The Private School Primer
What makes a high school right for your young student? Great academics? A moral foundation? Terrific arts? Competitive athletics? Here are the traits that distinguish each from the other.
With 10 to 15 students per class, Aquinas Academy offers personalized instruction that adapts the curriculum to the child’s strengths and needs. The school uses the St. John Bosco educational method, which recognizes that “students are children of God with infinite value” and emphasizes character formation in the way teachers interact with students, says vice principal Marie Redfield. This year, Aquinas expanded both its Aquinas Scholars honors seminar program and its Emmaus program, which provides extra support to students with language-based learning differences.
Vice President Joe Biden might be Archmere’s most famous alumnus, but Archmere is looking to another to lead the school into the future when Michael Marinelli, class of 1976, takes over next school year as the school’s first non-Norbertine headmaster. Archmere bills itself as a “big small school” that offers lots of extracurricular variety along with individualized attention and an informal, intimate atmosphere in class discussions. And while the academic bar is set high, the school also places a priority on community service. A mandatory service requirement was instituted this year.
Calvary Christian Academy
Though Calvary Christian comes under the ministry of Calvary Assembly of God Church, it functions separately as an interdenominational Christian school. Teachers and administrators seek to partner with parents in raising their children, so they emphasize frequent communication and welcome parent volunteers. Bob Jones curriculum and Saxon math are used throughout the school. New this year is a distance-learning program that allows high school students to pursue advanced academic studies not regularly offered at Calvary Christian. The focus on service was strengthened this year with the institution of a community service day for all middle and high school students.
Capitol Baptist School
Capitol Baptist is a ministry of the Capitol Baptist Church in Dover. The school program “has a biblical foundation and places a strong emphasis on academic fundamentals through traditional classroom instruction,” according to the school’s Website. Students are expected to demonstrate good manners, high moral standards, respect for parents and authority, and patriotism.
Principal Donald Keister says that faculty and administrators take pride in fostering a family atmosphere at Caravel, something that is made easier by the wide range of ages at the school. “At our pep rallies, for example, we have everyone from first- graders to 12th-graders cheering together,” he says. Caravel is now in the second year of a new character-building initiative that features age-appropriate components for lower and upper school students. The character-building focus complements the school’s emphasis on service through initiatives such as its annual Relay for Life fundraiser. Thanks to a recent expansion, the school has a new cafeteria and additional classroom space.
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At Christian Tabernacle, the Bible dictates the educational philosophy. “Education without acknowledging the Creator would be lacking because we believe that it is only in acknowledging the Creator that there is purpose,” says administrator Jaime Hurd. She adds that the school is a “very loving place” where teachers are dedicated to the academic, emotional and spiritual growth of every student. New this year is a program through which home-schooled children are welcome at the school to take specific courses or to participate in the sports program. Athletic offerings were expanded this year to include a youth basketball league for children ages 5 through 10.
Concord Christian Academy
With a little more than 200 students, this Christian school is small enough that “everyone knows everyone,” says administrator Jeffrey Bergey. Students benefit from having a faculty with an average of 18 years of teaching experience, and the student body as a whole tests more than 18 months ahead of the national average. In the past few years the school has enhanced the music program and added a speech-drama class that puts on an annual school play. The goal of Concord Christian, Bergey adds, is “to partner with parents, to assist and help them to educate their children.”
Administrators of Delmarva Christian High School have a vision: “To train students to walk with God, walk with their fellow believers, and walk in, but not of, this world.” That means a curriculum that stresses moral education but also holds students accountable for success in rigorous college preparatory and Advanced Placement courses.
Fairwinds Christian School
The school is a ministry of Fairwinds Baptist Church. About 50 percent of students also attend Fairwinds Church, but the school welcomes any student who wants a Bible-centered education, says Pastor Carlo DeStefano. All of the teachers are born-again Christians, and chapel services are held every Wednesday morning. The school follows a conservative philosophy, so it requires uniforms in order to encourage modesty. Students and parents are asked to sign a student-conduct code.
Greenwood Mennonite School
Under the leadership of new principal Duane Miller, Greenwood Mennonite seeks to encourage its students to take a more challenging academic curriculum. New programs this year include pre-kindergarten and before- and after-school daycare. A new elementary school curriculum also was introduced. Home-schoolers are welcome to attend Greenwood Mennonite part time or for individual courses. The school’s long-time emphasis on ministry is evidenced by the high percentage of students who go on to Bible College in preparation for careers in missions and ministries, Miller says.
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This very small K-12 school has its classrooms in the same building as the church and its daycare program, The Learning Center, which accepts children ages 1 to 5. The school “is an integral and inseparable part of the Pentecostals of Dover, Delaware,” according to the school handbook. The basic purpose of Christian education, the handbook notes, “is to assist individuals to accept, progress and apply Christian teaching in a positive way to their everyday situations.” The handbook, which is available at the school’s Website, also outlines a statement of faith and a statement of purpose.
Layton Preparatory School
Layton Prep is located at Wilmington University’s graduate campus in New Castle Corporate Commons and uses the science labs, library and gymnasium at the university’s main campus. Now in its fifth year, Layton Prep graduated its first full class last spring—12 students, all of whom went on to college. Layton Prep’s mission has expanded to include not only students with learning differences, but all who want a smaller, more individualized academic and social learning environment. Despite the school’s small size—the cap is 60 students—there are several opportunities for sports and clubs.
Milford Christian School
Nearly two-thirds of Milford Christian students attend churches other than the school’s home church, First Baptist of Milford, which school administrator Pastor David Perdue sees as a particular strength. He emphasizes, though, that home, school and church function like the three legs of a stool, and all must match for it to function properly. “We want good kids from good families,” he adds. Milford Christian offers pre-K to grade 12, but while the average class size in the elementary grades is 12 students, in high school the number is down to four per grade.
New Castle Christian Academy
Both administrators and several staff members are alumni of New Castle Christian—evidence, says Pastor Ron Sears, that they love the school and strongly support its mission. The biblically based school has a family atmosphere that is evident beginning first thing in the morning, when administrators stand at the door to welcome students as they arrive. Students have easy access to teachers, who seek to instill critical thinking skills. Last year New Castle Christian added a daycare program for children as young as six weeks, and the daycare space was renovated over the summer.
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Just how different is The New School? Well, the founder answers to the students, the ones who really run the administration, finances, discipline—even the building, a converted farmhouse. Founder Melanie Hiner describes the curriculum as “student-directed, question-based, with an emphasis on rigorous thought, articulate expression and virtuous action.” A student’s schedule might include traditional subjects like biology, geology or Spanish as well as topics like farm project, blacksmithing and alternative building construction. Study might take place independently or in small groups, partnering with University of Delaware professors, business people, artisans or other experts in their fields.
Principal Cindy Mann says that Catholic, all-female Padua Academy is “all about empowering and inspiring students to reach their goals,” but it also hopes to broaden the horizon for the types of goals and careers their students consider. A new student entrepreneurship program, for example, seeks to get the girls “thinking not in terms of being middle managers but of being CEOs or starting their own businesses.” A new technology course and CISCO certification program are designed to give girls “a taste of the field of technology” to encourage them to enter engineering and technology fields.
Red Lion Christian Academy
Faculty and administration at Red Lion Christian expect students to strive for excellence in everything they do—academics, athletics, the arts and social activities, says principal Cathy Swalm, “because we believe that is what God wants us to do.” A new student support resource program at the school is allowing teachers to better address the needs of struggling students, as well as those who are gifted and talented. The school is also adding AP classes and dual-credit classes that can be taken online or through Delaware Technical and Community College.
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It’s not just that Salesianum is the only all-male high school in the state that makes it unique. “It’s also the spirituality and charisma that the Oblates [of St. Francis de Sales] bring to the school,” says admissions director Mark Winchell. “When you walk in you can feel that sense of spirit, tradition and respect.” Salesianum encourages its students to follow the admonition of St. Francis: “Be who you are and be that well.” Last year Salesianum received a National Jefferson Award for Outstanding Service by a High School.
Sanford has the academic rigor and rich opportunities that one expects from an independent, private school. What sets it apart, says admissions director Andrew Walpole, is “the engaged, friendly and collaborative environment. Sanford students don’t feel as if they need to compete with each other academically or socially. People can feel safe being themselves.” Even visiting prospective students comment that they leave at the end of the day having made new friends. Students also embrace the school’s motto, “no talent lies latent,” by taking risks and trying new things, Walpole adds. Sanford’s 100-acre campus is akin to a college campus, with students walking from building to building for their classes.
Seaford Christian Academy
Administrator Larry Snyder believes that the family atmosphere at Seaford Christian Academy sets it apart. “People get along. We are friendly and close-knit,” he says. Parents and grandparents volunteer in the school, and older students tutor and mentor peers and younger students. Students and staff “are encouraged to do all things with excellence so that their efforts bring glory and honor to the Lord,” Snyder adds. The purchase of new equipment is allowing the school to expand its use of instructional technology this year at all grade levels in order to address different types of learning styles and to allow for active participation.
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St. Andrew’s School
At Delaware’s only boarding school, not only the students, but also the faculty and their families, live on a 2,200-acre campus in Middletown, so that they can live and learn together, says Louisa Zendt, director of admission and financial aid. St. Andrew’s is an Episcopal school, but it welcomes students of all faiths—or no faith—and from all socioeconomic backgrounds, she adds. Classes, which range from five students to 16, are held around an oval table to facilitate the Oxford tutorial-style of teaching used at the school. Ninety percent of students participate in after-school sports, and a quarter of them play in the school’s orchestra.
St. Elizabeth High School
Although St. Elizabeth is a parish school, more than 80 percent of students come from outside the parish. The Benedictine tradition, with its emphasis on prayer, hospitality, work, compassion and stability, remains strong at St. Elizabeth. “Because we are small (enrollment is capped at 450), we can really get to know our students and their needs so we can prepare them to meet the expectations of higher education,” says principal Shirley Bounds. Though the school building is old on the outside, it is not old on the inside. “We have kept very current with computers, and technology is integrated throughout the curriculum,” she says.
St. Mark’s High School
What makes St. Mark’s different is its amazing variety of academic and co-curricular offerings, says principal Mark Freund. Students with a wide range of academic abilities can be accommodated, and 98 percent go on to higher education. Prayer, faith and service are integrated throughout the day. Every class begins with a prayer, and there is a strong commitment to service, Freund adds. A team of volunteers goes to New Orleans every summer to help those in need. Recent renovations include fine arts classrooms and studios, $1 million in athletic field improvements, and the addition of an aerobic fitness facility.
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St. Thomas More Academy
Though this is a Catholic, faith-based high school, nearly one-third of its students are non-Catholics. Principal David McKenzie says that students take great pride in the school’s honor code, which goes far beyond academic honesty. “It’s about living life with honor, integrity and respect for others.” So successful is the code that students leave computers and iPods lying around, with no fear of theft. Students take challenging academic courses, as well as courses in music and the visual arts.
Tall Oaks Classical School
To understand how a Tall Oaks’ education is different, it’s important to key in on the word “classical” in the school’s name. It refers not only to classical content, such as Latin, logic and classical literature, but also to the classical method of instruction used at the school, says Janet Baumann, director of admissions and community life. The classical method of instruction recognizes three levels of learning and thinking: the Grammar, the Dialectic and the Rhetoric stages, which correspond to the biblical terms knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The school teaches children “to think biblically, resulting in righteous living in the world.”
The Tatnall School
Recent additions at Tatnall have improved upon an already enviable campus environment. The Laird Performing Arts Center, opened in 2007, has everything a performer or audience could want, including nearly perfect acoustics. The music and multimedia center has a specialized computing lab dedicated to the arts, including digital music composition and video editing. Upgraded science labs and improvements to the campus’ natural setting enhance opportunities for a hands-on science curriculum that begins as early as pre-K.
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Tower Hill School
Tower Hill’s character-education program begins in pre-K, where good deeds earn the use of a Beanie Baby for the evening, perhaps Kindness Koala or Respectful Rhino. In middle school there are monthly themes on core values. Upper school courses include studies of people of character, as well as a community service requirement. Tower Hill recently expanded its Spanish-language instruction to start as early as 3 years old. Tower Hill prides itself on its rigorous physical education and sports program and is currently renovating the fieldhouse. The school also is working to increase diversity—not only ethnic, but also religious and socioeconomic, says admissions director Kelly DeShane.
The Ursulines are an order of Catholic nuns that operates schools for girls around the world. Though boys are welcome in pre-K to grade 3, from grade 4 up Ursuline is all girls. “Serviam,” or to serve, is the motto of all Ursuline schools, and students at the Wilmington school embrace the motto enthusiastically. Ursuline’s learning-with-laptops program has all students in grades seven through 12 using laptops in class throughout the school day.
Wilmington Christian School
At Wilmington Christian, curriculum and academics are approached from a biblical worldview and a Christian perspective, says Yvonne Deadwyler, director for advancement. Teachers challenge students to integrate biblical truth into their daily life and to impact the world through Christ. There is a strong focus on academics, athletics and the fine arts. In the past few years the school has built a new auditorium, expanded and upgraded gymnasiums, and renovated classrooms and laboratories.
Wilmington Friends School
The Quaker values that infuse the academic and social learning environment at Wilmington Friends is what most sets it apart, says admissions director Cathy Hopkins. “We are teaching students to always be working their hardest to do their best, whether it’s in the classroom, on the athletic field, or in their clubs and activities,” she says. The school’s new Quest Center is evidence of its focus on global education and preparing students for a diverse world. The center brings in guest speakers and encourages and supports student projects that engage them in the world beyond Wilmington. Environmental stewardship is emphasized at all grade levels.