How does a school build a great academic curriculum? First, it needs to understand its purpose
. During our recent curriculum review, the school explicitly identified what it believes to be Berkshire’s academic mission: to equip our students with the skills that they need to be successful in college and beyond. Of course the content is important – we owe it to all of our students to teach them math, science, history, English, language and the arts. Equally critically, however, students need to be agile, creative problem solvers who can approach a task with a critical eye; they need to be poised and confident in collaborative activities; they need to master the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently; and they need to develop the perspective to help them see the importance of their individual decision making on both the local and global community.
After identifying its raison d’etre, a great academic curriculum requires, in Aristotle’s words, both a form and a matter. A terrific design for a house is a just that – a terrific design. It does not become a house until that design is “informed” by matter, the bricks and mortar that, if properly arranged, becomes the house imagined by its designer. So it is with a terrific academic curriculum. Form comes first and makes itself ready for the matter. And the form of an excellent curriculum includes three essential components: program, people, and place.
Berkshire’s academic programs are impressive. Building upon a foundation of core courses, students have the opportunity to explore an intellectual passion or discover a new point of interest. Whether students are studying exponential functions, Sherman’s March, or Shakespeare, Berkshire’s academic core challenges them to maximize their potential and pushes them to achieve more than they thought possible. Berkshire students are also encouraged to take intellectual risks by exploring material outside of the core. Whether in our Aviation Science class, our Independent Study program, our Advanced Math/Science and Humanities Research programs, or our unique Economics offerings, Berkshire students have opportunities for unparalleled growth.
Impressive programs, of course, fall flat if they are not implemented by a talented and vibrant faculty. People, even more than programs, are at the heart of Berkshire’s academic culture. The Berkshire faculty is diverse in its interests, and the teachers consistently model the love for learning that they hope to inspire in their students. In our signature Pro Vita winter session, for example, teachers get a chance to share with students their own “hidden” talents and passions. And a healthy percentage of Berkshire’s faculty continually embody the School’s commitment to lifelong learning by enhancing their own expertise in professional development activities.
Yet people and programs, even if both are absolutely world-class, could not realize the purpose of a great school without its connection to a place. The place of a school means both its natural setting and its facilities. At Berkshire, the natural surroundings of our place truly make us unique, so much so that it’s captured in our mission, which begins, “Rooted in an inspiring natural setting. . .” And, indeed, Berkshire’s natural surroundings root us all in this place and provide a backdrop for all that we do. It only takes making a first visit to campus to get a feel for it yourself.
As for facilities, the recently renovated and updated Berkshire Hall, the School’s central academic building, sits atop Buck Valley as the symbolic and historical center of Berkshire School. Its state-of-the-art classrooms and thoughtfully designed spaces support our faculty in preparing Berkshire’s students for the challenges of the future. The newly opened Bellas/Dixon Math and Science Center stands as Berkshire Hall’s worthy companion and houses Berkshire’s math and science classrooms. Next year, we will also see a new Fine Arts Center that will provide our students a facility that complements these others and showcases Berkshire’s commitment to the arts.
Form complete: Berkshire has the people, the program, and the place to be one of New England’s, and even the world’s, great schools. What’s left is the matter – and the matter, the bricks and mortar – of a great academic experience is a school’s students. Berkshire’s student body, when properly informed by the people, places, and programs already present, become the substance of a great school. Berkshire’s talented student body, representing twenty-seven countries and twenty-seven states, and many times more perspectives and viewpoints, is without question its chief strength. Both in class and out, students feed off of each other’s creativity, talents, and interests. Berkshire encourages open discussion and debate and welcomes new ideas and arguments that constantly challenge and motivate us all.
We hope that you will explore our website to get a feel for these various aspects of Berkshire School. More, we hope that you will join us on campus for a visit to experience it firsthand.