by Brenda Sapanghila
As one school year closes, another appears on the horizon. If you are looking for a new school for your child, or are just starting the adventure with your rising kindergartener, Grymes Memorial School in beautiful Orange County, Virginia, is well worth your consideration.
Hope Scibal, director of advancement for Grymes Memorial School, answered several questions about what makes it such a unique place for children to learn, what drew her to Grymes Memorial School, and also walked us through the admissions process.
What makes Grymes Memorial School stand out?
Grymes Memorial School is more than just a school; it’s a family. You feel it the instant you step onto the beautiful 42-acre campus, a sense of warmth that is so incredibly special. Children are smiling at each other and greet you with a warm hello, teachers are relaxed and happy, and there’s a buzz in the hallways as students and teachers go about the business of exploration and discovery together. This strong bond within a community where everyone knows each other’s name and where everyone is kind to each other truly makes Grymes stand out from other programs.
While the hands-on nature of our curriculum is certainly a highlight, I would also say that the emphasis on confidence in self-expression is really extraordinary. Whether it’s participating in conversations with teachers and peers in the classroom, standing up and speaking clearly for an announcement at our weekly all-school assemblies, performing in a class play or reciting a poem to a standing-room-only audience in our signature Declamations program, all Grymes students have a voice. They are encouraged to share that voice with confidence and poise. I am always amazed at how comfortable Grymes students are onstage, and that’s a big part of what makes this program so unique. Students are given the tools, the opportunities and the encouragement to express themselves, and they do it beautifully!
Signature Declamations program instills public speaking skills
What brought you to Grymes School?
When my husband and I first moved to Virginia seven years ago, we were looking for a kindergarten program that would nurture and challenge our shy little daughter. I remember feeling daunted and overwhelmed by the prospect of school-searching, and I came to visit Grymes without even knowing what to ask! When we first arrived, we were greeted by two upper school students who were passing in the halls between classes, and they took the time to stop and say hello, introduce themselves to us—and to our little daughter—and asked how they could help us and if they could answer any questions. We were floored by these polite, happy children who were welcoming us in as if into their home. That did it for us! I’m proud to say that my shy little peanut is now a fifth grader and is one of those upper schoolers greeting visitors with a handshake and a smile when she comes passing through the halls! I credit Grymes with giving her the confidence and security to grow into a wonderfully self-possessed, interested and interesting little person.
What does it mean when you say that Grymes School has a “character-driven community”?
Grymes is a non-denominational independent school, but we do emphasize the importance of character and citizenship as part of a whole-child education. Our core values of respect, responsibility, kindness and honor (or honesty) are a part of all that we do. These values are the framework that creates a community built on trust. At Grymes, kids are learning more than just reading, writing and arithmetic; they’re learning how to be a good citizen in a community. That includes not just the school community, but the outside world as well. Students are greeted with a handshake from the Head of School at the start of every day and are treated with respect by their teachers. We teach students the importance of respect and caring about others through our four “watch words.” These are taught through class community-service projects, and through a curriculum that has a global reach.
How does Grymes Memorial School incorporate the arts and STEM learning?
The arts are a big part of our world at Grymes and are closely tied into the class curricula. This includes visual arts, music and drama. Twice a week, students have art class in the Visual Arts Center. Art is a very mixed-media and hands-on program. Ms. Frantz coordinates closely with teachers to make curricular connections wherever possible, particularly with history and science! For example, while the first graders are studying Ancient Egypt, they’re creating their own Egyptian cartouches with papyrus that they made in art. Every student also has music twice a week. The wonderful work that our music teacher, Tracey Stakem, does with our students is demonstrated onstage, with two outstanding annual all-school concerts. Learning to play an instrument is incredible brain training. The multitasking skills that students learn in our Upper School Wind Ensemble are astounding.
Drama in the upper school fosters creativity and confidence on stage
STEM is always an evolving focus for us. This year, we’re honed in specifically on engineering. We love the focus on problem-solving, collaboration and innovation. Our Lower School science teacher, Julie Sherman, has transformed her science classroom into the “Rad Lab,” and has filled it with all kinds of hands-on tools, materials and gadgets. Her design briefs have inspired our students to build and create. It’s amazing to see how excited our students are about problem-solving! Engineering has infused our community with a wonderful, creative energy and it’s so thrilling to see how inspired our students have become!
Engaging science curriculum gets students hands on
What are some things you can find at Grymes Memorial School that you just can’t get anywhere else?
Our loving, happy community! Our incredibly wide-reaching and well-rounded curriculum that challenges, engages and excites students in so many avenues. Seventy years of traditions that bring our school family together, in meaningful ways. These are all very important pieces of the Grymes experience. Most importantly, our teachers are just simply outstanding. They care so whole-heartedly about their students and are so deeply dedicated to each and every individual in their classroom. They are truly what makes this school what it is.
Is financial support an option?
Absolutely! It’s our goal to make a Grymes education affordable for as many families in the area as possible. Everyone is welcome to apply for our Tuition Assistance Program, which can discount tuition by up to half for eligible families. Over 50 percent of our families participate in the program, and we encourage everyone to apply! The application is completely confidential, and we do our best to make a Grymes education possible for as many families as we can. We will work with you to design a payment plan—all interest-free! Our goal is to make tuition as manageable and stress-free as possible for our families.
What is the admissions process like?
While we have a rolling admissions process and don’t have specific deadlines for enrollment, spaces in the classrooms are limited, and they do fill up quickly! The process typically begins with a parent tour, which is a time for us to visit together and get to know each other, and also a fun opportunity to walk through the hallways and peek in at classes while the students are at work. I find it’s so helpful for parents to be able to observe the “Grymes magic” in person. The tour is a great opportunity for them to get a real feel for the school community. After an application and transcript is submitted, we then invite the child for one or two “shadow days,” so they can meet their peers and so we can get to know them. During the student visit day (or days), we do a few exercises to gauge readiness for the curriculum. It’s done in a very casual and friendly setting with our Academic Support Director, so it doesn’t feel like “testing” at all. Once we have a complete admissions file, the admissions committee reviews the file together and, if space is available and it’s a good fit, they issue a “Welcome to the Family” invitation to enroll. It’s an easy process that follows a few steps, but we try to make it as enjoyable and worry-free as possible.
Tell us a little about summer camp. How do we sign up?
I’m so sorry to say that it’s full! Our summer camp program is becoming wildly popular, and space fills up fast! Registration is open to students ages 3 through rising fifth grade, and the schedule is very flexible and accommodating for working parents in busy summer months. Visit our website at http://www.grymesschool.org/summer to get on the waitlist for next year!
Do you have questions for Grymes Memorial School or want a peek of the campus? Be sure to watch our Facebook Live interview this month! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for information and updates.
Creative writing in the upper school engages students in thinking