15 Questions to Ask at the Parent Interview

Looking at prospective schools can be stressful. Not only is it a huge financial commitment but you also want the school to best fit your family’s values, philosophies, and expectations. Most schools’ websites and tours will provide a good overview of the school, but the following list of questions will help you dig a little deeper and pick-up the important differences from one school to another.

  1. What is the mission and philosophy of the school?
  2. How is that displayed in the classroom on a day-to-day basis?
  3. What are the unique programs or curricula that the school implements and why?
  4. How much homework is there on a nightly basis and what is the general philosophy about homework?
  5. How much recess or downtime do students have in a typical day?
  6. How does the school advance a student’s strengths and how does it help support a student’s weaknesses?
  7. Do students have the opportunity to try new things or are students geared to concentrate on specific strengths/interests?
  8. Describe the typical graduate of the school (academically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and spiritually).
  9. Where do you place your graduates, and how do you help families in that process?
  10. How many students leave before graduating and what are the most common reasons why the leave early?
  11. What is the turnover rate for your faculty and staff, and what are the most common reasons they leave?
  12. What are the top three assets/skills/traits you look for when hiring faculty and staff?
  13. How engaged is your parent body, and what kind of activities do parents do to contribute to campus life?
  14. What activities do you have to help transition new students into the academic and social life of the school?
  15. What supports do you have for working families: aftercare, study hall, before- and after-school enrichment activities, online communications, or other?

Asking questions is an important part of the process. Be sure to develop additional questions to know if the school will be able to support any special and specific needs your child and/or family may have―this may include academic and social-emotional support. Being transparent about what your family is looking for is key to finding the school that will serve your child and family.

Engaging In Immersion-Based Learning

I’m writing to you on Wednesday night from a rather unusual location this week – Port Isobel Island in the Chesapeake Bay! We have just returned from stargazing after a night hike through a bamboo forest.

Our Grade 8 students venture to this area of the Chesapeake Bay every year to learn about its rapidly transforming ecosystem and conservation. The students study the marine life and local ecosystem for several months prior to the trip and make wonderful connections to their learning during their experience.

It’s also a tremendous community-building opportunity, replete with valuable life skills for our Dragons to learn. Over the years, I’ve taken some practices away from this trip and incorporated them into my family’s routine. Almost weekly during dinner, our boys will hear Sandy or I state, “No SLOP (Stuff Left On Plate).” This is a concept the Chesapeake Bay Foundation teaches our students. It not only teaches us not to waste food, but it also aids the plate-cleaning process so we use less water.

Our trip itinerary changes according to the weather and the tide, just like the life of the fishermen upon whom the local economy is built. Here are just a few of the wonderful learning experiences we have had today:

  • Setting and collecting crabpots
  • Investigating oysters
  • Scraping the underwater grasses to search for critters
  • Learning about the waterman culture

Tomorrow we have another big day ahead of us, and I’m looking forward to even more adventures. The next time you see a Grade 8 student, make sure you ask them about the impact this incredible trip has had on them!

Danny Vogelman

Head of School

December First Friday Kindness Baskets

For December’s First Friday project, we will be spreading some kindness to public servants with Kindness Baskets. Each grade will collect a designated item and decide on a recipient for a basket (like a fire department or a hospital unit), then a team of faculty and students will put together the baskets to be delivered.
Students can bring in the following items to homerooms from Nov. 29 – Dec. 7:
Nursery & Pre-K: Holiday Candy
Kindergarten: Hard candy or $1 lottery tickets
Grades 1 & 2: Hot beverages (hot chocolate packets, tea bags, etc.)
Grades 3 & 4: Personal care items (lip balm, travel size hand lotion, pocket tissues, etc.)
Grade 5: Holiday disposable beverage cups
Grade 6: Salty snacks
Grade 7 & 8: Cold beverages (small bottled water, soda, iced tea, etc.)
Please keep in mind that all basket items should be individually packaged. Contact Tiffney Brockway (tbrockway@w-e-s.org) or Kristen Pitts (kpitts@w-e-s.org) with questions, or if you can help deliver baskets. Thank you for helping us show some love to those who work so hard to care for our communities!

The Qualities of a Great Teacher

A great teacher can change a child’s life. Whether it’s the first educator who makes learning come alive or one who empowers and builds confidence, a teacher is critical in helping students unlock their potential. 

At Washington Episcopal School (WES), we value great teachers. Research shows that exceptional educators share the following characteristics:

  1. Great teachers build strong relationships with their students. They take time to notice and know them as individuals. They identify children’s strengths, passions, and interests and leverage them to help students gain new skills.
  2. Great teachers inspire children to be the best versions of themselves. They set high expectations and establish dynamic and achievable goals that challenge each child.
  3. Great teachers create a welcoming and inclusive classroom community. They are aware of and celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity. They use responsive language, engage all children in classroom activities, and develop independence and collaboration.
  4. Great teachers are learners. They invest in deep content knowledge and strong pedagogical skills. They use research-informed practices and reflect on their methods.
  5. Great teachers partner with parents. Great teachers understand that learning doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. They take time to communicate learning and achievement on a consistent basis.
  6. Great teachers love their students. At WES, this is the most important quality we look for when hiring new teachers. Great teachers are deeply invested in their students’ success inside and outside the classroom. Because of this, former students visit great teachers and keep in touch long after they have graduated. Their students know they genuinely care about their lives.

We are really proud of our passionate and dedicated faculty  If you are considering an independent school experience, we invite you to come meet them for yourself at our in-person Open House on December 11 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. 

RSVP for an Open House

Our Annual Fund 2021-2022 Campaign is Underway!

Like most independent schools, WES relies on the generosity of the entire community (parents, faculty, grandparents, past parents/faculty, and friends) to make tax-deductible contributions each year to the Annual Fund, the school’s top fundraising priority. These gifts ensure that our mission is being carried out, and provide immediate, tangible support to enhance the operating budget for the current school year.

We are grateful to our Co-Chairs, Martha Orzechowsi and Meg Rosan, for their leadership, along with family reps Rick Bond, Jonathan Bulman, Michelle High, Natasha Narine, Katrina Kimpel, Mia Spiker Johnson, Mary Hodgins (Heitman), Anna Pugh, and Ezra Udoff. The committee works hard to encourage giving across all constituencies. Last year resulted in raising more than $357,000, accounting for 4% of the operating budget. WES is proud to have an unusual and wonderful tradition of over 90% parent participation.

A letter and brochure was mailed last week to all families. Please take a moment to consider a gift that is right for your family by sending in a check, texting WES22 to 41444, or online at w-e-s.org/makeagift to make a gift, pledge or recurring gift. Annual Fund reps will be contacting families on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 21 to answer any questions about our campaign. Meanwhile, the Development Office  is happy to chat with your about the Annual Fund in general, and ways you can make your gift.

The Impact of Social Emotional Learning

I walked into a Grade 5 class recently, and students were learning about the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. No, it wasn’t Science, as you may have assumed. It was a Wellness class led by our new Elementary and Middle School Counselor Meghan Keller, and the students were learning about how these parts of the brain help us process and manage our emotions. 

In one of my earlier columns we examined our approach to social emotional learning (SEL) in Early Childhood, and now I wanted to share what our Dragons are learning during the Elementary years. All of our homeroom and specials teachers incorporate these practices and principles into their teaching approach throughout the day, but we believe that SEL is so important that each of our Elementary Dragons takes a weekly Wellness course taught by Ms. Keller. Social emotional learning provides the foundation for our Dragons to feel secure in their learning environment, learn how to take risks, and to grow academically and personally. 

Our Wellness course helps students develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

Here are a few examples of what our Dragons are learning in their Wellness classes:

  • How to recognize and name their emotions
  • How to understand how others are feeling by observing their facial expressions, body language, their tone of voice, their words, and the situation
  • How to calm their bodies when they are feeling strong emotions with tactics such as deep belly and square breathing
  • How to practice positive self talk 
  • How thoughts influence feelings

The skills and approaches to what they are learning progresses through the grades. Our Grade 2 Dragons are doing a deep dive into understanding and naming their emotions. For Halloween, they took turns helping their classmates transform into mummies and discussed the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and managing any frustrations they may have had in the process.  Our Grade 5 Dragons are learning about emotion management and different communication styles. 

The correlation between strong social emotional skills and academic success is unmistakable. One study showed that students who participated in strong SEL programs demonstrated improved academic achievement in test scores by 11 percentile points compared to control groups. Well-developed emotional intelligence and relational skills are a crucial component in helping our Dragons become kind, confident, and prepared adults who are ready to be leaders in their communities. 

Danny Vogelman

Head of School