Faculty Insights Blog


Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences teachers and other faculty members share insights about childhood development and educational issues.

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Making the Move from Public to Private School


Barnesville’s Director of Admissions Debbie Don was recently asked by “The Washington Post Magazine” to discuss making the transition from public to private school. Following is her response that was quoted in the magazine’s 2017 Private School supplement.

We find that many parents look at private middle school as an alternative to larger public schools where it can be challenging to navigate social dynamics in what is already a difficult time in adolescence. Some families are also planning ahead for their children to attend competitive magnet programs or selective independent high schools, and they want to ensure their children are academically and socially prepared.

Parents often worry about their children’s ability to blend into a classroom with students who have been classmates for several years. In reality, new students are warmly welcomed and quickly get to know everyone in a small class setting. Activities like sports, clubs, theater, and student government provide opportunities for new students to make friends outside the classroom. The best advice for making a smooth transition is to get involved. Smaller schools still offer a wide variety of activities, so students can explore their interests and try new things.

One of the greatest attributes of small independent schools is that faculty and staff are available and attentive to each child’s needs. Students are able to develop close relationships with their teachers and become comfortable seeking help when they need it. The ability to self-advocate is an important skill that serves students well throughout their education.

An honest and open dialogue about academic readiness is an important part of the admissions process. Often when a student transitions into an independent school from public school, there are academic gaps that need to be addressed. Independent schools are able to address the individual needs of each student, and ensure that new students are appropriately placed in classes that will both meet their needs and provide an appropriate level of challenge. Younger students generally catch up quickly with additional teacher instruction, while older students may need to do independent work to prepare for a different curriculum and often a different style of teaching. Tutors are also available to work with students on areas of concern.


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Finding the "Best" School Really Means Finding the Right Fit


Insights from Debbie Don, Director of Admissions & Advancement at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences


Once a family makes the decision to explore an independent school education for their child, there are many factors to be considered. While it may be easy to be swayed by what others may deem “the best”, the first and foremost question parents should ask is, “Is this school the right fit for my child?” Education is not one size fits all, so what constitutes “the best” is highly subjective. To help determine which school is the right fit, parents should consider the following:

1. Do we desire an education that will include faith-based instruction?

For many families this is a priority and a quick way to narrow down choices. Other families may consider it less important but are not opposed to faith-based instruction if the school can otherwise meet their needs. And for those families who prefer to keep education and religion separate, non-secular schools are good choices.

2. Does our child have a special need/talent/interest that can only be served by a certain type of school?

Many independent schools are able to serve a range of learning profiles, but some students will be better served in an educational setting that has staff specifically trained to meet their needs.

If a family has a child with a special talent or interest (e.g., theater or science), it’s important to carefully research the curriculum and extracurricular offerings of the schools in consideration to ensure that their student will have exposure to a varied curriculum that will allow them to pursue their desired path, and even explore other opportunities that may not have been considered.

3. What is most important to our family in a school?

Strong academics often tops this list, but what does that actually mean to your family? Is rigor the only measure of a quality education? Is rigor even what’s right for your child? Current research indicates what should be obvious to all of us – children learn when they’re engaged and enjoying the process. Independent schools can achieve this through small classroom instruction and experiential learning that allows students to explore new concepts and be active participants in their learning. Small class sizes also allow for the development of strong student/teacher relationships and a deeper understanding of how individual students learn. Independent schools are also often able to provide differentiated instruction aimed at allowing for enrichment for high-achieving students and additional support for students who are still developing mastery of concepts.

4. Can we afford tuition?

Private school education can be a significant, albeit beneficial, financial commitment, but don’t dismiss a school because you believe tuition may be out of your range. Most schools offer variable tuition or financial aid to families who are eligible in an effort to make an independent education more accessible to a wider range of students. Financial aid allows for socioeconomic, racial, and cultural diversity that enriches the classroom experience for all students. Many families are hesitant to apply for financial aid because they don’t think they’ll qualify or perhaps because they are uncomfortable asking for help or sharing their personal financial information. All schools keep financial aid information in the utmost confidence, and other families do not know who may or may not receive aid.

5. Does the school community reflect our family values?

Students spend so much time at school that it often becomes a second home with the school faculty and staff feeling like extended family. It’s important to ask questions of teachers and administration when touring different schools to get a sense of what the school community is like beyond what is depicted on the website. Do the teachers model the values you want to reinforce? Does the student body reflect the culturally rich community you are seeking? Do the students seem happy and eager to learn? Reach out to current parents and attend events on campus to see if it feels like someplace you would want your child to attend. Open Houses are a great way to get a first look at a school you might be considering.

Choosing an independent school can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Families considering independent education will be best served if they take the time to reflect on what will work best for their child and keep their personal objectives at the forefront as they navigate their options.


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Tips for Parents to Help With Student Stress -- Faculty Takeaways from the 2017 NAIS Annual Conference

Image from ClipArtFest by Ms. Toni McDonald from West Covina

photo: Image from ClipArtFest by Ms. Toni McDonald from West Covina


Donna Kaufman, Barnesville’s Teaching & Learning Coordinator, shared the following key points from a NAIS Annual Conference session titled “Stressed Out Kids Are The New Normal.”

To create an environment that helps students feel less anxious, parents need to focus on the process, not the end product. Let your child practice solving their own problems. It is important to let your child fail, as this will build resilience.

Key points for parents to understand:

  1. Anxiety runs in families.
  2. It is important to let your child experience anxiety.
  3. Parents can increase anxiety if they over monitor for stress.

Presenters suggested a “submarine” analogy. Parents should work to remain “below the surface.” Allow your child to experience some stress. Let your child problem-solve. Discuss possible strategies for what to do when faced with a problem. Parents can “rise up to the surface” when a problem appears to have become too large or too difficult for the child to manage without direct parent involvement.

Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff spent their March in-service day at the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, the premier professional development event for teachers at independent schools. Barnesville participation was funded by the Jaralyn Hough Professional Development Fund, created in honor of Jaralyn (Jeri) Hough, Head of School from 1984-2006 to provide financial support for ongoing faculty enrichment.


Posted by Jan Hyland on Thursday March 30 at 09:51PM
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The ‘Three Rs’ of Communicating With Students -- Faculty Takeaways from the 2017 NAIS Annual Conference

Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff spent their March in-service day at the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, the premier professional development event for teachers at independent schools. Barnesville participation was funded by the Jaralyn Hough Professional Development Fund, created in honor of Jaralyn (Jeri) Hough, Head of School from 1984-2006 to provide financial support for ongoing faculty enrichment.

Nancy Taylor, Lower School Music Teacher shared the following insights about communicating more effectively with students:

The workshop called, "The Power Of Teacher Language" was really great, and it gave me many valuable tips on the most effective ways to talk to a classroom full of young students. Teachers should be using Reinforcing Language, Reminding Language, and Redirecting Language, and many specific examples of each were given to us in an excellent hand-out. One wonderful take-away for me personally was this: Sometimes, instead of using a long string of words, ask one quick question to the group to get them thinking and focusing on what you want.

Parents can read about the “Three Rs” at the Responsive Classroom site.

Posted by Jan Hyland on Tuesday March 28 at 02:06PM
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Adopting a Growth Mindset -- Faculty Takeaways from the 2017 NAIS Annual Conference


Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff spent their March in-service day at the 2017 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference. A major topic was helping students adopt a Growth Mindset -- understanding that intelligence is not fixed, but rather that that you can learn through effort, and thus achievement is more a factor of practice and persistence than innate talent.

Following are some thoughts shared by Barnesville teachers after the conference.

Joyce Semmes, Middle School Math Teacher -- One of the programs I attended was about fixed mindset versus growth mindset. Instilling growth mindset in our students seems incredibly valuable. Not only does it support trial and error, failure as a basis for success, and reflective thinking, but at its best, growth mindset challenges students' notions of self-worth (“I can't do this. I'm stupid.”) and validates a positive work ethic.

Linda Birkholz, First Grade Teacher -- I attended “I can't do that...yet.” It presented improvement as a process, which can was illustrated through a video describing Austin's Butterfly. It talked about how we view success as a steady upward arrow, but it is actually more like an eventual upward scribble, with backward steps and learning loops.

Tara Barnhart, Middle School Language Arts Teacher -- We have to think differently and deeply…challenge the status quo. Strive for a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Teach me, and I'll teach you. Make time for play!

Ana Farach, 3rd - 8th Grade Spanish Teacher -- Due to one workshop in particular, I have now reflected on what exactly grades mean to me and what I'd like for them to communicate to my students. I therefore want to restructure some assignments and projects to better fit my vision and goals for my students. In doing so, I want to be sure that students understand that grades are one aspect of my assessment of their work and, in general, their performance over the year.

Barnesville faculty participation at the NIAS conference was funded by the Jaralyn Hough Professional Development Fund, created in honor of Jaralyn (Jeri) Hough, Head of School from 1984-2006 to provide financial support for ongoing faculty enrichment.


Posted by Jan Hyland on Monday March 27 at 02:44PM
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Collaboration and Casual Conversation Key to Foreign Language Proficiency


Insights from Ana Farach, Barnesville Middle School Spanish Teacher

At this year´s ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) annual expo on World Languages, which took place in Boston, the words proficiency and collaboration were all the buzz. Why do the students sign up for language courses, one presenter asked? To learn to speak a language! It was the obvious answer, but the way toward that goal is far more demanding than that simple statement.

While I did not attend near half of the hundreds of great presentations and workshops that were offered, many of the presenters I saw highlighted the importance of collaboration. For the foreign language classroom, collaboration means the disruption of the traditional classroom setting in the hopes of creating global communicative learning. This form of learning bridges cultural gaps through communication with other students, near and far, mostly through casual conversation.

But what does communication across borders mean for our students? If faced with a class of native Spanish speakers through a chat window, what would our students do?

For foreign language teachers, the fact that a language class should make such opportunities consistently available to their students should push them toward innovation. This can happen through exposure to authentic audiovisual materials that allow students to respond orally, record their responses, and then receive feedback from their teachers for improvement of their oral skills.

The ACTFL’s own Conversation Builder (http://aapplcb.actfl.org/) is a great tool for this. My sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students will soon start using it. This and other resources that help students achieve proficiency with the help of technology bring life into the classroom. Through our exchange program with a sister school in Lima, Peru, students have often communicated casually via Facetime and other apps. I am taking this concept and applying it more broadly, connecting with schools from the Spanish-speaking world so students can practice oral skills consistently at home.

Some of our students are exploring Spanish anew with other Spanish-language learners. Through our exchange with Butler Montessori School, our seventh graders have practiced speaking with students their age who are learning Spanish in a similar environment. During our recent visit to their school, the students stepped out of their comfort zones to meet new faces, chat in Spanish, and take a joint Spanish class.

We look forward to expanding this and other opportunities. In the meantime, parents can expect to hear the kids speaking Spanish to their iPads at home!


Ana Farach teaches third through eighth grade Spanish at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences. She also coordinates the School’s Peruvian Exchange Program. You can read her professional bio here.
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Make Math Fun with Manipulatives!


Insights From Linda Birkholz, First Grade Teacher

Unless you are a teacher, you probably don’t use the term “math manipulative” on a daily basis. But, if you’ve ever helped your child count Cheerios or sort blocks by color, then you are already using manipulatives that are helping to build early math skills. You are also showing your kids that math is fun!

Using manipulatives to solve math problems and understand math concepts is not new. For example, there is documented use of an abacus in 2nd century China. The beads of the abacus were moved across a counting frame to calculate and record numbers.

But in the age of computers, why use manipulatives? The simple reason is that math concepts are abstract, and manipulatives give students a concrete object to represent the concept being learned.

One of the clearest explanations I have found for using manipulatives is offered by Scholastic Magazine: “Math Manipulatives help make abstract ideas concrete. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but while children learn to identify animals from picture books, they still probably don't have a sense about the animals' sizes, skin textures, or sounds. Even videos fall short. There's no substitute for firsthand experience. Along the same lines, manipulatives give students ways to construct physical models of abstract mathematical ideas.”

My first graders have always enjoyed using concrete objects to problem solve, but manipulatives are not exclusively for our youngest students. In fact, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends using manipulatives, in addition to other teaching methods, at all grade levels, K-6. Do middle school students seem a little old to be using manipulatives to you? If so, think about how scale models are used. For instance, a few years back at our school’s facilities director created a model of an outdoor playscape that helped parents, staff, and our Board better visualize plans for our preschool and kindergarten play area.

If you have a young child, are you wondering what manipulatives you need to purchase? Blocks and legos are a great start. While counting bears come in bright primary colors and are appealing to young children, they aren’t necessary. There are many other fun ways of using the manipulatives you naturally have in your home to learn math concepts and solve problems. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. You can count as you take each step up and down the stairs with your toddler.
  2. Your child can match the number of people eating a meal with the number of utensils they put on the table.
  3. You can find change around the house for your primary student to sort and count.
Incorporating math manipulatives into your child’s daily routine and playtime helps them see that math is all around us and that math is fun!


-- Linda Birkholz has been teaching first grade at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences since 2003. You can read her professional bio here.


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Demystifying Research for Kids


Insights from Cindy Barr, Librarian

As a librarian, I love research, but many elementary school students can be intimidated by the word, let alone related projects. That is why it is important for parents and teachers to demystify the concept and show children that research is an important part of our everyday lives.

Kids are naturally curious and ask lots of questions. Parents can help them see that the questions they ask are the basis of good research, and we can model the process of seeking answers. In doing so, we show our kids that research is indeed an everyday practice and not just limited to schoolwork.

When your curious child expresses an interest in learning more about something like dinosaurs, space, baking a cake, or planting a garden, suggest, “Let’s research more about that!” By reading books, watching videos, and looking things up on the internet to find answers to their questions, you are helping them build the foundation of research skills.

For instance, if your child wants to grow his or her own pumpkins, talk through some of the questions that need to be answered first. Do you have enough space and light in your yard? Where can you buy seeds, and how many should you plant? How long does it take to grow pumpkins from seeds? (Sidenote: This is a summer project, not something you start in October!) How often do the plants need to be watered? If they don’t know all the answers, then help them begin with basic research online, in a book, or even just reading the growing instructions on the plant's tag.

You can do the same thing when your family is planning a trip or thinking about making a big purchase. Approach each situation as a family research project. Encourage your child to ask key questions – who, what, when, where, why, how – and then work together to find answers.

The internet is of course a great tool, but only when utilized properly. It is essential to talk to your kids early and often about the varying quality of sources so that they develop good judgment about the credibility of information found on the internet. As your child starts to use the internet independently, encourage him or her to use the WWWDOT Framework -- an acronym of factors to consider when evaluating a website as a possible source of information:

1. Who wrote it and what credentials does he or she have?

2. Why was it written?

3. When was it written or updated?

4. Does it help meet my needs?

5. Organization of site

6. To-do list for the future

Developing research skills is a key part of education and is an asset in any vocation. Parents shouldn’t leave all the instruction to teachers to nurture these fundamental skills, and it’s never too early to start!

-- Cindy Barr is the Librarian and Digital Literacy teacher at the Barnesville School for Arts and Sciences. You can read her professional bio here.

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Kindergarten Prep?


Insights From Ellen Landriau, Kindergarten Teacher

There is so much pressure on kids to succeed these days, and as silly as it sounds, it begins before they even start school. I have been teaching kindergarten for 29 years (teaching in general for 40 years), and while the subject matter I teach has not changed dramatically, the societal pressures around “getting ready” for and “being successful” in kindergarten have.

Amid all the added pressure, parents nonetheless express dismay that early childhood is not as fun as it should be. I have some good news for parents torn between laying a good foundation for academic success and making time for play. You can have it all. Actually, you should insist on it.

Young children learn through play, and learning can and should be a joyous endeavor. Nowhere is this more clear than in a thriving kindergarten classroom.

Before I offer a checklist of skills a child needs to be “ready” for kindergarten, I first want to share my personal checklist for getting my classroom ready for kindergarteners:

  • Visual queues for future readers - colorful letters and sight words with pictures posted around the classroom
  • Comfortable reading spaces - places for reading aloud as a group and for curling up alone with great books
  • Art - works by famous artists as well as student artwork, updated regularly
  • Personal space - each child needs an easily accessible place to store their personal belongings so they can learn to take responsibility for them
  • Great play spaces - kids need time and space to move, explore, and play, inside and outside the classroom

More important than any of the physical components of my classroom is the overall environment I strive to create. My classroom must be a safe, nurturing place where students know it is O.K. to take a risk, make mistakes, and be accepted. That is a year-long endeavor that requires each child’s active participation in our classroom community.

Following is a checklist of skills that help incoming kindergartners make the most of our time together:

  • Name - writes his/her first name
  • Alphabet - able to identify and match most upper and lower case letters
  • Numbers - knows numbers through 10
  • Motor Skills - can zip a coat, put caps back on markers, and use scissors
  • Group Dynamics - participates in group activities and takes direction from an adult (other than their parent)

So, what can parents do to help children do well in kindergarten? Here are five suggestions. The key to all of them is having fun together.

  1. Read to your child daily. Discuss the story and characters. Stop before the story ends, and come up with your own ending. Then compare your ending with the actual one.
  2. Focus on the alphabet one-letter-at-a-time. Go on an outing and find everything you can that begins with that letter. Talk about all the things you find. Draw your favorite thing you found with that letter and try writing the letter.
  3. Find math in everyday things, counting silverware as it gets put away, measuring ingredients as you make cookies, adding up the number of dishes on the table, counting and spending money or adding up money earned for helping out.
  4. Encourage your child to play in the mud, dance in the rain, play on a playground, paint, color and cut!
  5. Treasure together time. Limit screen time, and instead play games, explore your neighborhood, eat dinner as a family, and just talk.

The most effective kindergarten lessons are hands-on experiences that relate learning to the real world. That starts at home, and it can be as simple as noticing, talking about, and enjoying the little things together.

-- Ellen Landriau teaches kindergarten at Barnesville School of Arts & Sciences. You can view her professional bio here.


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