The Best School in Washington

International School exterior

International School in Bellevue, Washington, is dedicated to small class size and challenging academics.

International School, a Bellevue, WA high school serving grades 6-12, is small, with barely 500 students. Their current senior class only numbers 64. But their student performance is among the best in the nation, scoring 100% in both reading and mathematics proficiency. US News labels them the 26th best school in the country. Newsweek puts them higher, at 12th.

International is a public school, but a tight hold is kept on their admission numbers by the school’s policy:  new students are admitted by lottery. Interested families must live in the Bellevue School District and apply when their child is in the fifth grade. Each year, there are approximately 80 openings, with as many as eight times that number of students vying for them. Siblings of students are automatically enrolled, limiting that pool of availability even further.

Compare International’s numbers to others in the district, and it’s easy to see why families subject themselves to those odds. District-wide, the average math proficiency is only 86%, and the College Readiness Index, a score based on how well graduates do in their freshman year of college, is only 72%, a far cry below International’s 97%. Every other school in the district is more than twice as large, with larger class sizes and more generic teaching.

Those scores aren’t only due to the more personalized attention of a smaller school. International students are pushed hard. Many AP courses are mandatory, and all are available to all ages, not only juniors and seniors. An art track is required, be it fine arts, orchestra, or choir. Annually, there is a week of required outside courses, with many choices such as international travel or environmental study. The school has extracurriculars like drama and robotics, science club and JSA, but no sports. Anyone over 8th grade wishing to participate in sports can do so at other local schools.

The school’s model is intended to graduate young adults who are “global citizens,” aware and invested in the world around them, not only their own sphere of experience. If only there were a way to accurately measure that!

Climate Change in Our Schools

"Climate change" written on chalkboard next to thermometer

Educators are finding it difficult to teach climate change in schools.
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The scientific community as a whole (well, 97%) agrees:  human-caused climate change is an undeniable part of our lives, and it will only be more so in the upcoming generation. But the way we’re teaching our children about it is not keeping up with the pace of what’s happening outside the playground.

Standards for science education in general vary widely from state to state, despite attempts made by the Department of Education and various other organizations to implement common curriculum, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS. David Ayer, a writer for Earth Day Network, noted particular that states falling behind in climate education were frequently those states where coal and oil have always been prime industries–Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Kentucky, to name a few.

Some states have specifically rejected all of the NGSS simply because it includes the science behind global climate change, making it “controversial.” Educational standards for science are a state’s responsibility, so there is no way to nationally enforce what must be included.

The considerations behind the decision to dis-include these standards are largely political. A Wyoming representative, in arguing against them, literally told newspapers that including climate change in high school science courses would harm the state economically and politically. Wyoming, of course, is a major producer of coal.

Educators nationwide are concerned that politics are playing far too big a part in what they are allowed to teach. But what students learn about climate change is, inherently, political. What students learn will affect how they vote, what they invent, and where their priorities lie as they take over control of what happens to this world. They need to have the whole picture. After all, 97% of the world’s scientists are ready to give it to them…if they’re allowed.

The Rockefeller University Receives Landmark Donation

Test tubes in a laboratory

A generous donation from the Kravis Foundation will allow Rockefeller University to build a new laboratory.
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It was recently announced that the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Foundation provided a leadership gift of $100 million to help create a new laboratory building at The Rockefeller University. According to Inside Philanthropy, the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Foundation is very active in NYC, where husband and wife Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis sit on numerous boards, including those of The Rockefeller University, where Mr. Kravis is a trustee.

Prominent businessman and philanthropist Henry R. Kravis remarked, “The Rockefeller University is unique in that it attracts the best scientists from around the world and gives them the freedom and support to tackle the biggest questions in science. These new laboratories have been designed to enable scientists to work seamlessly with colleagues both within and beyond their fields,” noting the new laboratory building will lend itself nicely to the ethos of The Rockefeller University.

Kravis’s wife Marie-Josée, a businesswoman and philanthropist who is the current president of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, also commented on the donation, saying, “Henry and I are thrilled to help advance the kind of paradigm-changing discoveries that Rockefeller is known for and that will improve human health.” She continued, “The new building and its laboratories will enable the University’s scientists to continue to push the boundaries of biomedical knowledge in important and exciting ways.”

Founded in 1901 by John D. Rockefeller, The Rockefeller University is a world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, physics, and other scientific fields. The generous recent donation of $100 million will allow for the creation of a research building that will reportedly span three blocks along New York’s East River. The Rockefeller University’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, said that the laboratory “will help us stay at the cutting edge of scientific discovery and enable us to continue to recruit top faculty by providing them with the facilities they need to make transformative discoveries.”

For more information about The Rockefeller University, take a look at these quick facts about the institution.

How Busy Are You?

Busy woman at messy desk

Check out these time management tips for getting things done!
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We’ve all had the kind of day where it feels like we were busy every minute, but the next morning, nothing actually seems to have been done. Students, with classes and jobs and more, are particularly prone to this. So how do you get less busy and more productive?

Learn the difference. That’s the first step, of course, and it’s a doozy. It’s easy to feel busy when you’ve spent all day at the computer, multitasking an essay, two assignments, research, and Facebook to boot.

Multitasking, while being one of those “skills” we all brag about in our resumes, isn’t really a skill. It’s a lack of focus, and it makes you less productive. Every time you switch attention tracks, your brain stores away what you were doing before, and when you switch back, details get lost and have to be brought forward again. That costs time.

To-do lists are a good way to help yourself focus. Set aside a few minutes early in the day to write one, put it in front of yourself, and actually visualize what you need to do and what kind of time you need for each task. Be specific about tasks. Break big to-dos into their component parts, if that helps you. Keep your lists. Checking off finished tasks is remarkably motivating.

Do a weekly review of your lists, and see what you keep putting off, what always gets done immediately, and what turned out not to need to be done at all. Be honest with yourself. You probably have something on your lists you’re not going to do at all. Get that out of there! You’ll feel better.

Now that you’ve looked at your responsibilities, look at your hobbies. They’re important to you and deserve a share of your time, but they need to stay in their lane. Email doesn’t need to be open in the background every minute. None of your social media does, either. Make an agreement with yourself to check it once after you’ve completed X tasks or at a few specific times of day, and close the tab. Don’t let it sit there and tempt you.

Finally, time limits. The more time you know you have, the more time you’re ready to waste. So give yourself deadlines. If you blow those off, give yourself new ones. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable.

Not all of these will work for every student. No one set of techniques ever will. Be realistic about your abilities, motivation, and wants, and if this seems like it might fit, give it a shot.

Essay? Easy!

"Essay" spelled out in wooden blocks

Check out these tips to make writing your next essay easy!
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Essays are not a beloved part of student life. Ubiquitous almost from the point you learn to write in complete sentences, almost no one escapes them before graduation. And there are plenty of career paths where you won’t be free of the dreaded essay even then. So it’s worth learning a few tricks to improve your skills. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice.

Trick 1: Have a work space.

An essay is a time commitment. You need to have a comfortable, dedicated space to help you focus. For some people, that’s an office with their desk and some bookshelves and a white noise machine. For others, it’s a cafe where they feel set apart from the distractions and multitasking at home. Find what works for you.

Trick 2: Use 20/10s.

The term is from UfYH, a housekeeping blog, but the concept is great for any mental work too. Work twenty minutes, rest ten. Walk around a bit, have a snack, stretch. Just remember to go right back to work when your break is over. Measuring your progress in the working portion is good too; you can try to beat your previous word count.

Trick 3: Find a focus for your essay.

It can be an inspiring quote, or a particularly good source, or the point you want to prove (AKA your thesis statement). Use it to write the bare bones outline for your essay, then flesh it out with more sources. (A note: Wikipedia is useful to find sources. Just scroll to the bottom of any relevant article. It’s a pretty weak source itself, however, and many teachers still won’t accept it.)

Trick 4: Write concisely.

Teachers can tell if you’re using wordy vocabulary just to pad your word count and not to enhance your points. Like changing the sizes of your fonts and margins, they’ve seen it before, and you won’t get away with it.

Trick 5: Save often, save early, and save everywhere.

You can recover a document on almost any program you choose as a word processor these days, but it’s still a sound practice. Computers have been a solid part of essay writing for decades now. No teacher out there is going to accept “My computer crashed and I lost my essay” as an excuse.

Good luck, writers!

Elon Musk’s Ad Astra

Elon Musk

Elon Musk has started his own school for his children.
Image: Phil Stafford /

Surely, many parents wish that they could simply pull their kids out of an under-performing or otherwise unremarkable school and begin their own, better school. But most people–and perhaps especially, most parents–don’t have the time, skills, or capital to go through with it.

Elon Musk, billionaire entrepreneur and inventor, apparently has enough of all three.

Unsatisfied with the school his five sons were attending, he pulled them out of it, hired away one of their teachers, and began his own school. At the end of its first year, Ad Astra has 14 students, mostly the children of Musks’s employees at SpaceX, the company that launched The Dragon, which berthed in 2012 at the ISS.

In an interview on Chinese television, Musk talked about his experimental school, which teaches problem solving using a top-down approach. For instance, in teaching engineering, rather than beginning with the simplest tools and machines, students are presented with an engine, and the assignment is to figure out step by step what tools and techniques are needed to take it apart, clean and repair it, and rebuild it.

Since Musk is one of the forces behind not only SpaceX, but Tesla Motors and Paypal, perhaps his ideas about teaching are worth study.

Apart from that single interview, the inventor has been quite secretive about his school. It has no web site and no social media presence, at least not from the outside. It has no grade levels or internal divisions. Its name, Ad Astra, means “To the Stars.”

His own sons are currently elementary-aged. There’s no data on the other students. We know that the student body will increase to twenty students next year, but even Musk has no idea how long the school will last. For now, he just says, “The kids really love going to school.” And that’s important to him, as his own school days in South Africa were anything but lovable. “It was torture,” he says, and on at least one instance, vicious bullying landed the young Musk in the hospital.

With a background like his, and the resources open to him, it’s easy to see why Musk would not leave anything to chance in his sons’ education. Hopefully, Ad Astra will be a success and offer up new options in education to all students.

TeamUp Campaign Cultivates US-Japan Educational Partnerships

US and Japan flags

TeamUp aims to support more foreign exchange for students between the US and Japan.
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Foreign exchange programs for students offer an array of opportunities for personal growth and learning. These exchanges foster further cultural understanding, language acquisition, problem solving skills, and help broaden awareness of global issues, as well as providing many other benefits for students. Despite all of these benefits, some organizations, like the US-Japan Bridging Foundation (USJBF) and its affiliate the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC), have noted a decline in student exchange program rates.

Spearheaded by United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Exchange (CULCON), another affiliate of JUSFC and USJBF, TeamUp is a new campaign designed to “increase the number of American and Japanese undergraduate students studying in each other’s country.” It plans to do this by “expanding relevant, active, mutually beneficial and innovative agreements among American and Japanese institutions of higher education.”

According to the campaign, “Over the past 70 years, the United States and Japan have built one of the world’s great partnerships, and for generations, student exchange has formed the bedrock of our people-to-people ties.” Despite the strength of this partnership, those involved in organizations such as the Japan-US Friendship Commission have observed a significant decrease in student exchange programs. The TeamUp campaign explains, “the pace of exchanges between Japan and the United States gives cause for concern. Over the past 15 years, there has been a 57 percent drop in the number of Japanese students studying in the United States,” of the alarming dip in educational exchange opportunities.

TeamUp is a year-long campaign that seeks participation from a diverse group of colleges and universities in the US and Japan. According to The PIE News, “So far there are some 50 education institutions involved in the TeamUp initiative,” which it describes as a program that “aims to facilitate networking between institutions and create a strategy to boost bilateral mobility.” Learn more about TeamUp here.

More about USJBF

USJBF is a nonprofit organization that was created in 1998 at the recommendation of the JUSFC. This organization is dedicated to recruiting students who wish to study abroad, funding scholarships for exchange students, as well as providing mentorship to students. Its Board of Directors includes Chairman Thierry Porté of JC Flowers & Company, Vice Chairman Harry Hill of Oak Lawn Marketing in Nagoya, Japan, and many other leaders in business and education. USJBF is committed to furthering strong US-Japan relations through education initiatives like TeamUp, and providing educational opportunities to young people from both countries.

More About JUSFC

JUSFC is an independent federal agency that provides support, training, and information to help prepare Americans to better meet the opportunities in the US-Japan relationship. Prominent individuals like David Sneider, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and others are currently serving as JUSFC members. Since its founding in 1975, JUSFC has been dedicated to supporting innovative and progressive partnerships between the US and Japan, as well as to demonstrating the importance of the US-Japan relationship.

More about CULCON

CULCON is a bi-national advisory panel that serves to elevate and strengthen the cultural and educational facets of the US-Japan relationship. It also strives to strengthen connections between the US and Japan leadership. It has an education task force, organizes summits to address challenges and opportunities within the US-Japan relationship, and like its other affiliates, seeks to promote educational opportunities for students in the US and Japan.