Choosing a School

May 5, 2021

Ridgefield Academy sits atop the stunning West Mountain Historic District of Ridgefield, CT. The school’s buildings and its 43 acres of land originally comprised the summer estate of John Hampton Lynch, who sold its entirety to the Congregation of Notre Dame in 1962. The Congregation added two buildings, one which served for a short time as a school, and the other as a retirement home for nuns. Beginning in 1999, Ridgefield Academy entered a lease to purchase agreement with the Congregation, and completed its purchase in 2004.

When a world-wide pandemic made working remotely universally acceptable, it sparked an urban exodus. Since March 2020, families have been fleeing the City and purchasing homes in suburban areas – with good public schools. Because good public schools mean good neighborhoods with faster home sales at higher prices – right?

Beware: buying a home in a town with a reputation for good public schools does not also guarantee that the neighborhood school is the right fit for each child.

An early reader will get bored waiting for classmates to catch up, while the teacher’s hands are tied because they must follow a prescribed curriculum. A naturally curious 6th grader may give in to peers’ social pressures, rather than pursue a new interest. Don’t forget the time challenges and chaos of piecing together after school and weekend opportunities for sports, music lessons, arts and special interest clubs.

Large Tree with Students in background: Students enjoy time outside, replete with spectacular views of Waccabuc, Rippowam and Oscaleta Lakes and beyond into the Hudson River Valley Green and White Building with Adirondack chairs: The Lynch House is described in the Historic Register as “a 1914 Colonial Revival, stone-and-shingled, gambrel-roofed structure with a 77-foot central section flanked by 84-foot wings.” Ridgefield Academy’s grades 4-8 students use it for weekly meeting and performance space. It also hosts administrative offices and serves as the residence for the Head of School.

Families should choose their children’s schools as purposefully as they choose a new home. The allure of curb appeal, just like impressive standardized test scores, can turn heads. But function and fit should be central to the decision. Regardless of price, does the school meet student and family needs?

Here’s what to look for in a private school:

Happy kids. School should be fun. Learning should engage and excite a 3-year-old and a 13-year-old alike.

Challenge should be balanced by supportive teachers who will walk side by side as their students take risks to grow and learn.

Resilience! Has the school continued to provide a first-rate education despite the pandemic? A resilient school will have more families recommending it now than ever, because their children are happy, safe, and learning.

Mission drives every decision and action in an organization. A school with a child-centered mission is committed to education in a fundamentally different way than a school providing a government-mandated curriculum.

The journey of learning should be the priority. When a child has had their needs met through an individualized, nurturing and engaging education, outcomes like admittance to top secondary schools will follow.

Atmosphere. And finally, how does it feel? That “feel” is actually the collective experience of a school’s culture and traditions. Look for programs that partner younger and older children to build community, integrate service learning to foster connectedness within the school and beyond, and cultivate confidence by offering leadership opportunities, even for students who are quiet or shy.

Foyer with students: The entry foyer of the Lynch House remains mostly unchanged and provides comfortable seating for group projects and small conversations, especially helpful during this time of social distancing.

In a private school setting, like that of Ridgefield Academy, students will get: 
  • Small class sizes, individual attention, and a culture that encourages students to take risks and speak their mind. Each student is seen, understood, and encouraged to rise to their best self.
  •  An intellectually inspiring curriculum which will ensure that students engage in learning that is both comprehensive and meaningful to their lives. Students find the power of their voices during class discussions, collaboration with peers, and public speaking.
  • At every age, students will build a strong foundation as authentically self-assured individuals who have a strong sense of self, love to learn, and move forward without fear. They will graduate prepared for success in even the most challenging settings

Private school is worth every penny. Why accept a one-size-fits-all education for your one-of-a-kind child?

Back of Green and White Building with stone terrace: The terrace off the back of the Lynch House offers outdoor learning and meeting space, which has proven invaluable during the pandemic.

White faced building with columns: The Summit Building is home to the school’s youngest learners; housing both preschool students ages 2-4 and Kindergarten through Grade 3 students.

By line:

Mo Carleton is an administrator at Ridgefield Academy & Landmark Preschool. With a PS-Grade 8 campus in Ridgefield, and preschool campuses in Westport and Bedford, the school provides an intellectually inspiring program that celebrates childhood and cultivates kindness. Responsible for enhancing the school’s reputation and resources, Mo spends her days celebrating the benefits of a PS-8 program and raising funds to give students opportunities far beyond that which tuition alone can provide.

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