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Matt Allio


One of the more interesting parts of my role at Trinity is the confluence of admissions and matriculation. This week, on Wednesday, amplified this confluence.


At 9:00 on Wednesday, I joined the admissions tour led by Kirk Gossman with Colette McWilliams. We toured a small group of parents of prospective Trinity students from Chapel, to the Art Studio, Science Lab, Maker Space, through the classrooms, and landing in the Library. The parents touring Trinity were trying to imagine their child stepping onto our campus as a Trinity student.


At 12:30 on Wednesday, I was conducting a mock interview with a 5th grader. This mock interview was done in preparation for an admissions tour and shadow visit day at a local private middle school. The student in the mock interview was trying to recall memorable times at Trinity and in their lives while imagining themselves as a student at a new middle school.


This juxtaposition only reminded me of the evolution of the student experience at Trinity from the origins in an admissions tour to the days they spend visiting middle schools in the early phases of matriculation.


Sure, I’m here every day and, honestly, I can’t go more than 120 minutes without hearing the word “matriculation.” Still, I often have to deliberately sit and reflect upon the 5th-grade student experience at Trinity as they navigate the matriculation process.


I can march out the facts…. that’s easy. Last year, the class of 2018 were granted acceptance to the following schools: Castilleja, Crystal Springs Uplands, Girls’ Middle, King’s Academy, Menlo, Alto, Sacred Heart, Woodland, McKinley Institute of Technology, and Seven Hills.


It’s a fact that Trinity administers the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) each October for the 5th graders.


It’s a fact that Trinity contracts with Christine Southgate of Next Step: School Selection to assist families and students to understand the matriculation process and help identify what may be the best fit for the student and family.


It’s a fact that Trinity invited independent school Admissions teams and Heads of School to visit our campus in September and October. These 90-minute visits include a tour, lunch, and a candid discussion aimed at the visiting schools learning as much about Trinity as they can and for us at Trinity to be well-informed as to what kind of student and family may fit best at their schools. Schools are visiting individually or in groups of up to three schools and include Priory, Crystal Springs, Synapse, Pinewood, Menlo, Girls’ Middle, Alto, Keys, Nueva, Sacred Heart, Castilleja, and Woodland.


It’s a fact that students will most often complete applications to more than one school, will submit transcripts, writing samples, ISEE scores, and letters of recommendations from teachers and administrators.


It’s a fact that at almost every school the students will be interviewed, most often in a small group setting, so the schools can better know the students.


The facts are relatively easy.


The challenges are less tangible.


Think about this for a minute, as it’s important. In the development of young children, it’s commonly known that around 5th to 7th grades, students move from what is defined as a Concrete Operational Stage to the Formal Operational Stage. The Concrete Operational Stage is characterized by the development of organized and rational thinking. The Formal Operational Stage is characterized by thinking that is more abstract and sophisticated. The difference between Concrete and Formal Operations is profound. This is not jargon. This is real.


Concrete Operations is about fairness, rules, boundaries, what is observed and known. Formal Operations is about thinking abstractly for the first time in their lives, asking imagine if, and asking questions they couldn’t even conceive of only a few months ago. It’s a time of extraordinary growth and, frankly, vulnerability.


Mix in the middle school matriculation, at precisely the time of life when the students can be the most impressionable and malleable, and it’s no wonder there are layers of anxiety and stress. Yes, there is judgment involved for our 5th graders. That’s undeniable. It’s inherent in the process. For all the systems Trinity has constructed to partner with the students in the middle school process, we can’t match with what is in their heads.


Still, and as challenging as the process can be, there are vital benefits to the process. First, for families, it’s a time, if viewed correctly, where the family can truly crystallize what’s important to them in education. By visiting schools and being immersed in the process, and hopefully being able to observe without bias, there’s real family growth and understanding.


Another benefit is from what educators call disequilibrium. When students get out of their comfort zone, in a state of disequilibrium, real growth can occur. It’s our job, as parents and educators, to do everything we can to make sure the learning curve isn’t too steep to traverse. We’re the adults, we’ve got the experience, so it’s incumbent upon us to extend our experience to keep the learning curve accessible and realistic.


What are we after, as educators, at Trinity?   From talking to parents, we’re after the same thing you are: the best educational and social fit for the matriculating 5th grader. Not every 5th grader is uniquely matched for Synapse, Menlo, Castilleja, Pinewood, you name the school. Our job as educators and parents is to carefully sift and filter the information with the children, gently shepherd the 5th graders through the process, encourage then insist on open dialogue about what we’re learning, and balance autonomy, independence and interdependence…. all the while working to identify the best educational and social fit. A tall task, indeed, yet this partnership between students, parents, and Trinity is essential.


Much more could be written about this process and I look forward to sharing more thoughts about matriculation going forward. We’re certainly learning a lot from all the Admissions Teams and Heads of School who have been visiting Trinity this month and into October.




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