Best of the Year 2014-2015: Kristen Saroyan

While Sage Hill School opened its doors in its inaugural year of 2000 to only 91 ninth graders and 28 tenth graders, it welcomed 506 students for the 2014-15 school year with the largest freshman class—comprising 134 students—ever to grace Wilkins Town Square during the back-to-school convocation.

“There’s something to be said about having a high school with a critical number of students,” Elaine Mijalis-Kahn, director of admission and financial aid, said. “You need students to be athletes, students to be in the plays and students to be leaders. You don’t want to just sit in a classroom with two kids.”

“I think the more the merrier,” freshman Sarah Takallou said. “The classes are a little bigger, but I feel that when classes are too small, it’s not as easy to make a lot of friends. It’s a very modest size, good for education and I feel very free to express myself in class.”

The larger-than-ever enrollment is not only a testament to the increasing credibility of Sage Hill School as an excellent institution for academic, athletic and artistic students—it is also an intricate model employed to better unify the grade levels.

“The largest ninth grade class here in the school was done by design,” Mijalis-Kahn said. “It was a very carefully thought out plan to put an enrollment model in place where the ninth grade class is the largest class on campus, and we allow natural attrition to take place over the years.”

Natural attrition is the gradual reduction of a student body as students leave without replacement, and Sage Hill School currently boasts an attrition rate of only 3.3 percent, an impressive feat compared to the national average of 9.3 percent according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

“What natural attrition does is it doesn’t put the pressure on the school to fill empty seats in the tenth, eleventh or twelfth grade classes,” Mijalis-Kahn said. “What we’re trying to say is that this is a sequential, four-year program at Sage, and it starts in ninth grade.”

With current class sizes of around 15 students and a superb student-to-college counselor ratio of 39 to 1, some community members believe that the burgeoning student body could potentially strain the relationships and resources of the community, though the school is zoned to have 600 students on campus.

“It’s going to be harder to get to know people because of the bigger class,” freshman Ellie Klein said.

“We definitely don’t want to lose the fact that we know who you are. We don’t want to lose the feel of a community and knowing each other,” Mijalis-Kahn said. “You want to have the right students; you don’t want to just be filling empty seats. For those who are here, it’s a gift that their parents have given them, and it’s an honor that they themselves qualified.”

The qualified students attending Sage Hill this year come from 34 different cities and more than 110 different schools, and 55 percent of the student body self-identify as students of color, constituting over twice the diversity of the national average of 25 percent provided by the NAIS.

“I feel that when you’re in high school, you have to have enough people to be friends with in one moment, to know there are other people you can hang out with when you have a fight with somebody and to know there’s another guy around when you break up with your boyfriend,” Mijalis-Kahn said. “So I believe that more is better.”