Lower School Open House: Values elevate science, literacy, innovationWritten by Andrea Miller
“Quakers believed that everyone should have access to education, regardless of gender and socioeconomic class,” began Head of School Andrea Kelly as she addressed the crowd of prospective Lower School families about the roots of an educational pedagogy that spans more than 350 years.
Over 75 families RSVP’d to the Tuesday, Nov. 15 event, held in the Helen A. Dolan Center Theater. “Our goal is to empower students to think for themselves,” Ms. Kelly continued as she shared the multiple benefits of a PreK-12th grade education and school, including multiple opportunities for student leadership throughout their school career, much smoother transitions between grades and divisions, and a dedicated and informed faculty who collaborate constantly with each other about curriculum and student growth and success.
Lower School Principal Dot Woo guided visiting parents and caregivers through the Early Childhood-Fourth Grade curriculum. “We want every child to develop both their academic prowess and a character that meets and exceeds being kind. Our students grow into confident leaders who are able to engage in intellectual discourse and advocate for themselves and others – that is the lifelong Friends Academy journey,” she said.
Ms. Woo shared examples of how the school’s timeless Quaker values elevate the academic rigor of disciplines like science, literacy, and Friends Academy’s recently launched Innovations strands.
“The highest level of learning happens when our children can think for themselves and ask questions,” shared Ms. Woo. “This happens when our 4th graders work with outside professionals in our new Entrepreneurial Studies course and apply empathy to understand needs and integrity to help them solve problems; in Mathematics when students learn how to use language and labeling to understand how math relates to the real world; in English Language Arts when students develop their own stylistic writing voice; and in Social Studies when students study how the effects of history affect us today as global citizens and understand whose lens the story is being told through,” she added.
This year, the Lower School also introduced a new financial literacy course to 3rd graders. “As a liberal arts school, we believe in innovation – it’s in our DNA,” stated Principal Woo. “We believe that students have multiple intelligences and our faculty, who are experts in their fields, maintain learning relationships with their students all the way through to graduation in 12th grade.”
Early Childhood Director Kristin Minuto took to the microphone next and shared about a new natural classroom that Friends Academy launched last year, its Forest Program. Located at the end of the school’s 65-acre campus, the 2-acre woodland area is a “living outdoor lab. It allows us to get into nature, take care of our earth, and manage ourselves – especially our youngest learners – in a wide open space,” said Ms. Minuto. “It is a creative learning environment for science.” Open to the entire Lower School, students in the Early Childhood program spend at least one to three days a week in the Forest Program, throughout the year.
A student panel of 4th through 12th graders treated families from the inside student perspective. Junior Elya Rak and senior Richard Wang both shared how younger grades provided them with an important foundation and inspiration for later achievements.
At the end of her Lower School career, Elya dove into a poetry unit, where she learned about devices such as alliteration and haiku. When Elya entered Upper School, she created the school's first recent poetry club that drew dozens of interested students. Richard’s initial fascination with science research skills emanated in Lower School, along with an overwhelming fear of bees. Years later as a senior, his research led him to pursue a specialized form of beekeeping and honey production that is usually only found in the United Kingdom.
“Our pathway to academic success involves students interfacing with the world, applying their skills in a confident way, and being unafraid to make a mistake. That is the gift of a Friends Academy education,” finished Dot Woo.
Photography by Alvin Caal/Friends Academy