Nurturing the Spirit in the Midst of College Prep

By Dr. Zach Gautier, Dean of Academic Services

This fall marks my eleventh year here at Valor. So much has changed over the past decade, but our commitment to being a college preparatory institution has not. Over the years, I have been blessed to be a classroom teacher in the history department and then for the past six years, I have overseen Academic & College Counseling.

I am a data nerd and love to examine and evaluate statistics. This has proven helpful in my role as we monitor and track our progress toward objective goals in our AP pass rate or our school wide ACT average. However, the greatest joy in my job is the opportunity to work with students and parents as we walk through the college search process.

At points, these two parts of my job can come in conflict – examining the objective data and caring for the individual student can be difficult to hold in tension. I have realized over the years there have been times when my focus on numerical outcomes obscured my ability to see individual students and the work God was doing in their lives.

Fish Don’t Climb Trees

This past spring, I found myself in a family meeting and I found that I was thinking about the college preparation process differently than I ever had before. In the course of the meeting, I made the statement that I never want the process of preparing for college to mangle a student’s soul. As I reflected after that meeting, I know there have been times when I have said things that increased stress in such a way that a student felt undue burden. In my emphasis on statistics and achievement, I may have cast a vision for college that students felt they could not attain.

The other observation I have made is if a student struggles academically at Valor, they can draw the wrong conclusion about their skills and abilities. A quote that is often attributed to Albert Einstein says: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Whether Einstein made this statement or not, I believe the principle holds true. I seek for students to see themselves not just by their GPA or ACT score but with the complexity and beauty with which God created them.

In the season of college applications and the stress that can come for all of our students, my hope is that we are a place that nurtures the spirit of students. Success is not defined by the prestige of a college admission or the percentile on a national test. Rather, it is marked by a lifetime of character, integrity, love, learning, and service.

Guidance to Nurture the Soul

To our Senior families: as we enter these next few months of applications and the long waiting game of determining if your son or daughter got the acceptances they hoped for, I encourage you to not miss the sweetness of this final year. I have met with dozens of families over the past few years who found that the stress had mounted to an unhealthy point come February and March. Take time to create a release valve in the process by working diligently to incorporate other topics of conversation with your student.

For our underclass families, my encouragement would be to engage with the college process. Each student and family is at a different place, so it is challenging to give generalized guidance. However, I have found that one of the most important steps for a high school student is to develop a vision for what the next phase of his or her life can look like. Often, visiting a campus or discussing college with an older relative can help a student to see how education may play a role in their long-term goals. This is valuable when students get into the doldrums of the school year.

My last encouragement would be to reach out to your son or daughter’s college counselor if there are questions. We are blessed with a team that loves to support families through this process. Please do not hesitate to seek support outside of the annual ICP process. There may not be a more important phase of this educational journey where we see the value of partnering with parents to help prepare students.