The first of Woodstock’s five Guiding Principles is “We pursue wholeness,” which encourages students to ask questions like, “Do I speak the truth even when it is difficult” and “Am I in pursuit of truth?”
After the Council of International Schools (CIS) accreditation team visited at end of October, some wondered how true students had been to that principle.
Yongbean Chung, Class of 2020, said, “As a StuCo member, we actually talked about really good stuff about school, and I personally think we proved a lot of good things.”
StuCo did a good job at portraying the positive aspects of the school, he said.
“We tried to represent our good side and not our bad side as we were trying to get the [accreditation]. The bad sides, we need to solve ourselves, not tell them ‘we need help in this side or anything,’” Chung said.
Khushi Agrawal, Class of 2019, the co-school president, said, “People were only looking at the things that they liked, and not looking at the things that they didn’t [like] about the school.”
She gave an example in which StuCo members were asked to rate their own happiness from a scale from one to ten, ten being the happiest.
She said, “I myself said seven, because I felt like a seven, But I heard from around me a bunch of eights and nines, and even I was a little surprised by that.”
Emma Karas, Class of 2019, the Honour Council President, shared similar views. She said, “Some aspects that StuCo talked about Woodstock were not entirely accurate. But I think people were eager to share the things that they like about Woodstock.”
The major questions asked were along the lines of, “How do the teachers treat us, in the sense of: is it a place where we feel like we can make mistakes and learn and grow,” Karas said, as well as do we feel like it’s home, and do we feel comfortable expressing who we are?
The seven-member visiting team met with the administration, teachers, and students to fact-check if Woodstock was truly what the school claimed to be in its self-study. This was a joint visit by CIS and the Middle States Association, which accredits the school, allowing it to issue a U.S. high school diploma.
Mostly positive, one-sided responses were given on questions concerning maintenance and the influence of Woodstock on students as well. However, the objective of the meeting was not about wooing CIS by emphasizing the school’s confident characteristics. The purpose of the CIS’s visit for the team evaluation was to check if Woodstock was meeting the standards it claimed to meet, and to provide feedback for future improvement.
However, the meeting with StuCo was not necessarily a reflection of this.
Ms. Amy Seefeldt, the Director of Center For Imagination, said that she wasn’t aware how the students had represented themselves; however, if she were to answer in the abstract, she said, “Representing yourself authentically is really important.”
This overly positive attitude towards CIS was triggered by the misunderstanding of the focus of the visit: to accurately represent the school, not glamorize it.
Agrawal said, “[Co-President Kritin Garg and I] mentioned in StuCo not to bring up little complaints you have about school to the CIS members.”
However, she also added, “But don’t paint a pretty picture of the school.”
Although StuCo’s responses were overly positive, the answers came about as a reflection of the apprehension of losing the U.S diploma. While, in reality, the chances of losing the diploma to student responses in StuCo were “close to zero,” Agrawal said.
“We did put on a bit of a fake picture, but aside from that, I think it was what had to be done to get our diplomas,” Red Tshering Dorji, Class of 2019, commented on the things that Midlands girls had to do for the CIS evaluation.
“The rooms had to be reorganized because the way we had it for the whole trimester, last trimester, wasn’t all right. Having suitcases above your cupboards and stuff, I don’t think that makes much of a difference, but then we had to take those out,” Dorji said.
Regardless of what she thought, she said she followed suit, as staff and Dorm Council “made it seem like it’s a really big deal. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
This confusion was shared amongst several girls at Midlands. In a combined check-in, the importance of presenting the dorm well was highly stressed by the Dorm Council and staff, ambiguously stating that the failure of it could be a potential cause for losing the diploma.
Pankhuri Poddar, Class of 2019 and Midlands Dorm President, clarified what the Dorm Council had truly meant. She said, “I think what we tried to say was that, from our side, we just want to make dorms a little bit more presentable. A bit more hygienic and presentable.”
On the rumor that the school could lose the accreditation due to failing to clean the room or shift the suitcases out, Poddar explained that an exaggerated consequence was necessary to make students take the evaluation seriously and understand the importance of it.
Poddar said, “Obviously cleaning our rooms is a very tiny thing, but it’s just one of the things that CIS requires and it’s not because we won’t get the accreditation, but it was that we wanted make sure that people to actually do it, so we wanted people to know why we were forcing it on.”
There were several other changes made at dorm level and school that frustrated students. There were emergency instructions and signs put up everywhere, Hostel’s emergency door was unlocked, the fridge cleaned for the first time in Midlands, and two new washing machines and dryers were brought about at the same time.
Akshaya Pradhan, Class of 2019, said, “One of the fire exits which was permanently locked [prior to CIS’s visit], because they think we’re going to use it for other things, but when CIS was here, they unlocked the fire exit.”
The changes executed only due to the visit frustrated the students.
Dorji said, “During check-in, I always complain about maintenance issues and issues that I personally have that I think should be improved, but it never gets done. But all of a sudden, when the CIS comes, everything gets done and the school looks neat and tidy.”
Aside from the changes that were visible, the students seemed to be oblivious to the effort put in by the administration to fill in gaps pointed out by CIS. A few of the major changes brought in were the child protection policy, Early Years’ curriculum alignment, check and balance for the principal, and the revision of the mission statement and five guiding principles..
Ms. Upasani Purushothaman, the Steering Committee Chair for the CIS-MSA joint accreditation visit, explained one of the important measures taken on child protection. All people interacting with Woodstock students were made to adhere to a set of policies regarding child protection.
She said, “We launched the child protection policy, we tied it in with the child rights conventions and we made every single staff sign it. We translated it into Hindi and made every single employee, vendors, [and the] taxi guys read it and sign it.”
Furthermore, Ms. Purushothaman also explained that CIS had revealed issues concerning the Early Years curriculum and a required annual review of the principal by the Board of Directors.
After the effort put in by the administration, when CIS came back for the Team Evaluation in October, after a one-month gap from the self-evaluation stage in 2017, they said, “Most schools don’t put so much effort into their self-study and you guys have done a very thorough job,” Ms. Purushothaman explained on the improvements the school made.
And when asked how student behavior could have affected the CIS evaluation, Ms. Purushothaman said, “You want to make a good impression; for example, when we did the fire drill, the students were ill-disciplined and noisy. It was a note. So they will give us notes like that. It’s not going to affect the accreditation.”
It was implied that miscellaneous tasks such as cleaning up the rooms could not have an impact on the accreditation.
“I think there was some confusion created at the dorm level because maybe StuCo got a little over enthusiastic and said stuff that was not true which was why these rumors were fueled,” Ms. Purushothaman said.
She added, “But we told people to be honest.”
Mr. Doerfler, dean of student services, clarified that he might have unintentionally fueled the misconception. Due to the core standards — the standards that absolutely have to be met if the school even wants to be considered for the accreditation — being so strict for safety issues, he explained that it might have been mistaken that the level of strictness applied to all other criterias.
He said, “One thing that I pointed out, which is true, is any fire violation regarding the fire door being blocked … can cost us our accreditation.”
Even something as insignificant as a “shirt” hanging on the fire exit got “several random checks” as a consequence.
Therefore, he explained, “I had to be very stern.”
He stressed on the importance of the core standards, one of which was the fire drill taken quite lightly by the students.
“Even our fire drill is a core standard, so if we fail that we can not get accredited, even if everything, the whole school is perfect,” Mr. Doerfler said.
He explained that his emphasis on the core standards might have gotten several students on their toes.
“I think because I said that, it made them extra hyper about everything. I think it got interpreted to “we don’t want to be the reason the school doesn’t get accreditation,” Mr. Doerfler said.
He added, “I think a lot of the adults started thinking, ‘we don’t want it to be Midlands or Hostel.’”
Also, due to that, StuCo had suggested the enforcement of extra cleaning up on Sunday just out of the wish to “put their best foot forward,” Mr. Doerfler said.
However, it was informed to the CIS members that what they saw wasn’t regular Sunday schedule or regulation.
Mr. Doerfler advised CIS, “You didn’t see a normal Sunday. Because you were coming, StuCo wanted to clean up, they decided not to allow ordering even though we have approved vendors … but we thought that that would be clunky because the security guards would be busy to be running back and forth.”
He also clarified that the washing machines brought about were just a mere coincidence of timing.
Mr. Phil Bowen, the Evaluation team chair, when asked about how accurate their evaluation was, said, “We’re here for five days, can we understand everything in five days? I don’t know.
Maybe sometimes we find out more than what the teachers and principal think.”
He gave an example of an incident when they got to know more than what was aimed to be portrayed by the school.
He said, “For example, we know that when we went to visit one room, there were some children hiding behind the curtain who’ve been told to get out of the way and not be there when we went into the room … so we find out quite a lot… so we find out quite a lot.”
Nevertheless, he said, “It’s fine,” as “they’re small, funny things.”
He explained, “It’s a bit like when a guest comes to your house, you push away all the dirty clothes and make it look nice. So that when the guest comes they think that your dirty clothes aren’t there. But we sometimes open the cupboard and say, ‘Ah, there is the dirty clothes.’ Sometimes that happens, but we try to be as accurate as possible.”
Bowen added, “I think the student responses are the most honest always.”
Overall, the members were impressed by the students.
“The students were the main good thing, the way they engaged with us, their responsible nature, their wish to see good things happen, not just in their school but outside their school,” Bowen said. “Their wish to make links with the world and learn more about the world.”
Regarding the student leaders, Bowen said, “Kritin and Khushi are wonderful leaders, I think they’re very fair. I think you’re lucky to have them.”
The spaces for improvement lay on expanding teaching strategies, betterment of paperwork, creation of a system to recycle waste, and an internal heating system in the dormitories.
“They [teachers] could develop their teaching strategies, so that you guys have lots of different ways of learning,” Bowen said.
CIS members noticed that school’s waste management wasn’t exactly functioning up to its guiding principle, “Tread lightly on the Earth.” He proposed a student-led system to enforce regulations on plastic waste.
“One more thing that the school could do better is to have a green committee or waste warriors, make them more powerful. Have a recycling ethos built throughout the school so that everybody knows, they can’t bring a plastic bottle into school or a plastic bag,” Bowen said.
He added, “You should let the students do this, students make up their own rules so that everyone has to follow.”
Lastly, on the facilities, he said, “We talked a little bit about facilities, but we think your facilities are excellent. [Except for] heating in the dormitories, so we put that in.”
When asked about the results of the evaluation, he said that the decision will be made by the CIS and MSA directors based on the recommendation that the evaluation team sent.
Although he couldn’t disclose information on the recommendation, he concluded by saying, “We think you have a very very exciting school here and we’re very positive about the outcome.”
Featured Image by Hyenjin Cho
Edited by Rohan Menezes