Preparing Students for the Challenges of the 21st Century

Upward: Our Head of School's Blog
In the 1970s, when the first thinking machines were introduced into classrooms, I taught at an extremely progressive middle school. Well-funded and forward thinking, we invested in new technology in order to prepare our students for the challenges of the latter half of the 20th Century. We were certain that by presenting our students with the first hand-held calculators, we were preparing the children for the future. The calculators cost $35 each and were slightly smaller than a textbook. While I immediately recognized the potential, I was most impressed when the students showed me that by holding the machine upside down and typing 07734, one could spell “hello.”

Since it’s first appearance in the 70s, digital technology has been equated with the future, but there is a very important distinction between embracing the future and being prepared to meet its challenges. VMS has invested significantly in technology, both in terms of time and resources. We’ve expanded our iPad program, remodeled our labs, embraced cutting-edge cloud based software, and upgraded our infrastructure to support and secure our digital community. And, while we recognize that this investment is imperative to teaching 21st Century skills, we also recognize that the availability of the tools is just one part of the equation.

In a recent issue of Independent School, a quarterly magazine published by the National Association of Independent Schools, then NAIS President Pat Bassett outlined a set of six basic skills and values for students to succeed and prosper in these turbulent and ever-changing times. These qualities transcend generations, centuries, and millennia and are at the heart of nearly every great achievement. As I read through them, they resonated not only with my core beliefs as a parent and as an educator, but also with what I see developing in VMS students each day. They are:

1) Character- (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, grit, and courage)
2) Creativity and entrepreneurial spirit- (divergent and out-of-the box thinking)
3) Real-world problem solving- (filtering, analysis, and synthesis)
4) Communication skills
5) Team building and collaboration
6) Compassionate leadership

These timeless qualities empowered by next-level technology drive everything we do at VMS. Our promise to you is that we ARE walking the walk and that these skills and values are modeled daily; cultivated, nurtured, and taught in our classrooms, on our sports fields, within our hallways and in every interaction with your children. We also guarantee that we will continue to embrace new technology and innovation in our classrooms, and never lose sight of the most important goal: preparing students for the challenges of this century.

--Mike

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.