Anyone involved in or paying attention to the college admissions process can attest to the fact that for so many, high school has become a Mt. Everest trek of intellectual measurements, academic achievements, athletic successes, and the kind of extra-curricular activities meant to dazzle the college admissions powers that be.
By Annette McLoughlin
Anyone involved in or paying attention to the college admissions process can attest to the fact that for so many, high school has become a Mt. Everest trek of intellectual measurements, academic achievements, athletic successes, and the kind of extra-curricular activities meant to dazzle the college admissions powers that be. All of which is done in a desperate effort to secure a spot at an elite school, which seems to have become the all-defining indicator of future success and a fabled happiness. This ascent of worth is increasingly robbing our children of precious childhood years and, some would say, warping their collective values. And while anyone would agree that the system is deeply flawed, little has been done to change it.
There’s change afoot, a change initiated by a coalition of some of the most elite names in the world of higher education and endorsed by the entire Ivy League and more than 50 colleges nationwide. It came through Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, which led a study and published a report in January called Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.
The Turning the Tide report was produced by the school’s Making Caring Common project, as was the research that prompted the study. They asked over 10,000 middle school and high school students what mattered most to them: individual achievement, happiness, or caring for others. A total of 22 percent said caring for others.
The report is the first step in a two-year campaign that hopes to redirect the college admissions process to emphasize both an ethical, as well as an intellectual, engagement, to reduce achievement pressures and to level the playing field for the economically disadvantaged. It will emphasize a student’s general community service as well as how a student contributes within the context of his or her family and community, across race, culture and class. They hope to redefine achievement to make the formula more fair and inclusive and to look at each individual’s achievement within the framework of their environment.
The study was reported in a recent segment on the ABC News show “Nightline,” in which two Rye High School students, senior Chris Karpovich and junior Sorcha McCrohan, participated. In the first half of the piece, reporter Juju Chang interviewed Harvard-hopeful, Chris and his mother, Sherri Falco. She chronicled Chris’ incredible work ethic and personal sacrifices; his leadership on the school’s track and debate teams; and his resulting high academic and athletic achievements. Of course, Chris is in no way unique in his ceaseless toil; he is caught up in the same tsunami of high achievement indicators as are the majority of his peers.
What may tip the Crimson scales in Chris’ favor, however, may not be the measure of his intelligence, but the barometer of his conscience. When not grinding away at the desk, track or podium, Chis is very involved in his parents’ local charity organization, Bread of Life pantry, which provides food to families and over 17 church and government food pantries and shelters throughout southern Westchester County. Chris has helped his parents since they started the organization a few years ago and he even started a chapter of the charity at the school. So it may be that Chris’ heart more than his mind will earn him that admission letter from Cambridge.
“Nightline” selected Sorcha McCrohan to represent the other aspect of the Turning the Tides movement, which promises to value each individual’s achievements within the realm of their personal experiences. Sorcha faced major adversity in childhood when her mother died tragically of meningitis. At the age of 11, she was required to help her widowed father at home and with her autistic brother. Her family situation required her to make the kinds of personal sacrifices that are a large part of her narrative and a testament to her character. Last year, she used her experience in a positive way, to help others; she started a Meningitis Awareness club at the high school to educate other students on the importance of a vaccine. Her personal story and her efforts to use her experience to help others will now be an integral part of her college profile.
Turning the Tides aims to reverse what has become a detriment to the important coming-of-age period of adolescence.