List of 4 items.

  • December 2021: Applying to College Shouldn’t Be On One Person’s Shoulders

    Applying to College Shouldn’t Be On One Person’s Shoulders
    by: Keo Oura Kounlavong-Sabath, Director of College Counseling 
     
    If you’re asked to bring a cake to an important event, do you turn to the family recipe, which has been passed down for generations, and get baking? Do you pull out the box of cake mix and the tub of frosting for your homemade cake recipe? Or do you pick up your cake from the local grocery store? Either way you will have cake, but you can’t deny that the process looks different in each of those scenarios.
     
    Applying to college is a lot like making a cake. There are a lot of ingredients needed and specific directions to follow. Miss a step or exclude an ingredient and the results can be disastrous! But what happens when one ingredient such as SAT or ACT test scores, like nuts in a cake, become optional? Or a pandemic impacts your ability to visit college campuses and participate in activities? How does Harrisburg Academy help you deliver the best college application possible?
     
    Important Ingredients in a College Admission Application
     
    Just like cake recipes, admission applications and their requirements are different for each institution, even more so during COVID. The ingredients list goes something like this:
    •  Application with biographical information (completed through Common Application, Coalition Application, Universal Application, or the college website)
    •  Application fee ($0 - $150.00 per college)
    •  High school transcript
    •  Self-Reported Academic Record (SRAR)
    •  Essay(s)
    •  SAT or ACT scores
    •  School counselor recommendation letter
    •  Teacher recommendation letter
    What is Important to the Colleges (a.k.a. The Cake Judges)
     
    According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) 2019 State of College Admission report, the top three items remain grades in all courses, grades in college prep courses, and strength of curriculum.
     
    Figure 1: Information from the NACAC Admission Trends Survey on the factors considered when applying to college
     
    What to do about the rest of the important factors given the impact of the pandemic on the whole process? You gather your team and tackle each element creatively. 
     
    Directions
     
    Due to ingredient shortages, like SAT and ACT scores, colleges and universities had to embrace a holistic review of applicants. Even large institutions like Penn State who received 95,999 applications university wide during the 2020-2021 admission cycle have reevaluated their process. They too have become test-optional. What does this mean? Approach your college application like making a tiered cake. Each layer is separate, and distinct, but important to the stability of the entire structure.
     
    The Base
     
    It’s your essay, biographical information, and activities list on the application. This may be the only point in the application process that your voice gets to be heard.
    • Take your time with the essay prompts.
    • Have a couple of trusted reviewers look at your drafts. 
    • Make sure there aren’t too many cooks in the kitchen with you. The essay has to have your tone and voice. 
    • Write to tell your story, not to show how smart you are. 
    • Optional is not really optional. Use every opportunity to tell your story.
    List your activities in the order of importance and with the one you have done the longest first. The Common Application doesn’t give you a lot of words to use in the description section of the activities. Colleges know this, which means use action verbs to list your contributions to your club, activity, or sport. Be direct and get to the point.
     
    Don’t forget the part-time job or taking care of family members such as younger siblings. These two things could be preventing you from participating in sports or school activities and that is okay. Explaining how you spend your time is the focus of the activity section. It is something only you can do accurately.
     
    Second Tier
     
    Your transcript tells part of your story, but it’s the most important part. Being a student is your full-time job and your transcript is your work history. How did you show up to work every day? Were you willing to take on new challenges? Make sure it's accurate and you know the information. A transcript is different from a grade report. Those are snapshots of your work ethic and effort during a school year. You can make adjustments to your study habits and classroom behavior after receiving a report, unlike a transcript which is a final report. Students often forget to explain that dip in grades one year or an atypical grade in a subject. Even the decision to not continue four years in a world language or history class should be explained. Was there a schedule conflict? Did your interests change? You have a section in your application to explain this, take advantage of it. At Harrisburg Academy, your team of teachers and the college counselor help you address those dips and moments of growth in a positive way for your application. We help tell your story of growth as a learner.
     
    Third Tier
     
    Recommendation letters make up the next layer by supporting the information you have presented in the other layers. A good recommendation letter doesn’t just list adjectives and activities, but provides examples to support those words. This is a challenge in public schools where the student to counselor ratio exceeds the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommended 250 students to one school counselor ratio. The national average caseload for a counselor is 424 students. At Harrisburg Academy, during senior year, that ratio is approximately 20 students to one counselor.
     
    Choose a teacher that knows you well both inside and outside the classroom. Having this additional point of contact can help your teacher write a strong letter for you. It’s not always the teacher you got an “A” in their class. Choose wisely, carefully, and early! As a result of small class sizes and the seminar setting found in our classrooms, Academy teachers have specific examples to reference when writing recommendation letters. Knowing our students comes naturally in our classroom settings, but also extends outside of the classroom. They are involved in our school community and often provide a coach’s, advisor’s, or mentor’s perspective about a student.
     
    Frosting the Cake
     
    How do you hold it together and make it look appealing?
     
    Know your deadlines! The process officially opens August 1 of your senior year with the Common Application and Coalition Application’s release of the application for the admission cycle. Guess what? You can set up your account before that date as a junior. Our students do this during the college prep class in the spring semester of eleventh grade.
     
    Apply at least two weeks in advance of your deadline. Did you know you should plan to apply to Penn State by November 1? If your heart is set on Georgia Tech, then it's October 15 if you live out-of-state. Applying to college is about each student developing a plan and timeline to achieve their end goal. At Harrisburg Academy, our college counselor meets with each student and their family, customizing the college application process.
     
    Visit and connect with the colleges anyway you can. Plan to visit the campus over the summer if possible. Virtual visits have also become the new norm. Don’t forget those information sessions and high school visits. By checking your email (don’t forget the spam folder), you can demonstrate your interest.
     
    Extra Touch
     
    At Harrisburg Academy, we add sprinkles on top of our cakes…
     
    Essay questions focused on contributing to an inclusive community are less challenging to write. Our students pull from their International Baccalaureate (IB) experience, specifically the discussion tools learned in the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course to provide specific examples to support their perspective regarding diversity.
     
    There is one person that sees every layer of the cake; that’s the college counselor. So far this year, the Class of 2022 has written over 170 essays and over 140 of them have been reviewed to make sure that all other layers of the cake reflect and support each student. Students and families are not left alone to navigate the process. They receive help with scheduling application submission dates and  individual support before they click the submit button for each application. We do everything together. We also plan everything out early.
     
    Every teacher recommendation letter is reviewed by the college counselor. That’s 45 individual letters this year! More importantly, the review process confirms that every student is seen in the classroom. The teacher recommendation requesting process is seamless for our students. With a dedicated college counselor to facilitate technical aspects of that process, students can concentrate on other important ingredients of their admission application.  
     
    Partnerships with families in the process don’t start in the fall of senior year. They are expected and encouraged from the beginning of ninth grade. Individual family meetings happen on an annual basis, and not just during course selection time. During the eleventh grade college prep course, parents/guardians are encouraged to submit a personal evaluation of their student to the college counselor. This unique insight becomes invaluable during the college application process. The perspective of parents/guardians allows the college counselor to see the student through a different lens. Students often leave out experiences and accomplishments that they feel are “insignificant” or “just forgot about”. These personal evaluations provide families with the opportunity to contribute to their student’s story. During the eleventh grade family meeting, important factors in the college list are discussed from affordability and distance from home to admission selectivity and academic reputation for a major.
       
    As an IB school, the Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) element of the IB curriculum adds additional sprinkles by helping students develop and participate in real-world experiences that align with their passions and interests. Student’s don’t just study what they are interested in, they go out and experience it. These experiences are invaluable during admission interviews and when answering essay prompts as our students can draw from real life experiences—not just refer to something they read about in class.   
     
    Standing out in the applicant pool has become more challenging each year as application numbers increase and the process is impacted by COVID. At Harrisburg Academy, being able to help students assemble their application from start to finish helps them stand out. Together, we help them effectively tell their story as an IB learner, leader, and a person of positive character.
     
    Our International Baccalaureate curriculum develops a different type of learner, one who thinks outside of the box. We make our cakes using a can of soda and a box of cake mix. The combinations are endless and the result represents each individual baker’s experience. 
     
    Baking can be hard work, but in the end, when you follow the recipe, there’s no guessing. With the Academy, you’ll receive the personal focus needed to help you achieve your dreams, despite how the goal posts may be moving as a result of the pandemic. Whose help do you want when making that college application cake?
     
     
  • December 2021: How the IB Middle Years Programme Cultivates a Passion for Learning

    How the IB Middle Years Programme Cultivates a Passion for Learning
    by: Heather Mork, Director of Marketing and Communications
     
    Are you a parent or guardian dealing with the academic blues at home? How often have you come home to your Middle or Upper Schooler that just doesn't want to do their homework? If you are searching for an answer to motivate your child, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), Harrisburg Academy's curriculum for students in grades six through 10, offers a unique approach to education that will instill habits of life-long learning.

    Harrisburg Academy fosters an environment where each child is seen, known, and celebrated. You may read that phrase and think, "That's great, but how?". Our International Baccalaureate Program teaches our students how to think rather than what to think through a student-centered approach to learning, which provides them with skillsets allowing them to pursue their passions, interests, and goals at a deeper level of inquiry.

    Design Thinking in the Middle Years Programme

    The IB Program is widely know as the world's premier academic curriculum. The Approaches to Learning (ATL) cultivate student agency through developing research skills, critical and creative thinking, communicating effectively, and self-management. For example, MYP design thinking challenges students to think creatively to solve issues, explore the role of design in historical and modern contexts, and to consider personal responsibility when making design decisions and taking action. 

    Recently, our ninth grade history teacher posed the question, "What makes a civilization?". Our students learned about civilizations in a historic context by examining the Ancient Greeks and studying the Persian War. Following the initial introduction, students designed their own civilizations, thoughtfully considering social, political, economic, environmental, religious, and military systems that would influence the day-to-day living experiences of citizens.

    Harrisburg Academy's ninth graders participated in group projects, creating fictitious civilizations that were tackling problems unique to them. Using their imaginations, one group presented an underwater society suffering as a result of mistreatment of the Earth by humankind. The civilization was collectively re-engineering their living spaces to be further from the ocean floor to avoid rising sea floor temperatures as a result of human pollution.



    Figure 1: A ninth grade group project of an underwater civilization experiencing environmental concerns. 
     
    In this example, this ninth grade group utilized knowledge of historical events, acknowledged an environmental problem (linked to an area of their collective interest), and designed a creative solution to their identified problem.

    The Benefits of Design Thinking
     
    According to research, when students gain independence through their own learning, they engage more thoughtfully in content. Student choice has been shown to increase student well-being and satisfaction regarding personal academic performance.

    Throughout each year in Harrisburg Academy's program, students are challenged in all subject matters using design thinking and other ATLs. Additionally, at the end of their eighth grade and tenth grade years, students complete capstone projects that they identify as areas they would like to pursue. The culminating projects of our curriculum promote reflection by students on their learning and outcomes of their work, preparing them with tools for self-analysis for the remainder of their educational, and arguably, life journey.

    The Community Project at the end of eighth grade facilitates an opportunity for students to pursue service learning. This unique experience allows them to research an area of need within their community that they are interested in, and ultimately, they work to address it in some capacity. For some, this might culminate in direct service, indirect service, advocacy, or research. The Community Project can be completed alone, in pairs, or in groups of three. Examples of Community Projects include one-on-one tutoring, teaching dogs behaviors to prepare them for adoption, or initiating a campaign on local hunger awareness.

    The Personal Project takes these concepts to the next level. During tenth grade, students identify an area of their interest and embark on a long-term project which requires them to produce a product or outcome of their own design, create a process journal, and write a report that details the impact of their project based on assessment criteria. These projects are moderated by the International Baccalaureate Program to ensure a global, consistent standard of excellence.

    The Personal Projects are oftentimes presented in a "Personal Project Fair," where students and members of the community celebrate learning and the achievements of others. Ultimately, events like this acknowledge and affirm the efforts of each student while also fostering an environment where each student's opinions and interests are known and valued.

    Motivation is the Key to Success

    Each individual is motivated to learn when something interests them--adults and children alike. Traditional curricular formats that lack a student-centered approach focus on teaching material that students don't absorb if they aren't interested in it. As an adult, you may have experienced that yourself--you may not want to go to a meeting because you aren't particularly interested in the outcome. When you find a professional project you want to do, the process becomes much easier for you because you are motivated to engage.

    A child's time in Middle School is often fraught with developmental and socio-emotional challenges. Societally, we often picture preteens and teenagers to be unmotivated, however, the key to their motivation is agency--research shows that this age group specifically longs to demonstrate their worth and their ability to make a difference. Harrisburg Academy's IB Middle Years Programme allow our students to do just that.


    Figure 2: Harrisburg Academy eighth grade students hone their critical thinking skills by participating in a debate on globalization. They tackled important questions such as, "Do the benefits of globalization outweigh the downsides?" and "Should developing countries be brought into the global market?".
     
    For more information, Harrisburg Academy invites you to attend our IB Open House on December 9 from 6-7 p.m. Registration is available by visiting www.harrisburgacademy.org/open-house!
  • November 2021: How we learn HOW to think instead of WHAT to think: Theory of Knowledge

    How we learn HOW to think instead of WHAT to think: Theory of Knowledge
    by: Maureen Smith, IB DP Coordinator
     
    Recently in Mr. Ortman’s year-1 International Baccalaureate (IB) Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class, the students watched part of a video recording taken from a school board meeting. The topic: mask mandates in schools. The students weren’t asked to take sides or defend positions. Instead they were asked to consider 3 questions:
    • What knowledge claims were being made?
    • Why did each person make their claim?
    • What evidence did they use to support their claim?

    What is Theory of Knowledge?
    As the IB Diploma Programme (DP) coordinator, parents often ask me, “What is TOK?” The quick answer I typically give is that it is similar to a philosophy class. Although this answer gives an idea of the purpose, Theory of Knowledge asks students to step back from the pros and cons of a particular point-of-view, and instead to look at how people arrive at knowledge. 

    In TOK, students untangle differences in knowledge from six specific areas: history, human sciences, mathematics, natural sciences, and the arts. Each of these areas provides a framework for knowledge using different tools and perspectives. Math uses proofs that are not subject to change. In experimental science, well founded theories can change in the face of new findings. Knowledge in history can be founded on two very different memoirs about the same event. Knowledge from each of these areas has value and contributes to how we understand the world. 

    Why TOK Matters
    It is easy to find sources of knowledge in our interconnected, global society. We carry an endless supply of knowledge claims around in our pockets every day. In a world where sources of information exist everywhere, understanding and evaluating not just what we know, but how we know has never been more important. This is why TOK holds a place as one of 3 core elements to the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Programme. 

    It can be difficult to drill down to the core knowledge behind complex ideas. TOK classes offer students an opportunity to focus on knowledge itself outside of core content they might need for specific courses. TOK offers an opportunity to look at claims beyond their specific context. In IB History, students might discuss “Why was the Cold War important in US History?,” but in TOK, the question could be “Why is history important?” However, Theory of Knowledge classes are only part of the way these concepts are woven into the fabric of the IB Diploma Programme.

    TOK as part of the IB classroom 
    Recently, my IB Biology class studied human reproduction. It was critical that they understudy the key differences between oogenesis and spermatogenesis and how implantation leads to the formation of the placenta. This led to an explanation of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Since IB holds space for discussions about TOK, our discussion didn’t stop at techniques. Instead, I asked students if individuals should be able to choose embryos that are transferred based on traits. Should a parent be able to choose based on disease predisposition? Height? Biological sex? Once they thought about this from their own point-of-view, I asked them to consider what if everyone in society had these options? Then to consider if it was available only to those who could afford it. 

    For some of the students, what seemed an acceptable personal choice took on a different meaning when it was considered as a potential societal norm. Experiences in TOK prepare them to have these conversations. They acquire skills that help them take a more global perspective. 

    In vitro genetic screening isn’t a simple question, but it is only one of the many complex issues our future leaders will have to contemplate. We are going to need critical thinkers who can look beyond opinion, evaluate the information in front of them, and consider a global perspective around the issues. TOK skills help students construct a framework to evaluate the challenges we haven’t even imagined yet. 

    More TOK Experiences
    TOK students complete two assessments for IB, an essay and an exhibition. The latter, a recently added element, asks students to link three objects of their choice to a knowledge prompt like What counts as knowledge? or Are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?  If you are feeling intrigued by TOK, you can also look forward to the year 1 student’s TOK exhibition in the spring. We will have updates on how we will share these projects with our community later this year.

    If you just can’t wait until spring, challenge your own perspective right now! Contemplate more about how you know the things you know. Mr. Ortman and Mr. Whitehead, the TOK teachers here at Harrisburg Academy, suggested a few links that can facilitate some good knowledge discussions:

    Theory of Knowledge offers a way to expand understanding. It challenges us to look deeper and think about perspectives. These are skills every life-long learner appreciates and continues to hone. TOK enriches the academic experience for our students, and it is one of the many ways that the The International Baccalaureate Programme supports Harrisburg Academy’s mission to prepare students to thrive in college and beyond. 
  • October 2021: Easy Ways to Practice International Mindedness at Home

    Easy Ways to Practice International Mindedness at Home
    by: Leyla Goldfinger, IB PYP/MYP Coordinator

    Have you ever heard the phrases “learner profile” or “internationally minded” during school conferences or functions? Have you ever wondered what those actually mean or why they are important? Learn more here!

    All of our International Baccalaureate (IB) programs focus on the development of international mindedness. 

    What is international mindedness?
    International mindedness is how we think about other people and the world around us. Do you have a negative reaction when your friends suggest trying a new cuisine? Do you ever test your comfort zone and try new things? Are you interested in learning a new language? Is your life balanced? Do you make time for your friends and family while meeting deadlines for work?

    As IB educators, Harrisburg Academy's faculty believes that an internationally minded person is caring, balanced, open-minded, reflective, knowledgeable, principled, inquirer, communicator, risk-taker, and a good thinker. We model these attributes and teach our students how to put these traits into practice.

     
    Figure 1: Second graders collaborate on norms for communication prior to building their community projects.
     
    Why is learner profile development important?
    Sometimes you meet people who are extremely intellectual, but socially awkward...or great in social settings but lack emotional maturity. The IB learner profile emphasizes the development of the whole child​​—intellectually, socially, emotionally, and personally.

    To help our students grow, Harrisburg Academy teachers design specific learning experiences, supporting student understanding of the learner profile attributes in all of the IB programs we offer. For each grade level, this looks different and might focus on what a community is, what a civilization is, or even how we impact our environment. Although these concepts and attributes are modeled and taught at school, reinforcing them at home is also important.


    Figure 2: A Junior Kindergarten student reflects on what it means to be a good communicator.

    How can I support my children at home?
    As a teacher with almost 20 years of experience in IB education, I could easily model these attributes at school and teach them to my students. As a parent, it was trickier to make them lifestyle choices as a parent! I found some easy ways of reinforcing international mindedness with my family. I believe these suggestions will guide you in supporting your child’s IB journey and help you raise an internationally minded child. That being said, it is important to consider the age-appropriateness of these learning opportunities.

    Risk taker (Individuals who challenge themselves to do difficult things knowing that they may fail)
    • Encourage your child to get out of their comfort zone by suggesting new activities, sports, and after school clubs.
    • Facilitate discussions about the importance of challenging themselves in school.
    • Emphasize the value of learning from their mistakes instead of focusing on the test scores. Failure is part of the learning process! 
    • Praise the effort behind their actions instead of the result. You might say, “You worked really hard for your math test last weekend and spent hours studying. Although your score does not reflect your hard work, I am proud of how much effort you put in.”
    • Provide opportunities for them to participate in field trips, overnight trips, and school-related travels.
    • Give feedback about what they did well and what they can do better next time without discouraging them from trying again after a failure. 
    Principled (Someone who does the right thing even if no one is watching)
    • Thank your child(ren) for telling the truth, even if they made a mistake.
    • Discuss fairness and justice using examples from current events.
    • Collaborate on consequences for their actions by letting them be involved in deciding what the fair consequences should be.
    • Encourage them to play team sports and compliment on how they support their team.
    • When playing games, decide on (or go over) the rules together.    
    • Teach them what a principled winner or loser looks like. Shake hands and say “good game” after playing. 
    Balanced (Someone who tries to balance the intellectual, social and emotional aspects of their lives)
    • Create a schedule together and agree on the appropriate amount of time for technology use.
    • Sign a contract with your child(ren) about the time they can spend on TV or computers.
    • Teach them what a balanced diet should look like and involve them in deciding on the weekly menu for dinners.
    • Model active living by having family physical activities planned such as hiking or biking.
    • Explore different hobbies that support their intellectual, social, and emotional needs.
    • Plan playdate opportunities with different friends instead of always playing with the same people.
    Reflective (Someone who critically thinks about their strengths and weaknesses)
    • Watch a movie or read a book together. Discuss the way the characters acted in a certain situation and ask how your child would react in the same situation.
    • Ask your child open-ended questions after school. Instead of saying “How was school today?, try asking “What was the most fun part of your day?” or “What was challenging for you today? What do we need to practice more to overcome this challenge?”
    • Discuss how they feel before, during, and after trying something new such as traveling or meeting a new friend.
    • Help your child set goals for themselves after having difficulty with a project or receiving low scores in their report cards.
    • Discuss strategies to use when they feel upset. For example, they may want to create a calm down area in their rooms or you may have a chart with visuals to remind them of some strategies.
    • Practice yoga and meditation with your child.
    • Create a habit of talking about the thing you/they are grateful for and get them to think about the positive aspects of their lives.
    Figure 3: A Kindergarten student tastes the mooncake during the Mid-Autumn Festival exploration at school. Students discussed their feelings about trying a new type of food before and after this experience.

    Communicator (Someone who confidently expresses their ideas and opinion while also being a great listener)
    • Make your dinner time a family conversation time. Avoid the TV and other distractions during this timeI know this is a tough one for us parents. 
    • Encourage your child(ren) to call, FaceTime, and email their relatives. 
    • Keep books and magazines at their reach. Have a library in their rooms.
    • A good communicator is also a good listener. Model good listening behavior through making eye contact with them when they are talking, and ask clarifying questions and listen without interrupting. 
    • Consider audio book subscriptions. 
    • Encourage them to perform on stage or take comedy lessons. 
    • Teach them how to kindly disagree with someone.

    Figure 4: Ninth grade students present their imaginary civilizations after learning about the ancient civilizations in class.

    Interested in learning more?

    We hope you will join us on November 1 for our IB PYP/MYP Open House! We'll be going over more information about the learner profile, what you can do at home to support your children, and the lifelong skills your child will gain by attending the Academy!