The experience of living in a dorm and being away from home will provide them with a sense of independence and self-confidence that will make their first year at college more comfortable as they will have already made the social adjustments of being away from home. And we will help them with their physical development by providing age and skill appropriate interscholastic competition. This is not extra-curricular, it is co-curricular.
And what are the results of all of this? Our alumni report back to us that they are not only prepared in the classroom for what they are facing, particularly in the disciplines of math and science, but they are miles ahead of their socially struggling classmates who are away from home for the first time.
The former president of Johns Hopkins University once said, “Every day you stay at a job about which you are not passionate, you become extraordinarily ordinary.” I will tell you as will our current and former parents, current students and alumni that one of the reasons our boys are so successful and are thriving so well is because we have a lot of extraordinary teachers. Our passion to make our students successful, combined with our college prep environment allow us to complete our mission of preparing young men to succeed in college and in life; personified by more than 125 years of thriving alumni.
If you really want to see something special, come for a visit, see for yourself, and hear from our students why the boarding school life is so great.