by Brenda Sapanghila
With April comes Kindergarten registration for many area schools. If you’re looking for a school that has a small teacher-to-student ratio, that allows daily outdoor play for all grades, and that develops leadership skills, Fredericksburg Academy may be the right fit for your child. Patricia Estes, head of the Lower School at Fredericksburg Academy, talks curriculum, Kindergarten readiness, why play matters and more!
Q: What makes Fredericksburg Academy stand out?
We try hard to foster an inclusive community spirit among our faculty, staff, students and parents. The major benefit of a school community our size is that we all get to know each other. This is critical—we know that students won’t succeed if we’re not all supporting their efforts. Everyone who is a part of the Fredericksburg Academy community encourages the children here to engage in their learning, to ask difficult questions and to explore possibilities. The wonderful thing is that it’s not just the students doing those things — our teachers lead by example.
Q: What is the average teacher-to-student ratio in the Lower School?
Our average student-to-teacher ratio is 7:1.
Q: What is the difference between prekindergarten and junior kindergarten?
Our prekindergarten program is for children turning 3 by September 30 of their enrollment year and who are ready to participate in a school experience. They learn socially, emotionally and academically through daily play. Their two teachers infuse early literacy, numeracy and social learning into their play. Every day the children have a special lesson in their classroom with our art, music, French or Spanish teachers, or our librarian. The children also attend P.E. weekly in the gym.
Our junior kindergarten is a readiness-for-kindergarten program for children turning 4 by September 30 of their enrollment year. Play is central to the junior kindergarten day and is infused with early literacy and numeracy instruction. Our teachers meet the children where they are, whether they are building prekindergarten skills or showing more emergent skills socially, emotionally or academically.
Time is always taken to support the whole child.
Just like Pre-K, JK children have at least one special each day, although these students attend classes in the specials classroom like they will in kindergarten.
Q: How do you know if your child is ready for kindergarten?
While not all children develop in the same way or on the same timeline, there are a few common markers that indicate whether a child is ready for kindergarten. Parents should ask:
• Is my child able to stick with a given activity?
• Is my child able to listen to others and wait his or her turn to share an idea or ask a question?
• Is my child able to handle materials respectfully and put them away?
• Does my child initiate activities and ideas on his or her own, and does he or she choose materials and engage with them productively?
• Does my child follow directions, and is he or she able to stay safe in relation to a group?
• Does he or she attend to personal needs?
• Does my child ask for help when he or she needs help?
• Is my child ready to enter kindergarten with joy and confidence that school is a fun, fair and good place to learn?
At Fredericksburg Academy, each child applying for kindergarten visits the classroom for a portion of a school day. In this way, our experienced teachers can spend time with your child in the school setting and make an informed recommendation.
Q: At what grade does recess stop and how long are the kids allowed to play outside?
I could talk for days about the need for recess or outdoor play! At Fredericksburg Academy, recess does not stop at any grade. We value its importance and are committed to providing time for a break from the academic challenges of the school day. In addition, we understand that outdoor play offers cognitive, emotional, social and physical benefits. Classes are outside at least twice a day almost every day of the school year, usually spending at least 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
We recently completed the first phase of our natural play-scape. This outdoor play space includes a tree stump classroom, sand pile, dirt hill for digging and creating, a mud-pie kitchen, trike path, vegetable garden and host-to-butterfly garden. The children can explore, create, imagine and problem solve either independently or as directed by their teachers. The second phase will add, among other things, a giant weaving loom, seating clusters and a slackline for balancing. In addition to the play-scape, we have two traditional playgrounds on our campus.
In Middle School, students go outside after their lunch period and can be found tossing the football or lacrosse ball on the activity field, playing Four Square, participating in a kickball game, or just hanging out with friends or teachers.
Upper School students may choose to participate in a pickup Frisbee toss, practice their soccer skills or walk and talk during their unscheduled period. Students are often seen gathered on the activity field, or at outdoor tables eating a snack or enjoying the company of classmates or teachers.
Q: What is the curriculum like for the Lower School at Fredericksburg Academy?
We have a rich, student-centered curriculum in the Lower School that meets the children where they are and moves them forward as far as they can go. We want the children to be challenged, but not frustrated.
We are not locked into the standards that other schools must meet. We do look at the Standards and the Common Core, as well as the Frameworks of a few international programs. We review these frequently to be certain that we offer children a first-class education. Our curriculum takes an integrated approach to learning by weaving STEM, art, music, language arts and history together for a meaningful educational experience.
We constantly look for new ways to engage students in learning. As an example, we are excited to be creating a STEM lab in the Lower School that will be ready for the 2016-17 school year. We will have a STEM specialist who will coordinate, collaborate and teach with our classroom teachers and special area teachers to provide more opportunities for children to explore the natural world both outdoors and indoors.
Q: Which extracurricular activities are available to children in the Lower School?
Our third through fifth graders can attend after-school Gardening Club where students work in the outdoor gardens and learn about environmental stewardship. Our Lower School French and Spanish teachers offer International Club for children in grades 3-5.
Our after-school care program also offers a variety of enrichment experiences. These have included swimming lessons in our indoor pool, mindfulness classes, knitting, chorus, First Lego League, Sea Perch, a running club, a Chinese culture class, Lego Mindstorm Robotics, an Exploration of Electricity class, and a wheel throwing pottery class. Each year offers a different set of after-school enrichment opportunities.
Q: What help is available at Fredericksburg Academy if I feel my child is falling behind in class?
Our teachers are dedicated to the success of every child. In the early grades, associate teachers work with the lead teachers to help a child needing specific assistance. At times, the classroom teacher may feel that more targeted and specialized support is necessary for a child in a given area. At that point one of our resource teachers may assist. These teachers may meet with a child for one-on-one instruction or host small group instruction in the Resource Center, or assist a child in his or her regular classroom. These teachers have special training that allows them to provide support or teach a child specific strategies for strengthening skill areas or underlying issues.
Q: What kind of field trips or special events do the kids at Fredericksburg Academy get to participate in?
Field experiences are an important aspect of the curriculum at Fredericksburg Academy. Our classes travel off-campus to sites that enrich their studies in a particular area. For instance, our third graders travel to Mount Vernon as they study the presidents and the Richmond Zoo when they research endangered species. The fifth graders, among other outings, culminate their Lower School experience with overnight trips to Jamestown, Yorktown and Richmond. The students then complete a reflection project that leads to their end-of-year Recognition Program.
We have a number of special events throughout the year. All Lower School children participate in our annual art festival, and perform on stage in the theater three times each year. Classes regularly attend assemblies in the theater where they watch grade-level performances and performers like those from The Virginia Opera or The Richmond Ballet. Each Lower School class has a varsity team “buddy connection” that they cheer on at games and pep rallies. They also attend the Homecoming Parade and festivities. Third, fourth, and fifth graders attend a sports clinic run by varsity players and their coaches, and all Lower School children participate in our annual Field Day celebration. Grandparents and Special Friends Day is a very special, all-campus celebration and tradition.
Q: Is there financial assistance available?
Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, we’re moving to an indexed tuition model at Fredericksburg Academy, which means that families at the school pay a range of tuition. We have implemented this change because we truly believe that student fit matters. If we believe a student is a great fit for our school community, and his or her family believes FA is the right school for their child, then we want to find a tuition price that is right as well. Families apply for indexed tuition each year, and the school’s business office and the family work together with a third-party vendor to identify where a family falls on the tuition spectrum.
Have questions you would like to ask Patricia Estes? Join our Ask The Expert live-chat on our Facebook page, April 14, from 8:00pm – 9:00pm.