Throughout the area are several extraordinary private schools dedicated to superior learning across all grades. Whether your child thrives in an environment of rigorous instruction, more individual attention or specialized programs, there are private schools that offer opportunities that may not be readily available through public schools.
School for the Gifted
Preschool through Eighth Grade
13625 EDS Drive, Herndon, VA 20171
Located in Herndon, VA, Nysmith School for the Gifted was founded in 1983 by Carole Nysmith, a teacher of gifted students in Fairfax County’s Gifted and Talented Program, who believed that an enriched educational experience that was tailored to each student’s individual needs could increase a student’s critical thinking and analytical skills. In an environment that motivates students to become their best selves both academically and socially, students learn through a project-based program.
“Gifted means that your child loves to learn and has the capacity, inquisitiveness and interest to learn,” explained Ken Nysmith, Head of School. “Because we care about how the children perceive school, we take great care to make school engaging, stimulating and fun. It’s not about pushing more information.
“For example,” Nysmith continued, “if we’re studying social studies, we will engage in hands-on projects that see where the rivers and mountains are, and look at the political structure and the demographics of a country based on geography to take in the human experience rather than just learn ‘here are the valley and the capital.’”
Students enjoy active hands-on learning with teachers who are subject area specialists. Their enthusiasm inspires students to love their particular subject area. Methods are lively and engaging and nurture gifted students’ innate joy in discovery and learning. Students learn in window-filled, sunny classrooms that change classes with every subject.
Small class sizes with two teachers per class encourage students and teachers to truly collaborate and explore. Nysmith does not believe in rote memorization, classroom repetition or a lot of homework. The curriculum is designed to be entertaining and interactive as well as educational, encouraging academic skills, analytical problem solving, communication and social skills.
Nysmith also provides a generous offering of academic and leisure special activities that include cooking, art, sports, computers and more. “We have about 55 clubs ranging from sports to philosophy, to cursive and creative writing,” Nysmith said. “There is something to interest everyone.”
“We’re looking for children who love to learn, and we will offer them a great experience,” Nysmith said. “Here, children can’t wait to come back to school the next day.”
Many private schools ask for additional funds above the stated tuition and fees, or engage in fund-raising activities. Nysmith does not. Their programs are supported by tuition only. In addition, Nysmith also offers extended care from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to accommodate working parents’ schedules. During extended care, children participate in special activities, play outside and enjoy snacks.
Nysmith School was recognized in 2015 as a “Top 10 School in the World” for Academic Excellence by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and Iowa Standardized Test scores from 2000 to 2014 show Nysmith students scoring in the top 1% of students nationally. Between 30% and 40% of students are accepted into the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology after they leave, and many others go into private academies throughout the Eastern seaboard.
Tuition: From $23,000-$33,000 based on age
School Size: 585 students
Campus Size: 13¼ acres
Head of School: Ken Nysmith
Motto: We Make School Fun
Grades 6–12, co-ed
200 Academy Drive, Front Royal, VA 22630
Located in the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) is a college-preparatory day and boarding military school for grades six through twelve.
“At Randolph-Macon Academy, our focus is on leadership, growth and development in a values-based, academically challenging and structured environment,” explained Jonathan Ezell, Upper School Academic Dean. All of the students in grades 9-12 participate in the Air Force JROTC and the student body performs more than 10,000 hours of community service each year. U.S. Air Force uniforms are worn by the upper school students, while middle school students wear a less formal khaki and polo shirt uniform.
“Our students are not required to attend military school, but some do, coming here to earn entrance into the service academies and earn ROTC scholarships. All students, however, get a first-rate education and have the opportunity and experience in leadership positions.”
Equal opportunities are offered to male and female students, who can earn their way through a hierarchy of leadership positions throughout their career at R-MA. “Those who can demonstrate leadership qualities and earn the respect of their peers and community earn their rank up the ladder into significant leadership roles,” Ezell said. “The hardest leadership assignment they will ever have in life is to be able to lead their peers. With this leadership experience we see our students go on to become CEOS or start their own businesses.”
R-MA’s goal is to prepare students for success in life through academic achievement, integrity, leadership and responsible citizenship, and students abide by an honor code that permeates the school. They are also required to attend a mandatory weekly chapel service for worship or reflection.
“We believe every student is curious and capable,” Ezell said. R-MA students receive personalized attention that makes a difference in the classroom and inspires a student’s curiosity and confidence to learn throughout their personal and professional lives. Class sizes average between 13 and 17 students, with 13 advanced placement courses and 54 college credits available, and after-school tutorial time.
Specialty programs include students working towards their solo or private pilot’s certification, the U.S. Service Academy Prep Track, and the Virginia 91st Air Force Junior ROTC Band.
“We are a remarkably diverse international community, with children from around the world who come here to get the best education, develop leadership skills and go on to U.S. colleges. Our college and university acceptance rate is 100% and over the past five years, and with an average senior class size of about 65-70, we have earned between $5 and $8 million in scholarships. As much as 75% of the class receives scholarships,” Ezell said.
Randolph-Macon Academy is accredited by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and is affiliated with and listed by The University Senate of the United Methodist Church.
Tuition: From $30,000
Boarding: Yes, plus grades 6-8 have a five-day boarding program avail.
School Size: 330 students – 270 at upper school, 60 at middle schoolstudents
Campus Size: 135 acres
Headmaster: General David C. Wesley
Motto: Knowledge, Leadership, Character
Grades 6-12, co-ed
Tysons opening Fall 2016, other campuses
in Alexandria, VA and Washington, D.C.
Fusion Academy is a unique, private middle and high school that creates a “learning ecosystem” offering more than 250 classes for students. It meets students where they are and creates positive relationships to unlock academic potential and open opportunities for personal growth and achievement.
Fusion Academy completely recreated the education model, teaching customized content at each student’s individual pace with a one teacher to one student ratio. Up to 70 full-time students attend each campus, with an additional 100 to 200 students taking Classes for Credit or engaging in tutoring or mentoring. Campuses are located in key metropolitan areas throughout the United States.
“A key reason why Fusion students are happy and successful is because of the one-to-one relationships with their teachers,” explained Lisa Stern, Tysons Director of Admissions. “This consistently engages every student in their content and better equips each teacher to gauge the student’s progress and pace.”
“Our courses aren’t the usual textbook-type courses,” she continued. “While every course meets state standards, classes are self-paced and tailored to each student’s social, emotional and academic needs and goals with teachers who are deliberately trained to be mentors. Compassion, creativity and flexibility steer our method of teaching to each student’s strengths and challenges.” In addition to core academic subjects, Fusion also offers art, music, Honors and other extracurricular and elective courses, using creativity as a tool to help students connect more deeply with their friends, family, community and themselves.
Additional programs include Classes for Credit for those who need to make up a class or get ahead or for homeschooled students to enrich their learning experience, the Learning Center for subject tutoring, standardized test prep and enrichment classes, the Transitional Program that helps navigate the change to upper grades, and the Homework Café® where students complete their homework under teacher supervision. “We don’t want our students taking homework home; we want our families enjoying that time just being together.”
“Fusion’s learning community is a place of connection, support and real understanding that allows students to turn their potential into reality and create a balance between learning and life,” Stern continued. “Our students come here because they are excelling in public school and want to move faster, or are struggling in the traditional public school setting. Students who need to travel due to equestrian events and sports, for example, or those with health issues also come because of the flexible scheduling we offer. You aren’t allowed absences in public schools.” Heavy focus is placed on regular communication between parents, staff and students to ensure progress in each student’s academic, emotional and social growth.
Each campus also employs teachers trained in working with students with learning disabilities and an SSD coordinator who coordinates individualized education programs. Because each student is on their own customized academic plan, tuition can vary from student to student and school to school. In addition to the new Tysons campus, Fusion also operates academies in Alexandria, VA and Washington, D.C. locally.
Tuition: Varies: full time, part time, single-course and tutoring available
School size: About 50 per school location
Campus: Building sizes vary
Director of Admissions: Lisa Stern, Tysons
Motto: A Revolutionary Way to School
Grades Junior Kindergarten–12, co-ed;
Lower, Middle and Upper Schools
4439 Old Tavern Road, The Plains, VA 20198
Wakefield School, located in The Plains, Virginia is an independent college-preparatory school that provides a rigorous liberal arts education through a challenging, content-rich curriculum and extracurricular activities.
Located in the small town of The Plains, Virginia, Wakefield School believes in broad knowledge, the equal importance of character and intellect, the benefits of hard work, and the unique potential of its students. It prepares students by fostering self-discipline, independence, creativity and curiosity, providing them with the fundamental knowledge and critical thinking skills that will develop capable, ethical and articulate citizens who will make a difference and lead extraordinary lives.
“Our mission is to create capable, ethical and articulate citizens,” said Gray Carr Griffin, Director of Admissions. “We stress a liberal arts education, but it is really a classical education that includes the sciences and math.” Standardized testing and SOLs are not performed. However, students receive course work to prepare for their PSAT exams.
At Wakefield School, each child learns through an independent track that enables them to move at their own pace of learning. “We look very deeply into how each individual child learns; some like to learn verbally, others learn through writing, for example,” Griffin explained. It is important that each child understands why they need to learn something rather than just learn how to do it.
Wakefield also includes a global community education program where students enjoy hands-on experiences within various cultures. More than $1.2 million in financial aid is available for Wakefield students each year.
Graduation requires a real understanding in four tracks: liberal arts, global studies, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and visual and performing arts. To develop this methodology, Headmaster David Colón spoke with a number of top universities and asked “What are you looking for in quality students in order to gain admission to your university or college?” The universal suggestion was these four tracks.
Extracurricular activities, including track and field, golf and an equestrian team, are deemed important, and are offered during school time. This way, students can be picked up or bused out via shuttles at the end of the school day. Uniforms are required, with a formal school plaid worn on Mondays and a more casual khakis and white shirt uniform Tuesdays through Fridays.
“One of the advantages of an intentionally small school is that students receive one-on-one attention with the teachers. In addition, students from the upper classes become peer advisors and role models to the younger children. In turn, those high schoolers champion that role to become model citizens.” Wakefield also encourages a parent-engaged community, providing opportunities for interaction that fits any parent’s work/life schedule.
“One hundred percent of Wakefield graduates go to college and 98% of those at universities matriculate in four years; 22% of last year’s graduates got early admission,” Griffin said. Since writing is encouraged at Wakefield, Griffin is proud to report that one student’s application essay to UVA is now used as an example for all UVA students (see essay on Wakefield website).
Tuition: From $21,000
School Size: 320 students
Campus Size: 68 acres
Headmaster: David Colón
Motto: Virtus et Sapientia (Virtue and Wisdom)