We have had a tremendous experience at Carolina Friends School. I share a unique perspective as a former Assistant Director of Admissions at UNC-CH, a role in which I read applications and made admissions decisions. CFS's policy of written reviews by teachers instead of grades gives colleges a much richer understanding of a student's performance and potential than traditional grades and GPAs. Students coming from CFS are in no way disadvantaged by this policy. Likewise, although CFS does not offer traditional AP/IB classes, they do offer a rigorous curriculum that allows students to learn the material and score high on those exams. Admissions folks at competitive colleges are assuredly able to determine if a student is challenging themselves by choosing to take the most rigorous classes at CFS, just like at any other school.
As far as our personal experience with our sons, we've been thrilled. Our older son entered kindergarten at CFS's Durham Early School. His teacher identified his unique learning struggles, of which we were completely unaware. She taught him from a strengths-based perspective to understand how to help himself learn, and to overcome his sense of low self-esteem. He came away from that year with a profound sense of confidence about his areas of weakness. This confidence and sense of self has persisted through his years at Lower School. Students are taught to understand themselves as individual learners, and the curriculum is tailored to their needs. Earlier this year, when his teacher recognized his advanced mathematics skills, he was given the opportunity to learn the next grade's material to keep him challenged and interested.
I suppose what I really love about this school is its recognition of what is truly important in helping to develop children into fully capable, successful adults. At a Lower School parent meeting, a parent asked what would happen if a particular negative social incident happened on the playground. Renee Prillaman, Acting Director of the School, answered that they don't just take a few moments out of the "learning" to address those type of issues...those types of issues ARE the learning. Academics are important, and CFS recognizes that. But there is so much more to the development of the mind of a child, and that is also where CFS excels.
At least at the Lower School, the staff are currently going through a transition in regards to homework. Current research suggests that at the elementary school level, homework is not effective at helping students learn or retain information. How and what homework is assigned differs between classes. In my son's class, homework is given more as an opportunity to build the skill of doing homework, and for communicating to parents where the students are in terms of their reading/math work.
We have been thrilled with our CFS experience so far. Teachers and students are engaged in meaningful and creative work. Students are challenged and excited to go to school. The environment is warm, welcoming, and supportive. The campus is beautiful and the school takes advantage of the nature surrounding it. We explored many other public and private schools in the area and CFS stood out as a school that would nurture our child and create a love of learning.
My daughter is in kindergarten at the Durham Early School campus of CFS. I only wish that every child had access to a kindergarten experience like hers. Kindergarten at CFS is engaging, creative, play-based, and developmentally appropriate. She LOVES going to school every day. She learns to delve into topics that interest her and ask and answer questions about them. She builds machines, creates art projects, writes stories, and engages in pretend play.
Students go on weekly adventures in downtown Durham, where they get the chance to learn about their community and become more invested in it. They draw maps of where they've been and create 3-D structures representing buildings and other landmarks in downtown Durham.
Students learn to read and write in a research-based, developmentally appropriate way. They write and illustrate stories and they work 1 on 1 with their teacher to learn to read at their own pace. They learn math using manipulatives and real-life objects. They engage in scientific experiments of their own design. They also learn skills related to mindfulness and conflict resolution.
CFS is a special school, and I am so grateful to have the chance to send my child there.
Not every school is right for every family, but I have to say that negative reviews here about CFS are a bit shocking to me. As parents, we have found CFS to be such an incredible and invaluable place for our kids to be in school. The school excels in shaping a curriculum to respond to the individualized needs of each student without the stress or rigor of a standardized testing environment. To give you a small example: my oldest was not reading on level by the end of K at CFS-- all of her friends at other schools had far surpassed her. But her teacher had worked with us all year to help us all understand our gifted kid's learning style and reassure us that she was coming to the skills in her own way. Years later, and still at CFS, she has far surpassed her peers in reading and literature with a confidence unforeseen. Our kids love to be at school, they love to learn, and they are absolutely academically challenged.
In addition, my children spend their days in an environment that teaches them approaches for being good global citizens, environmental stewards, and people that can utilize real critical thinking skills. I have no doubt that they will be as prepared for college as any of their peers, but I appreciate even more that they are receiving a different kind of preparation for using the tools of truth, logic, and conflict resolution as adults. As a college professor, I see many of the smartest and most "well prepared" students coming from rigorous high schools with endless AP/IB programs who can not perform well in the collegiate setting because they are unable to think critically, move outside of the rote boxes they have been in for years, accept or learn from mistakes, use creative solutions, or simply deal with the issues of living life in addition to being academic. As I watch my own kids progress through CFS, I regularly see them learning those lessons so missing among my "smartest" college students right alongside their learning math, reading, etc. I can't recommend this place highly enough.
There is not a school in this region that does a better job at developing character. CFS, in using Quaker pedagogy, makes this a big part of their mission. And we see that mission played out in real ways every single day-- it's not doublespeak or fancy talk to drive up admission. Our children practice compassion and respect daily, it carries into their greater lives, and it is noticed by parents and family from outside of the CFS community.
Elementary students spend 2 years with the same teacher-teams. This allows for stability and increased responsibility among the students. Teachers are able to follow a student closely for a long period of time and address the needs of that student individually.
We were accepted to CFS Middle School to start last fall. My son has some learning disabilities. When we started here, the administration was willing to help us. They recommended that we pay extra money for one-on-one tutoring sessions ("student success program") from the start of the year, and we willingly did. We started the year off with high expectations. He soon made some good friends, and everything seemed to be going well. However, at the first conference, even though they discussed what things my son was struggling with, which we were already aware of, they were very positive about his work ethic and character. A couple months later, they called us into another conference, which we thought was going to be similar. There, we were surrounded by all of his teachers, who proceeded to tell us about the struggles he was experiencing in EVERY SINGLE class. They started alluding to planning for next year. They asked us to have him tested, which we agreed to. Then, they pulled us into several more uncomfortable meetings, where the end result was a phone call a couple days before Christmas notifying us that our son would not be asked to return to CFS for the next year. We were devastated. However, our son was devastated even more to the point of tears. His self-esteem has plummeted because he has made some great friends there (which is one of the sole strengths of the school) and can't return. We did everything we could to try to make it so that he could stay there; however, even paying upwards of thousands of dollars on one-on-one instruction for two classes when the school had no intentions of letting my son return. The ratio of students to teachers at CFS is 8 to 1. Considering the resources and extra individual attention that the school provides, as well as the extra cost that we paid, this school should have done more to make this situation work. The ratio at other schools is much higher, yet many others either try, or say that the situation won't work from the get-go. We now have to try yet another school, which is so upsetting.
There are some bright spots of this school. The friends my son has made have been wonderful to him and a few of the teachers really care.
However, these small pluses are overshadowed by the devastation caused by their unwillingness to accommodate my son. Please reconsider sending your child here if your child struggles.
Just finished reading my son's 16 page end of year report. What a great first year of middle school. Carolina Friends School is an amazing place...even in puberty! Teaching rigorous academics, acceptance, and learning to understand your strengths and areas that need improvement....did I say during puberty? I honestly thought that the first year of middle school would be one of learning how to figure it out. Aidan did that while also doing some amazing academic work. What I love most about the school is that one was not sacrificed for the other.