Wise Words



The Heavy Lifting

February 14, 2018

Last night I found myself in front of a group of parents at Hoover Middle School in Potomac. They had come to hear me speak about the ways in which our knowledge of neuroscience can help us close the achievement gap. Now I have to admit, I haven’t been in a middle school for quite some time so in many ways it was a bit surreal. As I walked the hallways, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that my three and four-year-old students at NCRC will be middle schoolers before I knew it.

I was at Hoover to discuss the fact that between the ages of 11 and 15, the brain destroys more than 20% of all previously built connections. This typically occurs during adolescence when the brain determines which connections are no longer needed. The connections and synapses within the brain are so intertwined that some of the previous skills, memories, and learning are impacted when this “pruning” takes place. Sometimes adolescents can’t even access the part of the brain they need during times of anxiety, and the inability to capture past skills or information often results in added stress.

After my presentation was over, parent after parent came up to me to ask for more specifics about this phenomenon and how they can help lessen its effects. They wanted to know how they could help their children become more resilient or more motivated. While there is certainly a great deal that can be done to support adolescents, the reality is that much of the real work - the heavy lifting that would help these students - should have been done during the period of early childhood.

Everything we do every day at NCRC - from greeting the children at the door, to the kinds of questions we ask - helps to ignite their creativity and prepare them for the world they will inherit. The act of creating an environment that prepares our children to become confident, inquisitive, resilient, and socially conscious citizens is of paramount importance to me, and motivates me to continue to find fun and creative ways to challenge our students while supporting them as they grow. I consider myself lucky to be able to be involved in one the most important times in the life of a child.


Dr. Valaida Wise

Head of School

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