A co-educational private school for Preschool–Grade Eight

Characteristics Schools Look for in Students

This year marks a significant milestone for me: I have officially parented through every grade at Far Hills Country Day School—Preschool through Grade 8. With that, I am positioned for the next step with my oldest as he embarks on his high school journey.

This explains why I was in the privileged position last week to hear fellow Far Hills parent and head of school at Blair Academy, Peter Curran’s keynote speech at our Secondary School Fair.  

I am now going to steal from Peter’s speech shamelessly. I wanted to write a bit about what I love so much about Far Hills, meaning what our school provides for our students, and Mr. Curran’s speech kind of summarized all my thoughts in an eloquent little bundle. Mr. Curran talked to the Upper School parent community about what Blair Academy looks for in a candidate applying to his school. What was thrilling about Peter’s speech was that the person he described as the applicant his committee looks for looks so much like a Far Hills student.

We’ll start here: “The ability to communicate allows the ability to lead.” Hearing this from Mr. Curran was an incredible moment for me because it immediately reminded me of what I have said countless times to parents who are first learning about Far Hills: “Knowing something is not enough. A student must be able to articulate what they know for the purpose of sharing it with others.” Communication is a tenet of our educational practice. Far Hills starts exercising this muscle beginning in Preschool. We share ideas; we present, perform, find our voices, make our voices heard, listen, and ask the next question.

Next: character. “A solid secondary school applicant needs to be academically strong and needs to have a solid character.” (Remember, I am borrowing this from Mr. Curran’s speech). I have been asked many times, mainly in the younger years, how we manage discipline as a school. I have always marveled at how adept our teachers are at managing challenging situations and conversations, even with our three- and four-year-olds. This is all part of the lesson on character. Conflict is more often than not a product of misunderstanding or a feeling of not being heard, making one feel powerless. That being said, most conflicts can be resolved by talking and genuinely listening. Our faculty is so good at scaffolding this for our students. Children are empathetic by nature; it just gets buried sometimes under misunderstandings and frustration. At Far Hills, we do an excellent job of uncovering that empathy and bringing it back to the surface. This is how we start to build character—through empathy. On Thursday, September 30, at this school year’s first round of home sporting events, I watched a Far Hills soccer player lose the ball because he stopped to check if the player from the other team who he bumped into was alright. I also watched as a group of Far Hills girls on the Cross Country team decided to cross the finish line together, holding hands. I will take this show of character over a win—every time.

Girls CC Crossing the Finish Line

Forgive the blurriness of the photo—they were running fast! But you can see, they did it TOGETHER.

Now, the one that is so hard, even for us adults: Mr. Curran spoke about vulnerability. Why one might ask, would we want to make ourselves vulnerable? Why would we want our children to be vulnerable? I personally would like to shroud my child in a protective casing and launch him into secondary school, into the world with no chance of a bump or a bruise—or, far worse, an emotional wound. However, that protective bubble doesn’t let anything in, and it doesn’t let anything out. What will he miss? What will the world miss out on that my boy might contribute? What does it mean at Far Hills to be vulnerable? It means allowing yourself to be outside of the protective casing, to let people and experiences into your world. To get your hands dirty, to fall down, to learn how to pick yourself up again. How do we do it? We challenge our students; we ask them to take a leap of faith both figuratively and literally on our ropes course. We dare them to raise their hand. We praise them for asking for help, advocating for themselves, and recognizing we can’t do it in isolation. We put ourselves out there; even though it sometimes hurts, even though it’s scary, it’s worth it. My son ran for student council this year and lost. He also ran last year and lost. I am so proud of him. I am SO proud of him. One might say “glutton for punishment,” I say “13-year-old true grit.” I thank Far Hills for teaching him that the doing, the taking the chance, the trying, the putting yourself out there, is the win.  

I want to thank Peter Curran: Peter, your speech was a perfect cheat sheet for me as I put my thoughts together for this blog. Thank you for choosing Far Hills for your family, as I did for mine, as all you parents reading this did for yours. Trust me when I tell you, it’s working, and it’s worth it.