#37 - Why ECS? (Full Transcript)

This week Dr. Dan Peterson is joined by Cathy Boyd, ECS Director of Admissions, and Robyn Clay, ECS Admissions Associate. Read below for a full transcript of this episode, or click here to listen to the episode.


DP: Welcome to the ECS Equip podcast, a podcast for thinking and teaching in light of a Christian worldview. We cover a host of issues, seeking to scratch where our parents are itching and answering some of their most pressing questions. Today we're talking about "why ECS"? Why should a family consider ECS? Why do I have my children here? Why do people send their kids here? And our special guests are our incredible ECS admissions team, Cathy Boyd and Robyn Clay. So welcome ladies!

CB + RC: Thank you!

DP: Cathy has served in a lot of different roles here, but we're just excited that she's here as Director of Admissions. And Robyn also has served as a teacher, and she serves as the Admissions Associate. And they both have kids. Cathy has had three graduates and Robyn currently has kids going to school here, so you all have a parent perspective but you also have a high investment as a staff perspective as well.

Talk a little about your history with ECS. We'll start with you, Cathy.

CB: Sure. My history begins a long time ago. I actually came to ECS in about 1974 as a student. I came to the school because there was an ECS branch at the church that I was attending at the time. And my mother just began to hear some great things that were going on, and so we really had intended to go there for a few years. And then, as a teacher herself she began to see what was coming home, the discussions that my sister and I were having, and she decided then and there that we were going to graduate from ECS. And so, through a lot of sacrifice, my sister and I both were able to graduate. So I graduated from ECS in 1982. 

DP: Was Carole King a musician in 1982?

CB: (Laughs) I'm a little young for Carole King, although everyone should know who Carole King is.

DP: We were joking earlier. I did not know who Carole King was.

CB: I will be educating them later on some key music that they need to be familiar with. Anyway, I did graduate from ECS, and even as a young person, ECS sparked a desire in me to truly study God's Word. I went to a good church, but I honestly was never challenged to actually read God's Word on my own the way I was beginning even in fourth grade. It really, as it should, picked up by Middle School. It became a constant thing where we were challenged to get into God's Word. And then as a high schooler, as I left for college, or went to college, I really began looking for a church that really emphasized Biblical study and strong Biblical foundation. And so I attribute that desire to daily be in God's Word and how important that is, and if you were in any of my classes - I later began teaching at ECS - if you were in any of my classes, that is a big focus, even for my third graders, to get in the habit of reading God's word. But anyway, fast forward, I got married and came back and taught at ECS. My children - my two older children were already attending ECS before I came back to teach. So, I have a long history with ECS. My most recent affiliation with this school was when Dan approached me about possibly moving to an admissions role. So I've been in admissions since this past summer with Robyn. It's been very exciting and I just absolutely love being able to have an even wider audience to explain what a great school ECS is.

RC: I have been at ECS for thirteen years. We started here as parents first. Our older started in Kindergarten at our Ridge Lake campus in Mrs Peggy's class. That year, I was approached to fill out an application and help start and teach our Junior Kindergarten program here at ECS. So, I taught Junior Kindergarten for eleven years. And last year, I approached Dan and let him know that I was interested in admissions and had been for several years. I love this school and love what it means to my family and what it has done for my children and me personally. I too wanted a wide audience that I could share about our school, about the difference ECS has made in my life and in my children's lives. And I'm excited and challenged with this new position, and I'm just excited to share everything I love and know is different and special about ECS.

DP: That's well said. I'm so excited that both of you have a teaching background here at ECS, because when you're with families who are considering, you all know our curriculum not only as teachers, but also as parents. You've both been at the elementary level, but also you've had kids that expand from middle school to high school.

CB: Right, I do think that gives us a good perspective because we know it's not a perfect place, and yet we can speak clearly with parents about the strengths that the school has. And so I do think it is important to be in education, to be able to speak confidently about education.

DP: What makes ECS unique and distinct? Because I think we do have a distinct mission. We are a Christian school serving the greater Memphis area. What makes us distinct in this environment? Because there are a lot of independent schools and a lot of private schools in this area, so what makes us unique?

CB: I think there are several things that make ECS unique. It sounds simple to say we have a different mission. However, the thing that I think is unique about ECS is while we are an independent school, we do such a great job of incorporating academics based in a Biblical foundation. We don't slight either side of then. ECS is distinct in that we are not ashamed of the Gospel, we don't try to bury it anywhere, it's right up there in our name. And I think that's unique. A lot of independent schools incorporate some of those characteristics, but we desire to be intelligent and articulate about God's creation and about education. I think that makes us unique in that we do that by preparing our teachers extremely well. One of the things that I think is distinct about ECS in the education community, this school more so than a lot of other schools truly invests in our teacher's professional development and growth. And we're constantly challenging them to be able to do what we say that we do. There are a lot of things that schools can say that they do, and of course no school does anything perfectly, but the goal is high and I feel like as a school we do really well in preparing our teachers to try to do that well.

RC: And I know, starting with the little ones in junior kindergarten all the way up through 12th grade - my oldest is a junior this year, and I have one kindergartener and third grader, - and teaching junior kindergarten I know it starts at a young age. We start instilling in them the importance of learning, and also being able to understand and talk through and even question as little as four years old what the Bible says and to be able to talk through it together and encourage them to think through that part of their life. But also to be intelligent and think through what they're learning in the classroom. I know that all three of my children personally are at such different places than I was at their ages. I know that it is a part of this school. I went to a great church and my parents love the Lord and made sure that we were in church and learning about Him, but it is different because ECS has come along side what we're doing at home and what they're learning at church and just it helps encourage them to think and challenge themselves in that area.

CB: That speaks to the community. I think that's another area where ECS is truly unique. Participating in a lot of different events, the joke among the referees and different officials at sporting events, are ECS fans are always the last to leave because we always are standing around talking and there are always people to visit with, win or lose, we're there as a community. And I think our size benefits that. There are life long relationships made here. I think that's very unique. There are a lot of young graduates as well as myself, if there are times that I want prayer or advice, the top three people that I would contact are fellow graduates of ECS. I think that also makes us unique, in that our community as a bond that perhaps you don't find at other schools.

DP: Yeah, and I would just add, you mentioned the community that's special and unique - the alumni, the current students, the faculty, staff - it's just special. And I've noticed it seems like whether we have a home event or an away event, it's almost like sometimes we have more fans at away games than the home teams do. And that's for other schools in this area that are some of our, you know, schools that are good schools. But it's just fascinating that we have that strength. But I think for me, what I've noticed, and I was with freshmen yesterday when I was doing this huddle with the head where I try to meet with students to talk to them about their experience and learn from them and ask them how I can serve them. I was fascinated because these were freshmen and they were articulating how much they love their teachers and there's this relational component that the teachers are investing in them and they feel that. Kids are very perceptive and they know if teachers are just coming to earn a paycheck or if they're really invested. Our teachers are very invested, and y'all were two of those teachers. But we have an incredible team and the kids know that, they know they're loved and they also have high standards.

Let's move a little bit. I want to talk about academics at ECS, because I think that's something that some people think, "well it's just a Christian school over here," but we have incredibly robust academics. Let's talk a little about some of the things we have to offer.

CB: One of things I think I mentioned before is I think a strong academic program begins at the top. So, I love the fact that if you walk into Dan's office, you're going to see books that he's reading and we discuss books that we're reading. The teachers are lifetime learners. They're very encouraged to continue that. I think that is the foundation of a strong academic school. The other thing I would say specifically for ECS is we do have a wonderful, sound lower school program. We have always been looking for what's the best out there to prepare our students, so that's a constant objective that we have. Moving on up, we do have a great curriculum at our school, where we cover classics, we cover historical classics, and yet our students also are introduced to Chesterton and Schaeffer, and again that balance with recognizing there are intelligent Christian authors and philosophers and thinkers who have a lot to say. And to balance that classical, I'm thinking mainly English Lit, but History or whatever the subject is, there's this cnostant balance between an excellent academic education and yet also we're very strong in incorporating that with very intelligent Christian writers as well. We have a lot of strong AP classes, especially for a school our size, our AP scores are phenomenal. I think that's kind of an area of our school, and I'm speaking as a parent now, that's an area of our school that we've not done well in promoting. We have a long history of acceptance into great schools - Dartmouth, Duke, Vanderbilt - if you're looking for that type of program, ECS can certainly prepare you for that. We have a great reputation among these colleges of when we get there, our students do really well. Robyn can probably speak a little bit more about the lower school as well.

RC: I think in lower school, the teachers are learners. They spend time learning themselves, and pushing and challenging themselves in their subject area. Also, when it comes to their Christian worldview, the school provides opportunities for the teachers each summer and each year to delve in deeper in that area of their lives, so I think when they're full they can spill over in their classrooms and share so much more with the students academically. I know that we have a beautiful reading program that teaches our children to think about what they're reading, not just to read and report back. To really think through and they're taught how to organize their thoughts and what they're reading, which spills over into history and science and every part of what they're learning. As they go up to middle school and high school, it really gives them a good idea of study skills and just how to think through what they're reading, whether it's a history or science lesson. I also think that our students are challenged in so many areas when it comes to writing I think that's a huge part of what we do starting in second grade, teaching them how to write and to think through what they're writing. That's a huge skill that I know a lot of professors will say in college their freshmen class, they're literally teaching them how to write a paper because they cannot write and our students do not struggle with that.

CB: Just recently, this past weekend I was visiting with some recent alums, and one of the things they were talking about was the fact that they were being given writing assignments and so many people in their class were struggling. And for them it was we've been doing this easily since freshman and sophomore year. So it was a delight for me to hear that. I do think another opportunity, or something that I think strengthens our academics, is there is also the desire - lower school, middle school, and upper school - to connect all of those subjects, as well. There's always the understanding that nothing is really compartmentalized. It's not academics and the Bible. It's how the uniqueness of our faith allows us to study all of these subjects. We want to know the most about these subjects. So, it's very exciting how well our students have done and performed later on, whether they've chosen to do fine arts or an academic career. ECS has done a great job of preparing them.

RC: I will say when my oldest started sixth grade, he was in Jack Webb's class, and I remember listening to him and studying with him through history and his Bible lessons. Jack taught him both. I learned so much and was amazed at how Mr. Webb could integrate both of those together and show the children and bring to light that it's not just something that happened in the Bible but it was also a part of our history. And he just brought it alive to them and it really blew me away. I remember the first time I was buying books, getting him prepared, I think it was third grade, and he had to have his Bible with his science book. And we didn't shy away from teaching him what the world says in science, we brought it together and said this is what the world says and this is what the Word says, and we talked through that. And Mrs Cowart did a good job at allowing them to be able to question and think through the two together and bring it around through our Christian worldview. Ans I was amazed by that.

DP: I think that there's also an element of being well rounded, that we're not just educating the mind but we're educating the heart first and foremost. The Gospel is the very core and center of that. But there's also emotional pieces, social pieces, obviously physical, all of those things that we're trying to invest in. The whole man concept, the whole woman concept. You didn't mention this Cathy, but your son just got a Naval appointment at the Naval Academy which is really special and that's a very hard place to get into.

CB: It truly is. That was something that he had been interested in, and not being from a military family, I wasn't very knowledgeable about that, and once again ECS - I have three very different children - met the needs of all of them. And David, working with our guidance office here, went through the entire application process. And, again, that's something that begins intentionally at the lower school, that development of confidence. Being an advocate for yourself is intentionally taught through elementary and middle. We have been privileged enough that he was able to attend all twelve years. So, when it got time to do the college work, he was very independent about that. Working with the college guidance counsellor here. It was a very strenuous process. He had so many opportunities here. It was a delight to meet with Senator Cohen when he did get that nomination. For him to speak specifically to me about David's resume - we talked about the model UN, we talked about the opportunities of athletics - there are so many things on his resume that Senator Cohen was not even aware that ECS has these opportunities. So, it was a delight and affirmation to me of how well David was prepared at this school. It was an exciting day when he got the nomination from Senator Cohen it started getting more real. It's a huge percentage that apply and a very small number that actually receive an appointment. Actually, Senator Cohen is the one that called David to let him know that he did get the appointment. It has been a challenge academically for him, but his grades are good. So, I think that's a testimony that he was prepared very well here with managing his time. He was very grateful for all of the things that the school has provided for him.

DP: I remember when he got the call from the Senator, he came in the next day to my office and said, "May I speak with Dr. Peterson? I got a phone call from the Senator and I got my naval appointment." And I jumped up and hugged him. He kind of looked at me like, "Why is the head of school hugging me?" I was so excited for him.

We've got this new tagline "Academics that inspire. Legacies that endure." There's so much I could say on that, but I would be curious to hear you talk about that. We've talked a little about the academic side. What does it mean to be inspirational? There's this word curiosity that I'm fascinated with. We are pursuing the true, good, and beautiful in a curious way. And I think ultimately, if we are doing that, it will lead us to Christ. It's always from to have kids on the edge of their seat as teachers. Let's hone in on the "Legacies that endure." We have incredible alumni and the proof is in the pudding. So, if there's a mom or dad out there listening, why ECS? Or if there's a current family struggling if it's worth having their kids at ECS. Let's talk a little about that. You're an alum and there's a fascinating number of alumni doing things all over the world.

CB: I do understand that. It is a sacrifice for the majority of families that we have here. But, I will say there's several things that can speak to that, and I'm sure Robyn can as well. The one thing that I notice is the variety of areas that you see our graduates be successful in. We featured quite a few of them on our websites and different things. We have very successful people who are doing plays in New York, if that's your dream. We have recently noticed in the Business Journal how many of our alumni are noted in the business community. My oldest daughter graduated 2010 and she works at Su Casa, it's a hispanic ministry here in town. And often they have young adult, non-profit gatherings. After work they meet. And I recall one of the first couple of ones she attended, we were talked later and she commented on how it was amazing as she looked around how many ECS people were represented in that room. And these are very talented, successful, young people that have made the decision to stay in Memphis. Most of them are working for non-profits, or working in inner city education. But it's just that mindset of giving back to the community that is huge. We also have graduates that write and edit in a lot of different publications. One of our alumni is an editor for Garden and Gun. One of our recent graduates published the Laurelwood publication. There are a lot of successful alumni, whatever success might mean to you. Fulfilling that desire, fulfilling those dreams. The reason I think it's important in our tagline, so many of these alumni come back to the school. Some, as far as myself, with the desire to teach here. There were so many teachers that influenced my life and changed my life for the good, that I wanted the opportunity to do that. Not only do we have alumni who return to teach, but we have alumni who volunteer to allow students to shadow. We have those that come and teach classes. There's a lot of alumni who are willing to come back because they do feel connected to this school. And I think that's why we can say that our legacies endure.

RC: I grew up here and I knew of ECS, but I went to public school. I really wasn't in the private school world and didn't know a lot about the private schools. When we were first introduced to ECS, it was through families that had either sent their children here or couples our age that were having children the same age as our children. They were telling us about ECS and that they graduated from here and what an amazing difference it had made in their lives and that it's the only place that they would choose to send their children. I remember them inviting us to football games and my husband and I thinking there is no way that we could afford private school. It wasn't even on our radar, both of us public school children. But we accepted an invitation, walked on the high school campus and watched a football game, and that is all that it took. The community and the friendships and the people that had come back to watch a high school football game just blew us away. So, I do believe that our school impacts those that spend time on our campus and they are impacting the world for sure.

DP: A lot of time you hear about "college prep", and I think that's a myopic view of education. We want to be life "life preparatory." We are preparing them much beyond just the next four years of their life. We want to prepare them for life. And that shows up in so many ways, doing school for fifty one years now. We have a host of great alumni that are out there doing remarkable things that are influencing our city and beyond. There are so many people in our city of Memphis that are ECS graduates. When I go to events and see the influential people - there's tons of ECS people there that are connected somehow.

Let's transition here. If you're out there and you're listening. Y'all have done a great job of bringing new energy and new ideas to the table. There's a lot of neat opportunities coming up for people to check us out, for people to get connected. So we've got Little Eagle Adventure Days, we've got Coffee and Conversations, and we've got our preview days. We're also starting a Pre K program in the fall of 2017, and I'm very excited about that. We're getting all of the data ready to release that to our community. That's going to be happening in fall of 2017. Robyn would you speak to Little Eagle Adventure days?

RC: That's where I get super excited. I had an idea with Jodie South last year, thinking of way s to get perspective families and young ones from our community on our campus to see how dynamic out reachers truly are. It's our teachers and what they do in the classroom. I can tell you all day long how much I love this school and what it's meant to me and my family, but to literally watch a teacher interact with your student is priceless. So, that's where Little Eagle Adventure Days came from. We have an opportunity for your student to come and sit with the teacher and learn whatever craft they teach. Last month, we had Spanish and the students came in and learned Spanish songs and had craft time. We also had a time for them to go into the library and extend that with a fun book. And the parents interact together and to be in the classroom with their student and share and visit with one another. I've heard from many of those parents and they'll say that they're walking around the house singing the Spanish song. So, they learned something and that's super exciting. We have several opportunities for that. Our next one is November 30, and it will be Christmas themed. We will have a time for them to hear a fun Christmas story, and also music and craft time with that. They're going to have a fun snack that they're going to be able to make together and something to take home that you guys will cherish forever. February 2 will be our art focused Little Eagle time and it is with our dynamic art teacher Anne Smith in our lower school. And they will have the opportunity to do some hands on art activities. I can't even imagine what she's going to come up with. And then March 29, our Junior and Senior K teachers are going to come together and it will be science-themed. They will have a fun activity for the little ones to learn from. So those are really exciting times and they fill up really fast. I think November is at the top of the barrel on that. If you're interested, we'd love for you to go online and sign up for our Little Eagle Adventure Days.

And we also have our Lower School Preview Day on November 10. It is an evening preview day from 6 - 7:30 pm. It's a time for you to see and hear from our teachers and administration. And we're also going to have parents there that can answer any questions. We've have fifth graders that can talk to you about lower school and their experience in the lower school. We'll also have high school students so you can see the end product of what ECS has done in their lives. We are super excited and encourage you to go online and register for that as well.

CB: We also have an opportunity on Friday, November 18. We have another activity called Coffee and Conversations. This is another opportunity that's very low key. It literally is coffee and conversation. And I think that's a very important time for parents who maybe are asking why ECS? It's an opportunity to talk about how the secular world is slipping in and we can articulate as to why we feel like Christians more and more need to be equipped. We need to be Biblically faithful. I think as a culture, we need to become more intentional in doing that. That's an area that I feel like ECS has done and is doing a fantastic job. Just recognizing that our students need to be able to articulate our faith. And to balance that being relevant and loving and understanding, but also to be able to be culturally relevant to right now. So, Coffee and Conversations is just a great opportunity to come and ask questions and have conversation. Dan will be there. We've had one, and it was very enjoyable. I would like anyone that would want to come and talk about ECS to be sure and come on that day, Friday, November 18.

DP: We have a lot of awesome opportunities to come check us out - Little Eagle Adventure Days, Coffee and Conversations, Lower School Preview, Middle School Preview, and Upper School Preview days. Come check us out. We would love to tell you more about all of  the great things happening here. Go online at www.ecseagles.com to find out more about those. 

Big thanks to Cathy and Robyn for joining me today. You are so fun to work with and you are my colleagues. I just appreciate your heart and service to the school. 

KO KO. Keep on keeping on. Soli Deo Gloria.