What are some new course offerings or programs at your school that have been successful?
As much as possible, we look for ways to teach our curriculum at all grade levels in theme-based units that involve different modalities: writing, acting, painting, drawing, singing, moving and more. With our fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes, we use a social studies program called History Alive. This program includes many hands-on, in-depth activities for the students to discover Virginia history, medieval times or the ancient world beyond reading a textbook. Our math program used in kindergarten through sixth grade is based on the concepts of Singapore Math, which encourages a more problem-solving approach in addition to rote memorization of facts and formulas. Critical thinking is emphasized in every academic area.
How has the school culture changed and evolved over the past 10 years?
The fast pace and high pressure of the Northern Virginia area can bleed into school culture if we are not careful. We work hard to consistently stay in our integrity as we teach our students and as we interact with parents and address their questions and concerns. We are also very conscious of homework and the need for families to be able to spend time together. Our first- through sixth-graders do receive nightly homework, but the time expectation is limited and reasonable. Pinecrest School is very focused on community, and we consider our homework philosophy one of the many ways we extend this to families during family time, too.
How have the needs of students changed over the past decade?
More than ever there is a need for increased attention on students’ social/emotional health and well-being. We practice mindfulness, and it is one of the many ways we focus on this area. Mindfulness is a calming breathing practice designed to encourage responses versus reactions in both children and adults. When children are feeling upset, we encourage them to pause and take a breath before responding. When we are about to start a new activity, we may take a “pause plus five” (take five deep breaths) to reset and focus. Additionally, our classrooms have always been flexible learning environments where children can demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways. And, if you took a walk through our school, you might see some children sitting in desks, some on the rug on the floor, some standing at their desks, some working in small groups at a table and so on. Our students are always engaged, but we understand that may look differently from one student to the next. We also introduced a service leadership group called Kiwanis K-Kids for second- through sixth-grade students. This outlet allows students to use their creativity and big hearts specifically to help others with activities like food drives, visits to assisted living homes, charity hat days to raise money for good causes and more.
How does Pinecrest uniquely serve its students?
We are mission-centered in our efforts to meet the individual needs of our students in close consultation with their parents. Our work enables children to grow academically, socially and emotionally at his or her own pace within our nurturing environment. Pinecrest School is a safe community that encourages risk-taking, confidence and creativity for our earliest learners at age 3 through sixth grade. We look at each child as an individual, and our small size—by design—lends itself to being able to make the right decisions for the group of children we have at the time. There is very little bureaucracy at our school. We have the time and capability to individualize our approach for each child and his or her family.