In K-12 education today, most schools are designed to teach students how to answer standardized test questions, produced by for-profit companies, to insure that every child reaches a minimum score.
The Prairie School is designed to teach students how to ask questions, find or create the answers to those questions, and share those answers across a range of mediums. We believe that our mission’s focus on the whole child and the development of their character and creativity is the best way to prepare our students to be leaders in a world where change is a constant and the competition is fierce. As Karl Fisch noted, our students are preparing for jobs that do not yet exist, that will use technologies that have not been invented, to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet. That is a daunting task, but our students are truly prepared to meet these unknown challenges. Here they learn to communicate effectively, creatively approach and solve problems, evaluate evidence, understand bias, and, most importantly, to ask questions. Many answers are out there, but it is tomorrow’s leaders that will frame the inquiry and we are preparing our students to be those leaders.
Our selective admissions program allows us to focus on motivated, above-average students with supportive parents who want to do more than just reach proficiency. Our college preparatory program is a balance of tried and true methods of instruction, with bold and new pedagogical innovations. All of our students are challenged and supported every day, to grow and improve, by a nationally recruited and experienced faculty. All of our seniors are accepted to selective four-year colleges and universities where they thrive.
Our students thrive in college and as adults because they are highly skilled, self-motivated learners who know how to succeed both individually and as a part of diverse teams. They know how to take action, build relationships, collaborate and communicate. Here, they have learned a myriad of important interpersonal and technical skills within the context of pursuing academic, personal, and collaborative excellence. At The Prairie School we also set aside school time for community service and to study current events to promote active citizenship.
For 50 years, excellence has permeated everything we do and I hope that you enjoy exploring our website. You will find valuable insights about our program and how we prepare our students to succeed at selective colleges and as adults by focusing on each student growing and thriving. You will also get a glimpse of what makes our school truly exceptional: the quality of the people who work here and the families who enroll their children. However, to truly see what makes this school an exceptional place for talented, creative, and motivated students you need to visit in person.
Nathaniel W. Coffman, Ed.D.
Head of School
As an avid historian dedicated to helping students understand how previous events affect present circumstances, each commencement address delivered by Dr. Coffman in the spring of 2016 contained a theme of “misunderstanding the past” while referencing a famous historical speech.
On always challenging yourself…
My third-grade teacher, Mr. Borman, taught me nothing worth accomplishing happens without a struggle or without help from others. We learned that you need to try every day to get better, to always look for ways to help others and be willing to seek out support when you need it.
His philosophy ties into a quote we’ve been talking about in Primary School. Olympic medalist, and former world record holder, Bonnie Blair said, “Winning means you’re doing better than you’ve ever done before.” Mr. Borman, and our teachers here at The Prairie School, agree. Solving an easy problem is not nearly as rewarding as unraveling a challenging one. Even though you will make mistakes working with the harder problem – you will learn from those mistakes and be better for them.
On the importance of continual learning…
Your brain is a muscle and every time you ask questions, try out new ideas or search for knowledge, you grow and strengthen your brain. So this summer and next year, try new things, ask challenging questions and work with others to find the answers.
On the group’s upcoming class trip to Washington DC…
When you go to Washington next week, pay attention. When you come home, get involved. Figure out what you believe and what you stand for. What should the role of government be and how can it best accomplish that role? This is an election year, and although you won’t be able to vote, I hope you will take the time to develop nuanced and informed opinions on each of the issues. Can you do this for me?
On how Prairie parents play a vital role in their child’s academic success…
Before we end our ceremony, I would like to take a few moments to add my thanks to the parents and families of our graduates. Prairie is not easy – and without your support these graduates would not be here today. The faculty and I thank you for partnering with us to prepare them to succeed in college and lead lives of purpose.
On the importance of understanding context…
As you head out into the world, I urge you to always pay attention to context. Too often in today’s society we look for mirrors instead of windows and, metaphorically, we think every problem is a nail because we have a hammer in our hand. Remember – context matters. Every situation and the people involved in it are unique. When you are faced with a challenge, slow down, observe the situation, ask questions, and reflect. Use the context to help you understand and solve the problem in front of you.
On living a life of happiness and satisfaction…
For those of you headed off to get an education that will help you earn a lot of money, remember that your financial success is a means to an end and only the beginning of your duty to society. I hope that all of you will use your resources, time and skills to make a difference in the lives of others. You will be happier and more satisfied than you can imagine.
- Headmaster at York Country Day School in York, Pennsylvania
- Dean at Bishop School in La Jolla, California
- Executive Director at the FXW School Chicago, Illinois
- Dean, Faculty Member & Coach at The Latin School in Chicago, Illinois
- Class Dean, Faculty Member & Coach at Fenwick High School Oak Park, Illinois
- Director of College Counseling, Faculty Member & Coach at La Lumiere School, LaPorte, Indiana
- U.S. History, Government & English Teacher
- Ed.D. University of Pennsylvania
- M.N.A. University of Notre Dame
- B.A. Claremont McKenna College
Educational Leadership Philosophy
“As a school leader it is my duty to: Build a community where students and teachers feel a sense of ownership and responsibility and are empowered to pursue excellence as learners and leaders.” (Read More …)