Second Grade Teacher Lisa Ryan spent a recent morning doing what she does at the conclusion of every school year: cleaning her classroom in preparation for the fall. Despite rumors that after nearly 30 years The Country Day School will not be able to open in September, there is no doubt in Ryan’s mind where she will be, “I’ll be right here teaching children.”
From humble beginnings
Twenty-eight years ago, a group of about 50 citizens gathered at the Zion Episcopal Church in Charles Town to discuss the formation of an independent school in the Eastern Panhandle. The meeting was initiated largely by parents from Clarke County, VA, and Jefferson County, WV, who believed that there was a strong need in this area for a traditional independent school which adhered to the highest academic standards. The result was the formation of The Country Day School, an independent non-denominational, non-profit educational corporation, open to all children with potential for real academic achievement. Situated on a picturesque 30-acre campus off Route 51 about five miles outside of Charles Town, the school provides a curriculum for Pre-School (Smart Start, the three year old program) through Eighth Grade.
As the economy has ebbed and flowed over the years, so has the school’s enrollment, which invariably leads people to speculate about the school’s stability. Heather Marshall, Director of Marketing for The Country Day School, has heard it all before.
“Like all private schools, The Country Day School has faced some challenges wrought by the economy and we have had to tighten our belts; however, one thing the school won’t budge on is academics and providing the best education we possibly can,” Marshall said.
The stuff of legends
Sue Nolan was one of the people in attendance at that initial meeting at Zion Episcopal Church.
“I never will forget hearing the bell ring at 3:15 p.m. and seeing the first students pouring out of the old farm house,” she said. “They had just completed their first day of school at The Country Day School. It was a momentous occasion to say the least.”
Nolan has been at The Country Day School ever since and has attained legendary status amongst teachers, staff and students. She teaches Classics to Kindergarten through Third Grade and Mythology to the Fourth and Fifth grade. Additionally, she handles all administrative duties in the front office and is the "voice" of The Country Day School--the voice with the charming British accent. All four of her children attended the school and went on to their respective high schools where they became members of the National Honor Society. They credit The Country Day School with instilling in them the desire to achieve their full potential.
Equally legendary is Kindergarten Teacher Atiyah Ahmed. Mention The Country Day School to someone in the surrounding community and it almost always prompts the question, "Does Mrs. Ahmed still teach there?"
"I have been here at CDS since 1985 and every day has been a learning experience for me," said Ahmed. "I love working for a school that has such a dynamic team of teachers and an atmosphere that encourages teachers to not only learn from each other, but from the students as well."
And what the Kindergarteners learn from Ahmed during the course of the school year is nothing short of amazing. Under Ahmed's caring tutelage, children emerge fully capable of reading, writing and performing arithmetical equations.
Ahmed's own three sons attended The Country Day School and have gone on to become a cardiologist, a pulmonologist and a human resources analyst.
"CDS prepared them immensely well by giving them the skill set for professional and personal success," said Ahmed.
The proof is in the pudding - and test scores
Students at The Country Day School consistently outscore their peers in the Eastern Panhandle and the rest of West Virginia by 15 to 20 percent in math and reading, according to state WESTEST results. The school builds on the basics with an eye toward the future, offering foreign languages, computer and science labs, art and music programs and physical education. Small class sizes ensure that children receive individualized lesson plans that are tailored to their specific strengths while providing additional support for specific weaknesses.
“We enrolled our son into CDS for Junior Kindergarten because we were impressed with the personal attention he would receive due to the small class sizes, the number of specials offered, the expanse of the campus, and the freedom teachers and administrators enjoy when planning curriculum and special events by not being tied to public school restraints,” said parent Jen Rolston. “CDS has been very nurturing in our son's education—they have embraced his active spirit and instilled in him the joys of learning. Academically, we couldn't be more pleased--he began reading in Junior K and Kindergarten and is now, just after completing the Second Grade, reading above a Sixth Grade level.”
Students in all grade levels excel. Recent Eighth Grade graduate Jessica Shakesprere was one of five students from Jefferson County to win the prestigious Golden Horseshoe Award for outstanding knowledge of West Virginia history and culture, among other honors.
Walk a mile in the shoes of a kindergartener
At last week’s Graduation and Awards Ceremony, one kindergartener, cloaked in blue cap and gown ready to receive his diploma, became overwrought with stage fright. As the child’s mother and teacher tried desperately to console him, the calming influence came from a fourth grade classmate who went up to the boy and hugged him with reassurance. She had been in his shoes five years earlier and offered some sage advice for combating his fears. Twenty minutes later the boy ran excitedly across the stage to accept a citizenship award, with no trace of anxiety, as the entire student body—beaming fourth grader included--cheered him on.
Moments such as this are more the rule than the exception at the school that teaches students reason, responsibility and respect for themselves and the world around them. The children know each other by name and all support one another and celebrate each others' achievements. It is not uncommon for the children to unwind in the afternoon with a pickup game of kickball--all ages intermixed--or for an upper school classmate to help one of their younger counterparts with a homework problem during after care. Lunches are shared on picnic tables outside Founders Hall and all adults are greeted with smiles and salutations from the students.
Home away from home
Not only do the students forge lifelong friendships, but the parents and staff at The Country Day School do as well. Parental involvement is encouraged and relied upon heavily, not just academically, but also in the day-to-day operations. Parents pitch in to maintain the school grounds and facilities, spearhead fundraising events, read to lower school students and teach afterschool clubs, among other activities.
Bunco groups have formed, group happy hours are commonplace, birthdays and other milestones are celebrated collectively, families have attended overnight campouts on school grounds and get-togethers over the summer help keep everyone connected.
“It’s a community in every sense of the word,” said Ryan, who has taught Junior Kindergarten through Second Grade at the school for the past eight years. “We love our students and have grown to love their families, as well. We have celebrated together and we support one another. I can’t imagine teaching any place else.”
To learn more about The Country Day School, visit the school's website, or attend an enrollment Open House, held the fourth Wednesday of every month, from 9 to 11 a.m., at the school located at 449 Rose Hill Drive, Kearneysville.
Formerly a Public Information Officer for a municipal government, I quit my job to move to the country with my husband, Steve, to raise our three children. A renewed love of sewing sparked a new interest in embroidery. I now run a successful business and online gift boutique; however, I recently discovered I gave up one of my passions--writing, so here I am.