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For parents who want a unique educational experience for their children, private schools offer interdisciplinary studies and variety while emphasizing values, character building, community and environment. These are essentials for any student, but they are particularly important for young children who are just beginning their educational journeys. That’s why metro Atlanta’s private schools work so diligently to provide this crucial foundation for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. From schools that offer elementary education exclusively to those that have elementary grades as part of their K-8 or K-12 systems, these schools offer flexibility in their programs and a chance for students to experience a unique education, captivating them as they grow and develop throughout their school years.
A Distinctive Approach
For many parents, the educational environment itself is what draws them to metro Atlanta’s private schools. So many local schools pride themselves on featuring small student class sizes and promoting an education based on individualized learning and teaching flexibility. Additionally they tout their strong relationships among teachers, students and family and how they work to connect students with the community and the world.
For instance, Springmont Montessori School promotes engaged learning, environmental stewardship, creativity, authenticity, the gift of time, global awareness and mutual respect. “Diversity of thought and a global perspective are valued, and students are empowered to become inquisitive, independent, compassionate and effective,” says Nikki Torres, associate head for Elementary and Middle Learning.
Joe Marshall, head of Trinity School, says families choose the institution for their children because they like Trinity’s unique and balanced approach. “That (approach) allows students the opportunity to savor their childhood while acquiring a deep academic foundation and developing responsibility, leadership and a strong sense of self,” he says. Additionally, Trinity maintains high standards of mutual respect and positive discipline, touting itself as the first racially integrated private independent elementary school in Georgia. The school, Marshall states, “continues to make diversity, equity and inclusion an ever-present integrated part of the school day as we develop in each and every student a strong sense of self and identity and a sincere care and concern for others.”
The Westminster Schools’ teachers “honor the uniqueness of each learner,” according to Whit McKnight, head of the Lower School. “In the Lower School, we introduce bright, curious thinkers to the joys of problem solving,” he says. “We explore leadership and service to others.”
Lisa Mirsky, admissions director at The Davis Academy, notes that the school’s teachers “strive to enrich the mind, body and spirit,” creating a learning environment that both nurtures and challenges children. “From kindergarten prep (4- and young 5-year-olds) through middle school, we use a hands-on experiential approach and innovative teaching methods that promote collaborative, active learning.”
Atlanta Academy can “move the teaching needle” quicker than public schools or other larger independent schools, and the academy “truly rivals” other preschool through Grade 8 schools, says Shannon Dishman, head of school. “I love the fact that independent schools have the ability to quickly shift when we identify a curriculum, faculty or student need,” she says. The depth of Atlanta Academy’s curriculum and programming combined with the variety of enrichment options, she adds, is “remarkable.”
Atlanta International School educates students through a program grounded in full language immersion. “Our approach to education builds cultural competency, giving our students a global outlook that prepares them to move through the world with confidence, wherever they choose to make a difference,” says Maria Voutos, head of primary school. In fact, the school is one of the few international baccalaureate schools in the United States that offer the IB curriculum at every grade level, 3K through Grade 12. The Primary Years Program focuses on conceptual understanding, transdisciplinary connections and higher order thinking skills. “Our French, Spanish and German programs are dual immersion (5K through Grade 5), which is 50 percent English and 50 percent French, German or Spanish,” Voutos says. “Our Chinese program is partial immersion with 70 percent English and 30 percent Chinese. In every case, the students are taught by teachers who have the target language as their mother tongue.”
The Classroom Experience
From the curriculum to the day-to-day structure of the classroom, metro Atlanta’s private schools often take a unique approach to learning. Rather than relying on a traditional classroom model,
Woodward Academy prioritizes opportunities for creativity and movement. “Opportunities to discover, collaborate, explore and experiment are woven throughout our curriculum at every grade level from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade,” says Amy Morris, director of strategic marketing and communications. “We employ techniques such as design thinking so that students learn critical thinking while broadening their abilities and competencies. Students in kindergarten through 5th grade have access to makerspaces filled with resources on building and designing.”
Westminster’s Lower School’s interdisciplinary curriculum develops the whole child. “Our tradition of academic excellence combines with a unique daily schedule that rotates over seven days, one that engages learners and inspires creativity even as it builds a sense of community,” McKnight says. The entire Westminster community “benefits from a school culture that prioritizes health growth in all areas of a student’s life — academic, social-emotional, spiritual and physical.”
The Lovett School designs a “best practices” curriculum using a backwards-design model. With that, teachers model goals and skills for all subjects. “They help create goals for each child individually through a variety of assessments while providing continual feedback to the child as they work toward the goals,” says Amy Darsey, director of teaching and learning for K-2. “Our teachers also create small groups to facilitate growth across areas.” What’s more, she adds, Lovett engages and exposes students to the arts and sciences while ensuring students are valued as individuals. “They have opportunities to play an instrument or perform,” Darsey explains. Additionally, Jen Tatasciore, director of teaching and learning for 3-5, says students visit natural settings to explore and connect with real experiences related to what they are learning in their classes.
Springmont works hard to help students make a connection with their teachers, who give them age-appropriate freedom with accompanying responsibilities. “Students spend three consecutive years in the same class, allowing teachers to get to know each child, his or her family and how best to support, challenge and connect with each child,” Torres says. Students evolve into leadership roles, starting as followers in their first year, moving into helper roles in their second year and growing as leaders in their third year. She continues, “Students actively participate in class meetings and create class agreements and are guided to develop internal self-control rather than being motivated by rewards and punishments.” What’s more, students learn at their own individual pace. “All subjects and skills are taught in an integrated curriculum, rather than in isolation,” says Torres. Students recognize strengths and weaknesses, how subjects interrelate and the world around them. “Multiple entry points to subject matter entice learning, and students use skills and knowledge to solve problems and answer curiosities independently,” Torres says. Students take overnight class trips to Springmont’s 86-acre Landschool campus in North Georgia. An outdoor science education teacher guides students in the care of the school’s many gardens and farm animals, including chickens, pairs of turkeys, goats, rabbits and a sheep. Art, music, Spanish and physical education are also part of the curriculum and not electives.
Dishman reveals that Atlanta Academy allows students to gradually adjust, build on positive teacher-student relationships and develop a deep feeling of belonging. “For our 4th and 5th grade, we offer a unique ‘mini-middle’ model that teaches students to manage themselves through executive functioning techniques, such as organization, study skills, self-direction and self-advocacy,” she notes. “These critical skills help build a launching pad to middle school, sending students with a foundation of preparation.”
At the heart of each school’s success are the faculty members, who are dedicated not only to helping their students advance and thrive, but also to enhancing their own professional capabilities.
More than 70 percent of Trinity School lead teachers hold an advanced degree. Furthermore, the school’s Learning Team provides specialized one-on-one and small group instruction for students with learning differences, adding another layer of individualized support. It also partners with parents and teachers to ensure the best instruction for students. “These specialists often work in the classroom to support teachers, help with differentiated instruction, review accommodations and identify additional ways to teach concepts to students with varying learning needs,” Marshall says.
Mirsky calls The Davis Academy’s faculty “our greatest investment.” Davis offers them fluid professional development and unique learning opportunities. “Our faculty leverages the power of social media platforms to learn, grown from other educators around the world and create learning opportunities for students,” Mirsky says. “With connections made through Twitter, our students re-enact the Second Continental Congress, interact with renowned authors and conduct mystery Skype sessions with same-age learners throughout the country.” According to Mirsky, Davis Academy faculty members are viewed as educational leaders, who present at local, state and national conferences, discovering strategies to integrate digital citizenship into the curriculum and develop a culture of reading.
Private schools work to ensure students receive an education well beyond core programs to deliver a well-balanced foundation, increasing opportunities for them to succeed as adults. Options both within and beyond the classroom allow students to follow their passions and pursue their personal interests.
For example, Woodward Academy offers specialized programs and areas of study, as well as a variety of co-curriculars. “Students can build robots in STEAM workshops or they can visit the working farm at the Lower School and help tend to chickens,” Morris says. Woodward also offers co-curriculars in animation, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, chess, fencing, piano, TV production and yoga. And the academy offers graduation distinctions in sustainability, global studies and service learning.
Trinity School offers an education technology program focusing on digital citizenship, including access, literacy and security. Students there develop creativity and technological skills in the Idea Lab and makerspace. An outdoor education program includes multi-day trips, and students learn appreciation and respect for themselves, others and the Earth. Trinity’s afterschool programs, called Extended Programs, have more than 60 offerings.
Westminster students are encouraged to push beyond absorbing information and to ask questions, such as “what if,” “what’s next” and “what about,” McKnight says. “Morning meetings in Lower School teach students how to name their emotions and teaches the importance of fostering community. Student support at Westminster is holistic and wellness-oriented. Our Equity and Inclusion curriculum and programs foster cultural competence.” Westminster’s Glenn Institute for Philanthropy and Service Learning gives students opportunities to address community and environmental needs through immersive service experiences. McKnight adds, “Through philanthropy education, community service and service learning, the Glenn Institute is a vital part of our school’s mission of creating leaders of conscience.”
The Lovett School offers a “whole-child” approach and balanced foundation, STEAM classes, resource classes, fine arts, foreign language and guidance through its programs. Morning meetings, a growth mindset, a self-serve lunch, the Leadership Council and the Student Services Council assist students in building their confidence and teach life skills to students, according to Tatasciore. “Knowing the students as individuals, providing them opportunities to engage in problem solving and collaborating in small groups are a few ways we encourage creative and critical thinking,” she says.
Atlanta Academy’s STEAM program allows students to explore a broader range of interests. “Some may naturally lean towards science and technology, and others may have more of an artistic side, and that’s what makes our integrated program so successful,” says Dishman. Students can explore and expose their creativity in the Visual Arts Program, reflecting their personalities, passions and interests. The academy’s Performing Arts program encourages “our students to take the lead,” says David Shore, performing arts teacher. “By giving them the chance to perform or create, write and record music, we help encourage them and build their confidence. If they do not feel musically inclined, they might find their passion behind the scenes.”
The Davis Academy offers courses in foreign languages (Hebrew and Spanish), coding, physical education and athletics, visual arts, performing arts and music. “Students can further explore their passions through electives in advanced theater, film, music, video production, robotics, programming, design thinking and entrepreneurship and digital art studio,” Mirsky says.
The Atlanta International School offers afterschool clubs, language classes, music lessons, robotics, sports and activities. “Our faculty includes STEAM coaches, a Digital coach, Learning Support teachers, personal counselors and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers,” Voutos says. The school’s Primary Years Program fosters the development of the whole child, encouraging creativity, independence and critical thinking.
This is the goal for the private schools of metro Atlanta. For so many elementary students, the experience is unparalleled and provides the type of solid footing they need to succeed in their academic pursuits and as they grow into thoughtful and flourishing adults.
For more information, visit:
Atlanta International School
The Davis Academy
The Lovett School
Springmont Montessori School
The Westminster Schools