About Quakers and Quaker Education
We believe that education should address the range of human development—intellectual, social, physical and spiritual. We seek to meet each child at her or his developmental level and challenge that child to discover the full range of her or his abilities.
Academic excellence is our ultimate goal. Our curricula are designed to teach fundamental concepts and skills, using materials and methods that begin simply and grow in intellectual complexity and challenges for the students as they mature in years. For example, in science, students may use the same skills in different units and in successive years, but expectations of breadth, depth and performance are different.
While we are not a "special needs" school, our commitment to a diverse student body includes enrolling some children who need extra support, whether for academic, emotional or behavioral reasons.
We want our students to appreciate that knowledge and understanding open countless possibilities for their future. The Friends School nurtures enthusiasm in the classroom and a love for learning that will last a lifetime.
From an early age, children in The Friends School of Atlanta receive opportunities to be of service to the community. Students have cleaned school grounds, planted flowers, cleaned river banks, created health-related coloring books for medical facilities, collected food for a local food bank, and read to Head Start students, among scores of other activities.
A religious community founded in England in the mid-seventeenth century, The Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers) is a group united in the conviction that there is "that of God" or goodness to be found within each of us, which Friends have historically referred to as the Light. Friends' faith is founded upon the values, or "testimonies," of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. These Quaker beliefs provide the basis for a supportive school environment that emphasizes the importance of individual responsibility.
All systems of faith and belief are welcome at The Friends School of Atlanta, and many are represented among our faculty, staff, student body and Board of Trustees. Friends schools do not seek to inculcate a set of doctrines and, because Friends live more by example than precept, much of what is unique about a Friends school does not appear in the curriculum as formal pedagogy. Instead, the Quaker testimonies can be found infused through every area of the institution, from administrative policy to teaching methods in the classroom.
Friends opened their first American school in Philadelphia in 1689, and many of the first public schools in this country were modeled after Friends schools. There are now more than 80 Friends elementary and secondary schools nationwide. Quaker colleges include Haverford, Earlham, Swarthmore and Gilford. Inspired by their belief in equality, Quaker schools have educated boys and girls together for more than 325 years, long before coeducation was commonplace in American schooling.
The Atlanta Friends Meeting was organized in 1943. In addition to providing a gathering place for Friends, the Meetinghouse was initially one of the few sites in the city available for interracial meetings and education. Although the school is a separate nonprofit institution, Meeting members are active on the Board of Trustees and offer guidance and support to the school in many ways.
Students learn to explore nonviolent solutions to problems based upon a fundamental respect for the worth of all other individuals. They also become acquainted with and participate in group decision-making by a process of consensus-building, a historical practice of Friends. Friends emphasis on simplicity discourages competition on the basis of material possessions.
Excellence has always been a hallmark of Friends education. There is no philosophical conflict between teaching children at their individual levels and achievement of excellence in education and curriculum—rather, teaching that looks for strengths of each child ideally brings a greater level of understanding, knowledge and wisdom than any other pedagogical method.
Presentation by Tom Farquhar, Head of Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, made at FSA on October 19, 2011.
An important part of the school week is the Silent Meeting, based on the Quaker tradition of meeting corporately in reflective silent worship, where the community gathers in silence to attend to the inner Light. The belief of Friends that individuals must find their own way leads to respect for the faith of everyone. Occurring each Friday morning, Silent Meeting is a time to reflect upon experience, seek truth and share thoughts with one another. Students and teachers, along with parents and other guests who wish to attend, sit quietly in the Community Meeting Room. Students learn to listen inwardly to their own thoughts. If they wish, they may break the silence to share a personal belief or insight with the group. Over time, students come to value Silent Meeting as a peaceful time in which to think about the values and ideals that shape our lives.
Multiage classes for Pre-K and Kindergarten students make it easier for teachers to create a noncompetitive, supportive learning environment and provide opportunities for children to make friendships according to their developmental needs, which do not always align by age in the 4/5 year old class. Also, in multiage groups, younger children learn from the older children and older children have an opportunity to take on a leadership role and share their knowledge.
Educational research continues to point to smaller student/teacher ratio as a critical factor in the success and quality of a child's education. FSA's maximum student/teacher ratio is 9:1 in classrooms where 4 year olds learn, 11:1 in classrooms where 5 year olds learn, 13:1 in other elementary classrooms. In middle school, where one teacher leads the class, the maximum number of students in class is 16.