Good to Go Blog
At St. John's, good knows no bounds. It's greater than great academics. Here are snapshots of what it means at the Prep. Something amazing happens when you're open to good!
When it comes to choosing a school—whether it's middle school or high start by looking for the right fit for you as a family. Our best advice: Information is power. Do your research. Network with other parents. Keep an open mind. Use your head and your heart and, above all, trust your gut.
While seeing is definitely believing, some early steps can take place from the comfort of your armchair. Request a viewbook to take a closer look at what a school has to offer. Browse school websites to see what students are doing every day in School News, and look over FAQ pages (Middle School and High School), and fast facts, which are often a useful resource for college matriculation, AP curricula, student-to-teacher ratio, alumni networking and more.
As you consider the type of educational experience you seek, it can be helpful to keep an eye out for FOUR KEY INGREDIENTS as you formulate your first impressions.
- Do the convictions and values of the school align with your own?
Start with what matters most to you. Like, whether a given school’s mission syncs with your family’s core goals for your child’s education. As a parent, you will never regret prioritizing a school where everyone in the community is on the same page. At the Prep, our learning community thrives on a dynamic array of talents and backgrounds—students, faculty, and staff—each of us individuals, and all of us pulling in the same direction. Every person across this campus zealously pursues our commitment to three cultural priorities. First and foremost, we are a place grounded in relationships of care and concern—a collective partnership. Just as important, we understand that this is a time in students’ lives when they learn by doing, so our campus provides the space—physical and philosophical—to foster that growth. Finally and foundationally, the Prep is home to a spirited sense of academic purpose.
Do the teachers know their students as individuals, and do they challenge and guide pupils to develop the academic and life skills necessary to not only recognize but also realize their potential?
Now more than ever, it is vital that educators learn each student’s passions, comfort zones, hopes, and concerns. At St. John’s, teachers, advisors, school counselors, campus ministers, coaches and club moderators seize every opportunity to advance student learning and model exemplary social behaviors. Naturally, each young man brings different interests, approaches and life experience to the classroom. Accordingly, a school worthy of your trust must provide a framework in which students have the autonomy to make choices, take safe risks, and discover what brings them joy. Every step of the way, Prep students are supported by teachers and mentors who guide them on the path toward becoming their best selves across a campus that features incomparable facilities and resources to enrich that journey. Fundamentally speaking, our students learn how to learn.
Does the school check the superlative academics box?
Academically, this campus is home to a thoughtful and purposeful course of study. The Catholic intellectual tradition here at St. John’s is propelled by teachers, students and staff sharing in an intellectual journey and dialogue. We’re teaching students to think analytically, work collaboratively, and dissect problems. Bottom line: Focus on looking for a school that challenges students to think for themselves, write persuasively, solve unique and relevant problems, probe the edges of a topic and speak articulately across disciplines. Young men who master these skills—especially while being asked to demonstrate practical applications of classroom concepts—gain a deeper understanding of who they are and who they want to become.
Does the school seek to educate the whole person?
Our content-rich, skills-based curriculum equips students with the tools to succeed both in and after college. But we know that’s not the whole story. Your child’s school life has to be about more than great academics. Our community is guided by the notion that education is not a means to an end, but a journey of self-discovery. As a valuable complement to academic life, we’ve designed an after-school program where students can put their ideas into action. If a young man has a particular passion or interest, he can choose from an extensive network of activities and clubs to apply what he’s learned in real-world settings. Educational experts agree that a crucial stage of adolescent and teen development is acquiring a sense of identity. As parents, you know this can’t happen if young men are confined by what others think they should be. We present our students with countless, robust, and age-appropriate opportunities to discover who they are—to find their gifts and refine how to use them as they live lives of compassion, humility, and exemplary character.
When it comes to St. John’s Prep, we’ve been educating young men for 111 years. Our success as a school has always been tied to the strength of our community, the unsurpassed quality of our academic program, and our commitment to student growth in all realms. We teach our students that they possess the capacity to influence every situation for the benefit of others. We show them how to find their individual good, then own it on their way to becoming a force for good and making the world a better place. With the right ingredients, a school can continually deliver this type of graduate.
Eric Kimble fosters a partnership with students in his freshman English classes that extends beyond their years at St. John’s, and he does this in an innovative and meaningful way.
The sublimely simple exercise carries a big benefit: Prep students are confident in the knowledge that he truly cares about both their present and future success.
“In literature, we talk a lot about life, and I get excited about teaching life lessons through literature,” says Kimble ’85. “In my classroom, the lessons just happen to spring from somebody else’s words. We use the literature as the vehicle.”
Mr. Kimble doesn’t just teach the lessons, mind you. He codifies them. More to the point, he knows of what he speaks. He is one of multiple Prep faculty members who have made the transition from successful careers in the business world—in his case, senior level sales and marketing in the biotech industry—to a career in teaching.
“Do we teach the boys to write well? Of course,” says Kimble, who double-majored in English and economics at Brown before earning his MBA at Harvard. “But I do this job to possibly change their trajectory in the same way St. John’s helped change my trajectory. I’m here to help these young men understand their place in the world and what they can do with it. I get excited about teaching what happens when literary figures are faced with addiction or encounter prejudice or make a choice that goes against the grain. The concept is: when these students ultimately encounter these things in real life, they’ll have some grounding as to how to deal with them.”
In each of his freshman classes and throughout each school year, Kimble works together with his students to help build a list of life lessons. Whenever a character or plotline presents such a teaching opportunity, Kimble’s stops the day’s lesson and the class collaborates to articulate the particular insight in writing. The list varies from year to year, but about 70 percent of the overarching messages are so timeless that they don’t change. For example, the meaning and importance of keeping hope alive as depicted in the Stephen King short story that inspired the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” Or, the plain-spoken wisdom of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” … You never really know a person until you walk in their shoes.
Kimble says processing each life lesson in the context of the literary work maximizes retention. But he doesn’t leave it there. He adds a timed-release component as well.
At the end of students’ freshman year, he formats the customized list of life lessons, complete with a class picture, and presents it to each student. To make the lesson scaleable, and to reinforce the different shades of literary meaning that his students come to understand as they advance through their St. John’s experience, Mr. Kimble re-sends them (and their parents), those same life lessons and class picture the week before their graduation.“I teach these guys when they’re young and still highly impressionable,” he says. “By the time they’re seniors, they’re crusty and ready to take on the world. My reward as a teacher comes when they send me a note after they’ve moved on from St. John’s to let me know they’ve encountered one of those life experiences we talked about in the literature. ‘You might not believe it, Mr. K, but I had to adapt, adjust, act on or stand up to X, Y or Z today.’ That kind of outreach from former students is reassuring. It says we’ve found what’s relevant to them in the class materials and we’ve served it up in away that keeps them engaged and helps those lessons sink in.”
Campus life at the Prep orbits around student voice and student choice
Max George ’17 has moved on from St. John’s, but his intellectual property is a permanent part of campus. The Brother Keefe, C.F.X. Academic Center, which opened in September 2015, was under construction during George’s sophomore year. That’s when he envisioned something beneath the exposed beams and steel girders of the construction site. On the blueprints, Keefe was to feature all-glass, multi-purpose rooms for student collaboration. But in his mind’s eye, George saw more. He saw an aquarium.
Now a freshman at Holy Cross studying biology, George knew that the proper mix of self-advocacy and savoir-faire could turn his wish into actual fish. A long-time aquarium enthusiast, he sketched a plan, reached out to school leadership and even put together a Powerpoint presentation.
“I got a sit-down with (Headmaster) Dr. Hardiman and (Assistant Head of School for Facilities) Steve Cunningham,” recalls George. “I was pretty nervous, but my main pitch was: It would be student-run. Technology like automatic feeders and light timers allows the tank to operate smoothly without anyone on campus. And, the formation of an aquarium club ensured it would be cared for long after my graduation.”
George’s pitch to add a hands-on, educational and aesthetic accessory to the Keefe building was well-received. The tank was up and running at the building’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and, nearly three years later, the aquarium is the centerpiece of a collaborative space adjacent to the Keefe lobby. The tank, inset into a wall-length wood cabinet, features more than a dozen fish and is accompanied by a photographic key that explains the scientific name, origin, adult size and behavior of each resident. Some additional fish were recently transferred to populate the Middle School Environmental Club’s new aquaponics system, as those students are now learning about pH balance and tank purification along with temperature and lighting requirements.
Just this past fall, another group of students embraced their capacity to effect change in the course of proposing a new student club. The concept involved students interested in discussing and critiquing movies. In a phrase: The Rotten Tomatoes Club (so named for the well-known online aggregator of movie reviews performed by professional critics). St. John’s Assistant Principal for Student Life Wendy Olson was initially skeptical about the idea.
“Generally, I tell students that if you can do it in your family room with friends and Cheez-Its, it’s probably not going to be a club here,” she says. “We want student life to be an extension of the learning experience. It’s not just something to kill time after school. That said, we really are all ears when any student brings us an idea. We keep an open mind because students clearly grasp their sense of agency that way.”
The students involved saw the challenge of Mrs. Olson’s criteria as an opportunity. They executed two months of planning to choose a sample film and put together a sample club discussion. They found a willing faculty club moderator. And, they emphasized the merit of the prospective club’s discussion sessions, even linking the activity to a key dimension of life balance and healthy choices at the Prep: aesthetic wellness.
“These students advanced the idea that this wasn’t just a club devoted to talking about bad movies,” Mrs. Olson explains. “They talked about getting club members to appreciate the genesis of a plot and the origins of a director’s vision. They wanted to dive into elements and style and the cultural phenomena that can turn a bad movie into a cult classic. They made a very convincing case. It went from a ‘no-go’ to something that really took off.” In point of fact, the Rotten Tomatoes Club came on line earlier this year and drew a whopping 65 students to its first meeting.The aquarium inside the Keefe Academic Center and St. John’s newest after-school club are prime examples of a student body that understands putting your best foot forward and articulating a common cause can have a clear and concrete impact anywhere and everywhere on campus. It’s more than student life. It’s student living.
Choose groups to clone to: