How did Santa Fe Christian’s Upper School win the National Blue Ribbon for a High Performing Exemplary School from the Department of Education? Empowerment. The principal is empowered to run the school. The faculty is empowered to own their curriculum and try new teaching methods. Students are empowered to ask big questions, take courses which pursue their passions, and develop their leadership skills. “Empowerment can only happen in a safe environment where teachers and students aren’t afraid to take risks,” shares Upper School Principal Matt Hannan.
How it Happens
Empowerment happens when ideas are allowed to flow. SFC faculty are exposed to best practices and approaches through their collaborative Professional Learning Communities or PLCs. Using a cross-curricular and grade-level approach, these communities hold collaborative discussions, implement new ideas and techniques, and evaluate their effectiveness. Teachers are given the freedom to test new ways to engage students in the classroom. “Our faculty help students develop skills through effective questioning strategies that lead to further exploration and study,” states Principal Hannan, “As students progress, class time is spent exploring important concepts, making connections and finding solutions to complex, real-world problems.”
Whether testing surgical techniques with cadavers; observing medical and biotech research laboratories; or participating in the UCSD math circle, Upper School students are exposed to real-world experiences both globally and locally. Each year professional artists and musicians regularly share career experiences with students. And in World Language, students connect with peers around the world through Skype and blogs.
International Missions and the Eagles Leadership Academy are two unique programs that differentiate SFC. The International Missions Program gives students powerful experiences both socially and culturally. Students travel around the globe to serve in places like Rwanda, Russia, Uganda, Italy, Thailand, India and many other locations. Seeing God move in other cultures, students return home with tender hearts and fresh perspectives. Nearly 90% of all students will participate in one international mission trip by the time they graduate.
The recently launched Eagles Leadership Academy was inspired by a program “How to Build and Sustain a Championship Culture,” used with over 25 NCAA National Championship and Final Four teams. All freshman students take Leadership 101. Ultimately, students can progress to veteran leaders where they can build up their teams, manage team conflict and partner with coaches. Nearly half the Upper School student body participates in the program.
The Upper School likes to mix it up to allow for extended classroom time for labs, in-depth conversations and project-based learning, students switch to block schedule of 90-minute periods during four day weeks. Later, Power Hour was born. Power Hour gives students time to connect with teachers, engage in school activities, and receive assistance and guidance on assignments.
Not content with the status quo, the Upper School is always looking for ways to enhance student learning experiences. AP Chemistry, AP Principles of Computer Science, and AP Physics were recently added to the existing AP offerings. A new Robotics Club was established. Plus, a hybrid online Bible course was piloted for 11th-grade students last year. SFC continues to add to an already rich curriculum of college prep classes, fine and performing arts, athletic programs and more.
The journey to become a National Blue Ribbon recipient took several years of dedication and hard work for the Upper School. Faculty piloted new ideas and classroom experiences to engage students. They implemented schedule changes to create more time for project-based learning and labs. Soon after, the Athletic Leadership Academy was launched and Fine and Performing Arts programs expanded. All while increasing an investment in our faculty in their development. “Seven years ago, our Upper School Math Club had just five members, only 10 students took the AMC, and no students who scored above 80,” acknowledges Pam Oden, Upper School Assistant Principal, “Today, over 30 students attend the Math Club, 60 students are taking the AMC and eight students scored a 90 or above.” Over the past five years, SFC’s percentage of students who met college readiness benchmarks in all four core subjects rose significantly while the percentage of SFC students who took the ACT grew from 70% to 92%. SFC graduates fulfill requirements which exceed the University of California A–G standards for college admissions. “We have an amazing community of faculty, coaches, students, staff, parents and extended family who all played a part in helping us achieve the National Blue Ribbon,” says Principal Hannan, “Ultimately, we give God all the glory for His work at our School.