U Prep gives us a lot of second chances-perhaps too many
When a student begins to fail (which is anywhere from a B- to a D), University Prep’s system kicks in; including test corrections, extensions, notes to a student’s advisor, calls home, a meeting with the student’s teachers and parents and perhaps academic probation. These steps repeat until the student is saved from danger.
With many fail-proof systems in place, the school may appear a dream come true. Students receive support to the point where they cannot fail. However these systems may create more problems than they solve.
“Even though the name of our school is ‘University Prep’ I like to believe that we focus on more than just preparation for college or university,” Head of School Matt Levinson said. “We reference the school as ‘U Prep.’ I think of it as ‘Y-O-U-Prep’ meaning that we prep [the students] to be who they want to be.”
Academic Dean Richard Kassissieh thinks high school is focused on self-growth. “High school is a journey of self-discovery,” Kassissieh said.
Both administrators believe high school is focused on finding oneself. Junior Talia Randle disagrees. “High school should be to get teenagers ready to be out in the world,” Randle said.
The school’s mission statement says that the school is “developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world.” Assuming high school is meant to ready students for the real world, shouldn’t high school provide a taste of life?
The world is filled with adversity, challenge and risk. There are consequences when things don’t work out. Here at U Prep, there is a culture of protecting students from consequences. Examples being the adjustable deadlines or the option of a do-over when a grade is unsatisfactory.
“There is a reputation among students is that deadlines are kind of flexible,” Kassissieh said. In the “real world” people can’t push back certain deadlines.
“There are times when an extension is given or a convenient practice test is provided where it might be more beneficial to just face the deadline,” junior Isaac Selby said.
Test corrections are present in many classes across the U Prep curriculum. “I do offer test corrections for students that fail or receive an unsatisfactory grade,” Physics teacher Moses Rifkin said.
Extensions and corrections aren’t limited to Rifkin’s class. While they are great for students who want to earn a better grade, they might be bad for developing good habits for life after school.
“You don’t realize that if you don’t get to work on time, you are going to be in trouble. Or it is not an option for me not to get my grades in on time,” History teacher Abigail Hundley said.
In addition to strict deadlines in life, reality includes the occasional failure. “Unless you never take on anything that will challenge you, you will experience failure in the real world,” Hundley said.
With the availability of test corrections and the absence of hard deadlines, students are protected from failure. While that may appear attractive to most teenagers, the rarity of failure further removes the U Prep educational experience from the real world.
Where is the failure at U Prep? “There are no F’s at this school,” Selby said.
Everyone agrees that learning from failure is beneficial to maturity. Kassissieh said, “Failure is an option and a great learning experience.”
Hundley agrees, “Failing with dignity and without completely giving up is a skill. Tenacity is something that you need to be taught and practice. Unless you are challenged you won’t get to practice that,” Hundley said.
Randle recognizes failure as a strong motivator. “You get the most out of [a situation] when you are doing horribly,” Randle said.
Hundley and Kassisieh agree that the problem goes beyond surpasses the confines of the U Prep campus. Parents and society contribute to failure aversion. Kassissieh said, “We are fighting a system that is bigger than us. Society says that you can’t get a bad grade ever.”
Chemistry teacher Mikayla Patella-Buckley acknowledges the problem parents pose. “Most parents are paying over $30,000 a year, and there is pushback from parents in some way that ‘I am not paying this much money to have my kid fail,” Patella-Buckley said.
Even though the school seems soft internally, Kassissieh believes U Prep’s curriculum is strong. “Our program offers lots of opportunity to stretch,” Kassissieh said.
Junior Jack Katzman agrees that the school succeeds in pushing its students. “They [the teachers and administration] don’t really hold your hand through the process of learning,” Katzman said.
However there is evidence that speaks to U Prep’s artificially safe environment. “My concern,” sophomore Grace Kellogg said, “is that we will grow to become a generation of students who depend on second chances.”
By Mahir Piyarali and Yoela Zimberoff