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A letter from a first grade parent...

More than a school.

Whether they are three or four-years-old, preschoolers or elementary students, school is the first place where our kids go out on their own to spend the day without us. Though we may ask frequently, we never really find out exactly how they spend each day or what conversations take place in the sandbox or on the playground; what small piece of knowledge they gain from every activity or assignment; but I do believe we can tell when they are thriving and when they are not.

After seeing our daughter through two amazing years of preschool and Kindergarten, my husband and I made a difficult choice. We decided to withdraw her from Seneca Academy and switch to public school for first grade. Financially, we didn’t think we could make it work to send both our daughter and now her little brother (3) to Seneca together, especially once they were both in elementary. We made the decision swiftly at the beginning of summer, hoping that like ripping off a band-aid, the sting of leaving would diminish quickly.

From the beginning of our start in public school, we were troubled. Because the class size was large (25+ students), discipline seemed to be the top priority. In areas where she had achieved independence years ago (like pushing herself in reading and going to the bathroom by herself) our daughter was discouraged. Academics were stacked in huge blocks of time with few breaks built-in. Snack time didn’t exist. Uninspired homework assignments came home with little explanation every night. The playground swarmed with 250 students during recess, making it hard to find friends in a blur of racing faces. And yet, to her credit, our daughter never really complained… but we began to notice a change.

The light and joy that had always filled her at school was dimming. She wasn’t happy to get up in the morning anymore. After a few weeks, she would stare at the photo taken of her Seneca kindergarten class and cry. At first she would talk of missing her friends, but that evolved to descriptions of missing something much bigger. She said she missed singing songs in class, she missed counting the days of the school year on Mrs. Hauck’s bubblegum machine, she missed the sandbox and the gazebo and the playground. She missed Seneca Academy, and we did too.

After eight weeks, we felt certain that we had given it a fair chance, but that public school just couldn’t offer what we wanted—which, we now realized, was something more than a school. We wanted a community. We wanted a place that cares about academics, but also about shaping small children into good people. We wanted a classroom that was not so crowded full of desks that there was no space for singing and dancing in class. We wanted a playground where the kids felt safe, not intimidated. We wanted a relationship with her teacher and the school. We wanted her to again see learning as an adventure rather than as a job. We knew what we had to do.

I vividly remember calling Dr. Carroll that next morning. My heart was in my throat as I hoped that Seneca would have room in the first grade for our daughter to return. As I listened to myself trying to explain our experience and why we wanted to come back, I knew there were no words that could summarize my feelings. And Dr. Carroll did too. She stopped me from explaining (thankfully) and said, “we’ll work out the details later, let’s just get her back where she belongs.”

Less than an hour after I hung up with Dr. Carroll, my cell phone started beeping and buzzing. Somehow, the first grade class had been told that our daughter was coming back, and word traveled fast. I started getting text messages, emails, phone calls, from all the mothers of her friends who were as excited as we were that she would be returning.

The very next morning, our daughter was back in her uniform and on her way into Mrs. Webb’s first grade classroom, where they already had her name on a desk and a label over her hook. Upon entering the class, she was surrounded by her classmates, who just couldn’t stop hugging her. They didn’t want to let her go. Teachers, staff, and even fourth and fifth grade students stopped in to say, “We’re so glad you’re back.”

We are struck on a daily basis at the change that has occurred in our daughter since her return to Seneca. She is happy, confident, and full of breathless enthusiasm. The gratitude that I feel to the school for welcoming us back so warmly is immense; but even more than that, I’m thankful that a place like Seneca exists and that we are fortunate enough to be able choose it for our children.

Looking back, when I think about those difficult two months, sometimes I wish that we had never left.  But then again, now everyone in our family–especially our daughter--has an even deeper appreciation for the teachers, staff, and community that make Seneca Academy the truly special place that it is. 



Seneca Academy
15601 Germantown Road Darnestown, Maryland 20874 Phone: (301) 869-3728
Fax: (301) 869-3348
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