My daughter Jessica is almost done with her first Freshman semester at university. She is very happy and seems to be thriving. Over Thanksgiving, she and five school friends celebrated together by cooking meals for each other at a hotel in Washington, D.C. and playing cards when not cooking or touring the nation’s capital. All of them were California kids who now attend Eastern colleges. Washington D.C. was a convenient meeting place for those who did not go west for the break.
It interested me that four of those who gathered were Jessica’s friends from Peninsula School (Menlo Park, CA), and only one was a High School friend. Jessica attended Peninsula School from age three through 8th grade. Her group called itself the Uns (since they were in neither the Boys’ group nor the Girls’). The bonds of comradery, communication, and trust formed by the Uns from the time they were barefoot little kids making mud pies together in Nursery Blue seem to be holding firm despite the High School and college diaspora. The Uns are still cooking together, using the skills they developed through many class camping trips with Peninsula School. From reading their blogs, these are capable and interesting young adults whose progress I admire.
Peninsula School is a “progressive” or “alternative” school, meaning their focus is on development rather than grades. (Jessica calls Peninsula her “hippie school”.) In fact, Jessica did not get formal grades or take tests until she was in 8th grade and applying to High School. Nonetheless, she was regularly awarded high honors at Harker High School (she was entered into the Cum Laude Society) and is flourishing at Carnegie Mellon University where she is in the Humanities Scholars program and several CMU concert choruses.
With so many schools now teaching to the test and being obsessed with grades from the earliest grammar school years, Peninsula School is a good example of a better way. It is not a perfect choice but no school is. For example, Peninsula was as much the wrong choice for our son (who has serious learning disabilities) as it was a great choice for our daughter. Even though Peninsula was an excellent school for Jessica, it took several years for her Math knowledge to catch up to Harker’s standards. (She is taking Calculus II at CMU next semester.)
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of being a Peninsula parent for 11 years was my quiet fear that Peninsula might be too much of an academic risk. That is, I shared a concern with some other parents that our children would not do well in more conventional schools. However, if my daughter’s Peninsula School class is a representative (if small) example, Peninsula kids can compete very successfully in both standard and world-class rigorous academic environments.
Peninsula School is not the only successful alternative school. There were at least two kids in Jessica’s Harker class who came to the prep school with a very different point of view. Jessica came from Peninsula and her best friend at Harker came from Ananda Living Wisdom school. It was interesting to see how both girls succeeded in the grade-conscious pressure cooker environment of Harker School. Despite their alternative school origins, both girls did well academically and were accepted into good colleges (Carnegie Mellon and U.C. Berkeley). Better still, neither has lost her creative flair, curiosity, or independence.
I was not sure if it was just these two girls who had blossomed from non-standard seed beds until I put together a list of where Jessica’s Peninsula School classmates ended up after High School. From what I can tell, the whole class is now in college:
- Academy of Art University (San Francisco)
- Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
- California College of the Arts (San Francisco and Oakland, CA)
- Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Colorado College (Colorado Springs, CO)
- Foothill College (Los Altos Hills, CA) 2 going
- Portland State (Portland, OR)
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI, Troy, NY)
- Stanford University (Stanford, CA) 2 going
- Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA)
- University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
- University of California at Davis (Davis, CA) 2 going
- University of California at Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA) 3 going
- Wesleyan (Middletown, Connecticut)
Pretty good for graduates of a “hippie school”!
Update: Jessica was graduated in 2012 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh PA, with college and university honors, Phi Beta Kappa.
More on her class: Peninsula School – Grads Doing Well (9 May 2013).
Pictured are Jessica’s 8th grade school play: The Mouse that Roared, and Jessica selling the jewelry she designed.
Images Copyright 2002 by John Plocher