Two years ago, Jamie Crawley’s daughter, now a 5th grader at RCLS, was a very different little girl than she is today. At that time, Jamie’s daughter was in 3rd grade in one of Rochester’s public elementary schools. There, she experienced physical and emotional bullying “on a daily basis,” Jamie reports. The worried mother found school administrators unwilling or unable to do anything about it, but Jamie and her daughter felt they had no choice but to persist with the situation, nonetheless. Jamie notes that her daughter “suffered from severe headaches [and] stress,” and she remembers that her daughter’s sadness was overwhelming for both Jamie and her daughter. It’s not easy to see your child struggle. “Watching your child cry every day when she comes home from school is heartbreaking,” Jamie recounts. Her daughter had always loved learning, but at the time, Jamie says, “she hated going to school.”
Also in her life at the time was RCLS, where Jamie’s daughter spent her summers. In fact, Camp RCLS was Jamie’s daughter’s first experience with the school. Jamie had learned about RCLS’s summer program from a co-worker whose child attended RCLS, and she enrolled her daughter in Camp RCLS, where she passed a safe, happy summer. In retrospect, Jamie says that the decision to enroll her child in 4th grade at RCLS “was a light bulb moment.”
We had just wrapped up another horrible year at school and my daughter and I were talking about our plans for the summer when she said, “I am so happy it’s summer, Mom. I get to go and see all of my friends at RCLS.” It was then I made the decision to extend her enrollment from just summer care to full-time enrollment.
As Jamie tells it, her “light bulb moment” and the consequent decision to enroll her daughter in 4th grade at RCLS changed the little girl’s life. “It is hard to describe the appreciation and immense gratitude I have for the RCLS staff, teachers, administrators, and families.” Today, she explains, she sees no signs of the little girl that once spent her post-school hours crying. “The change I have seen in her is nothing short of amazing,” Jamie insists. “It truly is amazing what caring teachers and peers will do to a child’s self-esteem.” Just as soon as they started at RCLS, Jamie and her daughter felt “welcomed by everyone and made to feel like we have been here all along.” Such positivity and kindness deeply impact a child’s growth and development––a conclusion Jamie has arrived at after watching her daughter thrive socially and academically after a relatively short amount of time at RCLS.
When asked what she expects of a school, Jamie readily admits that she expects a lot. After all, there is much at stake. “One of the things I didn’t know (while my daughter was in public school) was that she was falling behind in math.” Even when she checked in at parent-teacher conferences, Jamie didn’t feel she was made aware of what she describes as “the severity of the situation.” She remembers that when her daughter started at RCLS, it quickly became apparent that she was almost a grade-level behind in math. “I was worried that she would never catch up and that she would be picked on for not being at the same level as the other kids,” Jamie says, but as “soon as the issue was realized by her teachers, they sat down with us and worked out a plan to help her learn the skills she needed to catch up.” Looking back, Jamie remarks that it “truly is amazing how [the school] sprang into action to help” her daughter. One-on-one instruction, small-group learning, extra practice, and a culture of kindness––these were the strategies that the RCLS team employed to make Jamie’s daughter “feel that this was a group effort and everyone was going to help her reach her goal.” There was no shame or discouragement from starting from behind. Instead, RCLS’s teachers and students offered support and partnership––a safe place to be where she was at and to aim and work toward higher achievement.
Care as an Integrated Dimension of Learning
In this case and in all such cases, the sort of safety and support Jamie describes is not at all a mistake. Indeed, RCLS educates each of its students based on the “empirically anchored conclusion that schools need to add highly visible strands of support––what we call a culture of pastoral care––to the tapestry of school, not as an add-on or supplement, but as a foundational and integrated dimension of the educational enterprise” (Murphy & Torre, 2017). In other words, a culture that fosters a sense of safety, confidence, and connection is absolutely critical to successful social and academic learning. Academic strategies alone cannot help a child succeed. Instead, according to Vanderbilt University researchers Joseph Murphy and Daniela Torre, “[l]earning pivots first and foremost on relationships.” Relationships––between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and students and their peers––and the care and kindness that characterize them offer that “dimension” of academic achievement that is so often overlooked and undervalued.
Here at RCLS, we talk a lot about those aspects of our educational approach that make us distinct in Rochester. Our curriculum is foundational ––it prioritizes core learning and skills to ensure each child has a firm academic and spiritual foundation on which to build. Our focus is the individual child––an emphasis that is evidenced in resource support, enrichment and accelerated options, and standardized testing that maps individual student progress. Our attention is on the whole child––a priority that prompts a positive learning environment and extracurricular activities that shape not just the mind of a child, but the spirit and general well-being, as well. Taken together, these aspects of RCLS’s approach to learning suggest the “foundational and integrated dimension” of care that Murphy and Torre (2017) offer as the key to academic success.
Indeed, it is one thing to claim that the dimension exists. It’s another, more meaningful, thing to see its impact on a little girl. Here, at RCLS, where Jamie’s daughter found a place of acceptance and kind attention, she is thriving––brought up to grade level in math and content and happy with new friends. It has been a life-changing move, Jamie says. “RCLS has not [just] met my expectations,” the grateful mom concludes. The school has “far exceeded them.”
Returning the Kindness
In a commitment to be involved in her daughter’s life and activities, Jamie finds herself regularly involved in events at school. This past fall, she served as the Game Coordinator for the Hallelujah Carnival, and she also helpfully serves as a Parent Ambassador, welcoming new families to the school, even as a relatively new parent herself. As a consequence of her involvement in her daughter’s life, Jamie blesses the school tremendously by participating in both welcoming efforts and activities that help fund the school’s Variable Tuition program. In short, the culture that has fostered her daughter’s well-being is now shaped, in part, by Jamie herself. After finding a place to belong and serve, Jamie and her daughter are a beloved part of the culture at RCLS.
Ultimately, what does Jamie want others to know about RCLS?
"Small class sizes. Amazing teachers. Grace, kindness, love, acceptance." These offer the immeasurable value of this remarkable place of learning.
Murphy, J. & Torre, D. (2017, Nov/Dec). Creating communities of pastoral care for students. Principal, 44-46.
Consider: you and your child could be a part of such a place, too!
Get to know RCLS a bit better at any of the upcoming Welcome Events. Learn more or register for these events at www.rcls.net.