In a rapidly changing world where technological advances are constantly shifting the landscape, the key to success is the mastery of soft skills that provide intellectual and emotional agility, and Ensworth is at the forefront in its progressive educational approach to ensure students are prepared to meet future challenges. This independent K-12 day school is dedicated to academic excellence and to helping students grow into well-rounded adults who are poised for success regardless of what path they choose. Ensworth builds its approach on a foundation of seven Core Skills that apply to any discipline in life and in work: collaboration, communication, observation, questioning, speculating and hypothesizing, evaluating, and applying knowledge.
David Braemer, Head of School at Ensworth since 2012, believes the school distinguishes itself by shifting traditional educational paradigms. “In most cases, as students go through their educational journey, it becomes much more content-focused as they move through upper elementary school, then middle school and high school,” he explains. “While the content has value in itself, we’re using that content as a means by which we can help students develop certain skills that will be essential to them for college — and really, for life.”
To bolster confidence and encourage students to engage in their learning process, Ensworth employs several progressive classroom initiatives, such as Responsive Classroom communication techniques and the Harkness method. The Harkness method positions high school students at a round table alongside their teacher, which provides an open, student-led discussion rather than a traditional lecture format.
Ensworth alumna Liza Sweeting is a current sophomore at The University of the South (Sewanee), and she believes the Harkness table prepared her to be an active participant in college courses. “When it comes to discussion days in class, a lot of people freak out about them and stay up all night preparing. They get to class, and they’re still nervous, so they throw in facts to prove that they read the assignment,” Liza shares. “For me, I just read it and process. I don’t stress. Because of the practice I had with the Harkness table at Ensworth, I feel confident going in and sharing my opinions or perspective on different subjects.”
Integrating the arts into the core curriculum at Ensworth further boosts confidence and helps develop students’ unique identities. High school students take a minimum of four fine arts classes, and Visual & Performing Arts Department Chair Jim Aveni believes this helps them sharpen their Core Skills even more. “Our fine arts classes meet during the school day, which allows students to have a healthy academic profile, as well as engage deeply in the arts,” Jim explains of Ensworth’s balanced class structure. “You get a well-rounded student who doesn’t have to choose between devoting themselves to, say, physics or dance — they can do both. The hands-on approach allows students to explore different facets of themselves, which is an important aspect of the high school experience and that time in a person’s life.” Once the school day is over, many students also participate in one of Ensworth’s many athletic programs, which teaches them how to maintain healthy, well-balanced lifestyles from an early age.
With so many resources that allow students to explore their individual interests, Ensworth equips them with the tools they need to interact with the world successfully. “Given the diversity of the world we live in, and the new ideas that they are sure to encounter throughout their lives, we want [our students] to be able to thoughtfully consider and understand different perspectives,” David says. “We hope they’ll be able to use others’ views to develop their own perspective. But if you can’t engage with others in a constructive manner, you lose those opportunities.”
Ensworth employs an initiative called Responsive Classroom to help students become competent, compassionate communicators. Emily Parrelli, a middle school teacher, advisor, and Responsive Classroom coach, has seen the benefits of this unique method throughout her time at Ensworth. “With Responsive Classroom, we want to build positive communities, and that extends beyond our classroom walls,” she shares. “We teach students explicitly how to function in social settings, and how to talk to each other in kind and respectful ways. We ask questions like, ‘When you’re listening, are you making mental notes of how to respond to that person? How can you ask open-ended questions to keep conversations going?’ This approach can certainly help in our class discussions about the literature that we’re studying, but the skills we’re aiming to develop are also invaluable for conversations they’ll have in the real world.”
Ensworth alumnus Burrus Cox is confident that the communication skills he learned at Ensworth helped him find success as a Child Development student at Vanderbilt University. “Being around people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and ethnicities is more representative of the workplaces and the situations we’ll encounter after high school,” he shares, “and because of my experiences with Ensworth, I actively seek out people who have different life experiences from my own. I’m definitely grateful for that.”
As a teacher at the Nashville Academy of Computer Science, Burrus now carries on the Ensworth legacy of instilling confidence and active learning in his own classroom. “I have to give credit to one of my Ensworth teachers, Jeanne Hubert,” Burrus shares. “She was the first teacher who made me feel like I was brilliant. She showed me that I could accomplish things in the classroom I never thought I was capable of.” He recognizes the power of developing the Core Skills in his own life and wants his students to have a similar experience of becoming lifelong learners. “I want them to understand, to explore, and to make their learning process their own. I want my students to believe in their intellectual abilities and recognize the inner power that they all have.”
Ensworth aims to develop not just intelligent students, but thoughtful people who are equipped to make a lasting, positive impact on the world. Every year for graduation, the only speakers are Ensworth students, and Head of School David Braemer says he is consistently impressed by what these students share. “Listening to our students speak honestly and represent a range of perspectives — it’s very affirming,” he shares. “It tells me we’re on the right track, and it gives me such confidence that these students we’re presenting forth are going to do great things in the world.”
To learn more about the Ensworth School or to schedule a tour, visit ensworth.com.
This article is sponsored by the Ensworth School.