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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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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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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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An independent private school in
Montgomery County, Maryland
offering innovative preschool
through 8th grade programs.

Barnesville School

21830 Peach Tree Road
PO Box 404
Barnesville, MD 20838

p: 301.972.0341
f: 301.972.4076


We offer a vigorous academic program for students as well as engaging, hands-on learning experiences.


Our positive, supportive learning environment promotes imagination, exploration, personal growth, and achievement.

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