WRITTEN BY Sarah DuBose
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Dennis McWaters
St. Andrew’s School in Richmond, Virginia, has a whole-child approach that nurtures the intellectual, creative, moral, and spiritual growth of children, preparing students for success in school, in academics, and in life. With the values of mutual respect, education, faith, and unconditional love, St. Andrew’s fosters the complete child in and outside of the classroom. Last year, St. Andrew’s celebrated 125 years since its founding. Head of School, Dr. Cyndy Weldon-Lassiter, is looking forward to the future, saying, “We have the opportunity to continue to grow the school in ways that are going to impact the greater community.”
Since 1894, the mission of this independent elementary school has been to transform the lives of its students by providing quality education for children of low-income families; these students are offered a full scholarship when admitted. The founder, Grace Arents, believed that all children, despite their lack of resources, deserve quality education. And, moreover, she believed that this quality education lays the foundation for a child’s ability to succeed and thrive as an adult.
“There are very few schools in the country that provide a full scholarship for every student. We are one of those few,” Dr. Weldon-Lassiter says.
The school is built upon six fundamentals which are each embedded in the everyday life of the students: academic curriculum, social and emotional learning, nutrition and wellness, visual and performing arts, family engagement and graduate support.
St. Andrew’s encourages its students to learn about the world through visual and performing arts, establishing arts as part of the daily curriculum. The school has incorporated an instrumental program in which every student is taught how to play the violin via two 30-minute lessons a week. By teaching students how to play the violin, St. Andrew’s empowers them to grow beyond academic intelligence.
St. Andrew’s School advocates for conversation and the practice of managing one’s emotions through social and emotional learning (SEL). Teachers and faculty work with the students to teach essential skills which support healthy emotion management, methods of dealing with conflict, as well as appropriate and responsible decision making in life.
“For a long time, we thought that academics and social and emotional learning were equivalent. We realized that SEL is even more important because if we don’t get that right, the other pieces just don’t make sense in terms of students gaining knowledge and feeling like they are a part of the school community,” says Dr. Weldon-Lassiter.
Dr. Weldon-Lassiter continues, “What we talk about is the students having a healthy brain and body.”
St. Andrew’s School makes sure to provide the students with physical education (PE) classes and recess, while also focusing on the nutrition of each student. Understanding that their students may not have access to sustainable nutrients at home, the school offers healthy meals and snacks daily. Under the Community Eligibility Provision, the school is able to provide the students with nutritious meals at no cost to the families. The students are offered a balanced breakfast when they arrive in the morning. According to Dr. Weldon-Lassiter, the school’s chef, Ronnika Fenner, cooks every meal from scratch, avoiding excessive salt and sugar, and completely eliminating processed foods.
Overall, what sets St. Andrew’s School apart from other independent schools across the country is its dedication to each individual student. It is clear to see that this school is focused on not only academic success, but on tending to the multiple needs of the whole child. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child; St. Andrew’s School plays a fundamental role in the village of every one of its students.
Visit the St. Andrew’s School website to find out how you can help support their mission to transform lives by providing quality, progressive education to children from families with limited financial resources.