When making choices about the education for our child, my husband and I often looked back on our own education experiences in and out of China. We were looking for education with long-term goals, which is an education of the whole person.
Meanwhile, as an educator myself, I understood too well that the decision cannot be made solely based on educational philosophy written on paper. The philosophy is only valid when it is supported by the programs and activities in the daily lives of the students in the school. With these criteria in mind, we found The Putney School.
Among American boarding schools, Putney stands out with its unique work program, rich art program, opportunities for students to participate fully in community life and leadership training, as well as an innovative approach in pedagogy. We share Carmelita Hinton’s endorsement of manual labor as an important basis for a healthy and balanced life, and we believe that you need to cultivate the love for it from childhood and adolescence.
At Putney, students are engaged in real working jobs every day: washing dishes, chopping firewood, raising cows, and harvesting maple syrup. Along the way, they learn important lessons in work, responsibility, individual competence, and leadership. Our friends joked that in the past, Chinese youth were sent to work in the countryside and everyone was complaining; but now we are paying to have our child work in a school farm. Free will makes such a huge difference!
While we, as parents, are allured by the work program at Putney, our child is enchanted by the arts activities. At Putney, students not only take art classes, but delve into art activities for two nights every week, doing Celtic music, African and Caribbean drumming, sculpture, or weaving, to name a few. To our surprise, after a packed day of studying and working, our child always appears re-energized after these arts evenings!
We also appreciate that at Putney, students participate a lot. Given the relatively small size of the school community, Putney offers many opportunities for students to take part in, or even take the lead, in community lives. Putney does not just pay lip service to student participation. Students are taking lots of responsibilities in school life. Not only are there two student trustees on board, but also in every trustee meeting, there will be time devoted to communications of the trustees with the students, on issues such as the environmental consciousness in the investment of the school endowment. What impresses me the most are the honesty, patience, and trust that characterize these communications: the adults sincerely believe that the teenagers are capable of dealing with real-world problems if they participate fully. Along the way, the young people will truly understand the saying, “When we feel that somebody should do something about that, we are the somebody”.
This proactive attitude is the most important lesson an education can offer. We found that our child will not hesitate to talk or write to the principal, the teachers, and the whole school when he feels he has something to say. And he’s very proud that Putney is a community that gives him responses, often the same day.
Putney emphasizes innovations in pedagogy. Instead of selecting students and sending them to Ivy League colleges, the focus here is on developing each individual student to the fullest. The teachers make great efforts to meet the students where they are, but challenge them to realize their potential. The favorite part for our child is Project Week, when the students work on their favorite topics, sponsored by the faculty.
It’s been more than one year since our child came to Putney, and we strongly feel that good psychological preparation for an international student will facilitate a smooth transition. For example, the workload in an American high school will surprise those who are seeking asylum from the “exam hell” in their home country, although the work consists of different tasks. Compared with their former Chinese classmates, the students at Putney need to be more independent, self-motivated, and willing to hone their skills in time management. In a boarding school, the students also need cultural literacy in order to better communicate and work with people. Particularly, they need to learn to seek guidance and help from the adults, who are always willing to help.
In our opinion, if a family envisions high school years not merely as a time preparing for college, but as part of the child’s precious life that deserves a wealth of life experience, then The Putney School is a very good choice.