Albuquerque Academy review by Wellesley College student. The Academy provides a remarkably well-rounded education. Students are exposed to a little bit of everything in the lower grades (6-7), with the options to pursue certain specialties in upper grades (8-12), yet at the same time a diverse set of graduation requirements ensures that students leave the school with the basic levels of understanding needed for almost any college course. With highly passionate teachers and largely discussion-based classes, students are encouraged to engage themselves in their subject at a level beyond simply attending the classes. The classes are deliberately kept at a size that facilitates both discussion and lots of personal attention from teachers - no more than 18 students in a class. As a result, students leave the Academy well-prepared for college, where it is more common for students to learn outside of lecture as well as in. Supporting the learning environment is the Academy's social environment. While friendly competition does exist, as a general rule students are supportive of their peers and more than willing to lend a hand to a struggling classmate. Some departments make informal arrangements for students who are particularly talented in a subject to tutor their peers or younger students. When it comes to grades, the Academy has some mildly idiocyncratic practices. In 6th and 7th grade, students recieve no grades at all, but 'narrative reports', in which their teachers briefly review their performance in class, compliment them on their strengths, and highlight one or two weaknesses for future work. In grades 8-12, students recieve more traditional graded reports every quarter, but teachers often include comments with their number grades, again citing strengths and weaknesses. Students are outright guaranteed at least one comment from each teacher over the course of the year, and many teachers make a point of writing comments for each quarter. Finally, during Senior year comes the vaunted Senior Project. At the end of the year seniors 'test out' of all their classes (with the exception of AP courses, as many continue to attend in preparation for their exams)and spend a month engaged in some sort of project, from shadowing professionals to independent study with a teacher. At the end of this four-week period, students are required to present the results of their project to their peers, showing what they learned from the experience. Some choose to apply the project to their future, such as shadowing a professional in a field they hope to go into. Others choose to do something completely divorced from their future job prospects, just to try something different. I fell into the latter category, spending four weeks examining both utopias and dystopias in literature with one of the teachers. As a Biology/Spanish double-major, this had no real bearing on my professional future. On the other hand, it allowed me to satisfy my taste for literature and spend time examining how people think and the many ways a desire for perfection can go wrong. I feel it important to emphasize two aspects of the Academy's academic life. First, the Academy places a great deal of importance on being involved in the arts. During grades six and seven, students spend one semester studying drama and one studying art, while three afternoons a week an hour is devoted to a performing art of some description. Even after these years, students are required to take a few more years of either visual or performing arts, and encouraged to continue all the way through to graduation. The music, drama, and art departments are well-supported by the school, and the annual musical is a much-loved tradition. Second, the Academy tries to structure its classes, specifically in grades 8-12, so that students can take whatever classes they like. The practice is for students to fill out course request sheets, listing the classes they wish to take and a couple of alternatives. Then administrators sit down with giant spreadsheets and puzzle out a schedule such that students may attend as many of their first choices as possible.
In general, college counseling at the Academy begins during the second semester of 10th grade. At this point, students, often accompanied by parents, meet with one of the counselors for a brief check-in, when they hammer out a rough draft of the classes the student will take for the next two years and begin to discuss the college search process. Counseling truly takes a leading role in junior year. The counselors help the student figure out what kind of school they're hoping to apply to and make sure that the students have the requirements they will need to apply - namely sitting SATs and the ACT as needed. Towards the end of junior year, the counselors take students, again, often accompanied by a parent, through their list of possible colleges, discussing how well the colleges fit the student's parameters and the student's chances of acceptance. During the senior year, the counselors shepherd students every step of the way, always available for questions or to dispense advice. To them, making sure a student gets into the colleges they're interested in is the number one priority. They are highly supportive and involved, making arrangements for students to speak with alumnae from colleges of their choice, even getting them out of class if necessary. Once the acceptance and rejection letters start to come in, the counselors are available to meet with students and discuss the best options in terms of not only academic quality but also of the financial aid packages or scholarships different colleges may have offered. But to limit the support given to students at the Academy to the college counselors would be to do the rest of the school a disservice. Every year, a committe of teachers gets together to write each and every senior a letter of recommendation. This letter pulls from the teachers' personal experiences with the student and the comments traditionally included with grades, and is edited at least twice by the entire committe before being sent along to the headmaster, who then calls the student into his office and reads their letter to them, before discussing the student's experience at the Academy with them. Even more telling, during October of senior year, English classes take two weeks to work with students on their personal statements, teachers going over them with students one-on-one. Finally, teachers can almost always be counted on to write honest and positive recommendations to colleges - although in some cases, it is best to request a teacher's assistance early, as the more popular teachers may end up with so many students requesting letters of recommendation that they can't write them all.
In general, the Academy community is heavily involved in maintaining a high quality of education and a positive educational experience. Traditions run rampant, from the huge spectacle of Diversity day, when the entire school halts classes to celebrate the world's varied cultures, to the Senior Prank, when seniors use the first day of their projects and recruit maintenance staff to prank the school. Smaller traditions may also develop - during my senior year, my AP Biology class instituted Cupcake Fridays after a classmate brought in cupcakes to celebrate her birthday. Each week, someone would bring cupcakes to class on Friday, and somebody else would volunteer to bring the sweets the following week. Between the sixteen of us, I believe everybody brought cupcakes two-three times over the course of the year. As far as resources go, the school's work spaces, from the Science Center and its labs to the Art studios to the multimedia classrooms to the large, lovingly-maintained library, are nearly always available to students. Faculty and staff are as a general rule very helpful, striking up supportive working relationships with students over everything from the work they're doing in class to the things they do for fun. Lunch is provided daily. In grades 6-9, teachers sit at tables with students, checking to ensure that they're eating and moderating any difficulties that may arise. The school is located in a well-to-do neighborhood, and most consider themselves perfectly safe wandering around campus, although some care must be taken to avoid startling wild animals at night. After classes finish for the day, it is common to see groups of students trooping across campus and crossing the street to one of the three shopping centers that surround it, usually headed for one of the restaurants or cafes (Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, Nothing but Noodles, Keva Juice, and so on). Paricularly popular is Free Cone Day, when students do their best to convince their teachers that class that day would be best served by adjourning to Ben & Jerry's to pick up a cone and continue the day's discussion sitting at the metal tables outside as they eat. Students come from a wide variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, thanks to the Academy's generous financial aid. Yet, in all seven years I attended, never once did I hear someone use either as an insult. On a personal level, everyone is, to a greater or lesser extent, involved in everyone else's business. Because the school is so small, you can reasonably be expected to know your entire graduating class by senior year, along with a large number of students both younger and older. When tragedy strikes, the student body displays a wonderful tendency to come together in support of their fellows. I have distinct memories of signing gigantic get-well cards for classmates who underwent surgery, and having trouble finding space on the card to include my message with all the others already written.
Students at the Academy are highly encouraged to get involved in extracurriculars. There are a wide variety of options, from discussion and activist groups to arts groups to academic groups to both competitive and non-competitive sports. A large number of the faculty sponsor clubs, and the framework is in place for students to found their own. The school yearbook is largely student-run. In addition, multiple theatrical performances are put on during the year, the most important being the annual musical. The musical can involve upwards of sixty to seventy students, depending on the production, and usually ends up playing to a full house. As far as the sports teams go, the Academy competes in the AAAA division, a step up from the expected - at approximately 1080 students in all seven grades, it technically belongs in AAA division. The cross-country, swimming, and track teams typically do very well. Swimming, specifically, has won more state championships than any other school in the state. As far as sports rivalries are concerned, the Academy has a strong rivalry going with nearby Catholic school St Pius X. While usually respectful, since the recent reshuffling of districts that brought Pius and Academy sports teams into direct competition, the rivalry has resurged. The Academy's Science Olympiad and Debate teams are also strong competitors. Students are required to perform a community service project of at least two hours' duration every semester. It is typical for students to go above and beyond the requirement, however, some logging over 100 hours of community service each semester.