Education Speaker Series: Rethinking the College Admissions Process

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The Education Speaker Series welcomes New York Times columnist and author Frank Bruni to Piedmont on Tuesday, March 22, from 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm at the Alan Harvey Theater at Piedmont High School.  Bruni will discuss his 2015 book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, a book that has been on must-read lists for college counselors and high school parents since its publication last year.  PEF will host the author reception and book signing immediately following in the theater lobby.  A Great Good Place for Books will have Bruni’s book available for purchase.

Rethinking College Admissions

Frank Bruni’s message to parents is simple: Stop being lemmings. In the year since his book was published, Bruni has traveled around the country speaking to parent groups about the madness that has overtaken the college admissions process.  “What has surprised and pleased me,” says Bruni, “is how many parents want to step off this crazy train, and how many are asking thoughtful questions and are hungry for some conversation about this topic.” Bruni says he has also received mostly positive response from college gatekeepers themselves: admissions officers who are savvy to — and tired of — the gamesmanship that goes on around applications and who see firsthand the mental and emotional scars this race to the top leaves on today’s college kids.

But despite the embrace of his message, Bruni says there is still a critical mass of parents who don’t have the courage of their convictions, and are afraid to buck the system in favor of a more humane approach. “What disheartens me is when I hear a parent say, ‘‘Yes, I agree that an Ivy League school doesn’t equal a charmed life — but everyone around me and my child says otherwise, so what can I do?” Bruni argues that tethering a child’s happiness and worth to a prestigious institution is misguided, as successful people in life hail from all kinds of institutions of higher learning. Colleges and universities are businesses, after all, and Bruni is not shy about taking them to task for driving the current madness.

Where is Piedmont on the spectrum of the college admissions process?  Superintendent Randall Booker weighs in, “In a community noted for its commitment to education, both in terms of the level of education held by its citizens and by its support of the local K-12 schools, of course parents care deeply about their children’s education and where they’re headed after their K-12 journey — that’s only natural.”

Alison Bly.CCC
College & Career Center Director Alison Bly

Echoing Bruni’s theme, he adds, “However, just because 98% of our graduates go on to college, the end-goal of a Piedmont education is not the Ivy League, or any other prestigious institution.   Our job as educators is to help students develop and explore ALL their talents and interests.  Not because it makes them more attractive to a particular college — but because it helps them thrive and engage with the world — a world that is much bigger than college.  Which is why we are committed to sustaining a learning environment that strives to deepen students’ awareness of themselves and others, sharpens their curiosity and passion, and hones their discipline to get after their interests and passions — no matter where they choose to set their course.”

With support from the Piedmont Education Foundation, the District and secondary school administration have been able to double down on goals and programs to this end.  The PHS College and Career Center, funded by PEF, encourages students to think about a wide range of post-graduation options, including lesser known colleges.  Says CCC Director Alison Bly (above), “There are thousands of other schools out there for students to explore,” Bly said.  “Just because students have heard of the college doesn’t mean it’s the best college for them.”

Helping to balance academic and college pressure, the high school Wellness Center, also funded by PEF, proactively works to engage all students in a broad variety of programs that serve to turn down the volume on college pressure, academic stress and related unhealthy behaviors.  Recognizing early on the need for such programs, then-PHS Principal Booker established a Wellness Center in 2006, one of the first of its kind in the country to offer student leadership and mentoring programs that proactively address student health and wellness concerns. PEF has also supported additional middle and high school programs like Scots Camp, Challenge Success, Camp Everytown, and the PHS service learning program L.E.A.P. which encourage students to collaborate, problem-solve, organize, and hone their leadership and communication skills — with a focus on “real world” not classroom learning.


L.E.A.P. (Learn, Engage, Act, Partner) activities at Piedmont High School

Circling back to Bruni’s message, Booker says, “In Piedmont, we are committed to sustaining an educational environment that doesn’t distill a student’s worth to grades or college acceptances.”  But, he adds, this has taken more than vision, “and I have to give enormous credit to our community and the Piedmont Ed Foundation whose funding makes these additional programs possible.  Most schools in California don’t have anything like this.  It takes more than vision to provide a Piedmont education — and I am grateful every day for PEF’s support.”

PEF Hosts Community Reception
Prior to Bruni’s talk, the Piedmont Education Foundation will offer refreshments starting at 7 pm and host a reception immediately following at 9 pm in the lobby of the Alan Harvey Theater.  Additionally, Bruni’s book will be for sale (from A Great Good Place for Books) before and after the event.  The author will join the reception at 9 pm to sign books.  The PHS College and Career Center and PUSD Wellness Center staff and volunteers will be on hand for more information.

Admission to the event is free to Series subscribers, or is $15 at the door or in advance.  The Education Speaker Series is presented by the Piedmont Unified School District and Piedmont Adult School, with the generous support of the Piedmont Education Foundation, Piedmont Parents Network, ESS Speaker Circle, and individual contributors.  Learn more about ESS.