Tips for a Successful Interview and Tour

Most independent and private schools require a visit and an interview as part of the application process. It’s not only an opportunity for the school to get to know the applicant and the family, but it’s also an opportunity for the family to experience firsthand the school’s culture and to ask questions that are not easily answered by a brochure or webpage. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about the interview process.

When should we schedule an interview and visit?

Generally, visits and interviews can be scheduled in the fall and up until the application deadline. Since each school might have a slightly different way of handling visits and interviews, start by visiting each school’s website.

Unless one of your schools requires an application to be submitted before visiting, scheduling a visit and interview before you submit your materials allows you to get a feel for the school and learn more about it before answering application questions.

How should we dress?

Dress presentably but comfortably. Resist the temptation to overdress; use the student dress code to guide you on how to dress. Remember to wear comfortable shoes if there is a working tour.

What types of questions will be asked during the interview?

We realize that many students have never been interviewed, and we try to make the experience meaningful and relaxing for them. Most schools will use this time to get to know your child and see if the child is a good fit with the school. There are no trick questions or wrong answers, and often, the “interview” becomes a spontaneous conversation and an exchange of ideas and interests. Try not to answer with just a “yes” or “no.” Expand on your answers. We always remind our applicants to relax and be themselves! We want to know the real student, not who you think we want you to be.

What should we expect?

Think of the visit and interview as an opportunity to connect and get to know one another authentically. Students should be ready to talk about themselves so we can understand their interests. They may feel uncomfortable by the attention, and it is normal for them to feel this way. The admissions officers will ask questions, but you have the opportunity to ask questions, too, so have some questions prepared so we can address your needs and concerns. Remember that most schools conduct separate interviews for the students and the parent/guardian.

How should we prepare?

Before the interview, talk to your child about what will happen; for example, there might be a separate interview for the student and parent/guardian. Remind your child to practice good manners and establish eye contact. Research the school’s website to gain insights into the school’s programs, offerings, mission, and core values. Although your child may feel anxious, encourage them to have a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast.

What types of questions should we ask during the interview and visit?

This is a positive experience where you can explore the various opportunities available to your child. At the end of the visit, you should feel that you know the school and that the school knows you.

• Dig deep. Try not to ask questions that you can easily find on the website. It’s an excellent opportunity to discuss the school’s philosophy and mission.

• Ask about the small but important details. How early can a child be dropped off? How does transportation work? What is the food like?

• Make a list of aspects of the school that are important to you and ask about those things

• Ask about the school’s expectations of parents/guardians, which may differ from day to boarding school.

Math, Movement, and Mirth: Students Tackle Real-World Problems

Stacey Tomkiel, Chair of the Middle School Math Department

One of my goals as a math teacher is to show students that the concepts and skills we’re studying have practical, real-world applications. To accomplish this, I’ve devised several activities that give students the chance to get out of the classroom, move from place to place, and interact with their peers – in short, to have fun as they learn.

During “The Amazing Math Race,” for instance, an exercise based on the popular adventure-reality TV show, I break up my eighth-grade algebra students into groups and give each group a passport book and a math problem involving quadratics.  

• After each group solves the problem, they glue the solution into their group’s passport and get a clue about who will give them the next problem: “She greets visitors to the school.”

• The students rush to the lobby of Nicholson Hall, where School Receptionist Kim Miles gives them a second problem. After solving it, they paste their solution into the passport and receive another clue: “He runs Big Tech on campus.”

• The students sprint to the basement of the Roberts Center, where Director of Technology Dan Bateson gives them another problem. After finding the solution and pasting it into their passport, they race back to the classroom to solve one final problem, paste it into their passport, and give it to me for my final inspection. 

• The first team to return the passport with all the problems solved correctly wins the Amazing Math Race. Whew!

I’ve also designed two similar activities for students studying the concepts of ratios, angles, and slopes, and the processes of measurement, plotting points, and making tables.

Tall Tale

How can we use angles and ratios to determine the size of an object that we can’t measure directly? On a sunny winter day when the angle of the sun is low in the sky and the shadows are long, my students grab some tape measures and head outdoors to a tall lamppost on campus. 

I ask the students, “How can we figure out the height of this lamppost even though it’s too high to measure by hand?” After a brief discussion, the students figure out for themselves how to solve this problem. 

With the help of a partner, they each measure their own height as well as the length of their shadow on the ground. By comparing these two measurements, they’re able to determine the ratio between their own heights and the length of the shadow their bodies cast. Then, by measuring the length of the shadow of the lamppost, they can use that ratio to determine its height.  

Stairing Contest

After providing students with the angles of slope mandated for staircases by the state construction code, I send them out in small groups to measure the slopes of several staircases around campus to determine whether they comply with the code. 

By finding the vertical height of the staircase and its horizontal length (the distance traversed in climbing it), students can calculate the angle of its slope. 

When all the students have measured and recorded their data, they return to the classroom to compare their results with those of other groups. This project provides students with the opportunity to apply their previous knowledge of angles and ratios to a new situation, and to communicate with their peers to accomplish a task and discuss the outcomes. 

I hope these real-world math adventures will enable students, not only to understand mathematical concepts and processes more fully but to appreciate their practicality and to relish their pleasures. 

Sketchbooks Immerse Students in Literature

Beth Repp, Middle School English Teacher

Approaching a novel for the first time can be daunting for students. What is the plot? Who are the main characters? How can I make sense of this? One of the most effective ways to help students engage deeply in a work of fiction and derive their own personal meaning from it, is to have each student create a literary sketchbook for each novel they read. 

What’s a Literary Sketchbook?

A literary sketchbook is like a scrapbook, a repository of meaning. It’s a place where the worlds of literature, poetry, and art meet and are explored creatively and thoughtfully. As students read and ponder a novel and its setting, characters, themes, and motifs, they find and create a variety of visual and verbal components that reflect their own responses to the work.

Students then carefully select and arrange these varied items in a notebook or scrapbook in an organized, intentional way to create a mosaic of meaning, an anthology of their own learning. 

Because the books are assembled by hand and not on a computer, students experience the authenticity and pleasure of artists and craftspeople as they savor the direct brain-to-fingers connection. Many students carry the books wherever they go so they can add a sudden insight or reflection at any time. 

The verbal items in a sketchbook might include:

• information that helps students better understand the novel, such as chapter questions, character profiles, outlines, quotations, plot summaries, and lists of themes, scenes or conflicts 

• their own personal reflections on the novel, such as short essays, poems, observations and accounts of related events or memories from their own lives

• relevant passages or quotations from other literary works 

The visual items might include: 

• their own drawings, maps, graphs and diagrams featuring arrows, dotted lines, and web-like filaments of connection 

• photos, illustrations and graphics from magazines, newspapers and other publications 

• collages blending their own illustrations with those from other sources

What Does an Actual Literary Sketchbook Look Like?

These items from one student’s literary sketchbook for “To Kill a Mockingbird” suggest the range of subjects, media, and approaches  students display in their books:

• a schematic map depicting the novel’s setting, literary techniques, language, and narrative structure

• descriptions of the main characters, along with photographs of the actors who played them in the film version of the novel

• a drawing of Boo Radley’s oak tree and a list of items hidden there

• a page describing the fears of the children and the student’s own childhood fears as well 

• a spiderweb chart depicting the ideas exchanged among students during their class discussion of the novel

• several pages devoted to the main themes, such as prejudice, courage, violence, loneliness

• poems by the student, each written from the perspective of a different character

• a mind map about the story’s villain, Robert E. Ewell

• an imagined dialog between Scout and Boo Radley fifteen years after the events of the novel

• a collage of images associated with Boo Radley, including a whimsical cartoon ghost shouting “Boo!”

How Do You Assess the Quality of Each Student’s Sketchbook? 

Assessing creative work is subjective, so I approach the evaluation process in a thoughtful and systematic way. I give critical and reflective feedback to each student on the items gathered and presented for the literary sketchbook. These include content, depth and detail, balance of verbal and visual elements, and the care and creativity shown in arranging the materials.

I hope to find in the sketchbooks evidence of a student’s deep investment and ownership. It’s easy to tell, for instance, how much time a student has spent searching for the “right” picture or photograph that perfectly captures the moment in the text.

The literary sketchbooks are works in progress, and by the end of the school year, students can flip through the pages and see a thoughtful and meaningful representation of their growth and the joy they’ve experienced through literature.

Pandemic Underscores Importance of Social-Emotional Wellness

Brenna Chiaputti ’98 Middle School Counselor

Moving Toward the Post-Pandemic Future

As devastating and disruptive as the pandemic has been, it has taught us all that emotional and physical well-being are as important as academic achievement. It has provided the opportunity for Kingswood Oxford to do what it has always done best – to nourish our students academically, socially, physically, and emotionally. And it has reminded us all that we’re not just educating students; we’re helping to raise happy and healthy kids. 

Now that the pandemic has subsided, at least temporarily, and Kingswood Oxford has returned to in-person learning, our school’s teachers, counselors, coaches, and administrators are asking: What lessons did we learn? Where do we go from here? What kind of support do our students need and how can we provide it?

Expanding Wellness

Kingswood Oxford’s Wellness Team, comprising counselors, deans, academic skills specialists, and the school nurse, has identified the development of five key social-emotional skills as essential for our students: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision-making.

To help build these competencies, our school will sustain and expand two resources already in place: the Life Skills program at the Middle School, and the VQV program at the Upper School. These classes engage students in discussions about a range of issues including stress management, conflict resolution, leadership, drugs and alcohol, healthy relationships, mental health, and sexual health depending on their grade and age and provide coping strategies.

Managing Screen Time

Another key focus of these two programs is the healthy and safe use of technology. Because online learning during the pandemic separated students from one another physically, many became even more dependent on technology for social interaction. It is well known that social media can reinforce negative behaviors like bullying and exclusion, and undermine the safe and supportive environments young people need and deserve. Many kids are being exposed to images and stories that they don’t have the context or the capacity developmentally to process or make sense of.

Enhancing Learning

Sometimes people fall into the trap of thinking that teaching of social and emotional skills distracts and detracts from academic learning. In fact, our own experience as educators, as well as hundreds of academic studies, have shown that social and emotional learning actually enhances academic success. Students who are managing their emotions, relationships, and self-awareness well are much more likely to excel in their classes and have better life outcomes.

Building Equity and Inclusion

An important part of our vision is building equity and inclusion. Welcoming, respecting and valuing students of all ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures and identities are essential to nourishing an environment of social and emotional wellbeing for all of our students. By becoming a more equitable community that embraces diversity in all its forms, our school will also become a healthier emotional community. 

Fulfilling Our Vision

Our school’s Strategic Vision summons us to engage students in learning opportunities beyond our campus and to “develop compassionate collaborators, ethical problem solvers, and active citizens who lead and serve in the wider community.” What could be a more effective way of nurturing these future leaders than helping them build a lifelong foundation of social and emotional health?

A Mindful Education

By Kata Baker, Upper School Science Teacher, Head Coach Girls Swimming, Form Three Dean

We talk a lot about “managing” in education. “Good management” is generally held in high regard because it suggests students who achieve this skill are on the path toward accomplishing their goals – and impressive ones at that.

We say that students should manage their time, manage their stress, and manage their workload. This often means juggling several honors or Advanced Placement courses with an elective, Model United Nations, a varsity sport, and theater rehearsals. 

We say that students with good time management skills will be able to research, write and edit an English paper while cramming for a history test and preparing for a debate tournament the next day. We might even describe such students as “managing their stress well.”

Crisis Management

“Management,” in its essence, means “authority.” It implies having control or facing challenging odds and “coming out on top.” By using the word “management” in education, we’re subconsciously acknowledging that there ISN’T enough time, there IS too much work, and that students SHOULD feel an unbearable amount of stress – but that we want them to trudge through anyway. 

Under this mindset, putting together a “successful” four-year education for high-school students requires students to forget about discovering their true interests, abilities, and values, and instead to check off boxes and keep score – courses taken, clubs joined, sports played, leadership positions acquired, volunteer work performed. Students become so busy with everything, that they actually commit to nothing.

Education, when not tended and nurtured with the support and guidance of mindful adults, can easily become a goal-oriented, process-blind way of approaching life. The result is a school culture that values accomplishments over authenticity, performance over purpose, and superficiality over substance. This is not what teachers want for their students. 

Yes, curriculum and classroom lessons should invigorate, challenge and stretch students. Yes, it’s natural there will be time limits; teachers want to make productive use of the 60 minutes they have with their students. Yes, there is a task, a goal – work! And, yes, students will feel challenged. There IS some stress. 

All these things, in moderation, create a joyful, invigorating, and powerful education. But when pressure, deadlines, and rigor become excessive, teachers and students are simply managing.

Mindfulness, Balance, and Self-awareness

The role of teachers, advisors, and parents – the beautiful triangular support system our school provides – is to think mindfully about the life each student wants to live and about how to help each student strive for balance. 

Here’s what I wish for our students:  

• Quality over quantity. Sample, and then choose. ONE THING. Take an A.P. course only if you’re in love with the subject. Commit to one club that you can’t imagine not being a part of.

• Lead with you and your interests. 

• Listen to your body. We’re all designed to manage some stress. We naturally respond by releasing hormones that trigger a productive and appropriate response. Stress isn’t something we stifle or ignore, but we have to be thoughtful about how to react to it. 

• Learn how and when to say NO. Set boundaries. Set bedtimes. Know when enough is enough. When you decline a request for your time and participation, there’s no reason to apologize. Walk away with dignity and respect for your own well-being. It’s not that you’re not enough; it’s that the extra work and worry are too much.

• Build time into your schedule for the essential three R’s: recreation, refreshment, and rest.

• Do the thing. If you’re gonna’ do it, do it right. Dig in. Work hard, stop wasting time, and get it done. If you’re thoughtful about selecting to do what you love, this will come naturally. 

• Choose mindfulness, not management. By seeking an awareness of your true interests, virtues, values – and limits – your experience as a student will be more joyful and rewarding.     

Built-In Free Time Refreshes Middle Schoolers

Ann Sciglimpaglia, Head of the Middle School

If you’d entered the KO Field House between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. on any Friday afternoon this winter, you would have seen 150 adolescents having fun. Amid laughter, conversations and squeals of merriment our middle school students were playing basketball and dodge ball, walking laps, drawing pictures, talking with their friends or simply sitting down and relaxing. You would have seen happy kids. 

But why weren’t these students in class?

Give the Kids a Break

Among the many lessons the recent pandemic has taught us is that middle schools students, after hours of supervised, structured experiences in classrooms, advisee groups, musical ensembles, sports teams, clubs and art studios, need the restorative power of unstructured free time. We realized that our students are so scheduled in their daily lives, not only in school, but in outside activities such as music lessons, campus and travel teams, that they need to escape from the daily regimen for a while, move their bodies and connect with their friends.

So beginning last September, we started setting aside half-hour periods when students were free to go outside and, during inclement weather, go to the Field House to rest, play and enjoy time with their friends. Teachers are present at these sessions and sometimes participate in their games and activities, but for the most part the faculty members stay in the background. For that half hour, the students are free to remove their masks and literally take a breather.

Free-Enterprise Zone

Our expansive Field House, with its three basketball courts, bleachers and hospitality room provides plenty of space to play dodge ball, spike ball, corn hole toss, wall ball, volleyball and handball. Students even devise their own games, concoct their own rules, and even set up March Madness-type tournaments. The field house also offers bleachers and a hospitality room where kids can simply sit, relax and interact with their friends.

Enriching Social and Emotional Well-Being

We’ve found that these sessions enhance our students’ social and emotional health. Middle schoolers need this time, not only for rest and play, but also for social interaction. During the pandemic, students have lost valuable opportunities to interact, socialize and work cooperatively, and this unstructured time allows them to freedom to plan, propose and problem solve together, as they negotiate friendships and make their own decisions. They need to talk with one another, resolve differences and figure out how to organize themselves. 

This time at school with classmates is especially cherished by Kingswood Oxford students. Because our students live in many different towns and cities, often quite distant from one another, they often don’t have the chance to spend time with their classmates during evenings and weekends. So these sessions provide that opportunity.

A Lift for Learning

While some might wonder whether these breaks consume valuable classroom time or distract students from their academic work, we’ve discovered that these sessions actually enhance their learning. Students return to the classroom after these sessions exhilarated, invigorated, and focused. Our teachers report that students pivot seamlessly from recess to class and are eager to dive back into academic work. This energizes their engagement in learning and makes their classes more productive, purposeful and stimulating.

Our teachers enjoy the chance for a break as well. Most of the teachers spend the break time with the students, enjoying watching them have fun and often chatting casually with them, but some teachers use the free time to catch up on tasks such as preparing for class, calling a parent or responding to emails. Others savor the opportunity to socialize and interact with colleagues. Whether they’re with the students or not, teachers appreciate the chance to decompress for a few minutes during a busy day.

The Pause That Refreshes

In short, building this unstructured time into our middle school day has not only provided a valuable respite for our students and teachers, but also enriched students’ and teachers’ social and emotional health, boosted our academic energy and significantly lifted community morale.