When families choose a Friends school, they’re not only choosing an independent school that strives for student academic excellence, integrity and community, but they’re choosing an institution that values each and every student and their families, as well. Westfield Friends School (WFS) families know that their values will be respected, mirrored and supported in their children’s education. At WFS, all aspects of a student’s identity are honored: their religious beliefs, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family composition, gender identity and more. Westfield Friends School created the Responsive Tuition Program to align with this intention of honoring families.
“We really believe that developing a strong sense of self and a good moral compass is as important as rigorous academics and scholastic excellence which of course are paramount as well,” says Valerie Parry, a seventh and eighth grade language arts and history teacher at Westfield Friends School.
The Religious Society of Friends has been in South Jersey since the late 1600s. Westfield Friends School (preschool to eighth grade) was founded in 1788 by Westfield Monthly Meeting, sitting on a beautifully wooded 8.5-acre campus in Cinnaminson convenient to Philadelphia and South Jersey families. From its very beginning this school has educated children from across the region. Rooted in the belief that there is that of God in every person, Westfield encourages students, faculty and staff to act on the values of simplicity, peace, integrity, equality, community and environmental stewardship.
Today, Westfield has students who identify as Quaker, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, Methodist, Humanist and the list goes on. Margaret Haviland, head of school, says that by respecting and understanding other people’s beliefs, you deepen your own beliefs and values. “This diversity is a challenge and opportunity for everybody in education today because here in South Jersey, our demographics are changing,” she says. “We need to be sure that our language arts, social studies and even examples in our math textbooks and science programs are reflective of who is here in our community now. Children ought to be able to see themselves in the program, and come to know and respect others.”
In the preschool, the school embraces a play-based philosophy. “We believe that if we support children in the way they learn naturally, through play, through exploration, through providing them with rich wonderful materials, and time outside on our beautiful campus, we are meeting them where they are developmentally and helping them grow in appropriate ways. This is what families are looking for,” says Haviland. “Because children develop at their own pace we think of our early childhood program as a four-year progression from 2-year-old preschool through kindergarten.”
As children mature, Westfield Friends School’s program builds on the early years and emphasizes inquiry-based instruction. Through the Arts and Sciences and the school’s OWLS Lab (Observe, Wonder, Learn and Share) children’s natural curiosity is supported in helping them connect what they are learning in school to interests, issues and problems that matter to them. A buzzword in education today is individualized instruction; however, Haviland believes it’s important to recognize that children learn best in community. At Westfield Friends, within a small, diverse classroom of peers, the school’s talented educators know each student. Their work is to help students build on their strengths while also addressing areas for growth.
Parry’s students experience an integrated curriculum at the school. “A lot of the novels that my classes read have to do with what we are learning in history,” she says. “We also compare current events to things that have happened in history and examine how they parallel [events] that we’re seeing today. I like to connect everything and then our students do a lot of writing to give them an opportunity not only to learn the fundamentals of learning and the mechanics but be able to express their ideas.”
Parry believes she has a tremendous responsibility in getting her students to the academic level their future high schools will expect from them. She sets high expectations for her students, but it’s to see them succeed in their upcoming years.
“I think we have a very rigorous academic program, but it also allows each child to move at their own pace,” Parry mentions. “If we tackle a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, which is one of my favorites, children respond to it at different levels. Some of them are still relatively concrete and really need to be guided through the symbolism of the novel. Others can jump right in there without a lot of guidance and go beyond. We do keep that in mind, it’s throughout all of our grades.”
If a student is struggling or falling behind in conjunction with their peers, the faculty and staff at Westfield have support systems such as one-on-one help, study halls or onsite supplemental instruction. Equally, students hungry for more depth are supported and challenged through small group opportunities, leveled Spanish beginning in fourth grade, and leveled math beginning in sixth grade. Parry believes Westfield Friends is a community of learners and that everyone, including teachers, can learn from others: “Truth can come from any corner of the room.” Each individual’s opinion is respected and sought after as they learn.
WFS alum, Josh Ormond and his wife, Sandra, chose Westfield Friends for their children because of Josh’s familiarity of the institution. He knew that the faculty would teach their children with the same values they’re being taught at home. The smaller class sizes and individualized care really stuck out to the Ormonds as well.
“We keep sending [our children] there for their continued personal development and the educational rigor. It’s a challenging academic program,” Josh says. “I look forward to [my daughter, Saffron] learning Latin and traveling to Princeton for STEM exposure. I believe the education will provide a foundation that will allow her a broader range of outcomes as she gets older.”
Throughout a child’s education, Parry along with other faculty and staff at the school encourage students to develop a strong sense of self. Westfield approaches this by affirming students’ thoughts, opinions and ideas from 2 years old in the preschool program through eighth grade.
“I think the constructive criticism, growth mindset and positive affirmation are incredibly valuable. When they graduate from eighth grade, each one of our students gives a speech at graduation of a topic that they find important,” Parry says. “It’s amazing to see not only the topic that they select, but their poise and their ability to speak with conviction in front of 200 people. They’ve developed that belief in themselves.”
Westfield Friends School
2201 Riverton Road | Cinnaminson
856-829-0895 | WestfieldFriends.org
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 6 (September 2019).
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