THE MANY BENEFITS OF AN INDEPENDENT EDUCATION
By Karin Pendley Koser
Deciding how their children will be educated is a major concern for most Atlanta parents, sometimes starting as early as pregnancy, when some place their children on daycare waiting lists before they’re even born. Some parents purchase their homes in communities known for their excellent public schools, while others hope for the best in their existing neighborhoods.
For many parents, the answer lies in one of metro Atlanta’s abundant independent schools. Whether they’re looking for a strong religious foundation, an alternative approach to education or a proven track record of academic success, these parents have seemingly limitless options.
Choices range from established larger schools such as The Westminster Schools and Woodward Academy to smaller cam-puses incorporating Montessori and other alternative learning methods to faith-based schools of all sizes and denominations.
The average tuition for independent schools in Georgia is $9,300 for elementary schools and $10,050 for secondary schools, according to educationdata.org. Those costs allow independent schools to offer opportunities that aren’t always available in public schools, says Shanna Rein, director of admissions and parent and student relations at Lyndon Academy.
“Tuition at Lyndon Academy includes before- and after-school tutoring and an enrichment period which allows students even more opportunity to interact with their teachers and to receive additional support,” she says.
When considering the cost of an independent school education, parents should also make sure to factor in such ancillary costs as school uniforms, transportation, and extracurricular and off-campus activities.
Parents choose independent schools for a variety of reasons. Some prefer that religion is included in their child’s education. “I like the spiritual grounding that a Catholic school offers,” says Decatur mom Lori Veden Brown, who has two daughters at St. Pius X Catholic School.
Others simply like the chance for more individualized attention than an independent school can offer. While metro Atlanta public schools can have as many as 35 or 40 students in a class led by one teacher, independent schools typically offer smaller class sizes.
“For parents contemplating whether to send their children to a private school, a great place to start is by considering a school’s average class size and studentto- teacher ratio alongside the range of programs and opportunities offered,” says Marcia Prewitt Spiller, Woodward’s senior vice president for academic and student life.
Woodward offers five schools on two campuses with an average class size of 14 and a student-teacher ratio of six to one.
“Small class sizes allow teachers to be flexible in the classroom and change things up if a particular lesson isn’t resonating,” Prewitt Spiller says. “With fewer students, classroom management becomes far less of an issue and the ‘organized chaos’ of onthe- ground problem-solving is allowed to thrive. This environment breeds innovation, creativity and critical thinking around realworld problems—all necessary for students to be successful in today’s world.”
Meghan Stauts, director of marketing and communications at The Galloway School, says that Galloway’s low studentteacher ratio and small class sizes allow for individual attention, and lays the groundwork for student-teacher relationships to flourish.
“Our academically rigorous curriculum takes a student-led, inquiry-based approach to learning. We offer immersive experiences outside the classroom to project-based learning inside the classroom, encouraging students to try new things, take risks, innovate and collaborate,” Stauts says.
A Broader Curriculum
Unique curricula that are difficult to find in public schools are another reason some parents chose private education for their children. Woodward’s offerings include 25 AP courses, as well as forensics and astronomy classes (with an in-house planetarium). And its Independent Scientific Research program pairs students with university professors to conduct research using realworld applications.
“Our students are working at a faster pace and immersed in a more rigorous curriculum that includes a trilingual program and robust fine arts opportunities,” Rein says.
Many independent schools in metro Atlanta offer more world languages to choose from than public schools do, and some have full language immersion programs and exchange programs.
“Being adoptive parents of a child born in China, we wanted our young daughter to stay connected to her native language and were so glad that she enjoyed the Chinese classes at Maylan Academy,” says Atlanta real estate agent Joan Kaplan.
Adapting to the Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most parents of school-age children have been tested as much or more than their children, juggling work and other family responsibilities while helping their kids stay on top of online classroom activities. Some staffers say the built-in advantages of independent schools gave them a leg up in adapting to the new reality.
“Our large spacious campus and small class sizes allowed us to physically distance students 6 feet apart easily,” says Woodward’s Prewitt Spiller. “And, because of our existing resources in technology, faculty and staff expertise, and our ability to strategically plan and invest in additional tools and technology, we were in a unique position to continue offering an unparalleled education to remote and in-person learners.”
Galloway’s Stauts feels the same.
“Galloway’s small size of 750 students across three levels, ample resources for testing faculty, staff and students and outfitting campus with upgraded ventilation systems, and comprehensive schoolwide safety protocols have made our risk-mitigation strategies some of the safest in the state,” she says.
“Our classrooms are equipped with cameras so that students can attend in real time and not lose out on interacting with their teachers and classmates,” says Lyndon’s Rein. “And we installed the Reme halo LED air filtration system, which has cut down drastically on all illnesses.”
Even smaller independent schools have adapted easily. Katrina DeMarcus, a teaching assistant at Arbor Montessori School in Decatur, works to ensure student compliance with COVID-19 safety measures. “We’ve had no COVID-19 cases in our classroom of 3- to 6-yearolds,” she says.
If you’re thinking about sending your child to an independent school, consider looking at accredited schools—schools that have met certain standards of educational quality by one or more accrediting organizations. And be sure to talk with parents you know who send their children to independent schools; they may have good information to share.