Why the Afternoon Program? by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School
When the academic day ended at my independent school outside of Detroit, we all played sports. Yes, there were choices—but they were only from among interscholastic teams. No matter where your interests or talents lay, we all ended up pulling on jerseys that said “Cranbrook” across the front. Our teachers were also our coaches—some of whom were experts in their sports and others who were clearly there just to be supportive and to get to know us.
Times have surely changed since then—and Nobles has evolved right along with those changing times (and in some ways has been a national leader in recognizing those changes). We now offer an incredible range of opportunities in the Afternoon Program during every season—from service to sports to wellness activities to independent projects.
At the core of this evolution, however, has been our commitment to the Afternoon Program as a critical part of the teaching and learning experience and as vital to developing the relationships and sense of community that make Nobles distinctive. I can say—without equivocation—that the most enduring relationships I’ve developed with Nobles students have happened in the context of our Afternoon Program.
Nobles’ Afternoon Program requirements are more significant than those of most day schools nationwide. Over many years of review and renewal of the Afternoon Program, we remain committed to the benefits that students derive from getting to know their classmates and their Nobles adult mentors (coaches, directors, etc). Students are more connected to a broader range of peers within the school when they participate in those activities and find respect for those who have talent in those activities. Those students also develop connections to faculty members whom they would not otherwise have known (and the same is true for Nobles teachers).
In all of our Afternoon Programs, we value the critical problem-solving skills that come from working closely together (with Nobles adult support) to achieve common goals. Resilience, flexibility, commitment and accountability to the "team" (or cast or outdoor adventure group, etc.) are learned in that broad range of activities. We take great pride in committing to more than 95 percent of our Afternoon Program offerings supervision by at least one Nobles faculty member (we are the leader among ISL peer schools in this important category).
Year after year, however, we find more frequent requests for students to be "exempted" from our Afternoon Program requirements so they can pursue a very specialized course of training away from Nobles. We believe quite strongly that such early specialization—to the exclusion of these collaborative experiences at Nobles—is detrimental to the healthy development of adolescents and undermines the extraordinary benefits of collaborative experiences that happen here. Especially in a student’s first years at Nobles (through the ninth and 10th grades), it is critical to form the connections with classmates and teachers that ultimately build the skills and values that individuals and the community benefit from. As students mature and their interests become more focused, there is greater flexibility within the Afternoon Program to accommodate those more specialized needs.
So what is a parent to do when that club coach or musical director insists that your 13-year-old will not possibly be able to pursue her or his dream of continuing a passion post-high school without exclusive focus in one area? My suggestion is to reflect on the lessons we want our children to learn for a lifetime and to postpone for as long as possible that decision to over-specialize. Our experience over many years suggests that too much early specialization often leads to regrets later on and that a more balanced (and some would say sane) approach reaps many benefits over time. If you have concerns about your child, I’d recommend enlisting your child’s advisor, class dean or any trusted Nobles adult to talk this through and create a workable plan.
We are proud of how the Afternoon Program has evolved at Nobles and are so grateful for the support that so many Nobles families bring to all aspects of what we do when classes end as those experiences are critical components of a Nobles education.