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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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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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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 ( 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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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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