When parents are moving to a new area, one of their first priorities is finding a school that best serves their child’s needs, whether its in the classroom or with after-school programs. Metro Atlanta’s independent schools are on par with making available some of the best options in the nation to help a student excel in the classroom or in a field of study they truly love. Below are examples of programs and curriculums some area private schools are offering students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
At High Meadows School in Roswell, students in preschool through fifth grade are offered the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. “Since our founding in 1973, our students have always approached learning in a way that begins with the ‘big picture’ perspective as we challenge them to think deeply about issues that matter and help them understand ideas from the inside out,” says Jay Underwood, head of school. “The IB program aligns with that through its programs that develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills our kids need to live, learn and work in an ever-evolving society.”
Underwood says the program has been an “unqualified success” at his school. “Our upper grades students and graduates consistently report that the program has expanded their intellectual capacity and empowered them to embrace the world and its complexity without fear,” he says, adding that surveys and anecdotal feedback from parents and guardians has also demonstrated that the program has made a profound impact on both parents and teachers. “Parents make a point to comment on the impact the teaching curriculum has had on their children long after they have graduated from High Meadows, sharing that they are active self-advocates with a life-long passion for learning,” he says. “Our teachers appreciate the structure with which the IB program is presented and the methods of assessment that the program suggests. Instead of being a lock-step curriculum, it offers a structure within which teachers can exercise their own creative choices in the classroom.”
At Strong Rock Christian School in Locust Grove, Dr. Tammy Gilreath, the director of learning lab, says students in the middle grades there learn from a curriculum that is designed to implement engaging opportunities in physical education, band, piano, drama and art. “Our learners also have unique opportunities to explore many clubs, especially during early-release each Wednesday afternoon,” she says.
In eighth grade, for example, students have the opportunity to advance their education by enrolling in high school academic classes such as Physical Science, Spanish 1 and Algebra. “This allows students that plan to be on an advanced track in high school get an earlier start to continue pursuing advanced classes in the future,” Gilreath says. In addition, Strong Rock offers an enriched program for sixth through eighth-graders that is still fairly new at the school — Patriot Academic Course Enrichment, or PACE as the students call it. “Students must apply and be eligible to participate in the PACE program based on several criteria,” Gilreath says. “We are continually re-evaluating and improving this program in order to meet the needs of our students. The program utilizes the course curriculum at a quicker pace with additional course requirements to enrich student learning beyond the regular classroom. The classroom size is very small, hands on and requires a commitment to pursuing the academic adventure that is offered in these PACE classes.”
In sixth grade, the PACE program is an advanced science course that utilizes project-based learning with several STEM components. “The focus is on learning and experiencing the science curriculum using the scientific method,” Gilreath continues. “This group of students also participates in the science fair. In seventh and eighth grade, PACE students experience a language arts curriculum with the added component of Latin. Students participate in literacy circles and interactive writing experiences.”
Gilreath says its important to offer such programs because there is a need among their students to stretch their thinking ability and challenge their minds; and she believes the programs have been successful and parents are pleased with the PACE program offerings and Wednesday afternoon clubs. “We believe in continuously improving upon any product or service that we offer to Strong Rock families,” she says. “This is done to ensure that we are challenging ourselves to fully partner with our families and meet their children’s needs. Due to interest, we have expanded our PACE program each year. We began with a pilot program in sixth grade, added the seventh-grade PACE class and this is our first year offering a program in eighth grade.”
At the high school level, Atlanta International School offers a high level of language learning to both students who speak a second language and those who are bi and multi-lingual via the school’s IB Middle Years and IB Diploma programs. Rachel Hovington, AIS’ head of curriculum and professional development, says it’s important for the school to offer such programs because they want students who develop skills that can lead to the design of innovative products and services. “Why?” Hovington asks. “Not just because they will have better college outcomes and employability in the future, but because of the very real need for humans to develop ways to solve environmental and societal problems that make the world a better place. Languages have always been a wonderful place for students to explore interdisciplinary themes and also provide the communication skills to collaborate and analyze real world problems.”
Alumni say that such preparation and offerings have better prepared them than their peers when they enter both further education and the workplace Hovington says. “Humanities are contextualizing problems for us and allowing us to analyze solutions through the lens of individuals and societies,” she says. “Arts are providing a safe space for students to develop risk-taking, creativity, confidence and practice collaboration that allows STEM skills to develop into real-world solutions.” Parent survey data also shows that these programs have positive outcomes on their students, families and the communities.