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  • Payton Hobbs

An Investment of a Lifetime

Updated: Mar 15

The Value of a Private School Education for our Youngest Learners

It’s just kindergarten, right? Why invest in a private school education at such an early age? This is a question I often hear as the Head of School at Christ Church Day School, a small, Episcopal day school located in Coronado, California. And it is probably the question that evokes the most emotion for me as an educator and leader who has served in both public and private schools, and as a parent of two children who have attended private schools since they were in pre-school. I can’t think of a more important investment that safeguards a child’s future. Private school education builds a strong and positive foundation that will impact the habits of a learner’s heart and mind for a lifetime.

Importance of Early Entry

In early childhood and elementary school, children begin to develop their identity as learners and young leaders. They develop social and emotional skills that will strengthen their ability to communicate, connect with others, and build relationships. In these early years, they establish habits and behaviors and an overall approach to school and the learning process. It is the most important time to invest in a child’s educational journey so they come to see learning as a joyful process where their curiosity and interests are welcomed.

During the preschool years (ages 3-5), children begin to form their identities. They start attaching labels to people and putting themselves and others into categories. During the elementary school years (ages 5-10), children start to assign meaning to those groups which ultimately results in assigning value and worth to characteristics inherent in themselves and others. During this stage of development, children begin to establish who they are and how they see themselves in the world.

For identity to develop in the most positive and healthy manner, children must have the individual time and attention that assures them they are seen and known. School communities play an important role in this development. Children thrive in environments where student-teacher ratios are low, schedules are flexible and honor the needs of each child, and high-quality resources and mentors are available. Programs that include visual and performing arts, instrumental and vocal music, science and technology, physical education, health and wellness, world languages, literacy, math, character education, and more allow students to explore a range of interests and issues. They are further supported when the surrounding community (students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, etc.) share expectations and are committed to the same mission and core values.

These qualities and more define the private school experience at Christ Church Day School. Providing this support and exposure at the earliest possible age helps foster positive identity development and allows young children to appreciate their inherent value and worth, while at the same time understanding they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Instilling Habits of the Heart

For parents considering different school options, their child’s health and well-being is a central priority, and it is important to find a learning community that will support the child’s holistic development. The 2021 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute showed an upsurge in youth reporting mental health challenges including anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, substance abuse, and other mental health concerns. In surveys now, 30-40% of young people say they feel anxious, depressed, and/or stressed. To best support children, it is incumbent on school communities to partner with parents to support healthy habits of the heart as part of a child’s holistic development.

Healthy habits help regulate emotions and enable empathy with others. They support interpersonal skills that impact the quality of relationships we have with ourselves and others. Habits of the heart reveal a child’s social-emotional development and take shape in the earliest years, making unlearning unproductive habits difficult. Private schools like Christ Church Day School include health and wellness as a key curricular component, partnering with experts like Safe Harbor to provide distinctive programs that support a student’s sense of well-being.

Our Episcopal faith also grounds and guides how we instill the habits of the heart. As a member of the National Association for Episcopal Schools, we are created to be a community that honors, celebrates and worships God as the center of life and models His love and grace. Along with our core virtues of Belonging, Respect, Responsibility, Patience, Kindness, Honesty, Compassion, Forgiveness, and Generosity, our guiding principles include:

  • School Worship that is creative, inclusive, draws fully upon the liturgical resources of The Episcopal Church, and is a regular part of school life for all faculty and students.

  • Community Life, in which reflection, prayer, and matters of the spirit are honored and cultivated and the physical, mental, and emotional health of all are supported and nurtured.

  • Religious Formation and Study that is meaningful, academically substantive, and age-appropriate; and in teaching the Christian tradition, fosters dialogue with other faith traditions.

  • Social Justice, which is the integration of the ideals and concepts of equity, justice, and a just society throughout the life of the school; the embracing and honoring of diversity; and the inclusion of community service and service-learning as an integral part of the life of the school.

As an Episcopal school, we have been established not solely as communities for Christians, but for people of all faiths and backgrounds. We invite all—Episcopalians and non-Episcopalians, Christians and non-Christians, people of no faith tradition—both to seek clarity about their own beliefs and religions and to honor those traditions more fully and faithfully in their own lives. Above all, we exist not merely to educate, but to demonstrate and proclaim the unique worth and beauty of all human beings.

The intentional support and learning related to the habits of the heart that happen during a child’s most formative years—preschool and elementary school—provides a deep-rooted foundation that will serve the child well throughout life. This is the important work that Christ Church Day School commits to on a daily basis in combination with the academic program that also develops their habits of mind.

Developing Habits of the Mind

Habits of the heart paired with habits of the mind prepare children to thrive in a complex and interdependent world. Habits of the mind connect directly to children’s thinking dispositions. They help us create new ideas and solve problems, and they support the development of mental models that impact how we learn and grow.

A private school like Christ Church Day School is uniquely equipped to develop the habits of the mind in ways that support what author and educator Tony Wagner has called the seven survival skills: critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, communication, curiosity, and ability to analyze information. As debates rage over state and national standards, and performance on end-of-grade tests dictates curricular decisions, private school educators have the autonomy to make decisions about how best to meet an individual student’s need in real time. They are not bound to a prescribed program, a predetermined timeline, or a mandated standardized test.

Private school educators have the freedom and flexibility to determine, “What do my students need to know to best prepare them for high school and beyond? How am I going to deliver the curriculum to the specific set of students I have this year?” That might mean speeding up the pace of instruction or slowing it down, diving deeper and extending a concept, or altering the pedagogical approach. It means differentiating instruction and having the time and resources to do it well.

Our educators prioritize process over product and strategies over content. As the world continues to change rapidly, along with the skills our children will need to be successful, private schools are able to adapt to prepare children for a lifetime of intellectual exploration, personal growth, and social responsibility.

For example, at Christ Church Day School, the student-centered approach is reinforced and supported by a philosophy on standardized tests. Students in Grades 3-6 take a standardized test called the Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP), so they have experience with this process and parents can have normative data on their child’s progress. The test is administered every school year and is used to provide information to guide faculty and staff as we make decisions about the curriculum and instruction needs for individual students and for the different aspects of our academic program. In this case, standardized testing is not used as an accountability measure for individual teachers or to measure students’ academic success, but rather to support the learning process and improvement of the overall academic program.

Students at every level of learning benefit when teachers are given autonomy and are empowered to make meaningful choices in how best to deliver curriculum and instruction, even in Kindergarten!

Sense of Community: Voices of Students, Teachers, and Parents

The intentional work to support healthy habits of the heart and mind starting with the youngest learners is an important aspect of the Christ Church Day School value proposition. It contributes to more joyful learning experiences and greater academic success. New research conducted by Gallup suggests the holistic approach of tending to students’ emotional wellbeing and providing strong academic opportunities result in better long-term outcomes among school graduates. Access report here.

One final dividend that comes from investing in a private school education in the earliest years: the supportive school community. The students who enter preschool or kindergarten have the opportunity to learn and grow and be known within an extended school family from the very beginning of their school journey until they are ready to go off into high school. Having a consistent school partnership in a small school with a BIG nurturing and inclusive community is invaluable in a child’s upbringing and is an investment that will last a lifetime.

This post is an adapted version of an article that was originally co-authored by Payton Hobbs and Jennifer Baccus, Head of Lower School at Ravenscroft School and featured in the SAIS (Serving and Accrediting Independent Schools) spring 2019 magazine. To read the original article within the magazine, click here.

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