On May 15, seniors at Great Hearts’ Trivium Preparatory Academy in Goodyear embarked on one of two walks they will take on their road to officially graduating.
The senior walk didn’t have the somberness of a graduation. Instead, this walk was loud and proud. It was the student body’s deeply personal celebration of its graduates.
The senior walk is a time-honored Great Hearts tradition. It is the seniors’ final journey through the corridors, not in a school uniform but rather in graduation caps and gowns. Led by the school mascot, the seniors roared through the hallways, where they are greeted and congratulated by students from Trivium’s east and west campuses. It is a parent-free event designed expressly for the community of students, and a day meant to celebrate, inspire and anoint.
The walk started in the elementary wings, with the graduation march cheerfully playing across the campus PA system. The seniors moved through the elementary and middle school hallways. As they progressed through the school, it was like a wave building its momentum. Then the main high school corridor doors flung open and the seniors were greeted with unbridled celebration. The energy was palpable. The older kids understand the gravity of the walk. It was the day when their elder peers made their final passage through the hallways of what is one of the state’s most rigorous academic journeys. It was the day when the juniors were passed the honor of leading the school. It was a day of new beginnings and closing chapters.
“I have a lot of favorite moments at Great Hearts,” said Heidi Vasiloff, headmaster of Trivium Preparatory Academy. “But the walk is a profound moment for all of our scholars. Completing Prep’s curriculum is not for the faint of heart, and it is worthy of celebration. It is an academic journey that requires commitment, intellectual agility and hard work. The walk is an honor that is best understood by those in the midst of the journey.”
Great Hearts’ Trivium Prep in Goodyear is a K-12 experience that focuses on preparing its students for success in college and life. The school, which was founded in 2010, graduated its first class of 36 students in 2017. Its second class of 33 followed in 2018. The class of 2019 will be its largest, with 59.
Most students will graduate with four years of honors math, science and a foreign language. The rigor shows in the class’ average SAT score of 1,241 and 27 on the ACT — compared to national averages of 1,061 on the SAT and 21 for the ACT — and a college acceptance rate of 100%.
“What is most exciting is the possibility these students have created for themselves,” Vasiloff said. “Their hard work has landed them the right to attend some of the most prestigious schools in the country.”
Vasiloff said nearly 15% of the graduating class will attend top colleges whose acceptance rates are less than 5%.
“We have two national merit finalists, two Air Force Academy appointments, and acceptances into some of the most influential colleges in the country,” she said. “Frankly, it is mind boggling when you think about the size of our graduating class.”
The class of 2019 is not unique for Trivium. Its previous classes have garnered similar results.
“We have kids all over the country — and a few abroad — that are pursuing incredible careers and are being successful,” Vasiloff said. “In three years and 128 graduates, our students have earned nearly $13 million in scholarship commitments.”
Vasiloff credits the school’s success to a strong community of families, a mix of traditionally trained educators and niche professionals in the classrooms, a curriculum designed to teach students to be critical thinkers, and an “extraordinary” college counseling program.
As a charter school, Trivium has flexibility in the teachers it hires. Vasiloff said Great Hearts works hard to attract professionals to the classroom.
“While one can never sell short the importance of great teaching skills, in some of the STEM areas there is pure magic that happens when you unleash a 20-year professional physicist on the students,” Vasiloff said.
“They bring an energy and a depth of understanding that simply comes from years of working in the industry, and concepts come to life in class.”
Vasiloff admitted she might be biased on this front. A biologist by trade, Vasiloff left the private sector to teach science at Trivium when her children, now juniors, were in fourth grade.
“It is a decision I will never regret,” she said. “It enabled me to be truly present in my kids’ lives while sharing my passion for science and lifelong learning.”
She also acknowledged the work of lead college counselor, Jennifer Luque. Luque brings a mix of marketing and counseling experience to the role.
“We’ve invested in a person that understands that at the end of the day students are ‘marketing’ themselves to colleges,” Vasiloff said. “Mrs. Luque brings a rigor to the application process most school simply can’t offer.”
Luque has a process that starts with the students during freshman year.
“Early on we focus on preparing them to be successful on the college entrance exams,” Luque said.
“We require every student to start taking the PSAT in their freshman year. This gives us insights into where we need to focus to help them be successful when the test is formally taken and has scholarship consequences their junior year. Taking the PSAT multiple times makes them more confident and proficient test takers. As a result, we see stronger scores on the college entrance exams (SAT and ACT) overall,” Luque said.
Unlike most schools, Trivium offers a much smaller student-to-counselor ratio, which allows the school to engage with every child directly and uniquely.
By the end of their junior year, every student and parent has met with the counseling team to review students’ application position and ensure they are all on the same page and aware of the college application timelines.
“For students with big plans for college, knowing their targets in their junior year is a huge advantage,” Luque said.
“We don’t play catch-up. Essays, resumes and target school lists are complete by the end of a student’s junior year so that we can take advantage of early admissions processes and financial aid opportunities.”
According to Luque, the school makes SAT prep courses and coursework on college essay strategies available as well.
Vasiloff said Luque’s approach makes a huge difference and her services are extended to every student.
“Mrs. Luque was recognized by Yale University a couple of years ago as one of the nation’s top College Counselors — an award reserved for only a handful of academic advisers,” Vasiloff said.
“She works with each student, individually, to help them find their perfect fit.”
Up next for Trivium Prep’s seniors — graduation and adult life.
“They are ready,” Vasiloff said with a tearful smile.