The Tapestry of EPS

By Cheryl Miller, Director of Enrollment Management

I come from a family that sews. My mom taught me the basics of hand and machine sewing when I was in elementary school, and you could often find me modifying old, or constructing new, clothes. I fashioned my own bell bottoms and dresses and bags–many of which were probably only ‘cool’ to me. Selecting from our bin of fabric scraps, many of which had moved with my mother many times over the decades, I learned a key truth of sewing: while many different fabrics can be used interchangeably for a given project, there’s a best fit fabric for each project. The warp and weft of a particular knit, the scale of a special pattern, and the sentimental value of a piece of cloth that all underpin this notion, and become the guideposts for how to choose.  A quarter of grandma’s old calico that integrates into a quilt square. The soft old t-shirt that becomes a child’s doll. The polyester knit that mom bought for fifty cents in 1974 that’s just perfect for an A-line dress in 1994.

In much the same way as a new garment or quilt comes together, every year, we augment the community of Eastside Prep. The new students and families who join our school become part of the tapestry of EPS; the new threads of their diverse identities, experiences, and interests become sewn into the patchwork of this place that we know and love. The fabric of EPS is impacted by those we include and those who choose to join us.

The weaving of this tapestry creates a unique challenge for our school each year. There are now more applications to EPS than there are available spaces for enrollment. Our regional growth continues to support a strong independent school-going culture in which many families value and prioritize investment in their children’s educations. In the not-so-distant memories of many in our community exists an EPS that had to work harder to convey who we were on the inside (since, for many, it didn’t match who we were on the outside).  Yet within that challenge, we built our school’s culture. We continue to ask ourselves, can a competitive enrollment picture coexist with our unique school culture?

Enter the collective of quilters that is our Admissions Committee. Over the past several months, members of our faculty and staff have carefully and deeply read the admissions files of our 2019-2020 applicants. These files represent so many things: time invested in school visits, hours of school work in collaboration with educators, dollars spent on application fees, laborious preparation for tests, discernment and exploration as a family. We derive from these efforts both qualitative and quantitative information about students, and this information is thoughtfully and fully discussed by our Committee members. We agree, we argue, we weigh the multiple points of information available to us from the application process.

I would say that our applications are much like the colorful bolts of fabric from which crafters chose their materials. There’s no single right choice of fabric for a given project, but to continue the project, there must be a best choice that’s selected. Sometimes the right fabric pops right out from the bin. Sometimes a quirky print needs to be considered a few times before embodying its sewn destiny. Sometimes it is perfect for a future project, or perhaps it will be perfect for someone else’s project.

It is both an art and a science to make these choices. Our Committee members become familiar with how to discern from the quality and quantity of our application components, and we also wrestle with our decisions. We deliberate, and then we wait, checking ourselves. We revisit the materials available to us, and we follow up with those who have recommended students. For anyone who has ever pulled out a row of stiches in their project to ‘get it right,’ you know the simultaneous dissatisfaction and relief of this act. And yet we engage in this time-consuming, challenging work because it is what we ought to do. When you care about a place and its people, you make the tough decisions to honor it.

As we look ahead to the coming school year, we are excited about the ever-changing tapestry of our school community. Even as the number of students pursuing an EPS education grows, we will continue to find the best-fit students—and these are not always the students with the highest grades or strongest test scores. Just like the warp and weft that hold a fabric together, we continue to return to two essential qualities of what makes a student ‘an EPS student’: curiosity and kindness. We want to see that students are motivated intrinsically by a love of learning and a desire to know more, and to know deeply. We look for students who are eager to learn in community with others, to build both themselves and each other up. With these guideposts, as we head into our seventeenth year, we’re continually excited to experience this fabric unfolding.