Characteristics of a Turning Point Graduate

This year provided me many opportunities to listen and to learn about Turning Point School’s community and history. As we anticipate and begin to plan our 50th anniversary in 2020, there is much to celebrate in Turning Point’s transformation from a small school that shared its living quarters with Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air to its current incarnation as a P-8 school on our beautiful Culver City campus.

In first grade, I played the part of the “Little Engine” in a theater production of The Little Engine that Could. This Little Engine’s determination to overcome obstacles to get its load of presents to the children who await them leads to some resilient, problem-solving moxie and is a useful role model for our children, who can do many unexpected things if they “think [they] can.” Perhaps it is my own self-centered projection, but I think of Turning Point’s journey as an example of the fortitude and determination that we want our children to emulate as they take risks and throw themselves into the unknown—which we all must do in order to grow.

Turning Point’s decision to evolve into a P-8 school from a P-6 school is especially striking to me. Recently I met with a long-serving Trustee for a “history lesson” about this development in the school’s chronology. To that point, I had not really thought about the reasons behind the decision for this change, but what I learned was striking: Turning Point purposefully moved from a P-6 to P-8 model knowing it might be difficult and against the norm, but with the conviction that this truly is the best model of education for students. It was not about courting more students or building more buildings; it was about making a principled decision based on the strong belief that students are best prepared to launch into young adulthood when they have opportunities to experience what it feel like to be a leader and mentor during the formative years of the early teens.

People ask me why I chose Turning Point, knowing what a momentous decision it was for me and for my family. I am honored to serve as the Head of this wonderful school at this juncture in its history, and I was attracted to Turning Point with my head and my heart, but my respect for Turning Point boils down to this: it is a school that has made its major decisions about its mission and its structure inspired by and rooted firmly in research-based evidence. It is a school that rightly believes that if you are going to invest time, talent, and ingenuity into our most precious resources, our children, then you should move forward armed with evidence and not be deterred by a local system of P-6 and 7-12 that doesn’t fit with this ideal model.

What makes the P-8 model exemplary? A recent study published in the American Educational Research Journal showed that all middle school students (sixth, seventh, and eighth graders) do better academically in K-8 schools, where they feel safer, more at home, and more engaged. The study examined a “top dog, bottom dog” theory, and found that students who were “top dogs” for longer – that is, as middle-schoolers in K-8 schools – were more likely to excel in the middle school years, and also more likely to smoothly transition to “bottom dog” status in high school. This finding is supported by a 2012 study from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, which found that K-8 students are more academically purposeful than if they transfer away from a K-8 in middle school.

In this P-8 model, middle school students develop purpose and self-esteem as mentors and role models for younger students, rather than having to establish themselves in new middle school settings. The P-8 curriculum is more unified and consistent, as it is developed with our graduating eighth graders in mind and planned backward so that even in our preschool, students are beginning to develop skills that will help them to become the incisive thinkers and confident doers that characterize Turning Point graduates. These youngest students benefit from the mentorship of older students and from seeing themselves as leaders as early as our Primary program, and even more so as they grow into the roles that enhanced their own development and growth. If you are interested to learn more, I wrote about this topic in detail in a previous blog post last fall.

Last week I attended our annual young alumni reunion celebrating former Turning Point School students who are graduating high school and leaving home for some of the most selective colleges and universities in the country. It was a spectacular turnout, with many students and their families in attendance. Many of our teachers and administrators were there, too, to reconnect with these admirable young adults who were not just intelligent and accomplished, but funny and poised, friendly and discerning.

They all had fond memories of their experiences at Turning Point and great attitudes about life. Looking back on their children’s journey, the parents were grateful for the excellent high school educations, but they lavishly praised Turning Point’s foundational experiences. While I cannot take credit for these successes, I am inspired by them, as they confirm the perspicacity and foresight of the Board of Trustees and of former Head of School, Deborah Richman for establishing a school that honors what is truly best for children. I am proud to continue in this tradition of excellence.

Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School

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