Picking the right school for your child can be stressful. Secondary schools have a lifelong impact, from promoting strong values to preparing a child for what university he or she might attend. Setting children up for success from an early age is critical.
Stacy Ellam took that to heart when researching schools for her daughter Francesca. Stacy wanted a school where she could envision three year old Francesca, and putting her on the best path from the very start was paramount. Germantown Academy in Fort Washington fit the bill. The academy, which was founded in 1759, is a nonsectarian day school for children in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
Francesca began her GA journey in pre-kindergarten. “She always likes to be busy, to be challenged. She has a lot of creativity and is very artistic,” says Stacy of her daughter. “Public school was probably not going to be the best fit for her, as it was important for her to be challenged and to have the opportunity to really blossom.”
Other schools were explored, but GA was immediately impressive for its diversity, teaching methodologies and campus. Plus, GA boasts an 8:1 student/faculty ratio, small class sizes, and all GA graduates have gone on to four-year colleges, including top universities.
While college is still a long way off for Francesca, Stacy knew she wanted her to be prepared. GA encourages children to learn from one another. “We like it when boys and girls are learning with and from each other from the first day forward, and we prefer to do so in a nonsectarian way to embrace all faiths without highlighting one over the other,” explains Head of School, Rich Schellhas.
GA uses the Harkness table method of learning for its middle and upper school humanities classes. The method is similar to college level seminars, where students and teachers sit in an oval and converse directly with one another. “It’s the perfect symbol and practice of learning with and from each other,” explains Schellhas. “I think that having Harkness in the upper school sets the tone for the types of interactions our faculty and students have in lower and middle school classrooms, as well.” That model is part of their mission to create engaged students and teachers who will further (need new word here) the world around them.
Stacy says the teaching methodology played a role in choosing GA. “They’re able to explore the information and work collaboratively to find the answers or find the solutions or work on problems,” she says.
In the first year and a half that Francesca has been at GA, Francesca’s parents have already noticed a difference in their daughter. “She was always a confident kid, but she has more confidence because she’s encouraged to think independently, creatively and outside the box,” says Stacy. “[GA] has created a whole new world for her, one where she can do anything she wants, and in her head she knows she can because she has these opportunities at school everyday.”
In addition to stellar academics, GA has a sprawling campus and innovative learning spaces, which were also factors in their decision. Stacy says likes that her daughter gets to spend time outdoors thanks to the 126-acre campus, which includes sports fields, outdoor classrooms, gardens, a wooded preserve, observation dock and pond. “Having 126 acres with this incredibly beautiful and rich nature preserve with the Wissahickon Creek running right through the middle of our campus, having outdoor classrooms for science, physical education, and for arts in particular, just means that the whole campus really becomes a classroom,” says Schellhas.
All of this helps prepare students for college and their future careers. “We’re creating students and scholars who think for themselves and don’t just take what they read or hear at face value and instead always want to dive deeper,” adds Schellhas. “It’s not about learning toward the tests; it’s not about learning in order to get a specific score; it’s about learning to become a better thinker and, as a result, a better student and ultimately, a better leader in the world.”
That’s something Stacy is looking forward to for Francesca. “As she grows, the confidence, passion and the knowledge are going to grow, and she’s going to have such an amazing academic foundation. She’s going to be able to go to any college, study any program and be what she wants,” says Stacy. “For parents, you want your kid to leave high school ready to face the world and you want to make sure they have all the tools necessary to succeed.” Thanks to GA, Francesca and thousands of other students are ready to face the world and succeed.
Germantown Academy is hosting open house days on February 2, March 15, April 18 and May 17, from 9-10:30 a.m.
340 Morris Road
Fort Washington, PA 19034