There are small schools and then there are deliberately small schools, and Doane Academy is proudly the latter. After all, when you’re educating students for life, giving them personally tailored attention makes each child feel less like an anonymous number and more like an individual with a bright future.
It’s an approach enshrined in the venerable independent day school’s mission statement: to develop intelligent, capable individuals within a community where all are known, loved and strongly encouraged to discover their unique potential.
“Those words guide our work at the school, and the programs we have are intentionally designed to help us deliver on our mission,” says Head of School George Sanderson. That mission is so authentically embraced by the Doane family that it’s not just shaping how faculty members nurture the youth in their care: The oldest students live by it, too, as they grow into seniority’s leadership expectations.
“To begin the school year, the entire senior class of about 28 to 32 kids goes off for an overnight trip and talks about its role as leaders in the student body,” Sanderson explains. “That trip is about class bonding while also reflecting on the coming year and how they, as seniors, can deliver on their responsibility to know and love the rest of the members of their community.”
Those kind of unifying traditions have punctuated the landscape of Doane’s college-prep education for children from 3 years old through 12th grade since 1837, though Sanderson emphasizes that the school is anything but “mired in the past.”
“There’s a history to our school, and it’s something that we celebrate regularly in the form of traditions that have been handed down through literally generations of students,” he says. “But we’re still very much a school with an exciting present and an even brighter future.”
That 185-year history has overseen the education of countless promising young minds, but the school’s staff has learned a lot, too, especially when it comes to honoring Doane’s tradition of excellence.
“Our goal, academically, is to set high standards for our students and, at the same time, give them the encouragement and support to meet those high standards,” Sanderson explains. One benefit of being a small school is “the availability of our teachers to meet with kids outside of class—if you’re going to set a high bar for students, you also have to support them if they struggle to meet those expectations.”
Helping students become well-rounded individuals is also a key component in successfully modeling what it takes to be a community leader. From a fine arts program that includes a partnership with renowned Philadelphia art school Studio Incamminati to championship athletic teams that welcome every student-athlete, Doane is dedicated to providing its young scholars with access to rewarding non-academic outlets in addition to opportunities in the classroom.
More advanced, specialized interests even have room to bloom, thanks to Doane’s participation in the One Schoolhouse online-learning program. “No school can offer every course imaginable, but we want to provide courses to kids that are appropriate to where they are,” says Sanderson. “If a student needs a course that is even more advanced than our college preparatory curriculum, we’ll make sure that we offer it one way or another, whether it’s AP Spanish Literature or Multivariable Calculus or whatever that advanced class may be.”
It all underscores Doane’s mission to prepare every student for life after Doane, starting with their path to higher education.
“One of the things that distinguishes independent schools from public and parochial schools is the college-counseling function—quite honestly, it’s totally different,” Sanderson notes. “We have a director of college counseling who begins that process in ninth grade, working individually with our students and their parents to help them understand what that journey to college looks like and what makes a good match for a student in terms of college. This personalized process ensures that they have options: Our students typically choose from five or six offers of admission from colleges and universities, together with significant merit scholarships.”
After all, Doane isn’t just helping its students achieve academic excellence: It’s showing them their potential as community leaders.
“The importance of leadership is baked into our entire curriculum, but there’s also a specific program called Lead Onward that each student follows from sixth grade through senior year,” says Sanderson, adding that the age-appropriate curriculum champions character development. “Part of it is learning how to lead conversations around difficult topics. What we want our students to be able to do is not just participate in a conversation or debate over a challenging issue, but also understand what it means to lead that conversation, which means listening and leading and helping people who might disagree at least have a civil discourse.”
All of these curriculum offerings support the mission of Doane Academy. And the intentionally small size of Doane helps the school deliver its mission in a way that would not be possible if it were bigger.
As Sanderson observes, “We have been so fortunate throughout our long history to provide our students with an outstanding education, and we look forward to continuing that tradition with the next generation of Doane students.”
350 Riverbank, Burlington
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 5.
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