Growing Together and Building Community at Friends School Haverford
“We want to help students feel good about finding their own voice, and to feel supported in sharing their truth.”
When the Griers were looking for a school for their son Ronald, they had not specifically set out to enroll him in a Friends school, but when they found Friends School Haverford they knew they were in the right place. “Their values just really aligned with our beliefs—social justice, treating each other with kindness, and that everyone has an inner light,” says Ronald’s mother Charlene.
Part of what drew the Griers to FSH was also the small class sizes, and the fact that the grades are grouped together—for example, Ronald is currently in fourth grade in the Third and Fourth Grade room, with breakout groups to work on grade-specific skills. “The younger kids have someone to look up to, and the older kids develop a sense of responsibility and leadership,” Charlene describes. “They’re teaching not just the skills he needs to do well academically, but how to be a good person in the world.”
Founded in 1885, this independent nursery through eighth grade school in Haverford is guided by Quaker principles such as integrity, community, and equality and promotes academic rigor, mutual respect, self-awareness, service, diversity, and compassion. “We want to help students feel good about finding their own voice, and to feel supported in sharing their truth and their understanding,” says Rae Fishman, Ronald’s teacher.
Drawing from its Quaker roots, FSH weaves social justice topics into the curriculum, and provides a safe space for students to have deep conversations and ask questions about the world. “We don’t underestimate our kids in terms of what they are hearing and what they have questions about,” adds Kathleen McGee, who teaches humanities in the middle school. “In third and fourth grade, they’re just becoming aware of current events and trying to conceptualize and contextualize.”
This past spring, as the third and fourth grade were in the midst of reading about the Civil Rights era using a historical fiction novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, the death of George Floyd suddenly amplified calls for racial justice in their present day. “I saw that students really wanted to understand more,” Fishman says. “Our instruction allowed us to stop and have those discussions, to address what has happened and changed since the 1960s—and what hasn’t.”
While woven into an academically robust curriculum, this open and purpose-driven approach allows students to find their voice, speak their truth, and use it for good. The middle school builds on these discussions, to develop an awareness of social justice, systemic racism, and advocacy. Though not possible this year due to the pandemic, this usually includes a trip to Washington DC, during which the class lobbies Congress on civil rights issues (their last trip focused on criminal justice reform).
The mission of FSH is not just found in the curriculum and the school day, but also extends to the community as a whole. Students are encouraged to ask questions and share their emotions at morning meeting, closing circle, and in small groups throughout the day. “We want to make sure we are supporting each student and to make sure they not only have equal access to education, but also that we are aware of what may be getting in their way. We are all coming from different places,” McGee says.
Visit friendshaverford.org to learn more and get information on any upcoming virtual tours. You can also reach out for a private virtual tour/Zoom to get to know their community better and discover if Friends School Haverford is the right fit for your child.
Photographs by Ivory Tree Portraits. Friends School Haverford supports the Main Line Parent Community.