As an educational community, The Roeper School, an independent preschool through grade 12 school for gifted students in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, has developed shared goals to benefit students, teachers, staff and parents. One way Roeper engages the community is through its mission statement.
While Roeper’s mission statement — Educating and inspiring gifted students to think as individuals and to engage as a community with compassion for each other and this world — has changed over the years since the school was founded by George and Annemarie Roeper in 1941, the tenets of the statement remain steadfast.
With rich personal and professional experiences in education, the Roepers, who were refugees from Nazi Germany, founded the school on a humanistic philosophy that recognizes each individual as a “whole human being, worthy of respect and recognition, deserving every opportunity to fulfill his or her potential,” according to Roeper’s 2010 Philosophy Statement.
The distinct goal to prevent a repeat tragedy like the Holocaust may not be specifically named in the mission statement, but even so, the committee that created the current mission statement “wanted to be able to capture the power of a statement like that in more positive terms,” says Karen Johnson, Director of the Upper School at Roeper. Johnson adds that while the founders could not have foreseen the division and unrest we are experiencing in our country today, the mission statement endures to underscore the need for compassion for each other and this world.
Mission statement for the gifted student
In 1956, Roeper was designated as a school for gifted children. “Our mission statement is geared toward educating and inspiring gifted students, and the ‘think as individuals’ portion of our mission statement is an important element,” Johnson says, sharing that there are several traits that can exist in gifted children.
“They have precocity, which means they reach developmental milestones more quickly than their peers. They have intensity and can feel things more passionately in some cases. And they have complexity and can understand concepts at abstract levels, and can recognize patterns and connections between concepts,” she says. “Because of these traits, fostering independent thinking is critical for our educational mission and we see that play out regularly in our classrooms because we empower students in their own decision making.”
When a student struggles, teachers at Roeper bring the student into a conversation about what they can do differently to meet their own goals. “We get a more growth-oriented experience and create a safe space where they can be those independent thinkers. It’s a deep emotional security level where we can foster independent thinking,” Johnson says.
Through Roeper’s mission statement, students, staff and parents engage in ways that are always mindful of the individual and collective needs to build social justice for the community.
“It’s that philosophical notion of individual and society and we are a microcosm of that. We may be a community within a classroom, or an advisory group, a division, a whole school,” Johnson explains. “And part of that is recognition of the power of diversity and bringing in elements of equity. Everyone has access to opportunities within our community and we are inclusive around identities. This is social justice for the school, the world and for each other.”
With everyone — teacher and student alike — on a first-name basis, the traditional power dynamic of the educational system is tempered so students feel relaxed and respected. “This is one way we make sure Roeper students are the fullest learners they can be,” Johnson says.
Mission statement in the classrooms
In the Lower School, where students aren’t separated by traditional grade levels, stages of students create community in pairs of age groups. With kindergartners and first graders combined, second and third graders combined, and fourth and fifth graders combined, students participate by learning together, solving problems that are relevant to their ages. This approach helps them gain agency over problem- solving skills they’ll use for the rest of their academic lives and into adulthood.
“A great example is the couch in the classroom. Everyone wants to sit on the couch, but the whole class can’t fit on the couch at once. Rather than creating rules in a top-down fashion, teachers engage with the student community to problem solve and the students come up with the guidelines,” Johnson says. By creating their own rules, the children learn fair process and democracy — and what that looks like in a caring community. “The couch example hits on all three pillars of diversity, equity and inclusion and our school is imagined as a microcosm for a humanistic world.”
On the other end of the age spectrum, some Upper School seniors chose to engage in individual projects that stimulate independent thinking on a subject of their choice.
“Our 12th grade students build bicycles from scratch, create pop-up restaurants, engage in cancer research with the help of mentors in the community,” Johnson describes. “Through this project they are able to self-actualize all of the things that they have taken in during their career at Roeper and put in their own signature element of their education.”
After graduation, Roeper students chart various paths, Johnson says.
“We commonly think that success means four years in college, maybe a professional degree, then locked into a job. But our students really see a world of possibilities beyond that, and they feel secure in making individual choices. Some attend an Ivy League school and realize it’s not the place for them, so they transfer to art school, then go on to have an incredible career. Others might take a gap year and work for nonprofits. Or they might graduate from college in three years because they are so consumed by a particular area of passion and get out there and do the work.”
The way Roeper affects students in the long run, Johnson says, is that they are confident enough to know that if they do something a little different, they have people who support them in a community that cares.
“They’re confident they can make these choices because they are confident, independent thinkers,” she says.
Learn more about The Roeper School at roeper.org.