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Sponsored Content: Small Classes, Big Ideas
With a focus on transformative learning, Doane Academy provides students a unique, well-rounded education centered on leadership and character development.

by Matt Cosentino

Founded in 1837, Doane Academy boasts a picturesque campus along the Delaware River in Burlington City, a 14-acre spread that includes three buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Given that rich past, it is only natural for the school to be proud of the foundation upon which it was built. But equally as impressive is the way Doane continues to embrace forward thinking and innovative education as it helps students become well-rounded young people and future leaders.

At the base of Doane’s philosophy is the idea of transformative learning, which aims to broaden students’ world views with an ambitious and rigorous academic program and an environment that welcomes diversity among the student body and staff.

“We want to make sure we have a broad range of voices in our curriculum and that it speaks to our students, meets them where they are and provides them with the skills they need to succeed once they leave here,” Head of School George Sanderson says. “We hope the students have a learning experience that not only inspires them but moves them to find their passion and dig deep into that passion so they are ready for what comes after Doane.”

Doane has committed to a number of initiatives in recent years in order to further strengthen the capacity for transformative learning. One of those measures was the hiring of Michael Russell as director of studies and academic innovation, a new role focused on creating groundbreaking programs across the curriculum.

“True transformative learning is a non-linear process,” Russell says. “It happens in bursts of rapid growth, periods of frustration and even extended moments of stagnation. At Doane, we honor this fact by providing ample opportunities for students to learn and grow in ways that reflect their unique potential and identities.

“Students are met where they are in the learning process, given the support needed to take the next step in their learning journey and afforded the room necessary to explore, create, fail and explore some more. We want all of our students to experience their learning in a collaborative, authentic environment that challenges them to use the knowledge they’ve gained in their classes in substantive ways.”

Doane’s curriculum is meant to engage diverse perspectives, and Upper School students in grades nine through 12 in particular are encouraged to have difficult conversations about topics like social justice and inclusion. Health and wellness are also emphasized, including courses on healthy relationships and healthy boundaries.

Significant time and resources have been devoted to the training of the faculty so it can properly deliver this high level of education. Faculty members regularly attend conferences on diversity and inclusion, and the staff intentionally includes teachers from a variety of backgrounds.

“Great teaching is something that has to move forward during the career of a teacher. You’re not just born a great teacher; you continually have to practice, learn and perfect what you’re doing,” Sanderson says. “The investment we make in our faculty is really important, because without that investment we wouldn’t be able to offer the kinds of education and experiences that our students get here.”

Students and teachers alike have enjoyed the recent implementation of Discovery Days, a program in which children can pursue their unique passions and expand their education through mini courses. Classes on film studies, the history of political advertising on television and food in ancient Rome have been a big hit.

While many of these ideas pertain to Upper School students, transformative learning is also integrated into the curriculum for Middle School (grades six through eight), Lower School (grades one through five) and the Primary Program (ages 3 through 6).

“Our Lower School curriculum is truly transformative—it equips students with skills, strategies and tools that they can use throughout the rest of their lives,” Head of Lower School Kate Hewitt says. “Building on children’s innate curiosity, motivation and joy, we encourage our students to keep asking big questions; engage them in exploration, research and collaboration; and empower them to apply their creativity and imagination as they solve problems and demonstrate their learning. A Lower School education at Doane is one in which students learn to name, appreciate and grow their own gifts and strengths, discovering their unique potential and taking ownership over their learning.”

At every stage of the experience at Doane, children are sure to receive the personal attention that is often lacking at other schools. With just 253 students from pre-K to grade 12, it is clear that in this case, the best things come in small packages.

“The fact that we are small allows us to deliver on our mission in a way that would be much more difficult if we were a larger school,” Sanderson says. “A major part of our mission statement talks about how we know and love each one of our students and encourage them to reach their unique potential. That’s a very important part of our identity.”
Doane Academy
350 Riverbank | Burlington
609-386-3500 |

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 7 (October 2020).

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