My son, a Fayerweather Street School alumnus, is a sophomore in college. I remember the time two years ago that we spent visiting universities and colleges. At an Open House at Skidmore College, part of the presentation included a half hour lecture by one of their most popular professors, who had been at the school for over 30 years. His lecture focused on the role of grades in college and stressed that working solely for good grades might result in a higher GPA, but it would likely not result in being well-educated. He continued to describe how at Skidmore, they emphasize learning for learning sake, and if a student takes this approach, they will likely also earn good grades.
This professor’s comments truly resonated with me, as Fayerweather’s philosophy is quite similar. One of the unique aspects of Fayerweather is that we are a “non-graded school”, meaning we don’t give grades – not on report cards and not on school work. Instead, we provide a steady stream of feedback from teachers, peers and from the students themselves about the quality of their work and how they can improve. This feedback comes in many forms, from regular conversations between teachers and children individually, in small groups, and as a whole class. It also comes in the form of written feedback, be it on a story, essay or a science lab report. In seventh and eighth grade, students do take quizzes and tests and are given number grades, but they are also allowed and encouraged to correct their mistakes and resubmit their tests for a new score. Fayerweather parents appreciate this tailored and personal approach to learning and see that it is effective. We recognize our methodology is not the norm, and because we live in a test driven world, some parents may worry that when their child enters high school they won’t know how to handle grades, or won’t be prepared for a competitive environment.
One way that we help allay these fears is by inviting Fayerweather alumni to come back and talk about their high school, college and professional experiences. During these alumni panels, inevitably someone asks,
“How is it having grades in high school? Do you like it? Was it hard to transition?”
While each alumnus has a slightly different answer to these questions, the theme is always the same.
“As a Fayerweather student, you work hard because you’re interested in the subject matter, and because the learning itself is important. When you get to high school and college, someone attaches a grade to your effort and that’s helpful feedback, but not an end in itself.”
Last year, a 25-year-old alum, who is an electrical engineer, joined our panel and answered the question by saying,
“I have been asked this question my whole life because I always attended non-traditional schools, like FSS. However, as soon as I went to a liberal arts college and then Cornell for my masters, all of a sudden, learning for learning sake became the norm and was an expectation. So, if you are a bit worried about FSS not having grades, just think of it as a liberal arts college for children!”
Fayerweather graduates are confident students, who know how to advocate for themselves, and value learning over grades.