By: Kim Gross, St. James Academy Parent
My husband, Brian and I place a strong emphasis on education. We both have advanced degrees and believe strongly that education is a foundation for life-long happiness and success. Brian and I both attended public school as children, so why wouldn’t our children do the same? Private school was not something Brian or I considered when our eldest was entering kindergarten. Riley is our first child, is curious, quiet and can be a little shy. A family member urged us to visit St. James Academy. Once we walked through the doors, we knew it was the right place for Riley (and later her siblings, Caitlyn and Patrick). As we now approach 8th grade and her final year at SJA, it is bittersweet that she will be graduating and moving onward. We’ve seen Riley blossom into a confident, young woman who has become a leader at St. James. She’s developed a variety of interests including a love for reading, writing, art, sports, nature, adventure, fashion design and much, much more. It is our belief that her eight years at SJA have helped shape her into the person she is, and the person she will become.
Why did we select SJA? The campus has an unmatched beauty and serenity with rolling hills and a country setting. We were instantly captivated by its aesthetic beauty, intrinsic warmth, and feeling of community. Parents are ever present at the school, volunteering and helping contribute to this warmth. Observing the classrooms and seeing the student/teacher interactions, it is quickly apparent how engaged and committed the teachers are and the difference they are making. The classroom size (average 7:1) facilitates a level of learning that just isn’t possible in other settings. I quickly saw the benefits of how a small classroom, individualized attention and nurturing characteristics would be so important in developing our daughter. Not all children learn and are motivated the same, and with three very unique children, we’ve found that SJA has the keen ability to encourage each child to individually rise to their potential. The teachers exhibit a personal level of caring and desire to help each child grow and succeed, while earning their trust, respect, and friendship along the way.
The focus at SJA is on the individual and they help to bring the best out of each child. Our children take risks and try new things, within the safety net of their SJA community. Riley has performed in six musicals since 2nd grade, including the lead in 4th grade for My Son Pinocchio. It was outside her comfort zone, but she felt safe attempting it within the SJA community. Our fifth grader, Caitlyn, had the opportunity to participate in three middle school sports this past year (5th graders are eligible to tryout for middle school sports), including tennis which she had never previously played competitively. She received excellent support and coaching, ending the season with a greater love for this lifetime sport. Lastly, our youngest, Patrick, was so intrigued by his classwork in science that he’s asking for a microscope and to attend a science summer camp. These were all opportunities they may not have had the confidence to pursue without the support around them. Each of our children has been exposed to art, drama, sports, science, technology, crafts, chess, cooking, tennis, running and more. It’s helped them develop a curiosity for new things and promotes life skills like teamwork, leadership, public speaking, risk-taking, and commitment.
As we’ve gotten immersed in middle school we’ve realized the many benefits of the International Baccalaureate program. Riley has advanced her critical thinking and leadership skills through healthy debate and discussion as it relates to religion, races, economics, government, world cultures, wars, social issues and more. One of the most important and memorable experiences in middle school have been the 4-5 day overnight class trips. St. James students experience oceanography and outdoor sciences on the Eastern Shore at Echo Hill; caving, hiking, and teamwork at Sheridan, Virginia; and fly to Disney for a “behind that scenes” look at the park and understanding the physics of the rides.
Each year the bar has been raised to see new places, test out unique challenges and discover opportunities. Our children are becoming individual thinkers, who are comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas about global and local topics. Being in the right educational environment builds life-long habits that set the foundation for learning, long-term success, and happiness. Looking back over the last eight years we’ve spent at SJA, there’s nothing we would change. We are proud of each of our children and the unique individuals they are becoming. I can say with absolute confidence that SJA took a large part in helping them become who they are today. SJA is a little treasure hidden in the country side of Monkton and I strongly encourage parents to come out and see what’s it’s all about. I can assure you it will be worth your time.