Speeding Up the Bright Ones

In the summer of 1958, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, inaugurated its Advanced Studies Program to enable talented high school students to supplement their regular academic training. A native of West Virginia‚ MATTHEW M. WARRENreceived his Doctor of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1954 and has been rector of St. Paul’s School since that time.

SUMMER is a quiet time on a school campus, and it seems especially so at a boarding school, where dormitories as well as classrooms are vacant. For 102 years St. Paul’s School, in Concord, New Hampshire, had sent 450 boys to their homes throughout the United States and foreign lands every June, and the plant had remained empty until they returned the following September. This state of affairs changed abruptly in June, 1958, when 100 boys arrived to inaugurate the Advanced Studies Program.

The Advanced Studies Program was a new venture in many ways. Certainly the 100 boys found it a new experience, since they came from fifty-two public and parochial high schools in forty-three New Hampshire communities. For the faculty, or master teachers as they were called, the session was entirely new, because they were charged with the responsibility to teach in six weeks the equivalent of one year’s material. And it was new for ten intern teachers who came to test their vocation as teachers.

When the first session ended, all its members — boys, interns, and masters — testified to an unbelievably good time of it. In an unsolicited letter written six months after the conclusion of the course, a student offered the following evaluation of the Advanced Studies Program experience:

The effects of the ASP on my school work are incalculable. Even though I carried my heaviest burden of extra-curricular activities this year, there has been no appreciable dip in my marks. I was the highest Senior for the first quarter with an average of 96 per cent. I can only account for this on the premise that I must have acquired three qualities at St. Paul’s: (1) stamina, (2) ability to organize my time to the best possible advantage, and (3) good study habits. Also, my powers of concentration have been greatly improved. The facets of the ASP that especially appealed to me were the quality and college-level work required of the students, the latitude one was afforded in study habits and the incentive I developed to become independent and self-responsible. I am sure that the Program had a maturing effect on me, and gave me a proper outlook on studies in general. In summation, the ASP was an exciting and rewarding adventure. As Mayor James Curley once said, “I’d do it again!”

And “do it again” the Advanced Studies Program did, completing its fourth summer in 1961 and now entering its fifth.

The possibility of such a program occurred to the rector (an Episcopal Church school’s title for its headmaster) in 1956, and he approached the state commissioner of education with the proposal that St. Paul’s operate a summer session to supplement the work of the public and parochial schools of the state. No students from out of state would be considered, no remedial or “retread” work would be offered, all students were to be referred to the program by their high school principals, and the curriculum would be tailored to fit the needs of the schools. The students were to have completed at least the tenth grade and were to be of superior ability. As the catalogues of the program were to state the purposes later on:

The purposes of the Advanced Studies Program are to provide talented high school students with challenging educational opportunities otherwise unavailable to them, to interest potential secondary school teachers in the teaching profession, and to provide secondary school teachers with classroom training in the instruction of the very able student.

The rector’s question was, “Could we find one hundred boys in the state for such a program?” The commissioner, having been principal of a large high school in Manchester, New Hampshire, said, “I could supply you with one hundred qualified boys from one of several high schools in the state. Develop your plans, and I will cooperate wherever I can.”

A committee of faculty members at St. Paul’s School with a liaison person from the State Department of Education developed the details of the general plan. The summer session was to function very much as St. Paul’s functioned through the year — small classes of ten to fourteen students, athletics required for all, an opening service of worship each morning, seated meals in one of the school’s three dining halls, all students to live in school dormitories, and no day students to be admitted. Seventy-five to ninety percent of the teachers were to be drawn from St. Paul’s faculty. Each dormitory was to be run by a St. Paul’s master, much as in the usual full-year term.

One objective, seldom stated but taken for granted, was to bring the students into a community life which would enrich, deepen, and excite them to accept larger social responsibility as well as academic intensity. Paul Tillich refers to this consideration as “inductive education.” In the Advanced Studies Program setting there was to be no apology for being intellectually able, no apology for working hard at academic subjects, no apology for struggling to excel. It was hoped that living in such a community, even briefly, would enable students to recognize their talent and ability, develop them fully, and at the same time help them to become human, approachable, and, above all, decently responsible. One intern, commenting later on this aspect, said, “Living in close proximity to many able people develops a realistic understanding of abilities and the responsibility one must assume if one is to realize one’s potential. Also, many students develop academic humility at the Advanced Studies Program. They are confronted for the first time with the news that they, too, may be wrong.”

The State Department of Education provided an opportunity for the rector and the new director of the Advanced Studies Program to present their plans, first to the school superintendents, then to the principals of the high schools. The Roman Catholics gave a similar opportunity to the Advanced Studies Program in the parochial system. The cordial and encouraging response from these people showed that such a program was deeply needed, would find general support in the state, and probably would be of interest to gifted students.

AT THIS point an appeal was made to the Fund for the Advancement of Education to grant enough money to launch the program. Immense amounts of time had been spent on plans, all the way from the broad philosophy of advanced study for those of high school age down through specific suggestions for curriculum to details of feeding and housing. Costs had been estimated as totaling $600 per student for the six-week period. The fund guaranteed the first three summers by a grant of $100,000, and the school became a reality. Another fund gave $10,000 to bring the buildings into condition suitable for summer use. Later, as the school proved its worth, statewide appeals were made by letter to corporations, foundations, and individuals. This letter appeal has met with increasing response. Additional income has been received from the National Science Foundation through Keene State Teachers College at Keene, New Hampshire. This support for science and mathematics students for the past two years enabled the enrollment to go as high as 155 students, including 35 girls, in the summer of 1961.

Scholarship funds have been essential from the start. The original program stipulated that no qualified student would be turned away for want of financial assistance, and no student ever has been. Each summer sees a shift in the number of scholarship students, but apparently the Advanced Studies Program will have to continue to grant financial aid to well over half of its students. In 1959, 116 students were enrolled, with 101 receiving scholarships averaging more than $400 per pupil. As much as $575 of the total tuition of $600 was given to some. If the emphasis is on the gifted New Hampshire high school student, then funds must be provided for those who need help. Otherwise, the program would be only for the gifted high school student who can pay, and such selection has always been against the policy of St. Paul’s School. Raising money has been an important and significant aspect of the program, and contributors have been many and willing.

The first 100 boys, who arrived at the school on June 21, 1958, had been selected from 257 boys interviewed by R. Philip Hugny, the assistant director of the program and a former teacher and administrator of wide experience in the New Hampshire public school system. Of these 257 boys, 152 were selected by test and 105 recommended by school officials. Mr. Hugny interviewed these boys during the preceding fall and winter in seventy-eight of the ninety-four high schools of the state.

Alan N. Hall, a New Hampshire resident, a graduate of Dartmouth, and for six years a member of the St. Paul’s School English department, became the first director of the Advanced Studies Program. He reports on the selection of boys as follows:

A total of 152 boys were selected for these interviews because they had exceeded a minimum cut-off score on the American Council on Education Psychological Examination administered annually by the University of New Hampshire and the State Department of Education to almost all New Hampshire high school sophomores. This screening procedure was developed through cooperation with Dr. Paul H. McIntire, Director of Counseling at the University of New Hampshire. The other candidates for interviews were recommended by principals, teachers, or others who felt the boys were of the caliber to benefit from the Advanced Studies Program.

When the final selections were made, attrition of one type or another had eliminated about 50 boys so that there were about 200 candidates competing for the 100 places. The final selections were made as nearly as possible on the basis of finding the best 100 boys, paying no particular attention to geographical location, the size of the school or the community, or any other factor except the value of the boy himself to the Program.

Nine types of information were collected for each boy, including the opinions of six different people. The problems of financial aid were not considered until the 100 boys had been selected.

Subsequent years produced larger application lists, continued interviews of each candidate by Mr. Hugny, who became director in 1961, and a remarkable student body at the opening day of each session. In four years, 466 boys and 35 girls have taken part in the program. Of these, 472 successfully completed their courses.

The disproportionate number of girls to boys in no way reflects the initiative or scholastic ability of New Hampshire girls. The program was open only to boys during the first three years. Last summer, girls were included for the first time, and 35 was the number chosen simply because it would fill one available dormitory. There a housemother replaced the usual St. Paul’s master. This summer, fifty or more girls will be included. The New Hampshire Federation of Women’s Clubs and other interested groups and individuals helped to make this welcome innovation possible.

A rewarding development of the intern program has been the granting of undergraduate and graduate credit for intern work by Keene Teachers College, Keene, New Hampshire. Similar arrangements have been made with Plymouth Teachers College, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, and St. Anselm’s College, in Manchester, New Hampshire. In the summer of 1961 there were twenty-one interns, seven in mathematics and science. During the first year, the number of intern applications was disappointing. Though scholarships were available, the $600 tuition fee and the fact that admission would be granted only to New Hampshire residents curtailed applications.

This situation was quickly remedied. The program was opened to qualified out-of-state applicants, and grants from the National Science Foundation plus generous support from interested friends who saw the need for increasing the number and quality of teachers solved the problem and produced another — the waiting list. The Advanced Studies Program now waives the fee and, indeed, is paying the interns, who contribute in many ways to the program. In addition to the New Hampshire high school teachers serving as interns, there have been interns from Harvard, Wellesley, M.I.T., the University of New Hampshire, Dartmouth, Princeton, and several small liberal arts colleges.

The interns attend classes and see a master teacher teach an advanced subject to a small group of able students four periods a day. Under supervision from the master teacher, they occasionally take over the class, and all interns are held responsible for one or more prepared presentations. Some out-of-class work with the teachers is an important part of their training — grading papers and analyzing individual students’ difficulties and achievements. There are also group meetings of interns to discuss the daily operation of the school and to consider the problems and opportunities of gifted students.

The extracurricular assignments of interns are of great importance to them, to their student charges, and to the program itself. Coaching, house duties in the dormitories, especially supervising and counseling the students, inevitably inform interns of the variety and depth and quality of student needs and aspirations. The humanity of the place is an important feature, and interns learn this quickly by way of the extracurricular responsibilities assigned to them.

The intern program has been invaluable to both the college intern and the teacher intern, as well as to the students and the entire program. Good teachers have gone forth into our schools, and experienced teachers have been deepened in their appreciation of their own powers and in the truly impressive response of their gifted students.

In the afternoons, all students have been required to participate in the athletic program. The objective was to relieve tension, but far more significant was the need of many boys to learn to use their bodies effectively and wholesomely in trained ways. The director of athletic events, E. Leonard Barker, has for years served St. Paul’s School as director of the school’s regular program. He wisely provided for each house or dormitory to play one sport a week, by turns, for four weeks. Tennis, baseball, track, and soccer were the sports, and each house had one week of coaching by competent coaches. Some houses learned to play and compete in squash.

It was a revelation to see these bright, highly intelligent students apply their intelligence to these events. Some were apprehensive, others merely reluctant, but all ultimately got into the events with amazing interest and enthusiasm before the first four weeks had been concluded. Competition between the four houses was the principal activity in the afternoons of the two concluding weeks. When the girls came in 1961, they developed a modern War of the Roses, dividing themselves into the Lancasters and the Yorks, and dancing was added to the social life.

THE courses of study for the summer are determined by the applicants’ interests and demands. No student is admitted if the course he seeks is also available in his high school. This eliminates any competitive elements between the Advanced Studies Program and the high schools of the state, and makes it possible for some small schools to recommend able students to the program rather than develop at great cost new courses for the upper 5 percent of their students.

The courses in 1960 will serve as an example. One hundred and thirty boys from fifty public high schools, four private academies, and two parochial high schools participated in the Advanced Studies Program, taking courses in Advanced Biology, Advanced Chemistry, Advanced Physics, Calculus I, Calculus II, Concepts of Mathematics, Modern European History, Russian I, Russian II, German I, and English. All students are required to take a noncredit course in English, and successful completion of this course is mandatory for credit in other work. The English course meets three periods a week. whereas the other courses meet twenty-one periods a week, covering, in most cases, a year’s work in six weeks. Each course carries one St. Paul’s School credit, which is forwarded to any college at the student’s request.

For Calculus I or one year of Russian, no credit is given unless the student returns for Calculus 11 or for the second year of the language. This is, of course, understood by the students and is so stated in the Advanced Studies Program catalogue.

Some summers, Latin and Greek are taught, and a second year is required for credit in these two offerings. Many students take the two-year courses for only one year and are content to have no credit, having gone on to college.

At about the halfway point of each summer, College Day is observed. This was begun in the first summer at the suggestion of John Monro, dean of Harvard College, who felt that such a remarkable group of prospective college students should be seen while in one place. More than thirty college-admission persons visit the session; the parents of the students are also invited, and usually 100 percent accept. A program is presented to the students and parents on college scholarship aid, work and self-help programs, and on the college-admission problem. A period of time is given over to individual conferences, and many students seek interviews with two or more admission officers. Since girls have been admitted to the Advanced Studies Program, some women’s colleges are also represented, and a number of admission officers from coeducational colleges and universities are present.

Several high school principals have said that before this program existed less than half of their students would have considered college as a possibility for themselves, and that fewer still would have attempted to enter some of the great universities of our country because of mistaken notions of social prestige, or ignorance of financial aid, or lack of incentive.

During the first summer, on the bulletin board of one of the houses was posted a sign in Gothic script, beautifully hand-drawn: “We know and we want to know more.” This attitude has characterized the Advanced Studies Program each year. While the students have admitted that the pace has been rapid, the load heavy, and the time short, there has been little grumbling or complaint. No one had to come to the Advanced Studies Program. Everyone had to follow a pattern that required self-direction in getting into it. But the success of the program has fortified our belief that the intellectual hunger of the gifted student is greater than many of us ever dared to imagine.