In 2013, fellow teacher, Mike Sheehan, and I, developed the Advocacy Program for Success (APS) at Padua Academy. APS fosters a deeper understanding of the student and her community. Through curriculum-based experiential learning, students address seven qualities of success. By developing these attributes students can improve academic performance, social interactions, and create a more balanced and holistic life. APS provides opportunities for new learning, strengthens the school community, and prepares students for success at Padua Academy and beyond.
Within a small group setting, students and teachers discuss contemporary issues and engage in activities that mimic social situations that are prevalent in teenager’s lives. Activities are designed to teach practical ways of confronting stress and seeking balance between academic, athletic and social pressures. Through APS, students learn to recognize qualities of success and put them into action.
The primary goal of APS is to raise awareness of the seven qualities through the use of a common vocabulary and direct action. The program assesses student performance in the seven qualities through surveys and evaluations. Students are measured annually throughout their high school careers. Ultimately, the program hopes to see a correlation in growth between the seven qualities, overall wellbeing, and a student’s GPA.
At the end of each year, students are evaluated on how they utilize the seven qualities in their lives. The survey poses a series of hypothetical situations and provides five responses, each based on a different engagement style. Students select the choice that feels most representative of their personality. That data is then formulated with a student’s GPA to create an overall score. The score can be broken down to assess academic growth, growth within each of the seven qualities, and data trends across whole classes and the school.
Scores are then used to assign students to advocacy groups that represent a variety of perspectives and personal strengths. Every group is led by a faculty advocate and is comprised of students from each grade. The faculty advocate serves as a mentor and guides students in regular meetings throughout the school year. Advocates lead the bi-weekly sessions, cultivate the relationships between members of the group, and remain with students throughout their high school careers. This structure allows for content to be delivered beyond the traditional classroom environment, and for students and teachers to work outside of departmental curriculum.
The APS curriculum is built upon research from the fields of Positive Psychology, Positive Education, business leadership, and pop culture. Each curricular module focuses on one of the seven qualities. Essential topics of the curriculum include creativity, resiliency, and defining personal success. For example, in one unit students and teachers discussed the benefits and consequences of classification in high school culture. Students sorted themselves into different types of groups and engaged in discussions relating to social stratification, conformity, and the roles of leaders and followers.
APS brings attention to the fact that personal success requires more than surface level results. Students understand that each person must define success on her own terms, and seek that path using her own strengths and talents. They know that by implementing the seven qualities in their own lives, they can accomplish their goals and also be fulfilled and satisfied. The program designates the time to address overall wellbeing, and proves to all members of the community that success is more than a set of numbers on a college resume.
The seven qualities of success are ambition, authenticity, curiosity, fortitude, gratitude, self-control, and social intelligence.
After one year of study a successful baseline for growth was established. After three years of research students' overall application of the seven qualities increased, with marked growth in self-control, fortitude, gratitude, and curiosity. At this point further research will be conducted to isolate what particular factors inspired student achievement, and how assessments and curriculum can be modified to predict future outcomes.
Since the start of the program, the student body has made a greater effort to confront and challenge the behaviors and attitudes that lead to success. At the end of each session, students are given a Closure Question. The question is designed to be difficult, and does not necessitate an immediate response. Each question requires honest self-reflection and may never lead to a specific answer. However, they train students to think critically and bravely approach uncertainty.