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What Makes a High School Great?

By Brent Davis, PhD

Professor of General Education, 

American University of Health Sciences, Signal Hill, CA.

Most parents want to send their children to a great high school. But what makes a high school great? A great high school is characterized by a combination of factors that contribute to a positive and enriching educational experience for students. Some factors are nearly universal: effective teaching, a student-centered approach, a caring attitude, character building, and college/career readiness. A great high school continually strives to provide a well-rounded and holistic education that prepares students both academically and socially, spiritually, and emotionally for the challenges and opportunities of adulthood. It promotes a culture of excellence and continuous improvement to empower students to reach their full potential.

When our children were starting school (some 30 years ago), one of our concerns, even 30 years ago, was to find a school where a caring attitude was prioritized. Since this was difficult to find in the region of the world we were in,  one of the main motivations for a group of us, expatriate parents, was to start an international school. Another priority was to make sure that Christian beliefs and values were fostered. We were Christians in a country still run on atheist beliefs and values. Finally, most of our children would be going to universities in our home countries where English would be the language of instruction and high levels of skill in reading and writing English would be needed. So, we started a Christian, English-medium, international school.

While our situation more than 30 years ago was somewhat unique, these general concerns of caring, character, and skills are even more true today and are likely of concern to you as well. These are the reasons for establishing International Baccalaureate (IB) schools in general and American University Research Academy (AURA: an IB candidate school) in particular. IB schools prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world and promote values of inquiry, knowledge, empathy, and responsibility. The IB schools grew out of the need for a curriculum that would be accepted for admissions at universities in many countries. But it was also fueled by a desire to foster respect and compassion among people from different backgrounds. Today, over 5000 universities in 100 countries accept the IB diploma, including UCLA, Brown, University of Chicago, University of Cambridge (UK), University College London, University of St. Andrews (UK), Macquarie University (Australia), McGill University (Canada), Free University of Berlin, University of Bologna (the oldest university in the world), and the University of Tokyo. Some universities will award college credit for high scores on IB examinations, including UCLA. Graduates of AURA Academy will be awarded substantial general education credits at the American University of Health Sciences (AUHS), leading to an accelerated Bachelor of Nursing or Doctor of Pharmacy degree. It is even possible that an AURA graduate could achieve a Nurse Practitioner MSN at AUHS at about the same time as most students are just completing a bachelor’s degree at another institution (with a regular diploma from another high school).

However, IB schools are not just interested in academics; the IB learner profile stresses character as well: inquirers, knowledgeable thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. Additionally, IB students are “more culturally aware through the development of a second language” and “able to engage with people in an increasingly globalized, rapidly changing world” (https://www.ibo.org/benefits/benefits-for-students/). For AURA, in particular, faith is an essential component, and weekly Bible studies are a critical extracurricular component of the school.

Caring, also, is not just an IB value but is demonstrated at AURA by our small class sizes, ensuring that every student is treated as an individual and listened to with respect. Our teachers are as compassionate as they are academically qualified. If you are looking for a caring, character-building school with high academics, look for an IB school. If you are also looking for strong Christian values and a well-rounded curriculum, including health sciences, consider AURA in Signal Hill, CA. They accept students year-round at the beginning of each quarter.