Jordan's Arete

A 9th grade student reflects upon his journey from a Philadelphia middle school to a prestigious boarding school.

Photo of AJ Ernst
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On the ride to the George School from Philadelphia, I interviewed my former student and current high school freshman Jordan. He is one of the most remarkable individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He was a student of mine for three years at Young Scholars Charter School in Philadelphia, but I got know him best through a program I helped to create called Arete Prep. You can download the interview below! 

Arete Prep identifies, prepares, and supports low-income middle school students who demonstrate capacity and desire to reach their highest potential despite the failures of the Philadelphia education system. Instead of waiting on the false promise of better schools, students can develop successful mindsets through experiential learning, vertical mentoring, and strategic academic interventions. Jordan joined Arete in the seventh grade.

The design of Arete began in the fall of 2012. The intent of the program was to create a transformative learning experience for students that shifted the responsibility of learning from the school to the student. The Arete Prep pilot is currently serving four cohorts of approxiamtely eight students, two currently enrolled at Young Scholars Charter School in Philadelphia and two groups beginning their freshman and sophomore years at a variety of quality high schools. The inaugural class earned twenty independent school acceptances and over $1.2 million in scholarships and financial aid. The success of the first cohort is one of the indicators of the powerful psychological interventions used to instill a growth mindset into each of the Arete Scholars. This programming has been possible through a collaboration with The Lawrenceville School.  The implementation of the powerful evidence-based tactics is led by Dr. Kevin Mattingly, Director of Teaching, Learning & Educational Partnerships at The Lawrenceville School. He is responsible for the training of the Arete Mentors who work with their student for years over the course of the program.  Arete Scholars are supported from the beginning of seventh grade and well into their freshman year of high school to ensure success until they can  become mentors themselves for another cohort of hardworking students.

Arete Scholars are taught that through effective effort, excellence is attainable, whether it is in an academic, athletic  or artistic setting. Students discover the power of malleable intelligence and develop growth mindsets through strategic mentoring.  While reading about experts in different fields, Arete Mentors buttress the Scholars’ sense of belonging by providing personal narratives of adversity and perseverance.

Perhaps the most significant experiences occur during our summer institute held on the Lawrenceville School campus. This setting has allowed our students to immerse themselves in a total learning environment.  Every aspect of their day is designed to develop a growth mindset through a variety of activities.  Part of that experience includes exposure to the best of what education can accomplish when an individual has access to abundant resources. Students experience a holistic learning experience through inquiry based science by testing the health of two ponds, explore the campus through the lens of a DSLR camera during a photography class, or perform scenes from modern American dramas.  All activities expose students to new experiences with the intention to instill passion and intrinsic motivation.  Discussion of current events takes place over the dinner table and self assessment is used when running the mile at night. The close contact with mentors throughout the entirety of these two weeks produces an transformative experience for students.

Arete Prep is not about a small number of students earning admittance into private high schools, it is about helping Jordan navigate seemingly insurmountable odds and confidently transitioning to an environment where he can thrive. His experience is unique, but his success is not.  Having the opportunity to interview Jordan was an absolute joy and I hope that his story will inspire other students for years to come. 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Gratitude might be the most powerful human force.

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Photo of Edwin Lagos

AJ,

This is an amazing story and a great example of what mentorship can do to help nurture the right mindset for not just attending college, but tackling any obstacle that might come. 

I'd love to hear or read more about the mentorship program. For the ideate phase I'd like come up with a way to have students mentor each other all the way down to the lowest grades. Your insights would be very helpful going forward!

Photo of AJ Ernst

Hi Edwin! 
I would love to connect and provide you with any information that could be helpful! 
Let me know what works best for you! 
AJ

Photo of Edwin Lagos

Definitely would love to get in touch. E-mail would be easiest. Mine is edwin.lagos@cis.edu.sg  , what's yours?

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