Principally Speaking Blog

Safe Return to School

A year ago, The Wood Acres School started the year by celebrating our 50th anniversary of educating students in our community with grand fanfare and pride. As we closed that milestone year, our world looked very different, but the goals and vision that carried us through these important years remained the same. We quickly comprised our plan for the safe return of our students because we value the work we do each day with students and all of the magical moments that are a part of teaching and learning together.

Our spacious nine acre campus, abundant cottages housing classrooms, facility improvements and PPE purchases, dedicated faculty, and supportive families allowed us to easily follow the guidelines from the CDC and GA department of Public Health regarding the safe reopening of schools.
Starting on our first day of school as usual (August 10 for K-8th) and (August 17 for 2s-4s) we welcomed legacy and new students and families who share our vision. We purchased PPE for all students and faculty and required the wearing of masks when on our campus. We updated our HVAC systems with special filtration to ensure that students, teachers, and staff are breathing clean and fresh air. Regular electrostatic spraying, deep cleaning and sanitizing is also part of our effort in keeping areas clean and
germ free.

We required a signed Parent Partnership Agreement from our families to commit to keeping our community safe and healthy. Families must follow our protocols and make sure activities outside of school align with our goals of keeping everyone safe and healthy at school. We placed students in classes of no more than 13 and one teacher to maximize opportunities for
distancing. This class remains together for the entire day and in one shared space. Specialist area teachers (Art, Music, STEM, Technology, PE) work with just a few classes at a time in the students’ space each day for three weeks before moving on to another cohort in our Early (2s-4s) and Grammar Schools (K-5). This allows for students to explore these enrichment areas while still following guidelines. Students also receive Spanish instruction as we are an International Spanish Academy and everyone enjoys a minimum of 30 minutes of recess each day.

Our Upper School Students (6-8) follow a block schedule which allows them to delve deeper into subject matter (Spanish, English Studies, History Geography and Culture, Science) and limit their time in transitioning between classes this year. The one non-negotiable: math. Math instruction is always each day. They complete their electives (Technology, Leadership, Art, and Music History) virtually (except for Physical Education which is face to face). Students in grades 4th-8th use laptops assigned to them for the
school year as a tool for research, word processing, and to extend daily lessons. Students in lower grades still use purposeful technology on a rotating schedule.

As we look to the 2021-22 admissions season, we have noticed an interest in all grades and programs by families who are looking for academic excellence and a commitment to an affordable private school experience in a beautiful environment with dedicated faculty. We are offering tours by appointment by emailing admissions@woodacresschool.org. We have Open Houses by appointment on November 8 and January 24. Check out visit page to register. Come see why The Wood Acres School has done an
excellent job in educating children in our community for over 50 years and be a part of our lasting legacy.

High Expectations – Private Kindergarten

I often marvel at our kindergarteners. They are naturally interested in the world around them and full of curious wonder. When I walk into the classroom, children with their wide eyes, smiles, and hugs, eager to show their writing, greet me at the door. What better place to capitalize on the rigor and enthusiasm of literacy learning than in a private kindergarten setting.

When I spend time with our kindergarteners during reading instruction, there is much focus on sight words, vocabulary, reading strategies, initial and final sounds, spelling, blending, and comprehension of text. All of these skills demonstrate a commitment to building a solid foundation of literacy while teaching children to be excellent.

Equally important and unique to these lessons is our focus on handwriting, organizing our belongings, demonstrating pride in our work, taking risks, respecting our friends, and loving the learning of reading.

At Wood Acres, we value purposeful and developmentally appropriate practices in learning to read while trusting in high expectations for all of our students. Even in kindergarten, we foster a climate of high expectations. This is one of the seven correlates of effective schools noted by researcher Larry Lezotte. These correlates drive all learning and success for our kindergarteners and for all of our students ages 2-14. For a five-year-old, talking out the process of forming letters and perhaps carefully erasing if needed to make sure it looks just right, is just one of many ways s/he demonstrates an understanding of high expectations.

Kindergarten – The First Educational Milestone

A private kindergarten experience at Wood Acres will nurture and challenge your child like no other. Kindergarten is the first big educational milestone of childhood. It holds all of the wonder of the age and the excitement for all of the formal learning that will occur over the next few years. This is the start of something big.

We know our young kindergarteners will achieve at the end of the school year because we carefully set high, yet attainable goals within the context of a challenging curriculum for each age and stage. When you are fortunate to have a middle school on a campus filled with preschool and grammar school students, this educational roadmap allows our vision to be more focused and effective.

At Wood Acres, we often say we, “begin with the end in mind” from leading researcher Steven Covey of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” If we look at what our oldest student knows, sees, says, and does, it becomes easier to translate these attributes to our younger students.  If we value standards of excellence such as communication, effort, preparedness, respect, organization, among others, then we are able to break these down into their smallest parts and expect all of our students to achieve these at some level.

Our students participate in a day filled with strong academics but also for moments engaging in the arts, recess, physical education, STEM activities, Spanish, and areas of interest the children bring into the classroom. Seasoned faculty nurture a love of learning and strong sense self that children need in today’s challenging world. Click here to learn more about a Wood Acres Kindergarten curriculum.

Moments of magic, mastery, and the beginnings of a solid educational foundation is what you will find in a private Kindergarten classroom at Wood Acres.

Schedule a campus tour to discover more about the Kindergarten programs.

The next steps…high school

As quickly as the school year begins for our Wood Acres 8th graders, we turn our attention to assisting them in the next steps in their educational career: high school.

This may seem daunting when you consider that many students in the Wood Acres private middle school have been a part of the Wood Acres family for their most formative years, but they are actually more prepared than they realize. If the amount of growth from 12-14 years old is equally significant to that from birth-2, when students are challenged with a rigorous curriculum within a supportive and familiar environment, they emerge as solid, confident leaders who are ready to take on this next phase.

Students already have high school thoughts in mind after coaching we offer to parents and families when they are welcomed into the Upper School. The varied options in this area allow families to be thoughtful about finding a school and a program that is the best choice for their student. Long gone are the days when you just register at the high school down the street. Choice is a wonderful option in today’s ever-changing world and we pride ourselves on helping our students make these choices.

Each fall, we invite our colleagues in area public, private, and magnet schools to our 10 acre campus to chat with our students and to give them an overview of what their school has to offer as well as to share tips on transitioning to any high school. In this area especially, high school is difficult and competitive no matter where our student’s attend. These relationships ensure that we are helping our students be successful no matter their choice.

When students ask questions, shake hands with these administrators and follow up with them via email, they are applying all of the skills they have learned as a student of Wood Acres. They are demonstrating to their teachers, peers, and families that they not only have the solid academic foundation that the Wood Acres private middle school is known for, but the soft skill set necessary to navigate today’s complex world.

Click here for more information about a Wood Acres middle school education and the curriculum.

The “Shakedown” month

At the Wood Acres School, we know that long stretches of time create maximum opportunities for student learning and we build our school calendar to facilitate this belief.  I recently read an article from Susan Kruger, the creator of SOAR, a study skills program, who actually refers to October as the most difficult month of the school year because it is a long stretch of time without a school break. One of her teachers even referred to it as “shakedown” month.

Her feeling was that the days are long and our students are growing and testing their boundaries with us and with their peers. We are stretching our students and they are facing new and higher expectations and learning new material. They are challenging themselves daily.

So…how do we make the most of this “shakedown”? How do we help our students be successful during this time? Here are some tips from Susan Kruger that resonated with my faculty and me.

We recognize that learning can be challenging, is hard work and that is ok. We are not afraid to instill a strong work ethic in our students.

We tell our students who are feeling the stress and pressure of this time that it will not last forever. The lovely holiday season is just around the corner.

We help our students get ready for a day of learning. We help them relax, settle into the day, feel comfortable, and reset any negative emotional thoughts they might be bringing into the classroom.

We move around on our spacious campus to get some exercise before starting a new lesson.

We always emphasize the positive.  We remind students not to give up, but to keep trying and to stay the course. This is of course, the most important indicator of long-term success.

50 Years of Wood Acres

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of The Wood Acres School, it brings me such pride and joy to serve as the Principal of this amazing place.  I am honored to be a part of the front row seat to the learning of these amazing students and to get a 360 degree perspective on what makes Wood Acres the place where I am able to come each day to make a difference for our children, families, and faculty.

I am humbled by that, each day and especially during this milestone year. All of us have been sharing anecdotes about our connections to Wood Acres, the beginnings of Wood Acres, and our feelings about why we love this school. My love for Wood Acres began over ten years ago and together, we all love…

Working on our beautiful outdoor campus that nurtures the learning process with an appreciation and respect for childhood. 

Caring, educated faculty who make decisions with administration and each other on what is good for students. 

Honoring education and a rigorous curriculum and the process of learning while keeping expectations high.

Recognizing children have the potential to be leaders and providing opportunities like peer mentoring, book buddies, and service to our school and community.   

Encouraging students to make mistakes as this is a supportive place and celebrating their successes.

It is essential to know where you have been to know where you are headed.  We know where we have been, and like beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss tells us…..we are certainly going places.

As we look forward to the next fifty years and our bright future, it is clear in this busy, and sometimes unsettling time, more than ever the Wood Acres School is relevant and needed. We are excited that you are part of this story. Our future is all of you and your children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Together we will continue this legacy and our ideals. We will share the excitement that is a Wood Acres education.  We will deepen connections among ourselves and our community.  We will thoughtfully make decisions for the good of our students in these changing times based on what they need to be successful in their future.

When visitors come onto our campus.  They smile and look with wide eyes.  They instantly see how special it is. They feel part of that excitement that we see everyday.

When alumni proudly visit us, they always share much they miss the beautiful surroundings of Wood Acres and how much they treasure the uniqueness of this experience.

In the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Wood Acres, you have made all of us feel special.

Today we celebrate fifty years of that legacy and look forward to the next fifty years of students, families, and faculty that will undoubtedly feel special too.

Early Literacy

At The Wood Acres School, we instill a love of learning and literacy in our youngest preschool students. Our curriculum is developmentally appropriate, yet challenging for children who are constantly engaging with the wonderful world around them.

Our two year olds are exposed to language through play and stories that are a part of building a solid foundation as they begin their academic journey. In the three year old program, our classrooms are filled with songs and rhymes and more stories as they meet reading “investigators” who become friends as a part of our reading curriculum. Our preschool learners are beginning to make more of a leap to understanding the format of books, learning left to right progression, sequencing, recognizing words on a page and in their world, and that those words carry a message.

We recognize our families play a key role in nurturing their children to be readers and that role is paramount to their children’s success. Taking time to snuggle with children to read or re read a favorite story demonstrates reading is comforting and special. Making time for your own reading encourages children to be just like mom and dad and pick up a book on their own. We invite you to celebrate reading with your families and to fall into a perfect book.

Academic Journeys in East Cobb at the Wood Acres School

Springtime at Wood Acres brings the exciting news of where our eighth graders will attend high school for the 2019-2020 school year. The teachers and I always feel like proud parents as we learn about where our beloved students will take their next steps in their educational journey especially since so many of them have been learning with us throughout their childhood.

We begin sharing information with students and their families in sixth grade as an overview of sorts with the entire class. Families who are interested in continuing private education will need to make sure children have an outstanding start to their middle school experience as these records will become part of their transcript. When students reach the middle of seventh grade, the counselor and I meet individually with each family to help guide them through what has become a rather arduous process. Families living in Cobb and Fulton county look to apply to different magnet and or academy options within their school system. These require a rigorous application process as well and similar to one for a private school. These magnets and academies will look at grades and test scores from students’ seventh grade and first half of eighth grade years.

At the beginning of eighth grade, families and students meet to fine tune each student’s process. We invite counselors and admissions officers of all of these schools so that students can get a feel for where they would like to continue their learning.

Looking across our nine graduating classes in the history of Wood Acres, students have enrolled at many private schools including The Walker School, Woodward Academy, The Galloway School, Blessed Trinity, Mt. Paran Christian Academy, and Holy Innocents Episcopal School, among others.

We also happily have had students accepted and attending the Cobb’s Wheeler Math and Science Magnet, The IB (International Baccalaureate) Program at Campbell high School, the North Cobb School of International Studies as well as Fulton counties Riverwood IB program. Academy programs within Cobb county high schools are also popular especially if housed in a student’s home high school. Walton’s STEM academy, Pope’s Globalization Academy are also interesting to our students. Walton’s ISA (International Spanish Academy) program draws WA students with a love of Spanish language and a rigor and interest in the humanities.

Students choosing to remain in their home school take rigorous classes similar to what they have encountered at Wood Acres. Our relationships with the various guidance departments and admissions offices help our students with the transition to high school.

It gives all of us a great sense of pride to watch our students takes these next steps. After nine years of graduating eighth graders, we are excited to see them fly and make their mark in their next academic home. They are always excited for their graduation, and always ready to come back to visit. In fact, when they return, they not only share news on high school pursuits, but many on college acceptances too. In fact, we are proud to have students at UGA, Georgia Tech, NYU, Loyola Marymount, Tulane, Notre Dame, West Point, Auburn, and University of South Carolina, among others.

Wood Acres is proud of our students and our joint commitment to their successful journeys.

One of the many unique qualities about Wood Acres is our approach of looking what our eldest students should know, see, say, and do and then backward map it to our youngest students. It is a strong belief of our Head of School, Judy Thigpen, and one that has resonated with me throughout my tenure at WA.

Before I fully transitioned into a leadership role, I knew there was something I needed to accomplish first. I needed to teach in our Upper School. All of my prior teaching experience was with children in grades K-5, and my daughter at the time was in our Early School. I felt confident about what Early and Grammar School students should know, say, and do, but that understanding wasn’t there for me when thinking about an older student. How could I possibly lead without an understanding of our oldest students and program?

Like all other ages and stages of a child’s development, it was easy for me to fall in love with our tweens and teens! They were independent, respectful, kind, intelligent, motivated, and capable students. All of their years at Wood Acres among passionate and caring teachers, involved parents, and a supportive yet rigorous school environment prepared them for this pivotal moment.  They fully applied their learning and enjoyed it, developed a strong sense of self, and added to our community in so many meaningful ways. It was a joy to be in their company and I can say even in my current role, it still is. They are comfortable to share a thought, an opinion, an idea, and I couldn’t be more honored to be that person. They keep me grounded and focused on what is important.

With this clarity, I look at our younger students in new and different ways. I see the twinkle in their eyes and wonder in their play and can picture their more grownup self. I see interests and strengths and how that will help grow a solid foundation both academically and emotionally. I work with teachers and parents about how to encourage developmentally appropriate high expectations no matter the age of a student. I am better equipped to instill confidence to our families, teachers, and our students that through this thoughtful journey with a stay the course approach, our students will indeed soar when it comes time to graduate.

The Heartbeat of Wood Acres

I do not wear a white coat, nor do I have an entourage of eager interns following me, but I do “make the rounds” to check on the pulse, the heartbeat of the Woods, every day. It is my favorite part of the day because it is all about the children, teachers, and staff on this special campus.  It frees me from the paperwork on my desk, the emails to be read, the books to be reviewed, and the other sedentary duties that are unfortunately too common to administrators who are in this role.

My daily rounds are full of those sightings mentioned in Mrs. Thigpen’s current HEADlines. I spend time in dozens of classrooms filled with eager students engaged in reading, math, science, or art. I talk with students as they walk the campus to recess, PE, or Spanish. The Early Schoolers will offer me a shovel to dig for dinosaur bones or ask me to push them on the swings while our oldest students always want to schedule time to speak with me about an idea for a service project or an upcoming school trip or assignment.

These sightings ignite my senses to the rhythm to the day, the “feel” of our campus, and the learning that is occurring. I also touch base with our talented teachers, our watchful security team and dedicated office colleagues.  I take notes to follow up with everyone with thanks, compliments, and suggestions once “rounds” are completed.

The heartbeat of Wood Acres is strong and healthy. My diagnosis is that teaching, learning, and caring (TLC @ the Woods) is alive, well, palpable, and hearty. How fortunate we are to be in such a healthy thriving environment as this.