Viewpoint Partners with Stanford’s Challenge Success to Help Develop Well-Balanced Students

On Wednesday, February 13, Upper School parents gathered to learn more about Viewpoint’s new partnership with Stanford’s Challenge Success, a program developed over the last 12 years to help schools and families foster well-balanced students. 
Mary Hofstedt, Challenge Success School Program Director, and Anneke Emerson, Viewpoint’s Chief Innovation Officer, each took to the stage to explain how this collaborative, research-based program can help Viewpoint’s community support our students on their path to not only academic, but also personal success. In their remarks, Ms. Hofstedt and Ms. Emerson addressed the following questions:

What is Challenge Success, and how is Viewpoint involved?

The mission of Challenge Success is to “partner with schools, families, and communities to embrace a broad definition of success and to implement research-based strategies that promote student well-being and engagement with learning.”

Ms. Hofstedt explained that Challenge Success exists to tackle the misconception that academic rigor and student well-being are mutually exclusive. For students in a college-preparatory environment, the demands on their time and the pressure to “do it all” can lead students to disengagement and excessive stress. In recent years, Challenge Success has surveyed 170,000 Middle and Upper School students at independent schools to find out what they wished their parents and teachers knew about what they were thinking and feeling about this. Mary reported, “The results revealed that rather than really engaging with learning, far too many students are just ‘doing school.’” This lack of engagement with learning is one of the major issues that the Challenge Success program hope to address.

Head of School Mark McKee has known Stanford Professor Denise Pope, one of the founders of Challenge Success (formerly SOS – Stressed Out Students), for many years, and Viewpoint’s formal partnership with Challenge Success began in August. The early days of the partnership involved attending conferences and workshops, and building our own Challenge Success team. Our team, led by Anneke Emmerson and made up of faculty, students, and parents, is now conducting Fishbowl Conversations, where students answer targeted questions on their feeling about academic and student life, and the teachers sit and listen. The Upper School students are also participating in surveys on these topics, and Shadow Days, where faculty will spend a day living the lives particular students, will begin in the coming weeks.

What strategies can parents use to enhance student achievement, without adding academic stress or sacrificing well-being?
“How are we parenting from our core values?” To answer this question, Ms. Hofstedt asked the parents in the room to consider what they wanted most for their children. The replies were mostly “happiness,” “well-being,” and “self-sufficiency.” If these are our ultimate aspirations for our children, how are we to proceed?

According to Challenge Success, it is critical to prioritize unstructured PDF time - playtime, downtime, and family time. Playtime is “genius time,’” and it is how we learn. Downtime gives them time to relax, rest, and rejuvenate. Family time – even 25 minutes per day – is protective time. It makes a child feel protected and connected. It allows families to establish the little rituals that they will reflect back upon warmly in the years to come.

Also, the importance of sleep cannot be overemphasized. Their research has shown that students are not getting the sleep they need. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety, and can interfere with learning and engagement in school. An extra hour of sleep is more valuable than an extra hour of study.

Other recommendations include: emphasize learning with your children, not grades; choose your words carefully to be sure that they understand you value their well-being over test results; let your children do their own work; and resist society’s narrow definition of success – especially as it connects to college admissions.

What does the research say about college selectivity vs “college fit?”
Make sure your children understand that there are many different paths to success after high school. There are 3,100 four-year colleges in the United States, all with different attributes and personalities. Not every school is the right place for everyone. Help your child find the “right fit” for them, not simply the school with the most burnished reputation. Research has shown that it is not where they go to school, but how they go to school that will help them to achieve their goals.

In high school, college, and beyond, engagement is all. Viewpoint hopes with this new partnership with Challenge Success to create greater engagement and connection within our community to help all of our students to define and find their own paths to success.
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