The Campus School is truly the best deal in elementary education in Pittsburgh. Class size is small (10 - 16), the teachers are nurturing and always trying new things, and local high schools always report that the Carlow students are some of their most prepared entering freshman. The academic expectations are high, there are lots of extracurriculars, and there is a warmth about the school that is really special. I cannot speak highly enough of The Campus School and for half the price of most of the other independent schools in Pgh., it's been a great find for our family.
My children both started Carlow in Pre-school; my daughter in the traditional track and my son is now in Montessori. Every teacher we've interacted with has been wonderful--- kind, supportive, and attentive; the parents are active and involved in the school, and the administrators are personable and responsive. There is a real community at Carlow-- made of parents, teachers, and administrators ---that is focused on the success of all the children in all aspects of their lives. The focus on STEAM starts early, with the Children's Innovation Project. My daughter drew circuit diagrams last year in kindergarten, can take electronic toys apart, and says she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. The kindness the upper school students show to their "little siblings" is amazing and made a huge impact in her life. Carlow connects all of the students of all ages together and teaches them to care for each other and for the larger community outside of school. The number of strangers who comment on how kind and well-mannered my children continues to surprise me, and I credit their school in large part for their demeanor.
As I said at last week's parent-teacher conference, I feel blessed to have teachers who understand that everyone -- young or old -- learns differently. The teachers know how to adapt to all types of learners (math whizzes, reading geniuses, sculpting pros, writing wizards, etc.). The recent acquisition of Google Chrome tablets and the partnership with the CMU science and technology education depts also encourage the students early on how to respect technology and circuits as useful tools.
Sports is another area where the school excels. Our children are part of the cross-country team. Practice starts a bit later in the day than other schools given the work hours of coaches and parents. Therefore, the parents run --sometimes hobbling -- alongside the kids! Great atmosphere. The kids learn good sportsmanship. With this supportive environment, the kids cheer on fellow teammates as well as other schools' runners. You see this often at the meets.
The idea of service and giving back to the world is instilled in them such that 8th graders must fulfill service hours prior to graduation. The goal of the school seems to be to develop empathic, active, humble, independent, motivated, respectful, lifelong-learning students. Based on the success of the graduates and also the current students, Campus School is very much meeting this goal.
We looked at three schools - two private and one public. Carlow Campus School was recommended by two coworkers whose children went through K-8. My son is now enrolled. It's a great school and I'm glad we did it. It's a nurturing environment where you can tell they truly care about the students. He's learning a lot and loves to go to school - and that's very reassuring to me.
This is an excellent school that really values and appreciates individuals. They do a wonderful job of challenging students upwards. The 6th, 7th, and 8th grade 'upper school' is especially successful at nurturing talents in students. The academic curriculum is supportive but also academically driven, and does a great job preparing students for some of the best independent high schools in the Pittsburgh area. Carlow students excel at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Sciences competitions, including at the state levels; at the the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair; at the PA level National Geographic Bee competition; at the Southwestern PA Forensics League, and in many other endeavors such as Robotics, MathCounts, Spelling Bee, and more. The Spring Musical is outstanding, and better than many high school productions. I recommend this school highly.
An extraordinarily bad experience-think Lord of the Flies-but I caution anyone against enrolling in Montessori 3-5 here. Like any curriculum, Montessori s execution depends on the quality of classroom teaching. It does not work when the teacher plays favorites, avoids responsibility for student learning outcomes, and has poor classroom management skills. My experience was that kids were pretty much left to their own devices for the first three semesters. If your three- or four-year-old is more likely to "choose" art, yoga, or snack than reading or math, you risk her going to first grade unprepared. My guess is that 50% of the families leave unhappy. And it gets worse: Would you be comfortable with a teacher who says "what's the matter with you" to your four-year-old when she answers a question incorrectly? Same for bullying: good teachers address it, bad teachers deny a problem exists. That's a bitter pill to swallow at $10K/year. If you consider Montessori here, choose carefully between classrooms and keep a close eye on preparedness for first grade. With current expectations for incoming first graders, an unstructured Montessori is more of a gamble than traditional preschool.
In some ways, it may be more appropriate to compare the Campus School (est. $10K annual tuition) to diocesan schools with larger class sizes but approximately one-half tuition costs rather than to other independents/privates at this point. There's been significant turnover in executive directors since 2006. Approximately 20 percent of 2010-2011 first graders did not re-enroll for the 2011-2012 year. There is parent concern about curriculum in the primary grades, and about math and languages in grades 6-8. A recent parent survey revealed concern with teacher quality. Class size is increasing, possibly due in part to declining enrollment. The school lacks a detailed policy on bullying. In practice: "Deny anything is happening, then blame the victim and refer the kid to behavioral therapy." Rumor has it that one teacher referred one-third of her class to behavioral therapy. Parents are friendly and involved but school leadership seems to lack sense of urgency about change. Lots of missed deadlines, lots of excuses, lots of glittering generalities. What can you overhear parents complaining about? Teachers playing favorites in a way that's obvious to the kids.