by Carol Muse Evans
With more than 30,000 private schools in the United States today, according to the National Center for Education, the chances of finding one in your corner of the world are pretty good. Finding one that fits your child’s learning style – that may take some investigation on your part.
According to www.privateschoolreview.com, there are almost 14,000 children in private schools in Alabama, 75 percent of which are religious in nature. Some 26 percent are minorities, and the “average” student-teacher ratio is 11:1. The average yearly tuition for students is $6,720, with $10,171 for high school.
Where would your child fit in, if you choose the private education route? Birmingham Parent talked to a few local schools about what they offer and their learning styles, and we’re sharing them here with you.
» The Arlington School is a small private school located in Birmingham’s historic Southside community, and it offers an alternative to the modern notion that the bigger a school is, the better, says Deborah W. Petitto, principal. It follows the Alabama State Department of Education course of study. Serving grades 6-12, Arlington provides “a positive academic experience that is individuals and nurturing, allowing students, teachers and parents to interact more easily,” Petitto adds.
A big advantage here is very small classes, allowing for individual attention for each student in every class, Petitto says. Academic classes typically consist of only four to five students, and academic classes meet in the mornings when children are more focused, and electives meet in the afternoon.
» Highlands School believes in educational best practices, says Kavita Vasil, Highlands head of school. “To this end, we use a variety of educational methodologies including project-based learning, differentiated instruction, experiential learning and leadership development, Vasil says. “Our emphasis on principals such as design thinking, cross-curriculum integration and global education allows students to apply learned concepts in a real-world, practical context, and all of these variables….help us to fulfill our mission of providing an academically challenging program, creating a love of learning, instilling the habits of success in every student, and preparing our students to be responsible, productive members of the community,” she says.
In addition, Highlands, which serves 6 weeks to 8th grade, incorporates arts education and STEM education at every grade level, and the diversity of the student population at 27 percent is higher than the National Association of Independent Schools national average, Vasil adds.
Montessori schools follow the teachings and philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, and they believe in “following the child,” according to the American Montessori Society, www.amshq.org. The Montessori method follows the whole child – physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Some of the hallmarks of the Montessori Method is multi-age teaching, a teacher, child and environment learning triangle and sensory experiences.
» Joseph Bruno Montessori Academy in Birmingham’s vision is to provide children and families with an education according to the Montessori philosophy and curriculum, says Rebecca Little, head of school. “Our focus is not only to provide cognitive education for our students, but to also model a commitment to creating peace and care for the environment for years to come.
“In theory and practice, we will explore how the traditional Montessori curriculum can be combined with current best practices in education as well as technological advances in order to develop a successful group of 21st century learners,” Little adds.
JBMA serves toddlers through 8th grade, and says they treat each child as an individual, building on their strengths and abilities to become life-long global learners. “Some of the advantages of a Montessori program are that it includes multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time and guided choices of work,” Little says.
» Hilltop Montessori School in Birmingham, led by Michele Wilensky, head of school, says its mission is to provide a quality Montessori education in an environment which fosters a child’s love of learning and respect for self, others, community and the world.
“The Montessori method addresses the whole child: academic, social and emotion and the academics are individualized based on each child’s abilities,” Wilensky says. “We are also the only school in the state to carry all 3 accreditations – AdvanceED/SACS, the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the early childhood program is accredited with the American Montessori Society (AMS). The school is housed in a LEED certified building, Wilensky says.
The Waldorf Education
Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education, is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. It emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical and artistic development of pupils, according to Wikipedia.
» The Alabama Waldorf School offers an arts-integrated, multicultural curriculum that cultivates healthy, confident, compassionate learners who excel academically, socially and civically, says Cassia Kesler, marketing director. With more than 1000 Waldorf schools around the world, only about 150 are in North America, Kessler says.
Alabama Waldorf School as founded in 1987 and is the only one in Alabama. It serves ages 18 months through 8th grade. Unique features of the Waldorf education include the teacher-student relationship is prioritized and the teacher accompanies the same group of students throughout the grades; all main lessons are integrated with handwork (knitting, sewing, embroidery, etc.), art, drama, music and movement, beginning in first grade, students learning two different foreign languages, immersion style, taught by native speakers; students create all of their own learning material and textbooks (which instills a deep sense of self-confidence and accomplishment.), says Kesler.
Many parents may want their children to have an education with religious beliefs and teachings are adhered to and are a focal point of the education method. While some religious schools mix a methodology of teaching, all have values of religion are the school of their educational philosophies.
John Carroll Catholic High School, a Catholic school and part of the Diocese of Birmingham-in-Alabama, serves grades 9-12 and provides three courses of study to students based on their standardized test scores and the recommendation of teachers. “The 15,000 graduates who compose the school alumni have gone to fulfill the mission of the school and bring about a just world,” says Charlie McGrath,principal.
“The rich history and individual success of each and every graduate affirms the belief that each student who enters John Carroll is formed to be the person God has called them to be….the school’s focus on mission and preparing men and women to go out in the world and make a difference continue to be the focus and success of all involved,” McGrath says.
For Briarwood Christian School, a Birmingham school serving K4-12th grade, its academic program is comprehensive, college preparatory and taught within a Christian framework, says Kelly Mooney, admissions directory. "Beginning in kindergarten, our academic program lays a solid intellectual and spiritual foundation for our students. Our student test scores far exceed national norms, and each year our senior classes receive millions of dollars in academic and athletic scholarships...Briarwood believe in nurturing the heart, soul and mind," Mooney says.
Many religious schools do not require the child to be of the same faith as the teachers of the school. While there are approximately 83 private schools in Alabama, 75 percent of them are religious schools. Local schools such as several Catholic schools, Briarwood Christian School, Westminster School at Oak Mountain, Victory Christian School, Advent Episcopal School, Shades Mountain Christian School and many others may be an option for your family.
Special Needs Schools
There are a number of schools that cover a wide range of learning disabilities, including ADD/ADHD, dyslexia and other learning syndromes. They often have the specially trained and certified staff necessary to each with learning disabilities and can also be therapeutic in nature. Local schools such as Spring Valley School and the Horizons School may be options for a child with any of these issues.
There are more than 35 private military schools in the United States and many are boarding schools. Though military schools may carry a stereotype of being schools for students who may need stronger discipline, they can also be great for a child who dreams of a military career. Check out https://militaryschoolusa.com to investigate and pinpoint schools of interest to you.
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by Carol Muse Evans
Preschools like Primrose School at Liberty Park, serving ages six weeks through pre-kindergarten and after school and summer camps, are considered a “school,” rather than a day care, and Margaret O’Bryant, franchise owner of Primrose School at Liberty Park, says their exclusive early learning approach balances purposeful play with nurturing guidance to encourage curiosity, creativity, confidence and compassion. “Our research informed approach to teaching, learning and care is unparalleled – we deliver more than a curriculum; it’s a life-changing early nearing experience for children and their families,” O’Bryant says.
Preschools such as Covenant Classical School and Daycare combine classical Christian education with early care. Serving ages 6 weeks to kindergarten, Covenant Classical School’s education method depends on a three-part training of the mind called the trivium, says Tamara Harrelson, marketing manager for CCS. These parts are called the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages. The first few years of schooling are called the grammar stage because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning is laid, just as grammar is the foundation for language.
In addition, at CCS they believe that faith is for all of life.
“We endeavor to honor God in all of our activities from our studies to the way we behave in our classrooms. While teaching advanced reading skills, Biblical character and establishing a Biblical worldview, your student will establish a strong foundation for future success,” Harrelson adds.
Other preschools such as Odyssey Early Schools also tout that their children are more prepared for kindergarten and school upon graduation. Preschool has become just that – school, not daycare.
Carol Muse Evans is publisher and editor of Birmingham Parent.