Thought Leadership Series: Exploring Passion is Pathway to Success

This is the next article in King's 'Thought Leadership Series', which focuses on educational trends, independent school culture, growth mindset, teen development, and many other topics related to teaching and learning.

A successful educational program encourages lifelong learning by incorporating the unique interests and talents each student brings to the educational experience. King does just that. The school maximizes each student's growth aligned with four key objectives: honing communication skills, cultivating intellectual ability, building individual character, and achieving personal growth. King achieves this by offering students a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences, along with flexible pathways to explore their own passions, thereby helping students achieve their personal best.

"Our goal in teaching our core academic lessons is to evoke wonder," said Dr. Tom Castonguay, Chair of Science Department and Director of STEM. "We do this by augmenting textbook learning with demonstrations wherever possible. This gets students to experience lessons and curiosity 'sparks' which can increase their passion and engagement."

The guidance King offers to students solidifies their success. "We look to get people on our teaching staff with professional experience so when a student wants to explore a subject more deeply, we have someone who can mentor that process," said Castonguay. "This makes us really unique."

King's approach is built on solid evidence. Researchers at the University of Washington's Center for Teaching and Learning found that "engaging students in the learning process increases their attention and focus, motivates them to practice higher-level critical thinking skills and promotes meaningful learning experiences. Instructors who adopt a student-centered approach to instruction increase opportunities for student engagement, which then helps everyone more successfully achieve the course's learning objectives."

King gets students to ask "why?" and "how?" as early as PreK, but it is the high school's academic flexibility that best demonstrate the dynamic of the approach. "By Grade 9, students can engage in mentored-research projects," said Castonguay. "They work independently on projects they have a passion for, collecting and analyzing data, and then communicate what they are finding in both oral and written form. These skills are critical to real world success."

King's deeply experienced faculty allows for curricular flexibility. In addition to learning from core classes, students can take advantage of advanced tutorials and specialized seminars, advanced placement courses, and honors-level independent studies they design with a faculty advisor. Students can also choose to pursue a certificate of distinction in STEM, leadership, global studies, or world languages.

"The flexibility has provided me the opportunity to push myself," said Luke Koppenheffer '18, who is part of both the studio band and the jazz combo. The combo was formalized this year by a small group of students looking to pursue a more rigorous music education. "I realized how advanced I was when I made the third chair for jazz last year and second chair jazz this year in the Connecticut Music Educators Association competition. The process of auditioning for something so selective and being accepted was a realization of how all my practice playing at public events and now in the combo helped me with my jazz improvisation and live performance skills, both of which were crucial to those auditions."

"There is no question King gives students a significant leg up at the college level and beyond," Castonguay said. "Students thrive by pursuing their passions, engaged in developmentally appropriate experiences that are true to the fields as they are practiced."