How The Grayson School is Transforming the Upper School Experience
An interview with Meredith Hafer, Academic Dean at The Grayson School on how Pennsylvania’s only “all gifted, all day” independent school introduces a transformative, authentic scholar model for their upper school.
Tell me about Grayson’s Upper School program.
Grayson’s Upper School program is founded on the vision that students shouldn’t have to wait until they graduate to explore their passions and dig into authentic work. In addition to taking core and elective courses that integrate deep, student-centered, project-based learning, all Grayson Upper School students spend time daily in the lab, studio, or makerspace to conduct real-world independent projects under the guidance of hands-on mentors. Whether you want to publish original research on chronobiology, create and distribute a stop-motion animation film, or launch an international campaign for social justice, we are ready for you.
How is Grayson’s Upper School different from those at other schools?
There are plenty of schools that offer advanced, AP-style classes. In order to truly meet the needs of gifted students, we needed to create a model that was fundamentally different—a model founded on research as well as our experience with this unique population.
Our kids come to us with countless ideas. What they really need to learn is how to make those ideas into realities. The best way to do this is through authentic, meaningful challenge in a collaborative community of like-minded peers in which teachers act as mentors, helping students build knowledge, skills, and perseverance.
How are your students evaluated? I hear they don’t get grades…
We put a lot of thought into how best to give meaningful feedback to our students, feedback that will help them grow and make progress towards mastery. The end goal of our academic program, including our evaluation processes, is enduring, durable, transferable learning. If a student gets a 96% on a Chemistry final in June but can’t come close to reproducing those results in September, how can we call that mastery?
A high school program without letter grades might seem audacious, but we have the support of the educational community behind us. Grayson is thrilled to be one of the first schools to use the Mastery Transcript, in which students earn mastery credits for specific skills, knowledge blocks, or habits of mind by submitting evidence of enduring, durable, transferable learning. If you look at the members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, you see a number of prestigious independent schools; more recently, the Consortium has expanded membership to public schools. We at Grayson are excited to be a member of this transformational body, and look forward to seeing the systemic changes it will have on the broader education landscape.
How does your program prepare students for college?
We all know that the current system isn’t working. High school students—especially high-achieving students—put themselves through a grueling four years of chasing grades, logging accomplishments, and fighting sleep deprivation, motivated mainly by college admissions panic. The toxic levels of stress and the inherent lack of meaning in this process are antithetical to what we are trying to achieve. And universities aren’t happy with the results of this process either. They don’t want more students with perfect GPAs and test scores, who struggle to produce original work.
The singular advantage that Grayson students have, in both college admissions and college success, is that they have been given the time and the training to conduct their own research, to propose, create, and distribute authentic work in a variety of fields. They own their educations and cultivate their own portfolios. More and more, elite universities want to see evidence of innovation, giving priority to candidates who have engaged in original scholarship. The world of college admissions is changing, and Grayson is proud to be at the forefront.
Meredith Hafer serves as Academic Dean at The Grayson School. In her first year at Grayson, Meredith was charged with leading a task force to develop the Upper School program that launches in September. She holds a master’s degree in philosophy from Harvard University and a master’s degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in gifted education from the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. As an educator and school leader, she is most passionate about spending her days counseling students, advising families, and guiding teachers on meeting the needs of gifted students.