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What Is the Curriculum?

What Is the Curriculum?

Discover What Your Child Is Learning at School

By Sheila Cosgrove And Christine Fonville

There are a lot of factors parents have to consider when searching for a school for their child. What is the school’s mission or philosophy? What is its reputation in the community? If it’s an independent school, how much is the tuition?

One thing parents may not know to ask is: What is the school’s curriculum?

Many people think of a curriculum as the subjects being taught at a particular school, and perhaps certain textbooks and other materials. But a school’s curriculum can also include the experiences students have while they’re learning the material, as well as the skills and abilities they’re expected to gain.

In short, a school’s curriculum encompasses more than simply what’s being taught at the school—it also refers to how students learn those things.

For parents, having a firm idea of a school’s curriculum, and how it’s taught, can help decide whether a school is the right fit for your child.

A Focus on Academics

The first thing many parents look for in a school, whether it’s a public, independent or religious school, is academics. These are the core building blocks of a traditional education, subjects that tend to require a fair amount of reading, study and reasoning: English, mathematics, science and history. Foreign languages also fall into this category.

Many Atlanta-area schools pride themselves on a strong academic focus. At Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw, “the curriculum standards followed vary by discipline, but most use the GeorgiaPerformance or Georgia Standards of Excellence,” says Assistant Head of Middle School Alison Wilbur. The Georgia Performance Standards and Georgia Standards of Excellence are academic guidelines or expectations set out by the Georgia Department of Education.

“In grades six and seven, we offer advanced courses in math and language arts,” Wilbur says. “In grade eight, we also offer advanced science.”

Woodward Academy, an independent school with campuses in College Park and Johns Creek, also boasts a strong academic program. “At Woodward students are able to mix and match the level of challenge for their courses to help them flourish in areas where they have strong aptitude and to get support in areas where they need more reinforcement,” says Nigel A. Traylor, Woodward’s vice president for academic and student life. “We take the time to get to know every student so they can grow to their fullest potential.”

At The Walker School, an independent school in Marietta, “we begin teaching Singapore math concepts as early as Pre-K, which ensures students learn mathematical concepts, not simple memorization,” says Michael Arjona, assistant head of school for academics. “World language instruction begins with our 3-year-olds, and four languages are offered beginning in middle school.”

As students progress, they have more choice and agency in their academic plan, Arjona says, including instruction in artificial intelligence and machine learning, multivariable calculus and forensics. Walker students can also engage in original science research and internships through the school’s public health and engineering concentrations.

How Will Your Child Learn?

But academics is only half of the equation. To help produce well-rounded students, these schools also offer robust arts and extracurricular programs. Mount Paran students, for example, have the opportunity to explore courses and afterschool participation in art, drama, dance, team sports, fitness, band, chorus and world culture and languages.

And, of course, introducing students to a broad range of subjects doesn’t guarantee that students are going to learn— and retain—what’s in those textbooks and lesson plans. That’s why most schools today combine academics with different educational philosophies and teaching methods.

“Beginning in prekindergarten, Woodward students learn skills like computer literacy, coding, robotics and digital citizenship,” Traylor says. “Our STEAM specialists meet with students weekly and collaborate with teachers to integrate technology into social studies, science and language arts.”

At Walker teachers focus on “critical thinking and problem-solving, which guide learning and instruction through the entire curriculum,” says Arjona. “Our intentionally structured reading and writing program, along with a consistent focus on publicspeaking skills, ensure students in all grades become effective communicators.”

Asking the Right Questions

So how does a parent know what to look for? What are the right questions to ask when exploring various curricula?

Before you begin looking at schools, it’s crucial “to understand what your individual child needs to succeed in the classroom— academically, emotionally and socially,” says Rebekka Whitehead, founder of Atlanta’s Whitehead Learning Group, which specializes in educational consulting. Knowing what you’re looking for can help you narrow your search.

To get a sense of a school’s curriculum, Whitehead recommends asking questions like: What teaching methodology does the school embrace? Does the school have a track record of showing academic progress? What honors and Advanced Placement classes does it offer? How is technology used to support teaching and learning in the classroom? What extracurricular and enrichment activities does the school offer?

Familiarizing yourself with the different aspects of a school’s curriculum—its academic offerings, arts and physical education courses, extracurricular activities and educational methods—will give you the best tools to determine whether your child will flourish and succeed within its environment.

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