Risk Taking

By Rose Helm
I grew up skiing with my family, but then when I turned 16 I figured if I was going to be a mediocre skier who only went to the mountains a few times a year, I might as well be a mediocre snowboarder, given that it was still a relatively new (and cool) sport, especially growing up in Laguna Beach. I still am a pretty average snowboarder—only making it to the slopes 2-3 times a year—and generally speaking, I am too risk averse to do much more than the blue runs. So this past weekend when I found myself at the top of the chair lift with a snapped binding, I faced a choice: cajole the lift operators to let me ride back down the lift, or try to “surf” my way down on my heel edge (only my toe strap would buckle). I knew I would look a little silly, and would definitely invite some jeers from the locals, but I also knew I could do it. It had been a long time since I pushed myself to take a risk outside my comfort zone, but I kept repeating the mantra, “You can do this,” and eventually I made it to the bottom of the mountain.
I think about how often we ask our students to try new things: a different way of solving a math problem, playing the ukulele, serving overhand in volleyball, or night snorkeling in Catalina on the sixth grade trip. Normalizing risk taking—and more importantly the inevitable mistakes that may come from doing things outside of our comfort zone—is an important part of a JTD education. 

One aspect of a JTD education that people often ask me about in admissions is our lack of a world language. People wonder how JTD students fare in secondary school when they haven’t studied a world language in elementary school. While it’s true that some of the graduates of our peer schools may have an initial leg up on our students in the first few months of a seventh grade Spanish class, what we continue to find over and over again, is that by the second semester, JTD graduates not only have caught up, but often they have surpassed students from other schools. Some of this has to do with the focus we put on grammar and vocabulary in English language arts, which can be applied when learning a Romance language. Another explanation is that our students have excellent work habits and apply their note-taking and study skills to advance in the language. But I think one of the most probable explanations is our students’ exposure to public speaking opportunities and their resulting willingness to take risks. As anyone who has learned another language can tell you, it’s not enough to know how to read and write in the target language, you have to be willing to speak it in order to achieve proficiency. Secondary schools report back that JTD students have the confidence and resilience to take risks in their language classes.

While I don’t anticipate that my little adventure in the snow is going to lead to a whole new approach to life—after all, I’m writing this from the Las Vegas airport and I am still happy to steer clear of the slot machines—I do think it is a healthy reminder that we don’t truly know what we are capable of until we step outside our comfort zones.

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The John Thomas Dye School

11414 Chalon Road
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Phone: (310) 476-2811
The John Thomas Dye School admits students of any race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs.

Located In Los Angeles, CA, John Thomas Dye is an independent school for grades K-6. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.