Birchwood School of Hawken is a preschool through eighth grade independent private school. Our mission is to give children the intellectual skills and character traits that will enable them to realize their own potential for becoming. With this term, becoming, we summarize the academic training, the habits of good character, and attitudes toward life that empower children to realize their human potential and their ability to benefit others.
We take it as our responsibility to place each child on this trajectory of becoming, and we recognize four components for achieving our hopes – challenging academics, systematic character training, small class sizes, and subject specialists.
A strong academic program is at the heart of our philosophy, and we use challenging academics as a means to develop strong character, specifically the habits of industry and productivity.
For more than 35 years, we have made it a priority to research academic standards used by elementary and middle schools through our region, state, and country. Acknowledging excellence when we find it, we work backward to construct curriculum and pedagogy which will enable us to achieve and exceed, if possible, the results others have obtained. The impact on student achievement is evident. Birchwood students consistently gain local, state, and national recognition for their academic achievements. Our graduates are considered some of the “best prepared” for high school in Northeast Ohio. Our average student score on the nationally normed Iowa Test of Basic Skills is in the 90th percentile. Our entire school environment nurtures, supports, and honors high academic achievement. At Birchwood, it is “cool” to study hard and excel academically.
High academic standards extend to gifted students. For over 30 years Birchwood has been working with this special population to meet their cognitive, affective, and social needs. While some schools offer “gifted” programs, Birchwood relies on teaching specialists in each subject so that gifted learners may advance as far as their intellect and interest allow. There are no academic ceilings, hence, we do not merely implement a gifted program, we develop talent. Such a challenging and rigorous environment develop both sturdy work habits and productive attitudes, enabling gifted learners to reach their highest potential.
In addition, Birchwood provides programs for gifted and profoundly gifted students endorsed by the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University.
Systematic Character Training
Knowing that work habits and achievement ethics are just as important to success as a strong intellect, Birchwood has developed a systematic approach toward nurturing good character in our students. This approach focuses on two features – teaching and training.
Using the language of the Aristotelian moral virtues, we provide daily lessons and activities that highlight the lives of great men and women who have demonstrated courage, self-control, gratitude, humility, compassion, justice, and wisdom. Teaching children about good character and virtue, awakens and inspires their own innate desire and capacity for becoming a good and virtuous person. The beginning of each day at Birchwood begins with stories describing exemplary human beings from history and in our world today who model the characteristics of noble and beautiful human beings.
The work of teaching character is complemented by programs which train good character. Character by definition is the accumulation and aggregate of virtuous habits. Habits are shaped by deliberate practice over an extended period of time. For this reason, Birchwood has structured experiences from first through eighth grade that create opportunities to practice good virtue and eventually shape good character through habituated behaviors. This effort is reinforced with special classes and supplementary programs that focus specifically on the development of good habits. Some examples include our homework policy, our use of academic competitions in the regular classroom, our method of discipline in which we place emphasis on shaping a child’s reasoning rather than just punishing students for bad behavior.
Small Class Sizes
Since the becoming of each child through the development of their intellect and character is the measurement of our success, we maintain very low teacher-pupil ratios: 1 to 13. By our own experience, we cannot give adequate attention to each child if the classes are larger. This ratio allows us to know each child well. We can establish meaningful academic expectations for each child and address work habits and attitudes based on individual challenges.
We see our teachers as mentors and coaches who nurture talent, rather than traditional teachers who labor to deposit knowledge into cohorts of children.
All students in grades 1-8 are taught by subject specialists. Our subject specialists bring important features to every classroom. First, because they know and understand their subject well, they are able to accommodate multiple levels of ability within a given classroom. Second, because they love and enjoy their subject, they are able to convey their passion, love, and enthusiasm to their students.
“Birchwood is a school that trains ordinary kids to be great people.”