What is distinctive about Quaker schools?
Quaker schools are deeply rooted in values, but are welcoming to families from all religious and spiritual traditions. Friends schools tend to appeal to families seeking a combination of an academic program with depth - one that truly asks students to think - and a caring community that instills a sense of responsibility to the common good.
How does being a Quaker school affect academics?
The intellectual tradition of Quakerism is very demanding; it’s a tradition in which “truth” is something you have to pursue actively and constantly - you can’t memorize it. Students at Friends do have to memorize facts, but they also really have to think. They have to ask good questions; they have to demonstrate that they can think independently, creatively, and cooperatively; and they are asked to be open-minded, always testing ideas against experience and new information. Some people now describe that kind of approach as “21st century education,” but it’s what Friends education is at its very core, and why you sometimes hear the school described as “a 21st century school since 1748.”
Does the emphasis on caring for every individual make the school somehow less strict?
The truth is, even the welcoming, caring community tradition in Quaker schools is in itself demanding. Students at Friends are taught that developing their talents to the fullest is an obligation - and so is respecting and encouraging what’s best in everyone around them. Friends students are expected to be active contributors to their communities, from the classroom to the world. Again, Quaker education becomes a lifelong way of being in the world - a way of regarding other people with respect and openness, and of approaching challenges and opportunities with a sense of responsibility to act and with the confidence to lead.
What about athletics and other kinds of competition?
Because there is this obligation in the Quaker tradition to live up to what is best in you, there is an inherent value of excellence - including in athletics and other competitive activities like Science Olympiad and Mock Trial. Friends teams play to win, and more broadly, the School recognizes competition as an activity that helps learning and supports growth. The School supports competitive activities; specifically in athletics, there are great facilities, an emphasis on quality coaching and training, and an incredible number of Friends kids go on to play varsity sports in college. You do hear people at Friends talk about winning “the right way” - not at any cost - but measuring up to the best you can be is not just consistent with the school’s philosophy, it’s central to it.
What about the informal dress code?
Friends has a thoughtful dress code, which reflects the philosophy of the school and emphasizes what students need to do during the school day. Clothing choices are required to be respectful, neat, clean, and modest, in keeping with the school’s rules and guiding values, and supportive of the purpose of learning (e.g. nothing that distracts you or those around you). Lower school students, who do not change their clothes for recess or P.E., are asked to dress so that they can “run, jump, and play safely” throughout the school day. That emphasis on practicality and learning, vs. appearance, is consistent with Quaker values, as is the emphasis on a community that values diversity rather than uniformity. We also recognize that the heritage of formal dress codes in private and independent schools largely has been a matter of socio-economic class designation, and Friends has chosen not to perpetuate that tradition.
What does it mean when people talk about “global education” at Friends?
Global education refers to some specific, distinctive programs at Friends, and also to an overall educational approach. Signature global programs include Mandarin (as one of three modern languages taught in middle and upper school), language study beginning in pre-kindergarten, the International Baccalaureate (IB), and School Year Abroad. The overall “global” approach refers both to content and to the process of teaching students how to engage complex issues intellectually and in action, in and outside of the classroom, considering a variety of perspectives. It’s teaching the skills and habit of “global” thinking - open-minded, expansive, in-depth, and informed.
Why does Friends have the IB program?
The IB is a perfect fit with the program and philosophy at Friends. The IB emphasizes high academic standards, global perspective, informed and engaged citizenship, respect for others, and the active application of classroom experience. It also is structured to give teachers a lot of control over the process and fitting the program to the school and its students. In addition, the IB is recognized globally as among the highest standards - indeed, often as the highest standard - in college preparatory education. View the Friends IB diploma candidate college list.
Which students benefit most from the IB?
There are advantages to being an IB World School that benefit every student at every grade level. Among other things, the IB provides: a structure for ensuring the high quality of the curriculum; professional development programs for teachers; and a global network of partner schools. The IB also represents an international certification of excellence for Friends, an external standard and validation of quality that goes much deeper, in terms of the quality of the academic program, than any traditional accreditation. So both as a quality assurance program of the highest caliber and as a gold-standard guide for the scope and sequence of the curriculum, the IB benefits every student, from the ELC to upper school, whether they choose to pursue the IB Diploma or not.
How do colleges regard the IB?
Colleges routinely award credit for work in IB Higher Level courses and for the Diploma, and IB preparation is a proven advantage in the admissions process - in fact, the admissions director at Harvard said that students should consider going for the IB Diploma as more important than protecting their GPA. In addition to colleges’ own experiences with the IB as a good predictor of success, there also has been a lot of research. In one example, a Virginia Tech survey focused on the percentage of students who obtained a GPA above 3.0 after four semesters: AP students, 41%; IB students, 88%. In a descriptive example, the College of William & Mary stated in its policy on IB: “William and Mary recognizes the International Baccalaureate program as extremely rigorous; the best possible preparation for both college work and life in the twenty-first century.”
Why does Friends have an associate teacher program in lower school?
The lower school at Friends has the lowest student-teacher ratio of any of our peer schools, and the associate program in pre-k through fourth grade is the main reason why. But it isn’t just about the ratio. Having two teachers in the classroom allows for much greater flexibility. One teacher can work with students one-on-one for individual assessments, while the other leads the large group; or each teacher can work with small groups, whether for differentiated instruction or other reasons, like reading books based on interest. There are also two perspectives and sets of insights about each student and about the classroom program. The two-teacher approach also gives the students two adults, with compatible teaching styles but different personalities, with whom to build positive relationships. In addition, the larger student peer group, in combination with the low student-teacher ratio, allows for more potential friendships. In a small class, for example, of 15 students, there might be seven girls and eight boys, and it is easier for some students to be shut out of (or to dominate) the friendship circle. It can be tempting just to ask, “how many kids are in the class?”, but in terms of the actual educational and developmental experience for children, a slightly larger class with two teachers has tremendous advantages.
How do you measure the “success” of a Friends education?
There are many benchmarks along the way, but ultimately, the meaning of a Friends education is measured by how graduates “let their lives speak,” how they make the world a better place, whatever their professions and pursuits. Each year, the school recognizes alumni as representatives of all Friends graduates whose lives speak to that standard. Recently recognized alumni have included: an award-winning historian, a leader in global health initiatives, a long-time school trustee and community volunteer in conservation and urban greening, a former U.S. ambassador and advocate for higher education, a best-selling author, a leading financial manager with an interest in cancer research, a social worker, a professor of theatre and arts administrator, the White House Director of Communications, and a surgeon in the U.S. Navy who did a volunteer mission in Uganda.