Every night, my son (1st grade) and daughter (4th grade), both students at Seneca Academy, struggle to talk over each other, breathlessly explaining what they learned and how they discovered it. They remember and share the questions asked not only by their teachers, but by their fellow students. They are invested in the learning and skills in a way that never ceases to impress me. They may not have the same enthusiasm for homework (who does?) but they see how it lets them practice and apply what they’ve learned, and it gives us yet another way to talk about it together. In short, they love learning—and that, above all else, is what school should be all about.
2. Their classmates are their friends, and their friends are their classmates.
The kids at Seneca don’t just go to school together—they experience learning together. They question each other, support each other, really get to know each other. They laugh, play, and imagine together. My kids have made friends who are so different from themselves, and they appreciate and learn from those differences. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s really something special.
3. Their teachers are nurturing and supportive . . . and always pushing them to try new challenges.
New learning can be intimidating. Like most people, my children will only go ‘out on a limb’ when they feel safe. They continue to get better at embracing that sense of vulnerability—largely because of the confidence they’ve developed while writing, publishing, and sharing their own books, teaming up to work together, and just generally being open to questions of genuine doubt. They’re not scared of the unknown; they’re excited by the chance to know something new.
4. Communication between home and school is easy and ongoing.
I know almost all teachers and staff at Seneca by first name. If I have a question, I ask. If a teacher or administrator has a question or concern, they contact me immediately. We talk regularly about everything from the picayune to the fundamental, from carpool routines to STEM fair guidelines to the reasons we teach reading. It’s a constant conversation, with my kids’ intellectual and personal development at its center.
5. The lessons they learn go far deeper than “measurable standards.”
All good elementary schools emphasize things like sharing and being nice. But these things are part of an overall focus on being a good, compassionate, well-rounded person. By purposefully highlighting and reinforcing interpersonal values and behaviors, every member of the Seneca staff helps students to recognize and become the best of themselves.
6. Their teachers really ‘get’ them.
With an average of 12 students per class, my kids’ teachers can spend quality time with each little individual every day. They see their strengths and use them to build confidence, and they also see their struggles and work tirelessly to help them improve and succeed. At parent conferences, I’m always impressed with how quickly and these adults have gotten to know—and truly appreciate—my children’s growing minds and hearts.
7. They learn about their world organically.
I know, everything is “organic” these days – but learning isn’t always encouraged to happen naturally, in response to students’ interests and curiosity. But when students in my daughter’s class rescued an injured bird from the playground, it sparked a class-wide research project to learn all about how to best protect and support it. The teacher worked this spontaneous learning opportunity in to her pre-determined instructional unit, and the kids had a concrete reason to care about the questions they were asking.