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 over 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
Each commencement address delivered by Dr. Coffman in the spring of 2017 contained messages of community and relationship building, and how these things give greater meaning to our lives.
One of the great traditions of the primary school is the Fish Bowl. When you see a student being exceptionally generous and kind you put his or her name in the fish bowl. At the end of the month Mrs. Boero celebrates with everyone whose name made it to the bowl.
Every month has a quote and this month’s we learned that founding father Thomas Jefferson believed that everyone feels good when helping someone else.
We also help other people because it makes them feel good.
And perhaps the most important reason we help other people is because it creates community and strengthens our relationships.
Strong relationships bring meaning to our lives
Coming together and contributing to a community brings us purpose.
As you grow and move into middle school you need to keep helping, your fellow students, your family, your teachers, your neighbors, …. your community.
In 8th grade we study US history and perhaps the most important date in our history is July 4 1776.
On that date the continental congress signed the Declaration of Independence and they also appointed a committee to design an official seal for this new country.
The Committee had three members Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Jon Adams and Mr. Thomas Jefferson.
Their first draft submitted on August 20 included symbols for the six European countries the majority of colonists immigrated from and the motto:
E PLURIBUS UNUM – Out of Many One
Two committees and multiple drafts later, the great seal was finally approved in 1782. The motto stayed but the meaning behind it changed to represent the 13 colonies becoming one country.
We still use the great seal today. It appears on all foreign treaties and presidential proclamations as well as on the back of the one-dollar bill.
235 years later Americans come from all over the world and we still live that motto. As you age through high school and college into adulthood, I encourage you to remember that motto and work to build relationships and come together in shared purpose with your peers and the adults in your life.
It is our relationships that bring meaning to our lives. Working with others to strive for excellence is both fun and rewarding. You will do amazing things if you take the risk to get involved, help others, and ask for help even when you don’t think you need it.
I leave you with the words of poet Jon Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
I would like to return to the beginning of our ceremony when Nathan urged his classmates to seek out communities where they can be servant leaders and Dr. Wheeler’s request that we surrender to the vulnerability of awe and something larger than ourselves.
It is through shared experiences, hopefully awe filled shared experiences, and helping others that we create joy and build meaning in our lives. Humans are social animals and when we collaborate to pursue shared goals – we accomplish amazing things and have a lot of fun in the process. Here at Prairie you have joined your schoolmates, to produce countless projects, performances, and academic experiences. You have had many successes and a few failures along the way. Through these shared adventures both positive and negative you have personally and collectively grown and built relationships that will last a lifetime.
Out there in the world today it seems like everyone’s first instinct is to attack and criticize – to find differences and push people apart. Sometimes this comes in the form of raw aggression and at times, as Dr. Wheeler points out, we resort to humor and irony followed by a “just kidding.”
I urge you to work against this rising tide of hostility and detachment.
As you begin the next stage of your life there is one thing I am sure of – wherever you go and whatever you do there will be other people. Reach out and find ways to connect, help them and let them help you, build shared goals, experience awe filled moments together. You and they will be stronger, happier, and more fulfilled as a result of your shared experiences and believe it or not, the world will truly be a better place.
Dr. Nat Coffman
- 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
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 …)