Standards are high at California's Webb School

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

"Learning to live by set standards is an integral part of education," said Dr. Jeffrey Fast, discussing his work as dean of students at Webb School. Laughing and clowning boys, downing milk and snacks between morning classes, made it appear natural and pleasant to conform to Webb's college-preparatory academics and strict discipline code. Sixteen of them hurried into Kenneth Walter's astronomy class. They listened intently to a discussion on antimatter and helped Dr. Walter make calculations.

To study at Webb, an eight-grade boy must pass a rigorous examination. Yet, last fall there was a waiting list of qualified applicants. This boys' boarding and day school is 58 years old; 250 students come from all over the world to Webb's woodsy, hillside campus 35 miles east of Los Angeles. They come expecting to be prepared to enter the best universities.

"Teaching is almost tutorial," Dr. Fast explained. "Class size averages 13. I spend 16 hours a day teaching English, coaching soccer, and counseling." Dr. Fast and his wife, also a teacher at Webb, live in a house adjoining a dorm. When the porch light is on, it says "Come in" to the boys.

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Academically strong teachers are constantly testing and searching to find pupils' weaknesses and strengths. They know the boys well. Periods of extra help are scheduled for all who need it.

Students at Webb are encouraged to develop a main interest of study as early as possible to give focus to their progress. Counseling and curriculum guidance begin from a boy's first day and continue until he has been accepted at a college of his choice.

"Two-thirds of what happens at Webb happens outside the classroom," Dr. Fast said. He explained how honesty and honor on campus revolve around a student committee elected by the students themselves. "Honor Committee members live in the dorms and act as counselors and problem-solvers.

"If student brings drugs on campus he is dismissed on the first offense. In 1977 some students were smoking marijuana. We saw faculty-student communication breaking down, as well as our academic program weakening.

"With the headmaster's backing, I went to the students with the problem. We reasoned that aside from the moral and physical aspects of drug use, those involving themselves with drugs had lost sight of the purpose for which they had come to this prep school. And that drug use was more than a personal choice; it had a deteriorating effect on our community. Since then we have enforced the 'no drugs' rule strictly and it has been understood. We have needed to explain again to new students the reasons behind the rule."

"Our chapel talks by seniors and faculty members are held three times a week, " Dr. Fast said. "All students attend. These meetings bring out the inner feelings of us all. They set the tone of honesty. There is no old news at Webb. Our inner feelings are shared openly."

Some Webb faculty members are informally associated with the Claremont Colleges nearby. Advanced students occasionally take classes at the colleges. Dr. Fast taught "Competency English" in the Freshman Enrichment Program at Claremont the last four summers. His students have included Chicanos and blacks , who he said "show the potential of college material but do not have the needed literacy. They simply have not been given the tools of literacy in their education."

Dr. Fast also heads a coeducational summer studies program at Webb. It includes both remedial and advanced courses. This four-week session has given prospective students an introduction to Webb as well as strong teaching in English and math. More coeducation appears to be in the school's future. A coordinate girls' day school is planned for 1981.

Webb's scenic foothill campus, with new buildings, Spanish-style old ones, and a fine museum, and its high academic reputation are outward pluses for its students. But they must have felt deeper appreciation when about 86 percent of them indicated on a recent questionnaire provided by visiting accreditation examiners that Webb was either "the best school" or "a good school."

An association member commented, "When you have 86 percent of the kids behind you, well you can't be bad at all!"

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