Nurturing High School Souls While Fostering College Readiness
Photography by Catie Viox
When Maddy Brewer was a sophomore at Ursuline Academy, she suffered two stress fractures in her back. “I missed a lot of school,” recalls Brewer, a Class of 2018 graduate. “I couldn’t carry a backpack – I had lots of issues.” She eventually underwent surgery. But she never fell behind in her school work, thanks to the school’s caring and comprehensive Guidance Department.
“My counselors made sure I had an extra set of textbooks to leave in each of my classes, so I didn’t have to worry about carrying any books,” Brewer says. “And they reached out to all my teachers before my surgery, asking them to get me the work I absolutely had to do and waive any optional assignments so, before going into surgery, I could work ahead. They were all super helpful.” Brewer never missed an academic beat. This summer, Brewer is getting ready to start her college career as an engineering student at Purdue University.
That’s but one example of how Ursuline Academy’s Guidance Department constantly strives to support students, from their freshman through senior years, based on each student’s personal and academic needs as well as within the context of the school’s core values and philosophy. A rigorous Catholic all-girls college preparatory school with a selective entrance requirement, Ursuline Academy’s mission is to prepare young women for college and beyond by nurturing their souls, intellects, hearts and imaginations.
“They develop you as a whole person, not just as a student,” says Lynn Ahrens, a 2018 graduate who plans to study chemistry and biomolecular engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.
A key component of the school’s guidance program is ongoing collaboration with students, faculty and parents.
Counselors meet with students individually throughout each school year, and each week in a classroom. Classes include Freshman Guidance (Grade 9), Sophomore Guidance (Grade 10), and College Planning (Grade 11). Freshman Guidance topics range from good decision-making skills, time management, study and organizational skills, and developing resumes to how to establish healthy friendships and the importance of embracing good values. Sophomore Guidance topics include stress management, balancing rigorous academics with co-curriculars, college/career exploration and test-taking strategies. In College Planning, students learn about college selection criteria, explore college majors and learn about scholarships and other financial aid.
During senior year, students are given time to work on college applications, implementing skills learned in College Planning class. “Our goal is to make it as manageable and exciting as possible,” says Michelle Byrd, junior/senior counselor. “This is the next step in their young adult lives and we try to help them see things realistically, but we also want them to see it as a world of possibilities.”
It’s a guidance style requiring a balancing act that Ursuline Academy has honed over time. It fits the vision of the school’s foundress, St. Angela Merici, who believed in empowering young women to pursue futures of their own choosing. The Ursuline Sisters of Brown County took this belief and developed a choice-driven, student-centered approach to education, fostering college readiness and success.
“Fortunately, we have an exceptional student to counselor ratio – 90 students to each of our seven full-time counselors – which allows us to really get to know our students individually and academically,” says Katie Hausfeld, guidance department coordinator and freshman/sophomore counselor.
Ursuline Academy is one of only a few high schools in the country to use a modular scheduling system, which is also key to the guidance program’s – and the students’ – ongoing success, she notes. The schedule is based on a six-day cycle (A-F days), with each day made up of 18 twenty-minute “mods.” Classes are two to three mods – 40 or 60 minutes, with the exception of a four-mod science lab. The order of the classes changes daily so, while students always have the same teacher for a particular class, they are not always in class with the same classmates, thereby encouraging students to make a variety of friends. The schedule’s blank spaces are called “free mods,” and students can visit the library, eat breakfast or lunch in the café, and meet with a teacher or guidance counselor during those times.
The modular schedule is like a college schedule precisely because each day is different, Hausfeld and Byrd point out. Hence, students are motivated to think independently as they decide how to use their time. Being responsible for their time builds confidence, accountability and time management skills – skills Ursuline Academy graduates say made a positive difference in their post-secondary education.
Quick Facts about Ursuline Academy
- Founded in 1896 by the Ursuline Sisters of Brown County, OH
- Students hail from 52 zip codes
- 660 total enrollment, Grades 9-12
- 10:1 student to teacher ratio
- 98 percent of students voluntarily participate in community service
- Number of 2018 graduates: 176
- Percentage continuing education: 100
- Total dollar amount of scholarships offered to the Class of 2018: $31,476,555
Ursuline Academy is located at 5535 Pfeiffer Road, Cincinnati, OH 45242. For more information, visit www.ursulineacademy.org.