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Why Choose an Independent School

When parents arrive for tours at Corbett Prep, the beautiful grounds make a stunning first impression – peacocks strutting on the fields, a boardwalk winding through cypress trees, glimpses of the lake. Inside the classrooms, visitors notice the engaging educational strategies teachers employ and feel the energy of the positive, supportive culture.

Less visible to parents is the foundation that makes this unique school environment possible. As an independent school, Corbett Prep has the ability to make its own decisions and create programs that reflect its values using multiple best practices in education.

Corbett Prep’s independent approach to education began in 1968 when its founders, Marilyn Gatlin and Betty Anderson, sought to establish a school that cultivated the gifts and talents of every student. Gatlin and Anderson, who were studying gifted education, believed that happy children who have the freedom to investigate and explore are more open to learning than students who are tense and fearful. It’s a philosophy that the school continues to embrace more than 50 years later.

Parents weigh several factors when choosing a school for their children, but the independent school philosophy appeals to many families looking for an education that considers the student as a whole. Independent schools have a reputation for academic rigor, highly skilled teachers, a close and active parent community, hands-on lessons, and individualized attention to students’ needs.

What is an independent school?

Families starting to research schools may think their decision comes down to public versus private. But while all independent schools are private, not all private schools are independent. Independent schools are mission-driven, can be secular or religious, and choose curricula that fit their philosophies.

And because they are independent, the schools are free from restrictions that tie the hands of other school administrators and can, for example, choose testing programs that meet their goals rather than state-mandated standardized tests.

The independent model has earned positive reviews. In a 2017 Gallup poll, 71 percent of people surveyed ranked independent private schools as excellent or good. Parochial or church-related schools followed, with 63 percent of respondents giving that category excellent or good ratings. Charter schools, home schools and public schools rounded out the list.

What should parents look for in an independent school?

Families interested in independent schooling should first make sure they are looking at accredited programs. In Florida, 157 schools are members of the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS), which has a rigorous evaluation process for independent school accreditation.

Prospective families can narrow down their options by researching school and class size, programs of study, parent involvement, faculty training, available enrichment programs and more. On a tour, parents can see for themselves if students are happy and engaged Are classrooms and the campus bright, clean, safe and secure? Are there outside spaces that have room for kids to spread out and move freely? Private tours can give parents a sense of the school’s “personality.”

Although students benefit from enrolling in an independent school at any grade, FCIS recommends students start their independent school journey in prekindergarten or kindergarten to enjoy the continuity of the same school community and how each grade builds upon the one before.

What kinds of programs do independent schools offer?

Programs vary widely; independent schools have the freedom to build the educational experience that suits their mission while holding high academic expectations. Through social and emotional learning programs, for example, independent schools can devote time to developing  important skills that support students’ wellbeing.

The foundation of a Corbett Prep education is based on research as to how the brain learns, and this framework drives the teaching strategies educators use in the classroom, on the stage, and on the field. Corbett Prep’s approach supports the research on Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory that there are multiple types of human intelligences and asserts that “a one-size-fits-all approach to education will invariably leave some students behind.” The school prioritizes academic, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development through a robust curriculum and an interactive learning environment.

As an International Baccalaureate school, Corbett Prep believes in cultivating international mindedness and developing critical and reflective thinkers. All students gain a strong foundation in the arts, sciences, and technology thanks to Corbett Prep’s strong performing and visual arts program as well as its new STEAM center, the Tomlin Family Application Lab, which opened this summer.

Corbett Prep piloted The Contentment Foundation’s Four Pillars of Wellbeing, a social-emotional program that uses “evidence-based early childhood and K-8 lesson plans to empower students with tools to meaningfully understand and process their life experiences.”

Throughout their time at Corbett Prep, students learn to both collaborate and lead, think innovatively to solve problems, and use their social-emotional awareness to handle challenging situations.

Starting kids on the right path to becoming lifelong learners depends on finding just the right school fit. With a variety of wonderful independent schools in the Tampa Bay area, parents have many options. The education students receive at independent schools allows them to grow and discover who they are as individuals in a supportive environment that sets them up for a future filled with infinite possibilities.

Presented by Corbett Preparatory School of IDS  |  Photos provided by Corbett Prep  |  Originally published in our 2021 September Issue  

Karen Vaughan
Karen Vaughan
Karen Vaughan is the Director of Advancement at Corbett Preparatory School.

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