Q&A with Dr. Gibson: Faculty and Staff Spotlight

Q&A with Dr. Gibson: Faculty and Staff Spotlight
Westmark School

For more than twenty-five years—as a classroom teacher first, then as Director of College Counseling—Katharine Gibson, Ed.D. has supported teens with language-based learning differences (LD). Students in the late 90s were the first to benefit from her dedication and expertise, and this year’s seniors are already starting to receive acceptances from their dream schools.

With deep and current knowledge of the college practices that promote student retention—as well as strong familiarity with the schools that ensure the proper accommodations and best services for LD students—Dr. Gibson is dedicated to helping each Westmark student forge a unique and fulfilling post-secondary path. We recently stopped by the College Center for a quick chat with the highly respected campus figure.

Q: College application season is in high gear. How is it going for the Class of 2024?

A: It’s going well! I’m so proud of our seniors, who have been staying on top of application requirements while keeping up with their schoolwork. A few of them have heard back from places they applied to early action, and many more decisions will be coming in through the spring. No matter how many years I’ve been in this field, I feel gratified when a student comes to tell me excitedly that they got in somewhere! It’s the best feeling.

Q: What types of higher-ed institutions do Westmark students attend?

A: A wide range. Some students want a small liberal arts college in a small town, while other students want a giant state school in a big city. Some students have careers in mind, so they apply to schools that specialize in, say, filmmaking or forestry or drama performance. They venture all across the country, from up and down the West Coast to New England to everywhere in between. Some go abroad.

For me, what’s most important is that each student goes to and through the college that’s right for them—that is, it’s not just about getting in, but also about thriving at the school where they matriculate and finishing the program successfully.

Q: Your interest in this field traces back to your graduate studies.

A: Yes, that’s true. I earned my doctorate in Education from UCLA specializing in the transition to college for cognitively bright students with attention difficulties. 

Q: And what does that transition look like for Westmark students?

A: I want every Westmark family not to worry! Your kids will find a life after Westmark that is meaningful and fulfilling to them. Westmark’s college preparatory program succeeds at guiding our students towards a post-secondary education if they so choose (and most of them do). The good news is that many colleges provide the support that LD students need. One college we know provides regular executive functioning support. Another school excels at helping students manage their dyslexia. I have been impressed by advisors at certain schools who help their LD students choose the right course load and course type depending on the student’s strengths and affinities. We talk about all this and more when we come up with a college list.

Q: You work most intensively with juniors and seniors. But you start offering “College Knowledge” sessions to seventh- and eighth-grade families. What advice do you give Middle School parents and guardians?

A: One practical bit of advice I give to our Middle School families is: Check on where your child is in math. If they finish pre-algebra before high school, they will be in a good position to complete Algebra 2 before they graduate, which is what many colleges look for. If your child has dyscalculia, don’t worry—in that case, many colleges will focus on grades and scores in other areas. 

My other major recommendation applies to Upper School families as well: Observe where your child’s happy place is, where they feel most like themselves. This will usually signal the sort of extracurricular activity in which your child should try to deepen their involvement in high school. Colleges like to see applicants who have an investment in something outside of the classroom, so whether that’s volunteer work or snowboarding or writing a magazine or mentorship, encourage your student to explore it further. If there is an opportunity to take on a collaborative or leadership position within that area, even better.

Q: We know you’re busy, so thanks for taking our questions. Maybe we can stop by later this year to ask a few more! For now, do you have any parting words for our Westmark audience?

A: I encourage Westmark students and families to meet with me anytime throughout the school year. My door is always open!