“The creativity of Franklin Academy’s educators is the magic that distinguishes its program.”
Franklin Academy has been a center of educational innovation since its founding. Our talented teachers, working in teams to implement a competency-based curriculum, are encouraged to respond quickly to student needs. We design lessons and activities for small groups of students, assessing results and applying best practices, shared experiences, and perceptive insights in a continuing quest to improve and strengthen every aspect of our work. Consequently, we are able to move intentionally and carefully to support individual growth and sustain the health of our close-knit community. This innovation takes place every day and in every class at Franklin Academy. Other initiatives over time become school-wide traditions. Click on any of these special events to learn more about the richness of our holistic curriculum.
It is Franklin Academy’s touchstone – a daily convening of administrators, teachers, and students. We come together as a community to hear announcements, offer affirmations for acts of kindness and accomplishments, discuss issues, make decisions, commemorate birthdays, celebrate special events, participate in group activities, offer a quote of the day, and observe a moment of stillness and silence before moving on to our next destination in the day’s busy schedule.
At the start of each new year we employ certain strategies and embrace long-standing traditions to facilitate the development of close friendships. To assist students in identifying potential friends, we engage in a fun-filled “speed friending” event. Students are briefed ahead of time regarding conversational icebreakers, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language. Then, students and teachers are mixed and matched across teams and divided into four equal groups. This is when the fun begins; two minutes are allotted for each meet and greet conversation. By the end of the session everyone will have talked with many different people, setting in motion the possibility for new friendships.
Just for Girls
When it comes to the identification of students with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Asperger’s Syndrome, there exists a significant gender gap. Many more boys than girls are being referred and diagnosed. Because girls have a different set of needs than boys, we offer a team just for girls in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. Girls attend their core courses on team and enjoy a coeducational experience in elective courses, clubs and activities, life sports, and weekend programming. We believe that our “Just for Girls” initiative is a vital prerequisite to give our female students the academic and social skills necessary to become successful and independent young women.
The Diversity Fair
Franklin Academy’s Code of Conduct states the following:
- We respect each other.
- We are honest.
- We resolve our conflicts non-violently.
- We show respect for differences.
- We take care of ourselves.
- We take care of each other.
- We take care of Franklin Academy.
- We take care of the world.
To help frame our Code of Conduct within a larger perspective, our Diversity Committee organizes an annual fair at Franklin Academy to celebrate differences of race, culture, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. Then, during subsequent team meetings, students and teachers talk about their experiences and identify new perspectives that were gained.
The Fall College Trip
Franklin Academy is a college preparatory school for bright students with unique learning profiles, and our seniors and postgraduates have been accepted by more than 300 different colleges and universities across the country. To help students consider a wide range of college options and identify personal preferences, we offer a week-long college tour during the Columbus Day Week, coinciding with Franklin Academy’s mid-fall break. We focus on schools in the Northeast, traveling through New England and the mid-Atlantic states. We visit large universities, small liberal arts institutions belonging to the association of Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL), schools that specifically serve students in need of accommodations, and highly selective colleges. Of special value are visits to schools where our alumni have matriculated and where we enjoy the “insiders” tour.
Franklin Academy’s team model and competency-focused curriculum provide a framework for our teachers to maximize their creativity and to shape experiences that transform learning. The result is a rich, project-based, holistic education allowing students to develop strong academic skills while also learning and strengthening competencies in executive functioning, emotional intelligence, social pragmatics, and self-care and advocacy. For validation and inspiration regarding this approach to learning, you might want to see the documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed, by director Greg Whiteley and executive producer Ted Dintersmith. Here is a link to the trailer.
One of the highlights of the fall term is the Greater Franklin Open, an annual event that is eagerly anticipated by students and faculty. We take a Friday off from classes to provide time for teachers, administrators, and students to build a nine-hole mini-golf course. Then, teams of students and faculty, organized into competitive foursomes, play the course under a typically magnificent autumn sky with bright sunshine and comfortable temperatures. The goal is the coveted GFO jacket awarded to each member of the winning team. Only the green jackets awarded to the winners at Augusta are more prestigious. Along the way, decision-making, creativity, and collaboration are a few of the competencies taught and practiced while everyone is having fun.
True Thanksgiving Travel Stories
As we anticipate the end of our second term of the school year and the start of travel home for Thanksgiving holiday, students and faculty look forward to the annual travel skit. Roles are reversed in the skit with students playing teachers and teachers playing students in order to present a series of hilarious vignettes inspired by actual past trips to Bradley International Airport and the Old Saybrook train station. On display are a range of possible behaviors that one might encounter when students are not quite ready to deal with the preparation, the transitions, and the challenges associated with vacation travel. The skit uses humor to teach some important lessons, and our hope is that this funny preview of worst-case scenarios will encourage every student to review the travel checklist and carefully prepare for departure from school.
December and April Intersessions are two-week mini-terms that offer students the opportunity to select one high-interest course and focus only on that class throughout the academic day and over the totality of Intersession as a change of pace from core classes and regular electives. The course options typically address a wide range of student and staff interests, vary in academic rigor, and combine students from different teams. Here are some course titles to pique your interest: Experiencing Cuba, Seuss Sense: Art and Science of Storybooks, Debunking Medical TV, Star Wars Saga, Hong Kong Culture & Cinema, Eat Like an Italian, Investigating Paranormal New England, Becoming a Theatre Triple-Threat, The Cold War Through Spy Cinema, and Living Outside the Bubble.
January Spirit Week
The purpose of Spirit Week is to help students get back into the routines of school after Winter Holiday and reinforce our community bonds through some good old-fashioned fun and games. We begin with “minute to win it” team competitions. There are five spirit days that focus on silly socks, favorite t-shirts, crazy hat or hair, mitten and gloves, and the concluding team solidarity day. We conduct an obligation challenge where each team wins points based on team members’ daily attendance at classes, meals, meetings, and activities. Then, there is the door decorating contest, penny wars, a staff photo guessing game, and a modified Family Feud game that concludes our first week of the winter term.
Joy and celebration are important ingredients in the life we share at Franklin Academy. During the daily Community Meeting we recognize birthdays, announce college acceptances, honor personal achievements, and offer affirmations for acts of kindness. We observe school and individual milestones throughout the year, host special events, and initiate alternative schedules for fun activities to focus on the positive while forging closer social bonds and lifting our collective spirits. Thus, it should come as no surprise that in January when we are in the midst of snow and cold weather, we sponsor Halfway Day to commemorate the mid-point of the school year and look ahead to spring.
Does your school celebrate Pi Day? If not, why not? At Franklin Academy, the celebration involves the creation of an event t-shirt, an original Pi song, (last year a takeoff on You Spin Me Right Round by Dead or Alive that was written and choreographed by Amy Bigelow, our Mathematics Chair, and performed by our Mathematics teachers), and an intense team competition that includes Pi trivia, pin the Pi on the teacher, identifying words with pi, and the recitation from memory of the digits of Pi for as far as one can go. A Franklin Academy sophomore now holds the Pi record, having reached 293 digits after the decimal point. That is what we call an amazing memory!
The World Is Our Classroom
Do you like to travel? At Franklin Academy we believe that the world is our classroom. Under the direction of creative, experienced, and dedicated educators, our bright, talented, and inquisitive students have journeyed to many distant places, participating in travel/study initiatives across the globe. A list of countries and continents that our students have visited in past years includes: Antarctica, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Europe, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, North America, Russia, South America, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The next international destination is Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy.
The Invention Convention competition, sponsored by Franklin Academy’s Science Department, provides an opportunity to showcase ingenuity, problem-solving skills, and collaborative spirit. Working individually or in small groups, students tackle engineering challenges within a two-week period. In years past, students have designed fans powered by solar panels, constructed cardboard and duct tape boats to transport a favorite teacher across the campus pond, and have created elaborate Rube Goldberg machines to accomplish simple tasks. This year students will send eggs airborne through the design and construction of gliders, egg drop baskets, and specialized catapults. The major prize is the Golden Microscope, awarded to the team having the highest percentage of completed projects. Individual students win specific prizes, team-by-team, for design, function, and execution.
Individual and Community (I & C)
Sometimes referred to as “Adulting 101,” this is the life skills part of the Franklin Academy program, encompassing a required class for all students plus team meetings, residential lessons, and many community events. All are designed to teach and strengthen core competencies that include social pragmatics, emotional intelligence, self-care and advocacy, and executive functioning, with lessons including (but not limited to!) conflict resolution, etiquette, leadership, the art of conversation, understanding your own learning profile, how to apply for a job, interview practice, self-advocating for accommodations, understanding and dealing with bullying, making your own doctors’ appointments, and managing your own medications. Our team approach ensures that skills taught in I&C will be supported and reinforced in all classes and activities.
“Why Fit In When You Were Born To Stand Out?”
The quote is from Dr. Seuss, and this attitude permeates everything we do at Franklin Academy. We encourage our students to live distinctive lives that take full advantage of every gift, talent, and opportunity. It is also the reason for our tradition that goes back to the first year of our school to recognize every student and staff birthday with a “Happy Birthday to You” serenade during Community Meeting.
A Signature Moment – The All School Prom
Everyone at Franklin Academy goes to the prom, with a date or with a group of friends. There is a lot of preparation – dance lessons, seminars on elegant dinner etiquette and how to be a good wingman, team trips for haircuts, and a beauty spa night. Our event venue is the incomparable Gelston House overlooking the Connecticut River, which we take over for a memorable evening on a Monday night in early May. As the companion video slideshow reveals, our girls are beautiful, our boys are handsome, the weather is perfect, the food is plentiful, and the dance floor is always full.
The Franklin Learning Institute (FLI for short) replicates the freshman year of college for our seniors and postgraduates, providing preparation through practice. An important part of this dress rehearsal for college are the senior seminars offered throughout the academic year. These sessions focus on the further development of social and emotional growth, greater self-awareness, more effective social skills, and practical life skills. In the late spring before graduation, seminar offerings broaden to prepare our students for a variety of post-secondary programs, and a sample of topics include: how to deal with freshmen roommate issues, how to access support services at colleges, how to navigate safely through digital dating sites on social media, and how to avoid gaining the “Freshman 15.” Feedback from Franklin alumni underscores the value of these seminars, touting the helpful preview, the good advice, and the useful strategies to advocate for accommodations, create and manage academic schedules, and scripts learned for new social situations and experiences in college and career.
An important aspect of the senior seminars program includes an examination of service learning in the non-profit sector which culminates in a week-long “Capstone” experience in May. Seniors and postgraduates participate in serving the local community, applying all of their social, emotional intelligence and communication skills in real world projects, practicing employment “soft skills,” and gaining an appreciation for volunteerism. The range of projects have included controlling inventory for musical theater costumes, constructing a 1,600-foot wetlands walkway, designing and delivering after-school programs for elementary school children, initiating animal husbandry projects, creating a bluebird box trail, stewarding hiking paths, crafting raven toys, landscaping, and constructing foot bridges. Beyond the goodwill generated through the service of our students, this alumna quote conveys the value of our initiative: “Doing Capstone opened my eyes to how much I wanted to do work for others and perform community service. In college I joined multiple clubs, like Habitat for Humanity, that helped better the lives of others. Then, I took a trip to Africa to build houses for day care communities.”