All Saints’ to start Honors College

Martha Deller

Special to the Fort Worth Business Press

Fort Worth’s All Saints’ Episcopal School has no shortage of advanced classes and challenging programs to prepare its graduates for college. For decades, All Saints’ graduates have parlayed that knowledge and skill into admission and scholarships – more than $5 million total this year – to colleges including Princeton, Stanford, West Point and other prestigious U.S. and international universities. Now All Saints’ officials want to do more to prepare their “best and brightest” students to lead a rapidly changing world. “We’re dedicated to helping develop global citizens equipped to respond to the challenges of the 21st century, including conservation and energy, global politics and diplomacy,” said Father David Madison, assistant headmaster and head of the Upper School. But Head of School Tad Bird said emerging global leaders will need more than the ability to ace Advanced Placement exams on the 14 AP classes offered by the school. Of the 147 AP exams taken by 67 All Saints’ students last year scored, 73 percent scored high enough to merit college credits. Tomorrow’s leaders will need critical-thinking skills that are not honed to the highest degree at even the most advanced high schools, he said. All Saints’ officials believe they are taking the first step to address that gap with the creation of an Honors College that ultimately will offer a curriculum culled from several successful college programs. The fall opening of the Honors College will be announced by school officials and Daniel Hastings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dean and Honors College adviser who was the keynote speaker at the May 18 commencement for 73 All Saints’ seniors. Madison said school officials are in the final stages of selecting a director and the inaugural class of seven to 10 students for the Honors College, which will operate as a school within the larger Upper School. The first class will be mostly freshmen. Ultimately, Madison said, he expects the Honors College to include about 10 percent of Upper School students. It could develop into a self-contained program if Upper School enrollment, now 310, continues to grow as expected, he said. Madison said the Honors College is the brainchild of Bird, who began bouncing ideas off seniors several years ago. Bird said the students loved some of his suggestions, including foreign language immersion and project theses. So the two administrators started discussing their ideas with educators at Austin College, the University of Texas, Texas Christian University, MIT and Boston College, who became advisers on the new program. Key components of the Honors College came from other colleges, including St. John’s College’s “Great Books” and Princeton University’s “Gap Year” foreign community service. Those elements may be phased in over the years, Madison said. First-year Honors College curriculum will include a class modeled after the freshman communication/inquiry program at Austin College, where Bird and Madison are alumni. All Saints’ students won’t get 18 choices as do Austin College freshmen, who choose from diverse topics such as Chinese science or Hitler, Madison said. But the goal will be the same – to teach students critical thinking, research and communications skills, he said. The Honors College director, who is being recruited from noted U.S. schools and colleges, will teach some initial courses, Madison said. But the college also will bring in scholars-in-residence from a variety of disciplines who will speak to all Upper School students but who will work more directly with the Honors College students, he said. Madison said All Saints’ also will expand its partnerships with universities including Stanford to encourage Honors College underclassmen to take the online classes previously taken mostly by a few upperclassmen. As the program and its students mature, All Saints’ officials hope to include more components, including a variation of Princeton’s foreign immersion program, which focuses on community service. While foreign travel may sound more exciting than brainstorming complex problems, Bird and Madison say the entire program is geared toward one goal – leadership in tomorrow’s world. Today’s leaders, Bird said, were educated for the industrial model – developing specific skills to prepare them to become doctors, lawyers, educators, business leaders and other professions. Tomorrow’s leaders, he said, will need to be creative, critical thinkers who are able to collaborate with a diverse group of people to solve global problems. “This is a thoughtful, intentional process to get ahead of the curve, make sure we’re challenging our students and preparing them for an increasingly diverse and complex world and, ultimately, to be servant leaders,” Bird said. TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini, an All Saints’ parent, said he has no doubt that today’s students can rise to those new challenges. But the new program will benefit others as well, he said. “This is the best and the brightest generation. They can learn anything,” he said. “But they’ll never aspire to it if we never encourage them to do it. I think it will encourage and motivate all students to reach higher. “It’s aimed at the brighter kids but it usually helps everybody. The first kids will be ambassadors. I think it will spread a lot quicker than you think.”