They’re often called “lifers,” those students who remain at the same school for the entirety of their primary and secondary academic careers. They move across grade-level divisions like any other student, mastering the elementary years before progressing into middle school and ultimately advancing up through the high school grades. However, their overall experience has a distinctive spin, as they receive their whole education from one independent institution over the course of 13 continuous years. According to students, parents, faculty and administrators at many of metro Atlanta’s private schools, this type of K-12 experience offers an array of benefits. Here, KNOWAtlanta explores this unique educational opportunity and provides a look at its particular advantages.
Typically, private schools offer a college prep-based curriculum to help prepare students for the next stage of their academic careers. For schools that offer the entire kindergarten through 12th grade experience, that curriculum is both comprehensive and foundational, as each grade builds upon the previous year’s specific teachings within the classroom. This provides lifers with an unprecedented level of academic consistency, which is especially apparent as children not only transition from grade to grade, but also as they move between what are usually referred to as the lower, middle and upper divisions.
“Jumping from school to school can create holes, especially in math and language. Staying with one curriculum ensures that a student has a solid and fluid education,” explains Shanna Rein, Director of Admissions and Director of Parent and Student Relations at Lyndon Academy in Holly Springs. “We have worked hard to create a curriculum and environment to help cultivate motivated learners. Being a part of Lyndon from start to finish has proven to create successful young adults in the college world and solid, confident learners throughout their K-12 experience.”
Dr. Chip Houston, Assistant Head of School at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw, agrees, stating, “When students transition from one school to another, they start from zero in terms of being known by the adults and professional educators who work with them each day. A key benefit to remaining in one school is that time is not lost in the transitions, so adults are better able to customize and support the learning needs of your child or children. The college admissions process is highly competitive. It is helpful to have a community who knows your child and can help them craft a compelling resume and application that helps them stand apart in the process.”
In most local private schools, the transition between divisions is taken very seriously, and students are prepared well in advance of each leap they take. For instance, Whitefield Academy in Mableton has established intentional transition programs for both students and parents. “There are opportunities for students to engage with the next grade level through interactions with students, faculty and the administration,” notes Nathan Stevens, Assistant Head of Academic Affairs. “Our lower to middle school transition is aided by individualized overview documents that highlight students’ gifts and abilities for their future teachers. The middle to upper school transition includes opportunities for incoming 9th grade students to better understand the clubs and leadership opportunities available to them in upper school. Each family engages in an academic coaching meeting, and orientations take place in August to help students acclimate to the new environment.”
This effort does not go unnoticed by the students who enjoy lifer status. Mount Paran Christian School Class of 2021 graduate Mallory Jordan says, “Being at the same school for all my life has helped me academically and athletically. Teachers at every level are familiar with what is required at the next level, so they prepare you accordingly for success.”
One of the most important elements of the full K-12 private school experience is the relationships built along the way. To start, students get to know their classmates as they navigate their academic journeys together, allowing them to establish long-term connections that often extend beyond graduation.
“The heart of the Galloway experience lies in relationships—students, teachers, parents, coaches and staff are all vital members of our community,” explains Bayless Fleming, Director of Enrollment for The Galloway School in Atlanta. “By remaining at one school for a child’s entire K-12 experience, a child is able to foster lifelong friendships with their classmates as they progress throughout elementary, middle and high school.” And the connections are not exclusive to students in the same grade levels. She continues, “At Galloway, we provide opportunities for cross-level interaction through events like Convocation or Galloway Games; these interactions give older students the chance to mentor our younger students, who are able to see what awaits them in the next grade level.”
Anna Corinne Galbreath, Class of 2021 graduate from King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, says, “I have loved my 13 years at King’s Ridge. I have made so many lifelong connections, and I can’t wait to see them grow after graduation. I have been so grateful to be at King’s Ridge practically my entire life and cannot wait for the journey ahead as I begin college.”
King's Ridge Christian School
Lifers also become familiar with teachers, administrators and support staff across the divisions and form deep bonds with these adults in their lives. Mallory Jordan from Mount Paran notes, “One of the greatest advantages of attending the same school from kindergarten to 12th grade is the relationships that you are able to build with staff. I’ve talked to many students who came to Mount Paran from a public school, and they always mention how different the community is. None of them had close relationships with their teachers or staff, but at Mount Paran, teachers are willing to be mentors and influences in your life outside of the classroom.”
For many private schools, surrounding students with educators who know them well is the benefit that stands out the most. “In an unpredictable and ever-changing world, children thrive in stability. At North Cobb Christian School, children are known from age three through 12th grade, providing a sense of stability and belonging that’s hard to replicate in more transient educational settings,” Houston says.
The same rings true at Whitefield Academy; according to Stevens, developing longstanding relationships with faculty members allows students to have a safe place in which they are known. “The changes that a child goes through from 4 to 18 are incredible,” he says. “To be able to be in a place where teachers, mentors and coaches have watched you grow and know you well can be invaluable.”
North Cobb Christian School
What’s more, at The Galloway School, in addition to mentoring, teachers are seen as partners who collaborate with students to bring about the best in them. They also join forces with other teachers to ensure that the experience remains a positive one over the entire course of a student’s academic career. Fleming observes, “The exceptional relationships that grow throughout a child’s journey are key to helping students learn how to learn and to discover more about themselves and the world around them. Once a child advances to the next grade level, their relationship does not end. Instead, teachers across levels are in constant communication with each other to ensure each child’s strengths and opportunities for growth are nurtured.”
At many schools, parents also are included in the education process, creating a full-circle community that supports and encourages students. “Our families know the expectations and the procedures of the school. There is no guesswork on their part. And knowing the staff and administration well helps enhance communication and the feeling of family for all,” Rein says. “We want parents and students to know that following along with us on this experience will give them the tools they need to be successful in college and beyond.”
Beyond the Classroom
Helping students become truly well-rounded individuals also includes work that is done beyond the structure of the classroom. For many young people, extracurricular activities, such as athletics and clubs, are an integral part of their journey. And lifers, who have the chance to begin exploring their options during their first years of school, often find that they can make equally great advances when they spend more than a decade in one educational setting.
“Students begin trying out various sports and clubs at a young age,” Rein notes. “By the time they are in middle school and high school, they know where their interests lie and can participate in a number of athletics, fine arts opportunities and clubs.”
Of her own experience at Mount Paran Christian School, Mallory Jordan says, “The middle and high school coaches interact with their future players and take time to develop them. Students that are ‘lifers’ have had the opportunity to train at an earlier age in a smaller and controlled setting. This allows for athletes to start developing earlier and be ready to participate in varsity sports once they reach high school. I would not be the same student or athlete without the foundation I had in lower and middle school, which I was able to attain because of the intimate environment and invested teachers and coaches.”
Mt Paran Christian School
North Cobb Christian School also provides student athletes with a pipeline from elementary up through high school, and the same attention is paid to students interested in the arts. Houston states, “Students who are known and supported from a young age feel confident on our campus and are more willing to try new activities or sports. They know this school provides a safe landing spot as they leap into uncharted territory in terms of extracurricular activities. NCCS truly is their home away from home.”
For metro Atlanta’s private schools, that is the end game. They are dedicated to creating an environment that allows students to feel secure and bolstered throughout all of their K-12 years. Sydney Dorsett, a King’s Ridge Christian School 2021 graduate, says, “King’s Ridge has been my life and my family for the last 13 years. It has prepared me to thrive in the real world, and it will always be a home to come back to, no matter where life takes me.”
As Nathan Stevens concludes, “While this work is lifelong, the formative impact of engaging in partnership throughout the schooling journey is both a great honor and a responsibility we take very seriously. Feeling known and guided by strong values and mission in the place you spend most of your time as a kid reaps benefits well beyond time here, but also into college, career and life.”
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