Choosing the right school for our kids can be hard. This month, Zach Santulli, a Lower School music teacher at Fredericksburg Academy, and Abi Ibarra, a Lower School French teacher at Fredericksburg Academy share why their school stands out.
How is Fredericksburg Academy different from other schools where you have taught?
Zach Santulli: There are so few restrictions to the way that we can teach. Teachers can plan to their strengths and to the needs of our students. I also have the ability to know every student and their families.
Abi Ibarra: I came to Fredericksburg Academy in 2009. I was thrilled to see an opening for an elementary French teaching position when I was doing my job search. Coming to Fredericksburg Academy felt like coming home in a lot of ways. I love the tight-knit community and having the freedom to develop my own curriculum.
Is class size important to your program?
Zach Santulli: I think class size is important. Teachers want to adapt to their students’ needs and learning styles. That’s only possible if you can give your student the attention they need and deserve.
Abi Ibarra: I believe that having small classes is pivotal to the success of my program because it enables each child to have more individualized attention and more opportunities to practice speaking.
How is your program different for various grade levels?
Zach Santulli: My program is a continuous flow of learning from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. In every grade, we build on the concepts of the previous years. In fifth grade, you see a lot of the building blocks from all the previous grades. In the younger grades, you see simpler versions of concepts that are being demonstrated by the oldest students.
Abi Ibarra: With my younger students, we focus on learning basic vocabulary units such as numbers, colors, family members and animals. For the older students, we work on presenting skits and take a more conversational approach to using the language. Overall, I want my students to associate learning French with having fun and making new and interesting discoveries about themselves and the world.
What is the extent of the performing arts opportunities for your students?
Zach Santulli: All of my students have at least three concerts a year. For most of these concerts they do two performances: one for the students and staff, and one for their families and the public. Typically, two of those performances are concerts that feature all students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, while the third concert is grade level specific, like the First Grade Harvest Celebration that happens in November.
How do you work with students who may not have had extensive performance opportunities, or a French program, at their previous schools?
Zach Santulli: It’s not as hard as it sounds actually. Though we increase the level of overall complexity, as my students get older, there will always be a need for parts at all levels of complexity. Sometimes the most important part of a song is the least complex. Thus, a new student with very little experience might actually be playing the most important part in a song!
Abi Ibarra: The wonderful thing about teaching French to children at such a young age is that their brains are wired for language acquisition. They’re also not as afraid to make mistakes like older students or adults might be. Therefore, new students are usually able to jump right in without taking too much time to “catch up” with their peers. For new students in third through fifth grades, at the beginning of the year I meet with them once a week, so that they can learn some of the basics that their classmates have already mastered.
Why do you enjoy teaching at Fredericksburg Academy?
Zach Santulli: I love adapting my teaching to my individual students. I love the creativity and flexibility that I am allowed because it satisfies me as musician to constantly change, and also because it allows to me better craft what I am doing to what my students want and need.
Abi Ibarra: I love that I get to work with my students over the span of several years. Seeing their progress is so rewarding. The colleagues with whom I work feel like family to me now, I love the strong sense of community at our school and the administration is very supportive.
Want to hear more about Fredericksburg Academy and get a glimpse of the campus? Then you can’t miss our Facebook Live interview this month! Be sure to follow our social media platforms for details.