By NICOLE HESTER-WILLIAMS Ledger staff writer, printed with permission from the Fairfield Ledger
When walking up to the entrance of Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, one might notice several signs on the door, but the green and white sticker that says “Niche, 2017 Best Private High Schools in Iowa,” sticks out.
In November, the school beat out 27 other schools across the state, when it earned a second place ranking from Niche.com, Inc., a national firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
According to Niche’s website, the company “rigorously analyzes dozens of public data sets and millions of reviews to produce comprehensive rankings, report cards, and profiles for every K-12 school, college, and neighborhood in the U.S.”
“This is the result of the hard work our teachers have done, and also the students’ commitment to their studies,” said Richard Beall, head of MSAE. “It’s important to note, that we’ve achieved this at the same time that a considerable amount of time is devoted to Transcendental Meditation, and the development of consciousness.”
Beall said over the years the school had bounced between first and second place in the state.
Niche’s results stemmed from a combination of factors including student to teacher ratio, composite Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Testing scores, the quality of colleges that students consider, college enrollment percentages and racial and cultural diversity.
Niche sourced data from the U.S. Department of Education, the organization’s users and the schools.
“I think this recognition goes hand-in-hand with the fact that we were rated the No. 1 school for diversity in the state,” Beall said. “We feel that being a diverse, multicultural learning environment also enhances students’ academic performance — it’s a powerful thing.”
The school boasts a large enrollment of students from a variety of countries, cultures and backgrounds.
Beall said Randolph Carter, a nationally recognized leader in the field of diversity, recently joined MSAE’s board of directors.
“He is the former diversity director for the National Association of Independent Schools and he led the People of Color Conference and the [Student Diversity Leadership Conference]. He’s a top diversity educator in the United States,” Beall said, adding that Carter is working with the school to take its diversity a step further.
“What are we going to do with that?” Beall said Carter asked.
Beall said it was up to MSAE faculty and staff to encourage students to share their stories with each other so that they would gain a deeper understanding of each other’s experiences and increase understanding.
Beall said that some studies have shown that students within a more diverse environment appear to perform better academically.
Recently, the school adopted a formal policy for its faculty, staff and students that parallels the U.S. Department of Education and Justice’s recommendations and the state’s civil right’s laws, when it comes to transgender student inclusion.
Beall called MSAE “a diversity responsive gender inclusive school.”
In other Niche categories, the school placed second for kindergarten through eighth grade and third in the state for college readiness.
Beall said students are exposed to a broad array of opportunities when it comes to college, and that some students graduating from MSAE have selected some of the highest rated colleges in the nation.
Although Beall said the school has done well with its college acceptance and academics, it needed to improve upon its extra curricular activity offerings.