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By: Heather Walsh
St. James Academy Parent

I believe learning should be an adventure.

Website_designthinkingMaybe I should blame it on my progressive liberal education, but I don’t believe you can measure a child by a multiple choice test — or help develop an appetite for knowledge with a gaggle of worksheets. When Patrick and I started to explore kindergarten options for the Bug, nothing would make my nerves rattle more than an information session full of don’ts, can’ts, rules, regulations, or a disproportionate amount of time putting academic rigor over problem solving and cultivating imagination.

I wanted to know about cans. I wanted to hear how the school would foster my child’s love of learning and encourage her creativity.

I didn’t want to talk about — and I particularly hated this reference — the ‘end product.’ Because my child’s development — much like my own — is an ongoing process. I don’t believe she will be a finished, polished entity at the end of fifth or eighth grade. At least I hope not. If that’s the case, I didn’t do my job as her parent.

We didn’t start the Bug at St. James Academy at the beginning of this school year. We made the decision to transition her in the middle of the fall. After her first day there, she came running out of the doors, gave me a big hug and said “Mom, this was the best day ever!” That’s when I knew we made the right decision.

{I’ll be honest, it may have been the two recesses … yes, two recesses. They don’t just say they value the childhood experience, they design the day around it. Lots of fresh air and playtime is part of that.}

I can’t tell you what wasn’t working at the school we tried before going to St. James because I don’t know exactly. But the fact that St. James worked so hard to make a new student feel welcomed should tell you exactly the type of environment they have designed, and how it resonated with a five year old.

If you’ve been a follower of (cool) progeny, you know we started working with St. James well before the Bug was school-aged. We hosted a story-based playdate there with area authors and last year’s superhero social happened on their playground. What I loved about both of those events is how enthusiastic St. James educators were about jumping on board to develop the concepts and learning experiences at the events.

The staff is excited, compassionate, and aims to feed their students’ innate intellectual curiosity. {Really, is there any one more curious than a five-year-old?} I love that inquiry is valued at St. James, reinforced by the school investing in cutting edge tools for their students. From 3-D printers and Google glass to iPads and smart boards, technology is thoughtfully woven into instruction and the student experience. The arts, languages, and physical education play pivotal roles in curricular design. Math, science, reading, and writing are important. But not more so than emotional growth.

All of this is done while trying to preserve a childhood innocence and sense of wonder. Every week there is something happening that involves the entire community — a talent show, performance, art reception, picnic, community service project — you name it. The very things I remember so vividly from my own childhood and may not be as valued at some schools because they don’t actively contribute to test scores. They may appear to be extracurriculars, but they are truly embedded in the St. James experience.

It’s cliche to say St. James is a community, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Everyone — from the headmaster to the grandparents of a new kindergarten student — is part of the learning culture. Last spring, our Little Lion Man was running around the Superhero Social and wanted to explore the school. Karl Adler, St. James’ headmaster, grabbed our 18-month-old by the hand and took him on his own personal mini-tour. That was the moment I knew we should consider St. James.

Making the decision to send our child — and most likely all of our children — to an independent school wasn’t an easy one. Let’s be frank; the price tag of an independent school education was enough to dissuade us from considering it as an option for a long time. That said, we recognized that a smaller class size and lower student to teacher ratio was what our child needs at this time. We decided to make the investment.

It’s only been a few months, but I’m very glad we did.