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Fortunate for Many Reasons

by Teresa Sullivan, Director of Communications and English Teacher

Enrollment has dropped in the shoreline’s public schools. They now compete with each other, trying to lure students away from each other. Three local private schools have gone under in five years. And yet the school with which I am affiliated – The Country School – has been enjoying an enrollment surge for five years. What is going on?

 I find myself in the catbird seat at The Country School, fortunate as both an educator and as a parent of three recent graduates. As product of parochial school from 3rd Grade through graduate school, a former public school teacher, and a parent of children who now attend public high school, I am in the unique position of experiencing three distinctly different types of education. This post is not intended to spurn any school that is not Country as no school fits all shapes and sizes; consider the parents who enroll even their twins at different schools. I recognize the distinct advantages of educating PreSchool through 8th Grade children at The Country School. And the reasons are many.

I have never seen another school in which a grandmother leads yoga classes! The Country School benefits from rich family partnerships. Parents and grandparents are involved and supportive. From participating as a member of the PTA to volunteering in classrooms as guest readers or experts in their field, our families are often visible on campus. We’ve had a father guide students on a tour of an architecture firm and a professor mother who toured a class at Rhode Island School of Design as an extension of a STEAM unit. Country School parents visit campus for more than just conferences and concerts, and I have found these partnerships enhance my students’ success. The teachers at The Country School knew my children well, truly cared for their wellbeing, and could openly and honestly speak about their strengths and shortcomings. And the relationships they forged here at Country School continue to thrive.

At a time when the virtues of recess are being re-discovered as an essential part of childhood, we at Country sit back and smile because we have known the importance of play – both structured and unstructured – for the past 63 years. All students have two recesses per day, and physical education classes, which begin in PreSchool become longer in duration and more frequent as the children progress through the grades. Rather than “taking time away” from the core academics, spirited play and PE enhance what occurs in the classroom. We know that and we have always known it.

Country School students are required to participate on at least one athletic team per season, with coaches being flexible in their scheduling so children can participate on two teams if inclined. (This policy made decision-making easier for me as well! Which game? What if I miss practice? No problem!) Many of our athletes have gone on to play at the high school and college level, leading their teams as captains. And some of our cross country runners – as young as 5 years old – have qualified for Junior Olympics! If that isn’t enough, we regularly modify and adjust the nutritional offerings we provide for our students, asking for their and their families’ input. As longtime educator Marcat Knowlton used to say, every day and every year we want to be “Better, better, better!”

That attitude of continuous improvement is why our enrollment keeps growing when so many other schools are struggling. Even this week I welcomed a new student into my English class. That “better, better, better” motto rings true throughout the grades as I consider especially The Country School’s responsive and cutting edge curricula. Country School teachers don’t need to “teach to the test.” At TCS, depth not breadth is the hallmark of our lessons all the way from learning about bridges in PreKindergarten to designing a green dining room in 8th Grade. On our Google Campus, teachers and students embrace and share 21st Century technological advances; even Clark House children learn coding in the STEAM lab. 

But lessons – no matter the topic – will not be meaningful if students don’t feel physically or emotionally safe. Beyond state-of-the-art methods that ensure campus safety, we practice programs like Choose Love and Responsive Classroom in which teachers model cooperation and emphasize the importance of social and emotional growth. At The Country School, our number one school rule is “Be kind.” We know that kindness can truly be taught, and as an anti-bullying school, we provide our students with opportunities to embrace differences, explore new perspectives, and find common ground in a multicultural world. We encourage them to be empathetic and brave. That embrace of differences has now made our school more culturally and religiously diverse than any other school on the shoreline. I am proud to be a part of this.

The Country School has been the right fit for my family for the past 12 years. The perks of an education at this independent day school reach far beyond the reading, writing and arithmetic. I know this because of my history. Because of my experience as a student and a teacher. I am thankful to be a part of this community of learners. The lessons my children and I have learned at The Country School will undoubtedly last a lifetime.