One of the hallmarks of the Quaker school mentality is the basic belief that every child has unique gifts and talents—and therefore something to teach others. At Haddonfield Friends School (HFS), that belief is reflected in the school’s cross-grade mentoring or “buddy program,” where students from upper grades are assigned a “buddy” from a younger grade for a truly unique experience.
What makes it especially unique is that HFS has an Early Childhood Center and accepts children as young as 2 years old into their Swallowtails program (Skipper s are ages 3 to 4 and Monarchs are ages 4 to 5). The “buddy program” gives little ones a chance to connect and learn from elementary-age d children.
“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to come to a Quaker school and receive a Quaker education at just two years old,” says H ead of School Matthew Sharp. “The students do not need to be potty trained to begin school here in our Swallowtails class. We have two certified teachers in every ECC classroom and the children are exposed to a diverse range of opportunities, including Spanish, music, and physical education.”
Of course, the opportunities for a diverse and progressive education only grow as the students do. At HFS, Sharp sa ys that students receive an education that is “relevant to today’s world,” and the learning opportunities extend well beyond the classroom. At HFS, there are unique travel opportunities that expose students to new things.
“During our students’ time in middle school, they’ll travel to Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, and take an overnight in Cape May for environmental education,” explains S harp. “The time spent at HFS ultimately culminates with an eighth grade class trip to Costa Rica—and everyone goes. In some schools, stu dents need to pay extra for trips and activities so not every student participates. At HFS, all trips and activities are included in the tuition—regardless of how much or how little financial aid you received. Everyone goes on these trips.”
All students in seventh and eighth grades also attend the Coriell Science Fair, whether they’re presenting or not. Sharp says this is part of the mentality that ther e is always something new to learn.
After school, students have the opportunity to participate in some very unique clubs where they can hone a special interest, sport, or skill. These include clubs like yoga, novel writing, chess, coding and even flower arranging. HFS a lso offers violin and piano after school, which Sharp says helps to minimize all of the running around parents often have to do. Instead of having to run to a separate piano lesson, it happens right at school.
While Model United Nations (UN) is typically offered at the high school level, students at HFS participate in middle school. Sharp says that students who choose to participate in this elective take on topics like global w arming or food insecurity and learn to debate the issues. They’re learning to write papers and present formal arguments (speaking skills) and of course they’re learning to have amicable discourse.
“These are vital skills—that emotional intelligence factor that’s so important—which students need to hone for college and they’re learning them at a young age,” Sharp says. “By the time they get to high school, their tool belt is huge as they’ve developed a diverse set of skills not normally taught so young.”
Rachel McFadden, a parent of a current first, fourth, and seventh grader at HFS, says that her seventh grader received awards the last two years he participated in Model UN. She says that learning to research, write, and present a paper has taught him skills well beyond his years. But what McFadden appreciates most about HFS is the individualized approach to learning.
“My children are all very different socially and academically, but the teachers are able to pick out those idiosyncrasies of their learning style and teach them the way that they’ll learn be st,” she explains. “The education is very rigorous, but it’s paced in a way that isn’t overwhelming for the children.”
Linda Lee, a parent with a first grader and a Monarch (pre-K) currently at HFS, echoed similar sentiments.
“My daughter is a really great reader and they tailored her learning to that skill,” Lee says. “Kids are put in different groups based on their level, making it incredibly individualized. It is small class sizes and the teachers really get to know your children on a more personal level.”
Lee says that even though children are entering the school as young as 2, they’re learning, and that’s what makes it different from a daycare.
“You’re not just dropping them off to be watched—they’re actually receiving an education,” Lee says. “But it’s in an environment that is fun and warm and caring— a place where the kids really love to be.”
Haddonfield Friends School
47 N. Haddon Ave.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 8 (October 2018).
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