Morgan Gibson, Staff Writer
October 20, 2023
Nobles attracts a wide variety of students with different backgrounds and unique experiences. While many students come from private middle schools, such as Dedham Country Day, The Shady Hill School, and the Park School, others hail from public schools across the state. As students make the transition to a new school, particularly one as academically rigorous as Nobles, concerns may arise regarding the preparedness of students coming from public schools.
Opinions on the subject vary, with students expressing a wide range of perspectives. Abdirzak Abdulle (Class II) said, “Just coming into freshman year, I felt thrown into the school.” Echoing Abdulle’s sentiment of unpreparedness, Tahira Muhummad (Class I) said, “[It was] a difficult transition, I felt like I was behind.” Valeria Yepes Restrepo (Class II) explained that “it’s hard to come from a school where you’re the best and then come to a school where everyone’s the best.” In contrast, Lara Sahagun (Class III) held a different perspective, feeling adequately prepared due to having taken advanced middle school classes offered by her public school. “ These students’ differing experiences reveal that not all public schools are the same, as they vary tremendously in resources and opportunities. “I don’t necessarily think all public schools are created equal in regards to the transition, both in terms of social preparedness but also academic preparedness.” Class IV Dean Nora Dowley-Liebowitz said.
When examining the transition from public school to Nobles, students often question whether attending a public school impacts their class placements. One common misconception is that students from public middle schools are automatically placed in non-honors tracks, especially in math and science classes; however, this is not the case. The Math and Science Departments are dedicated to ensuring that students have the best chance to succeed based on their prior experience and knowledge. In each department, there are three primary considerations when making placements. Mathematics Department Chair Sue Kemalian said, “We take a look at their teacher recommendation, their SSAT scores, and their transcripts, and combine all those points to try to figure out the best place for them.” Both Kemalian and Science Department Chair Jen Craft expressed the imperfections in the process and how initial placements are only the beginning of the conversation. “The placement process isn’t perfect, and so we do invite some dialogue on the placements,” Craft said. In the late spring and early summer, during New Student Registration Night, incoming students have the chance to engage in this dialogue with their parents and potential teachers. The ultimate goal of class placements is to meet students where they are and challenge them enough to grow. “[Teachers are] holding the bar high but making sure students can jump over it,” Craft said. Determining class placements is a complex process; however, Craft, Kemalian, and others use data and their understanding of each student’s experience to decide which class will offer an appropriate level of rigor for the student.
While the academic adjustment is complex, the social transition poses another difficulty for all students, particularly those from public schools. Dowley-Liebowitz explained that, even as a teacher transferring from public school, there were noticeable differences in the environment: “There’s a language that I had to adjust to,” she said. Arthi Vithianathan (Class II), who attended Sharon Public Schools, said, “The entire environment changing was weird.” Dowley-Liebowitz further comments that “that sort of like unspoken code is probably a bigger piece of the transition.”
Despite all of these challenges, Nobles has systems in place to ease all new students into the transition. Director of Academic Support Heather O’Neill said, “We have tried to mitigate some of those challenges with the ONSET program.” ONSET is a free summer program that hosts short sessions on Zoom to prepare students for their time in the Nobles Upper School. In teaching fundamental skills such as study habits, note-taking, and how to use Canvas, ONSET has been a tremendous help to many students. Olivia Golhar (Class II) said, “Public school didn’t prepare me, but Nobles helped with the transition.” Most teachers understand Nobles’ level of academic rigor and encourage students to seek help to ease their transition and to feel as though they do not have to “Worry Alone.” O’Neill says, “I think there’s a cultural shift for students who come from a school where maybe they didn’t talk as openly with their teachers. Here, teachers and students have great relationships and even have lunch together in the Castle.”
Even so, O’Neill commented that coming from a private school does not necessarily mean that students are better equipped for Nobles. “The transition into any school can be challenging, even for our students that come up from our middle school,” O’Neill said. Dowley-Liebowitz explained that much of students’ preparedness stems from the opportunities with which their families provided them outside of school, such as academic enrichment programs and one-on-one tutoring.
Although the transition into Nobles may be difficult for many from public and private schools, the opportunities that Nobles provides are unmatched, Muhammad said, “I feel like I appreciate the resources that Nobles provides more because I haven’t always had all of this.”