Independent School Advantage
Preparing Students for Success
When considering how to prepare your children for college, one of the first topics to arise is usually whether a public or independent school will provide a better foundation. Although a College Board Group Profile Report showed that metro Atlanta independent schools boasted average SAT scores nearly 200 points higher than those of the highest-achieving local public schools, there’s no conclusive data that independent school students have a leg up when it comes to college acceptance.
By Ruksana Hussain
The Metro Atlanta area is home to many great public schools,including charter and magnet schools, which do an excellent job of preparing students for college. Still, you may be considering an independent school. Here are some of the benefits that independent schools can offer that a public school in your vicinity may not.
Curriculum and Special Programs
One advantage of independent schools is that many hold students to a higher academic standard via challenging and engaging curricula.
“We strive for a traditional yet innovative approach to education in the 21st century, offering diverse academic opportunities, strong art and athletic programs and state-of-the art facilities,” says F. Stuart Gulley, Ph.D., president of Woodward Academy, which serves more than 2,700 students from pre-K through grade 12 in College Park and Johns Creek.
Atlanta Girls’ School, which teaches more than 200 female students in grades 6 through 12, offers a rigorous college preparatory curriculum in an innovative, technology-rich setting. Students also participate in two customized internships and a required global travel program.
“The mission of Atlanta Girls’ School is to provide a challenging college preparatory program in a learning environment designed to foster the full potential of each student and to enable her to become a vital contributor to our complex global society,” says Dr. Sylvia Rodriguez Vargas, academic dean. “Atlanta Girls’ School is preparing the next generation of leaders with a curriculum custom-built for girl-centered education.”
In addition, many independent schools, such as Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC) and Pace Academy, offer college counseling programs that work closely with students to help them with everything from developing a list of prospective colleges to preparing for the ACT and the SAT. GAC’s Learning Center offers individualized academic assistance in core subjects, as well as an elective SAT-preparation course.
Smaller Class Sizes
Smaller class sizes are often linked to better academic results.
“Independent schools provide lower teacher-student ratios,” says Lynne Floyd, advancement associate at Eastside Christian School, a pre-K through eighth grade school in Marietta. Those lower ratios provide for more individual attention between student and teacher, she adds. “It is the personal relationship with families, and teachers knowing their students individually, that helps us meet the needs of students in a personal way,” she says. “Most families form lifetime relationships with staff and teachers.”
Gulley at Woodward Academy agrees. “We provide wide individual instruction at every step of the process, be it interviews, admission or college placement,” he says. “We also respect varied learning styles and accommodate children of all learning abilities.”
The Friends School, a pre-K through 8th grade school in Decatur, averages 9 students per class, while Sophia Academy, which serves pre-K through high school, boasts an average class size of 10 and Eastside Christian School averages 14 students per class.
Character and a Global Perspective
Independent schools can help instill character traits and provide a wider perspective that can greatly benefit a student in his or her college years and beyond. At Atlanta Girls’ School, “Students learn to take appropriate risks, be courageous leaders, give back to their communities, and project confidence and competence in all they do,” says Vargas.
As opposed to public schools, which mostly serve students within a set geographic boundary, independent schools attract students from across the metropolitan area. This often results in diverse student bodies made up of many different backgrounds and nationalities, which can prepare students for life in an increasingly global world.
“We have a deep respect for difference,” says Gulley with Woodward Academy. “We are diverse in that 40 percent are students of color and we cater to a 23-county area in Atlanta, which gives us a wide geographical reach.”
What’s more, many independent schools feature a focus on “character education,” which stresses such values as kindness, empathy and respect, and aims to mold students into involved members of society.
For example, at Eastside Christian School, “We instill personal responsibility at a young age, focusing on embracing the joy of lifelong learning and preparing for success,” says Floyd. “Children are encouraged to work together so they develop the capacity to enjoy accomplishments individually as well as that of fellow students.”
By offering a stimulating academic experience with a focus on individual attention, building character and a global perspective, independent schools provide an experience well worth the financial investment: an education that will pay dividends for a lifetime.