Friends School of Wilmington's academic curriculum is built upon nationally recognized, research-based programs for math (University of Chicago) and literacy (Columbia University & Orton-Gillingham), includes thematically integrated social studies and science units, and features a strong emphasis on language immersion, artistic creativity, musical expression, and physical education.
Above all, our pedagogy is grounded in inquiry-based philosophies to best foster analytical thinking, problem solving, critical reflection, and investigative research. Our teachers are expert facilitators who consistently incorporate hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for both independent and collaborative work. What results is a vibrant educational environment that encourages independence, exploration, and curiosity to develop a child's lifelong love of learning; or, as Quaker educator Parker Palmer explains, "an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline."
Experiential education intentionally engages students in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values--a methodological commitment of FSW since its inception. This year, we’re taking experiential learning to a new level with our school-wide Place-Based Education Initiative, recognizing this lens as crucial to a 21st century curriculum. By intensively connecting students and teachers to their surroundings, we can enhance the depth with which we talk and think about the places where we live, work, play, and learn. Place-based lessons are not limited to an immediate geographic area but rather speaks to a larger global competency in which students are immersed in community heritages, cultures, landscapes, and resources. As one student recently said, “I am grateful for what I am learning. Now I know I can help.”
We are committed to creating meaningful community service opportunities for students of all ages as integral to the academic curriculum. Community service connects students with a sense of personal responsibility for others, whether they be peers at school, people in surrounding neighborhoods, or global communities in need of support. This service learning component enriches our academic program by providing students with direct experience, moving us beyond information toward ethical action. In many cases, it gives students a chance to both experience and express gratitude, as they share their gifts and good fortune with others. This is experiential, place-based education at its best.
For over 300 years, Quakers have expressed a reverence for the natural world and felt called to care for the Earth. The purchase of adjoining green space in Spring 2021 inspired us to reimagine our existing environmental education initiative, and as part of an ongoing collaboration with faculty, parents, students, and community partners, we are building a comprehensive program with an integrated environmental education (EE) program across grade levels. Our EE curriculum is based upon the study of phenology or “nature’s calendar” as we observe the changing seasons and life cycles of living organisms and includes a thematic focus on lessons related to ecological systems and biodiversity; air and water quality; energy and climate change; stewardship of land and water; recycling, composting, and sustainability; and environmental justice. To learn more about our EE space, the Longleaf Center for Environmental Learning, please click here.
Whole Child Model
FSW utilizes a comprehensive social curriculum that helps us create a safe, warm, productive, academically challenging school environment rooted in the Quaker values of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and service. Our social curriculum is inspired by the book Teaching Children to Care: Classroom Management for Ethical and Academic Growth, K-8 by Ruth Sidney Charney; the "Responsive Classroom" approach to community building in schools; and "Developmental Designs" strategies for relationship building, social skill-building, cultural responsiveness, and intrinsic motivation to learn. At its core, we believe each of our students deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. That's what a whole child approach to learning, teaching, and community engagement advances.
At FSW, we invest a great deal of time, thought, and care into assessment. Throughout the school day, students are given continual feedback about their areas of strength and their next steps. Formal evaluations by teachers are completed and shared with parents on a periodic basis. The timing and format of these evaluations varies based on the age of the student. Either parents or teachers may schedule conferences as needed to address questions or concerns.
Lower School: Narrative Evaluations & Developmental Rubrics
There is significant agreement among educational researchers that report cards with simple letter grades do not foster, nor even accurately reflect, student learning. Therefore, teachers at FSW use a detailed assessment process to give parents/guardians a more accurate understanding of their early elementary student’s progress. These evaluations track the student’s developmental progress on a wide variety of capabilities and also include a narrative report characterizing the student’s social adjustment and overall development as a learner. At any time during the semester, if a teacher or a parent/guardian has a concern about a student’s progress at school, either party may initiate a conference to address the issue.
Middle School: Letter Grades
As middle school students cognitively mature, they are better able to understand the cause-and-effect relationship between hard work and good grades. They also begin to compare their performance to that of peers to set goals and standards for themselves. For these reasons, we find that adding letter grades to detailed narratives gives parent/guardians and students the best of both worlds: a basis for comparison with peers and teacher expectations and a detailed analysis of areas of excellence and continued growth. During the first nine-week period, middle school teachers guide students to understand the rationale for grades and to identify the requirements and numeric values that will comprise their grading rubrics. Students receive “practice” grades at the end of the first nine weeks to reflect upon and discuss their work and brainstorm strategies for improving performance. A combination of letter grades, portfolios, and narrative evaluations is used to evaluate student progress for the remainder of the year.
FSW administers the Educational Records Bureau Comprehensive Testing Program (ERB CTP) for 3rd through 8th grades each spring. ERB CTP is the preferred standardized test program for independent schools nationally. In addition to providing teachers and parents with data about individual students, these assessments allow us to gauge the quality of our program in relation to independent schools by providing national norms. Students are assessed in math, language arts, and verbal and quantitative reasoning. Student scores are available for parent review with Division Directors.