Offering Much More Than Academics
By Everett Catts
Parents searching for a school for their child have a variety of education options to choose from, including public schools, charter schools, magnet schools and independent schools. Among those, one of the more popular options is faith-based schools. Of the more than 32,000 independent schools in the United States, 84% are religious, according to the website of the Noah Webster Educational Foundation.
Faith-based schools, or religious schools, are independent schools that are supported by or affiliated with a particular church or religious organization, and incorporate elements of that religious faith into their curriculum.
Examples of some local faith-based schools include The Westminster Schools and Mount Paran Christian School (Christian); St. Pius X (Catholic); The Davis Academy (Reform Jewish); St. Martin’s and Holy Innocents’ (Episcopal); The Mount Vernon School (Presbyterian); The Friends School (Quaker); and Dar un Noor Academy (Islamic).
Parents who choose a faith-based school for their child may do so for a number of reasons.
One big advantage of faith-based schooling, of course, is that students receive a strong foundation in the teachings of their religion. Parents who prioritize a religious education for their child take comfort from knowing that they will learn and grow surrounded by friends, teachers and clergy who share their same faith and sense of morality.
At Mount Paran, a K-12 school located in Kennesaw, “we approach everything with a Christian worldview, in the classrooms and also through chapel, through Bible classes, through prayer in small groups,” says Tiffany Westbrook, the school’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s in everything we do.”
Davis, which serves Reform Jewish students from pre-K through eighth grade on two Atlanta campuses, “provides an immersive Jewish environment where children are invited to explore the many facets of Jewish faith, culture and tradition,” says Rabbi Micah Lapidus, director of Jewish and Hebrew studies.
“Reform Judaism believes that all aspects of Jewish religion, culture and heritage have the potential to imbue our lives with spirituality and meaning,” he continues, “but that each person ultimately makes choices about which Jewish practices are most personally relevant to them at different stages of their life.”
One essential element of a faith-based curriculum is an emphasis on morals and values that help to establish character.
“At the heart of The Davis Academy are our Menschlichkeit values of community, respect, wisdom, spirit and righteousness,” says Lapidus. “In addition to a welcoming and inclusive spirit, Reform Judaism is deeply committed to the concept of Tikkun Olam: repairing the world. Good faith-based education draws on the richness of religion and spirituality so that children develop not only physically, emotionally, and intellectually, but also ethically, morally, spiritually and religiously.”
At Mount Paran, students and their parents have the opportunity to serve their community during Serve Saturdays, a monthly volunteer program.
This focus on developing a strong sense of values and character is a component of faith-based education that even non-religious parents find attractive.
“There are people who come to our school who aren’t Christians, but want those Christian values ingrained in their children,” says Chris Cleveland, head of school at Wesleyan School, a K-12 college-preparatory Christian school in Peachtree Corners. “The value of a faith-based education is really creating a culture in which the values of the school reflect the values of the home.”
An Academic Edge
In addition to religious and moral instruction, many faith-based schools offer high-quality academic programs that give their students an advantage when applying to colleges. Mount Paran, for instance, offers 56 Advanced Placement and honors courses, and applies the principles of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) beginning in preschool.
“We have a pretty rigorous curriculum,” says Brian Dooling, director of marketing and enrollment at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Office of Catholic Schools, which oversees 18 Catholic schools under the umbrella of the Archdiocese in the metro area, Athens and Rome.
According to Dooling, the Archdiocese’s schools benefit from a 100 percent graduation rate, and its students achieve better test scores than their peers in public and independent schools. “We have excellent results with regard to getting our kids into the colleges of their choice,” he says.
Choosing a School
Parents whose children aren’t part of a school’s particular religion may worry that a faith-based school won’t welcome their child. But while some local religious schools, like Catholic schools, remain steeped in a particular faith, others have evolved into nondenominational schools, serving multiple denominations within their faith.
While Davis is recognized as the nation’s largest Reform Jewish day school, it welcomes students of all Jewish backgrounds. “Reform Judaism embraces all different types of Jewish families, including families where one or more parents may identify with a religion other than Judaism,” Lapidus says. Mount Paran’s student body represents 120 different churches, says Westbrook. And some schools, like Wesleyan, welcome students from outside their faith.
So how can a parent narrow down their options to find the right fit for their child? Taking a tour or attending a school’s open house event can help both parents and their children get a feel for the school. Talking with faculty, staff and other students can help them get a sense of the school’s academic curriculum, its approach to teaching its faith, and its overall atmosphere. Is there a strong roster of extracurricular activities? Do the teachers and administrators seem warm and welcoming? Do the students seem happy to be there?
Just as important, can you and your child envision them thriving at a particular school, not just academically and morally but as a fully balanced, multifaceted citizen of the world?
“Faith-based education can be one of the most profound and influential gifts a family can provide to their child,” says Lapidus. “Only faith-based schools can help children develop in all areas of their lives, as opposed to just some areas. Well-rounded development is in the best interest of every child.”
More About Some of Atlanta’s Top Faith-Based Schools
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School enrolls 1,365 students in grades PK3-12. Borrowing a phrase from its school hymn, the school will “inspire each mind and fire each heart,” because HIES has created a unique, vibrant learning community filled with encouragement and every imaginable opportunity for its students to explore their talents, pursue their passions and achieve their full potential.
HIES offers an educational program encompassing academics, arts, athletics and spiritual formation. Through opportunities to grow intellectually, spiritually, physically and emotionally, students develop their individual worth and dignity. Weekly chapel services and a religious curriculum offer the opportunity for students to learn and grow in their faith.
The challenging academic program prepares students for higher education and emphasizes learning as a pathway toward ethical leadership and a commitment to the common good. Students learn in small classes and actively participate in all classroom discussions. Close connections between student and teacher flourish within the curriculum. The Upper School offers nearly 30 Honors and Advanced Placement classes. With a team of highly regarded college counselors, HIES is committed to working closely with each student and family to help navigate the college search and application process.
As a global member of Round Square, an international network of 180 schools in 50 countries, HIES provides a multicultural education for students through travel, student exchanges, globally minded service and partnerships with key organizations and speakers.
The school provides a welcoming and supportive environment, embraces the differences inherent in a diverse community and embodies the inclusive Episcopal tradition of respect for the beliefs of others. HIES is an active Christian community of faith engaged in local, national and international service to others.
Located on 43 acres in Sandy Springs, the school recently opened a new Upper School humanities building and a new Lower School building, providing state-of-the-art spaces for its students to learn, explore and experiment.
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School is located at 805 Mount Vernon Hwy. NW, Atlanta, GA 30327. For more information, call 404-303-2150 or visit hies.org.
The Davis Academy
From kindergarten prep – eighth grade, The Davis Academy teaches to the whole child, creating compassionate leaders and equipping them with skills they will use for the entirety of their academic careers and beyond.
The school teaches life skills, instills Jewish values and provides remarkable learning experiences so its students become well-rounded and self-confident individuals. Students learn amongst a warm and supportive community that shares common values and visions. Davis celebrates both the ways its diversity makes its school vibrant and the individual differences that make its school community so unique.
With a retention rate of 97%, Davis’ community is comprised of families from across the globe, nation and 31 metro Atlanta zip codes. Davis graduates attend the most prestigious public and private high schools in Atlanta, they know who they are and continuously make a difference in their communities and the world.
Davis offers many options for prospective families to learn about the school and its community. In addition, families can engage in wonderful Nurture events that are free and open to the community. For more information, call 678-527-3300 or visit davisacademy.org/admissions.
Mt. Bethel Christian Academy
Mt. Bethel Christian Academy, celebrating its 25th year of Christ-centered educational excellence in East Cobb, is looking ahead to the next 25 years with an eye on growth, continued excellence and maintaining its commitment to teaching through a Biblical worldview.
The school, serving 690 students in JK-12th grades, introduced a tackle football program this year and broke ground on a state-of-the-art competition turf field for football, lacrosse and soccer. Expanding athletics facilities is phase one of a multi-year construction plan that will bring a field house, STEM/fine arts wing and enhancements to the new Upper School Film Academy at MBCA.
The Film Academy is an extension of the Middle School’s successful digital production offering, serving students who have a passion for film, media and digital production in a Christian context. The impact that film and media production have on our society is profound, and this field is one where its students will have a tremendous opportunity to learn, grow and be the light in a profession that sometimes challenges it. It’s a great time to be an MBCA Eagle! For more information, call 770-971-0245 or visit mtbethelchristian.org.
St. John the Evangelist Catholic School
St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, a three-time National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, serves students in PK-8th grade. Established in 1954, the school celebrates a rich legacy of over 65 years of excellence in Catholic education. Certified teachers and highly qualified staff nurture students’ God-given potential, encourage them to discover their passions and provide a rigorous academic and spiritual foundation, with the goal of forming courageous and compassionate leaders. SJE offers a vibrant, before and after Extended School Program structured to develop students’ talents and interests and includes a variety of enriching activities such as drama, dance, band, karate, Science Olympiad and soccer. Students in grades 5-8 compete in team athletics.
Located at 240 Arnold St. in Hapeville, at the intersection of three main interstate highways, SJE’s unique campus and excellent reputation attract students from 10 counties and 21 parishes in metro Atlanta. The cultural and socioeconomic diversity of SJE reflects the world, and the school delights in the unique gift it offers to the community.
For more information, call 404-767-4312 or visit sjecs.org.
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
Holy Spirit Preparatory School is a truly unique family-oriented school providing both spiritual formation and intellectual formation for children 6 months old through the 12th grade. Faith is at the core of everything it does. The school offers a classical curriculum to help students develop critical thinking skills, reason and sound judgement, along with a classical approach which provides academic excellence with a moral framework. Its extensive extracurricular offerings in the arts and athletics make for a complete education for students of all ages.
For more information, call 678-761-7992 or visit holyspiritprep.org.
Pinecrest Academy is a PreK3-12 Catholic school providing an atmosphere of academic rigor and critical thinking. Rooted in Catholic tradition and inspired by the goodness, beauty and truth of the Christian worldview, its whole-person approach helps children discover their God-given gifts. A Cardinal Newman Society Catholic School of Excellence, Pinecrest is the No. 1 Catholic High School in Georgia by Niche.com. Average class size is 15 students. Athletics and fine arts are part of the student experience. Students participate in service projects, supporting Pinecrest’s mission to form Christian leaders who will transform society. For more information, call 770-888-4477 or visit pinecrestacademy.org.