There are a variety of reasons for choosing a post-graduate academic program after high school but before beginning college. In a typical year, the opportunity to pursue a passion, build independence, skills, or competence in advance of the rigors of undergraduate study is an excellent choice for many students. A recent Insider article cited a new gap-year trend as the coronavirus changed what college would look like for many high school students who graduated in 2020.
The Grayson School recently launched a post-graduate program for the 2020-21 school year, and has enrolled both students who were considering and evaluating their options pre-pandemic, and students whose plans have changed since graduation. We spoke with two of our first students in the program to share their experiences.
DESIGNING A PROGRAM
“I was given complete freedom in choosing classes for my schedule,” shares Kayla, who was looking for a sense of community and the chance to polish a few skills before college. “After in-depth discussions on my interests and goals, the school developed a program to fit my needs. I have a Leadership Seminar to develop my social and leadership skills, and a Gifted Education Research internship, where I am learning to understand my identity as a gifted individual.” Kayla is a full-time student and is also taking courses in American Literature, Comic Art, and Visual Storytelling.
For Tucker, the pandemic prompted a fairly last-minute decision to defer his freshman year at college until next fall by opting for a post-graduate academic program. “A year without academics would be disastrous for my college experience. I’ve been an honors-level math student for years, and I found that Grayson has the flexibility to work with me on advanced math, and an openness and availability within their curriculum.” He is studying Advanced Physics; Scientific Research Design using CRISPR data; and is working on an independent project involving the Enigma encryption device.
A key component of our post-graduate experience is Grayson’s signature Open Studio program. Meredith Hafer, Academic Dean, describes it best: “Open Studio projects are designed and developed by students to ignite their passions, build their toolkit, find their voice, and make connections. Our expectation is that each student becomes skilled in the stages of independent research and project management, including exploration and proposal; research and mentoring; design and execution; writing and presentation; and oral defense.” A mentor guides the work, and also helps each student to connect with experienced professionals whose expertise is relevant to the project.
Tucker has a passion for cryptography that was literally sparked by an MIT program he attended as a Middle School student. “I am currently designing and developing a physical, manipulative model to demonstrate and teach quantum computing and quantum cryptography to Lower School students.” He was surprised to find his TA work with gifted math students in Lower School to be so engaging and rewarding. He shares, “I had considered getting involved in education to some degree, but had absolutely no experience trying to teach.” In addition, Tucker is in the process of planning an internship outside of the school.
Kayla’s choice for an Open Studio project also came easily. “I was set up with a mentor to guide me in developing my own board games, a passion I have been building for a long time. I am working with experienced people that are all happy to support my project to build a play-tested, marketable board game. The school staff is even allowing me to host a play test as an official school event.” Students who may not have a particular project in mind for Open Studio work may elect to join one of three fascinating and large-scale group projects.
After completing assignments, it feels wonderful to actually challenge my brain. This is particularly evident in my art classes, where my teacher pushes me with individual goals to develop my skills. My identity has always been a mystery to me, but here it feels like I am finally finding myself. Researching gifted education has opened a place to explore the complex questions I have about myself. I am growing tremendously as an artist, as a learner, and as a person, finding a new level of confidence I had never experienced before.
—Kayla, Post-Graduate Student
A PROMISING START
Jill Williford Wurman, Director of Research and Kayla’s internship mentor, is also gaining insight and value in her work by being a part of this new program. “As an educator, it is a first for me to be mentoring a student on subject matter you typically do not learn in a primary or secondary school. Without requirements or concerns for grades, or the paralysis of choice many gifted students experience, I find this to be most similar to working with a graduate student, in an environment with the flexibility to focus on a very specialized topic of interest as Kayla has chosen. It is very fulfilling when you have a student who is not only very well read in her topic, but curious and motivated to learn as much as she can.”
This flexibility, openness, and availability within the curriculum were key reasons that Tucker chose Grayson after researching a few different options. He shares, “Not every post-graduate student has to work as a teaching assistant or take two independent projects on, but I think the experience of the Grayson PG program would greatly benefit anyone looking to do something productive and enjoyable for their gap year. I look forward to working even more closely with my teachers and fellow students, and I especially can’t wait to see how some of this year’s crazy, ambitious, and fascinating projects turn out!”
We recommend reading The Complete Guide to the Gap Year:The Best Things To Do Between High School and College by Kristin White which is a great resource forstudents, parents, and guidance counselors in considering and evaluating choices. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about The Grayson School Post-Graduate Experience either for a semester or a full year.