The View From Here

A snapshot into life at Sonoma Academy taken from many angles, The View From Here is our bi-monthly blog featuring reflections from the Head of School, and other staffulty members. 

The View From Here: Current Article

List of 5 news stories.

  • Mission-Driven College Counseling

    Over the last few weeks, you may have heard a sound rumbling from the “Under GAC”... a great collective sigh of relief as many of our seniors submitted their early applications and applications to the University of California and California State University systems. Hitting the “submit” button is a significant milestone for our seniors, and we are proud of the hard work they have put into getting to this point. Through our many years of experience working in the college counseling field, we have acquired a great deal of knowledge and expertise, as well as a firm belief that the process of applying to college is about much more than filling out forms, checking boxes, entering grades, and writing essays. Ideally, the college application process should be about self-discovery and reflection on personal values.

    In fact, values are at the heart of our mission-driven approach to college counseling. Our school’s deeply held values such as risk-taking, exploration, the development of self knowledge, connection with others, and engagement with the greater world guide us in our work. 

    Teenhood: A Time for Exploration
    We know that the teenage brain is wired to crave novel experiences, to take risks, and to explore the world. We have taken that need for the “new” into account in our curriculum, with special programs like Exploratory and Intersession. We also consider this in our approach to college counseling, because when teenagers have the chance to experiment and learn new skills, they can discover exciting new passions that can become rewarding careers. 

    The primary task in the first two years of high school in terms of college preparation is to engage in and explore academics and meaningful co-curricular involvement. We have a light touch with our 9th and 10th grade students, providing course planning support and a few parent workshops, because we want our students to focus on establishing a strong academic foundation and investigating their interests and strengths, rather than obsessing about college outcomes in these early years. Instead of approaching activities with a “this-will-look good-on-my-resume” mindset, we encourage 9th and 10th graders to follow their existing interests, to have the courage to be a beginner, and to step outside of their comfort zones with a spirit of open-mindedness. These are all qualities that distinguish students in the college application process. In fact, colleges do look for students who have developed a genuine love for learning for learning’s sake and are adept at sussing out those who have spent their high school careers ticking boxes for the “looks good on my college application” effect rather than developing genuine interests, passions, and skills.

    By the time our students are ready to begin the college search, in the spring of 11th grade, the exploration afforded to them in their early high school years, as well as the course advising support they have received up to that point, will have helped them develop a strong academic foundation and a honed sense of self. 

    This self-knowledge is critically important as they embark upon their college search, so that they truly know what they want in their college years. We strive to put our students in the drivers’ seat through the college application process, confident about which direction they are heading. 
    Academic Rigor with Heart
    Our curriculum goes beyond the college-prep basics offered at other high schools. We have a slate of unique Advanced Studies electives exploring topics like Postcolonial Literary Theory, Statistics, Medical Biochemistry, and Constitutional Law, in addition to AP offerings. College admissions officers recognize the unique opportunities and rigor available to our students, and they appreciate that our course offerings are not cookie-cutter, off-the-rack high school classes. Additionally, college admissions officers look at a student’s transcript in the context of the course offerings available to them--NOT in comparison to other school’s course offerings--and they assess breadth, depth, and rigor accordingly. Our AS and AP classes do much more than simply prepare students for standardized tests; they are deep dives into complex subjects, with opportunities for sophisticated projects and intense research. 

    In the second semester of 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, we work with students to help them select a course load that will challenge them and provide a breadth of academic and artistic experience. We also promote a balanced approach as students make their curricular choices, leaving some space in their schedules for meaningful co-curricular involvement and leadership opportunities, and of course, time to relax and have fun!. 

    Connected Community Where Each Individual Can Thrive
    Our school culture is one where we strive to ensure that every student is known and seen as an individual, and this is one of the foundational ideas in our College Counseling program. The small size of our school allows each of us to carry a caseload of about 40 students per class year, and we get to know those students very well during the time we are working with them. All in all, each student receives approximately 50 hours of in-class counseling and up to 20 hours of individual college counseling during the 11th and 12th grade years. 

    Our College Counseling program begins in earnest in the spring of 11th grade, when every student takes a semester-long College Counseling class. This is when we work together to explore different types of colleges and post-secondary options, build lists, brainstorm about essays, request recommendations, and learn about how the process will look in senior year. We also begin meeting with students one-on-one. The fall semester of 12th grade includes another class, and individual meetings continue throughout the year so that we can check in on progress, answer questions, and process decisions together. 

    This personalized attention provides us with a deep understanding of each student’s unique profile of strengths, interests, preferences, goals, and financial and geographical considerations. This knowledge then allows us to help each student narrow in on a well-matched, deeply intentional college list with many strong options. 

    We do not have a template list of colleges we provide to students, but instead tailor-make a college list that takes into consideration all of the unique factors of each individual student and their family. Sometimes, this results in colleges on the lists that parents may not have heard of… mostly that is because there are literally thousands of exceptional colleges of all sizes and locations; while only a small number get the kind of brand name attention that makes them household names. Each fall, we host admissions representatives (both in-person and virtual) from many colleges of every kind–large universities and small liberal arts colleges, research institutions, arts colleges, etc–to help expose students to a wide variety of different kinds of educational programs. We want to assure parents that there are so many good options beyond these limited “brand-name” choices and we always strive to collaboratively create a list that really meets the needs of the individual student.

    We work hard to help students find colleges that suit their needs and interests, and we enthusiastically support every possible pathway. We celebrate every graduate’s plan, whether that plan includes a gap year, a junior college, a small liberal arts college, a private research institution, a large public university, a fine arts conservatory, an international university, or a trade program, with the same genuine joy and pride. We are confident that any road a student chooses will lead them toward a satisfying, interesting, and successful life– however they uniquely define those terms–because at SA, our students are given the tools they need to thrive in the real world. 

    In the months ahead, as our seniors begin to receive their decisions and start to solidify their future plans, this will be the most important message we hope to impart to them: college is not the end of the road, nor is it the only road. We believe that with the self knowledge, preparation, and caring community they have benefited from during their time here, they have the power to navigate through these next few years with grace and fortitude, on their way to an exciting future. 

    To help parents orient themselves to the college process and the various milestones and touch points over the course of the four years, we’ve created this College Counseling Timeline. And we look forward to getting to know each and every student here as they explore high school and, when the time is right, embark upon the college application journey. It’s an amazing experience and we are honored to be able to guide our students through it.
  • Moment of Reflection: Thanksgiving 

    As many of you know, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And that is saying a lot because I truly love holidays. If I am completely honest I love the build-up to other holidays more but, for the actual day itself, Thanksgiving is as close to perfect as it gets. It has everything— family and friends, delicious food (in our house breakfast is even a huge event and I just love cooking breakfast for my family), limited stress (unlike other holidays where presents can dominate and I am often assembling things until very late at night), football (I really enjoy watching football on Thanksgiving), and a great family hike (always a signature move after the big brunch in our house). 

    I also LOVE the fall. My birthday falls on the Equinox although, for me, Thanksgiving is fall’s signature day. So, in honor of my favorite holiday, I thought I would share a few of the many things I am thankful for as Thanksgiving is finally upon us.

    I am thankful for this beautiful weather — the much needed rain we have had — and the sun and blue skies. We are so incredibly fortunate to come to this beautiful campus every single day!

    I am thankful for our seniors. Aubrey started the school year in his Convocation speech by asking us to acknowledge our fears and the ways in which they hold us back from finding our true, authentic selves. Whether it's you putting it all on the line in a NCS Championship game or being on stage with all of the vulnerability and heart it takes to truly become a character in a musical, you are each doing that every single day. I also love your senior speeches each week — huge thanks to Lael and Justin for their wonderful words today — and I want to enjoy each moment of the remaining time we have together with you this year.

    I am thankful for our lunches in the GAC. If Thanksgiving is truly about breaking bread together and giving thanks, I never take it for granted that we have the great privilege of doing that together every day at school. The food at SA is legendary and one of my big challenges is figuring out what I am going to exclude from my plate — I have not yet mastered the craftsmanship of Brandon’s plate artistry. Legendary work. 

    I am thankful for my high tops. I really love wearing high tops even though it is rare that I wear them at school (especially on a visit day). But I want to practice what we preach, lean into my true and authentic self, and this is clearly my footwear of choice. And yes, as some of you like to point out, these Blazers are pretty fresh. 

    I am thankful for our Spirit Weeks, Halloween, and other dress-up celebrations at SA. I am already thinking about costumes and collaborations for next year, and I am thankful knowing that 1). Pink Day will return at some point (come ‘on SLC, I bought an outfit and everything), 2). “Anything but a Backpack” is now cemented in the culture of SA spirit week and, most importantly, 3). We will continue to recognize that having fun is the secret ingredient to what makes SA so awesome. I am psyched for musical chairs today. 

    I am thankful for the arts. From the artwork and murals on our walls, the music that’s created each day (a special shout out to attend the Tri-M event on Thursday afternoon) and to the Cast and Crew of Chicago, the arts have inspired us this fall and remind us of our own humanity in the most powerful of ways. 

    And I am thankful for the Community and Performing Arts Center. Given the size and scope of the project, construction has been pretty smooth. As we spend the next year envisioning all of the amazing ways in which we will use the space — both for the SA community and the community throughout the region — we will begin to imagine life in the building, which is inspiring and exciting. And if you came to Chicago over the weekend, you know we need a much bigger boat. 

    I am thankful for carpool karaoke or what my ten year-old Ruby and I do on every drive which are really lip sync battles. These are epic — think two pretty bad singers but ones with the heart and the words to perform at a legit high level. She has me beat on Bad Bunny’s “Titi Me Pregunto” and Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” but I get my points with the Chainsmoker’s “Closer” and “Glory” from John Legend and Common. 

    I am thankful for the Boston Celtics. Even Warrior fans on campus recognize that we have the best duo in the NBA. But, much more importantly, our greatest ever player and one of my childhood heroes — Bill Russell — literally has his jersey number on every jersey in the league. I can turn on any game — support Kevin’s Kings, check out Steph and Klay, and even watch the hated Lakers — and see Bill Russell’s number everywhere. Given that Bill Russell won 11 NBA championships and was a Civil Rights icon, that is definitely something for us all to be thankful for this year. 

    I am thankful for our athletics program. To think what you all have accomplished this fall in cross country, volleyball, and soccer is truly remarkable. Cross Country is still going strong with a meet this weekend, and our teams throughout the winter and spring will carry on the best of sports and what it means to be a Coyote. I’ve got my new sweatshirt ready to go and I hope many of you will be in the gym for our JV Boys, Varsity Girls, and Varsity Boys basketball games on Friday evening!

    I am thankful for our exceptional staffulty. There are such amazing, thoughtful, and caring adults who work on this campus. Extraordinary people who transform all of our lives. Take a moment before we head into our break to thank them and let them know what their work means to you. 

    And, finally, the biggest thing I am thankful for is all of you, our students. You are each unique and original — your own person who adds so much to our community — and I am so thankful for what you each bring to our school every day. The ethos of SA is an eclectic mix, one that defies stereotypes and doesn’t easily lend itself to uniformity. Thank you for bringing your best selves to SA and for recognizing and repairing those moments when you miss the mark. 

    So I ask everyone to take a moment to reflect on something you are thankful for either at school or in your life beyond SA. 

    Thank You
  • Updates from Book World

    Michele Martin, our Librarian, lives and breathes books, for obvious reasons. But she’s not behind her desk in the library all the time…she turns the cliche of the cloistered librarian on its head, bringing her love of literature and passion for the printed word to our community not just as our Librarian, but also as a Humanities teacher, an Exploratory leader, a club advisor, and so much more. 

    We noticed a lot of book-related news going on this week, so we asked Michele if she might like to write a bit about all the book-focused activities happening on campus. “Ah, like updates from Book World!” she said, and took the time to fill us in on some of the current literary happenings at SA. 

    Banned Books Field Trip & Guest Speaker
    On Wednesday, students in the Banned Books elective heard from a guest speaker, Jeff Trexler of the Comic Book Defense Legal Fund. He is an attorney whose organization helps comic book/graphic novel authors and illustrators whose works have been challenged in court by people seeking to ban them from libraries, schools, and bookstores. Most recently, Trexler successfully defended the book Gender Queer by Sonoma County native Maia Kobabe against a major legal challenge in Virginia. Kobabe, who uses e/eir/em pronouns, wrote and illustrated Gender Queer to recount the story of coming to understand eir identity as nonbinary and asexual. It has become the most commonly banned and challenged book in the country this year. Trexler spoke with students about the history of challenges against comics and graphic novels, and outlined the current legal landscape. He also pointed out that comics have long been defenders of inclusivity and representation–including a trans comic book hero from the 1940s! 

    On Thursday, students visited Dominican University of California to see an exhibit of artwork by Kobabe, including panels from Gender Queer as well as works from eir website and zines. Students viewed the various examples of Kobabe’s artwork, then each chose one piece to reflect on and write about. One of the themes that emerged from much of their writing was how relatable and universal Kobabe’s themes and content are, regardless of readers’ sexual or gender identity. Many commented on how reading Kobabe’s book can help develop empathy and understanding of others’ differences. 

    Buckeye Bookers on TikTok
    Need a book recommendation based on your preferred aesthetic? Want to argue about the best Nancy Drew book ever? Wondering what’s the best beverage to accompany a reading of The House in the Cerulean Sea? 

    The BookTok Exploratory has been hard at work creating book-themed videos to help readers find new page-turners! Please check us out @buckeyebookers on TikTok. (Remember to keep all comments school-appropriate, as they are being monitored!) If you’d like to create a BookTok to add, please contact Michele for more information. 

    Books Night Out
    This week marked the return of a favorite SAPA tradition: Books Night Out. This popular Buy-In Party, offered at our Big Night Out fundraiser each year, gives parents the chance to come together for some snacks, some wine, and some thought-provoking discussion in a quarterly book club format. This week’s book was Crying in H Mart, a memoir about grief, culture, and food by Michelle Zauner. It was a fun evening and a very interesting conversation, and members are already looking forward to the next meeting. 

    Lit Club Recommends… 
    The Lit Club is SA’s most lit club! Club members meet during lunch to discuss books ranging from literary classics to current bestsellers. Check out this compilation of book recommendations from club members.

    Whether you find your next read on Tiktok, through Lit Club's list, or in your local library, it's the perfect time of year to cozy up with a good book. Happy reading! 
  • Engaging with the Surrounding Community

    As we embark on strategic planning this year, I am thinking a lot about the commitment in our mission statement that we “engage with the surrounding community.” There are many ways to think about the deeper meaning of those values and how we engage with them. Our schools have often related this work to service learning, but there is also a broader and impactful way in which we connect our program, our values, and our community to the world beyond Farmers Lane. 

    This happens when our teachers and students move beyond our campus and when they connect with different communities. These can range from different professional communities and other school settings to issue-based gatherings and unique learning environments. 

    And these new settings can often be unpredictable, sometimes in the best possible ways. For example, on the recent trip to Washington, DC, Nancy Metzger-Carter and some of the Student Sustainability Leaders had some expected and semi-predictable results: our students utilized their advocacy and speaking skills, gained more confidence in approaching challenging conversations, and trained a group of middle school students to participate in their own version of climate action. But there are also moments of magic that occurred—a deep conversation with a peer on the flight home; the new perspectives and insights that come from talking with people who hold different views and come from different backgrounds; and, of course, the resilience and self-knowledge that comes for our students when they travel in real world environments with their peers and teachers. 

    There is also the powerful return to normalcy that field trips and other outings are providing our students. When students have the chance to encounter real-world examples of concepts, artists, and places that they have studied, their learning is expanded in a deeply meaningful way. 

    Here are a few of the many examples of this engaged learning over the first quarter of our school year: Hillary Younglove has taken two museum field trips, one with the Foundation Arts students to the di Rosa collection in Napa, and one with her Studio Art class to visit the Diego Rivera exhibit at SFMOMA. Rodney Fierce’s Mythology students traveled to San Francisco to see a performance of The Firebird, Igor Stravinsky’s piece inspired by Russian folktales. Our Speech and Debate teams have traveled to (and had resounding success!) tournaments in Long Beach and New York City. And yesterday, Drew’s AS Constitutional Law class took their annual trip to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco. 

    Similarly, our staffulty engages in professional development throughout the year, and this work provides so much of the inspiration, refreshment, renewal, and excitement that fuels our innovation, new programming, and the dynamic environment we strive to create and sustain at SA. 

    I recently attended my first “5 Schools” gathering, an annual meeting of five California schools that were all founded in 2000 — Blue Oak in Napa, Vistamar in El Segundo, Sage Hill in Newport Beach, Pacific Ridge in Carlsbad and, of course, our school in Santa Rosa — after Covid halted our meetings over the past few years. Our meetings include Heads of School and 2-3 board members, and we focus our meetings on institutional issues and collaboration that are common to schools at our stage of development. This is a great opportunity to connect and collaborate with a small group of schools and we are able to witness the different stages of growth and development for each school. We will host the 5 schools gathering at SA next year and they are all incredibly excited to see our campus and how far we have come as an institution. 

    Fortunately, conferences are returning to a full in-person model, and we are finally able to travel with a team of peers and colleagues as we explore and engage in the most pressing topics in education. This year, we will send teams of staffulty and students to attend the Student Diversity Leadership/People of Color Conference—this year’s theme is “Reunited in Purpose: Elevating Our Worth, Our Agency, and Our Excellence” This winter, we will send a team of staffulty to the NAIS Annual conference, which is focused on “Cultivating Community.” Later this year, another group will be the first SA team to attend the SXSW Education conference in Austin, TX  as they explore the possibility of our students submitting their work and participating in future SXSW conferences. 

    In addition to these upcoming conferences, our staffulty has attended professional development seminars/training in topics ranging from Beyond Inclusion and Support: Racial Equity in Learning Services and Social Media Marketing to Gender Spectrum Inclusion training to Health and Wellbeing workshops.  

    Getting out in the world—that proverbial change of scenery—provides so much to us as students and educators. We gain new ideas and insights, we meet and interact with new people (including those who may not see things in the same way), we engage with novel concepts, and we become immersed in new and unfamiliar settings. We miss SA while we are away, but getting off campus—even for a conference or debate tournament—generates creativity, enlivens our work, and broadens our perspectives. While we have enormous opportunity to more deeply “engage with the surrounding community,” the seeds of these experiences will no doubt lead to a more authentic and meaningful engagement this year and beyond. 
  • What is School For?

    by Tucker Foehl, Head of School
    Last week, the New York Times ran a series of twelve op-ed pieces under the larger heading: “What is School For?” There are fascinating articles throughout the series—on topics ranging from “Making Citizens” and “Connecting to Nature” to more provocative pieces like “Wasting Time” and “Merit.” I recommend reading through them when you have the time and, while the focus is largely on public schools, many of the topics resonate with conversations on our campus and in the larger community of independent schools (all of our students and staffulty have access to a free New York Times subscription, which is a great resource for our community). 

    One of the opinion pieces features a photojournalism series by students at Oakland’s Fremont High School. They answered the overarching question of “What is School For?” by documenting and simply stating: “School is for Us.” Their overall perspective is that, for students, school is about so much more than just academics and classroom learning. In fact, they describe how important it is to be together with their peers each day, that being at school is an opportunity to be social, cultivate friendships, and that school is a place to express themselves and to experience what it means to be part of a community. 

    Their commentary on school life and their portrait of a student-centered school experience certainly resonates with Sonoma Academy and our firm belief that our school is designed for our students. And that was a resounding theme in my interactions with many parents last night at Back to School Night. Many of the conversations last night focused on what a positive impact SA has had on our students. It makes us all incredibly proud of our program and the culture of our school that these reflections included phrases like: “my child has never been so excited about school”; “my kid has never been so happy”; “there is so much talk about school at our house at night”; and, of course, “I wish I could come back tomorrow.”

    At SA, we talk frequently and openly about what it means to be a member of our connected community, and we intentionally focus on the cultivation of that mindset. And that comes in many forms, ranging from our community determining how to respond when plates or glasses are dropped at lunch (the sophomore class has launched a survey to help the community decide whether clapping is a supportive gesture or a shaming one, and what is the best way for our student body to handle this fact of life) to listening to Moments of Reflection at Wednesday’s Community Meeting about how being part of a community means repairing harms done and allowing each other the space to be human and make mistakes. 

    Our school is clearly rooted in learning. A central tenet of school life and an SA education is dedicated to acquiring the critical thinking skills, diverse knowledge base, and empathetic ability to reflect on the world and place in it. As a result, our students become active, informed, and deeply thoughtful leaders of our broader society. 

    But another, equally important, tenant for us is that education is rooted in humanity. And high school occurs at the most important moment of human development. The teenage years represent a critical period of brain and social development—where our students' fullest capacities as human beings are coming into existence and where support for them in their entire personhood is paramount to their long-term capacity to thrive.
    Our entire educational system has undergone profound challenges, and just about everyone seems to have an opinion about what school should and shouldn’t be for our students. We think that asking the overarching question—“What is School For?”—and being able to answer it with clarity and intention is crucial to our society’s trajectory.  As we embark on a year of strategic planning, we will invite everyone to join us in exploring this and other big ideas as we look ahead to the next decade of Sonoma Academy. 

The View From Here Archive

2500 Farmers Lane 
Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770 

Sonoma Academy Is...

...the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.

Sonoma Academy admits students of any race, color, religion, ethnicity or national origin, citizenship, gender or gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, or disability, to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. The school does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity or national origin, citizenship, gender or gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and tuition assistance programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.