The benefits of an individualised education cannot be understated. By design, they accommodate diverse student profiles — reflected in how today’s learners are responding better to a harmonious mix of skill-based education, theoretical lenses, and content knowledge. The sweet spot between these two often translates to parents never having to turn their summer-glazed children into Fall students, screen enthusiasts into bookworms, or traditional learners into cutting-edge scholars.
As parents, we can only offer our children their educational journey once; it will build on each of their iterative experiences. Maturing into adulthood demands that they have time during high school when they practice balancing freedom with responsibility. Not many schools have the courage to trust their students, but those that do so offer students a solid foundation for their future. How can this be understood?
Success stories are the best way to find out. David Lyu has one for the books. Born and raised in China, Lyu set his sights on The Putney School in Vermont, US –– a coeducational boarding and day institution for grades nine to 12 –– where no two student journeys are ever the same. However, Lyu’s motives –– at first –– were strictly aesthetic. The view he saw on the school website’s homepage was enough to justify moving from one continent to another.
He saw himself climbing some of the hundreds of trees around campus, hiking in the eastern foothills of the Green Mountains, cross-country skiing in the winter, kayaking under the moonlight, and having the time of his life –– much like the pictured pupils he envied. Once he arrived at the school, he realised there was far more to Putney than meets the eye.
Outdoor excursions certainly were not the only hallmark keeping students beaming with joy. Lyu very quickly began to understand the real reason why about 20% of the 232 students here came from near and far (they represent over 30 nationalities). Of course, the nerves crept up the closer he arrived at his first visit, but since Putney is no stranger to international students, Lyu’s welcome was just as warm as Vermont’s summers.
“I got used to the campus and the surrounding environment pretty well before school started because of a vibrant orientation,” he explains. “It was extremely helpful. Student leaders introduced us to important faculty and took us on a trip to town. Then, they walked us through work jobs, afternoon activities, evening arts and everything that was special about the Putney curriculum.”
In no time, Lyu was immersed and engaged. He’s now an international ambassador and student trustee member with full voting rights on the school board. He even played a pivotal role in appointing a new Head of School alongside his peers. “We are typically involved in making big decisions for our school,” he explains. “Within my roles, I’m always encouraged to introduce my culture to the community.”
This is the confidence a Putney education inspires. They believe that every student is unique, every aspiration requires specialised attention and when it comes to learning –– one size doesn’t fit all. Hence, the abundance of approachable, expert faculty members ready to help pupils develop the tools, self-awareness and advocacy skills needed to evolve into confident, active and independent learners.
The collective experience didn’t just help Lyu discover his knack for leadership, he also realised his calling to pursue social science and history at university. He credits the experiential nature of the Putney academic curriculum.
“American Studies allowed us to explore the history of Native Americans and indigenous people. I love it because I never got a chance to learn history like this prior to coming to the US,” Lyu explains.
This exposure grew his fascination for the US and China’s political relationship. During Project Week, history teacher Noah Hoskins-Forsythe encouraged him to use the opportunity to explore how COVID-19 has shaped the relationship between the two nations.
Outside the classroom, Lyu is living his dream life. He can confirm that Putney’s lustre is just as appealing in person as it is on its website. Where else could students curb stress by alpine skiing?
Little wonder why Lyu plans on pursuing higher education in the US once he graduates. Putney taught him that the keys to a successful life are bravery, a willingness to try new things, the confidence to explore, and the courage to overcome failure.
It’s clear this connected community –– where everyone is on a first-name basis –– opened Lyu’s eyes to the American dream. However, Putney has always instilled the importance of international students like him keeping a piece of home within their hearts. Little reminders galore through grand gestures.
“Seeing fireworks on Chinese New Year was a wonderful surprise,” he reminisces. “It was beautiful. I was walking with my friends and we all paused to enjoy the moment together.”