Armonk–and surrounding communities–is filled with residents who live there often because of the high quality of the school system. Parents and community members believe that Byram HIlls High School students are well-prepared in general for a competitive college application process. And they are right.
Last year, 68 percent of the Byram Hills graduating class was accepted into the top 11 percent of colleges in the country, according to the district website. These are schools identified by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges as Tier 1, which is also called ‘most competitive,’ and Tier 2, referred to as ‘highly competitive.’ Yale, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Tulane are examples of schools recently ranked Tier 1, while schools that earned the Tier 2 designation recently include SUNY Stony Brook, the United States Coast Guard Academy and Baylor.
Partnering with Challenge Success
Yet, Byram Hills High School Principal Christopher Walsh does not think a student’s future is solely determined by his or her college acceptances–and he is not alone. That’s why the district entered into a partnership with Challenge Success, a nonprofit that partners with schools to “create a more balanced and academically fulfilling life for their kids.” Challenge Success seeks to help communities “embrace a broad definition of success,” and also help students engage with learning more. The program was generously funded by the Byram Hills Education Foundation (BHEF) and the Debra Leipman Yale Memorial Fund. The Debra Leipman Yale Memorial Fund is a fund within the BHEF that honors the life and memory of Debra Leipman Yale, and supports initiatives that are consistent with her values.
“Byram Hills is part of this little cluster of schools in the Westchester area that all partnered with us last year,” Jon Kleinman of Challenge Success said. “When schools do this in concert with their peers, it’s easier to make changes.” Kleinman said that Challenge Success works with schools to “identify where they want to make progress and help connect them to research, tools and ideas.”
Walsh, who attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), said the district is proud of its success in placing students in many competitive colleges, but he also thinks that there are many ways to become successful and start a fulfilling life without attending a top-tier school. For Walsh, attending USMMA “really came down to a financial choice,” he said, adding that “The more I looked into USMMA the more I realized I’d have great opportunities there. After I graduated I was commissioned as an officer in the Navy, I received a B.S. in marine transportation.” It was while traveling around the world that Walsh began seeing and thinking about the educational opportunities in different places, which eventually led him to graduate school at Harvard, he said.
Different Pathways to Success
“We’re trying to look at the overall student experience,” Walsh said. “We want to make sure we have everyone involved in the conversation about moving away from this idea about a single path to success” and “the idea that you need to have everything nailed down by December of senior year.”
Another way to go is to take a gap year after college, Walsh pointed out. “Some students have decided to take gap years and they report feeling much more prepared and not caught in the current of stress and anxiety,” Walsh said. Others decide to attend schools that may not be the most competitive institutions that have accepted them – an example, Walsh said, is a soccer player who was being recruited by Yale but chose to attend Ithaca. “I just heard from her,” Walsh said in early July. “She has an on-air internship with Fox Sports and she’ll be covering the World Cup.”
Part of choosing the right college is looking beyond name recognition, Walsh said, and to that end, college counselors at Byram Hills are expected to “know the students and know the best choices for them. There’s really an expectation that the college counselors should have an idea where the students should apply.”
Community Book Read Event on October 17
Students, parents and others who wish to be part of this conversation can participate in the first Byram Hills Community Book Read. The book is Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Bruni describes many high-achievers who flourished at less competitive colleges–and in many cases attribute their success to those institutions.
“It’s a book that’s really accessible to the community and it’s a great jumping-off point,” Walsh said. The book is recommended for students as an independent reading selection on the Byram Hills High School summer reading list this summer, and Walsh said, “We have had a number of students who have chosen to read it.”
On Thursday, Oct. 17 at 6 p.m., members of the steering committee that worked with Challenge Success will lead a discussion in the Byram Hills High School library. All community members are welcome to attend the free event.