How The Nysmith School Keeps Students Passionate About Learning
Most children can’t wait to start school and approach the beginning of their academic careers with breathless anticipation. Kindergartners and first- and second-graders in particular are known for their giddy excitement about what they learn and do in school. Alarmingly, recent studies have shown that from third grade on a child’s enjoyment of learning drops continuously. This distressing fact has been attributed by some to the current emphasis on standardized testing and rote learning, which seems for many students to curtail their natural joy. Whatever the reason, the potential life-long impacts of a child’s diminished interest in learning should be a cause for concern.
Taking up the challenge of keeping children’s enjoyment of learning alive has been the mission of the award winning Nysmith School for the Gifted since it opened its doors in 1983. For more than 35 years Founder Carole Nysmith and her son and current Head of School, Ken Nysmith, have been guiding curriculums and classes that keep preschool through eighth grade students engaged and stimulated and strive to make school—dare we say—“fun?”
At their Herndon campus, small class sizes allow Nysmith’s team of passionate and knowledgeable teachers to effectively engage students with hands-on activities and challenging content that teach the value of learning and nurture the kind of kids who will find algebra and biology an exciting challenge rather than a chore.
Nysmith turns the tables on the current epidemic of classroom boredom—nurtured in mainstream education with its emphasis on standardized tests and regimented, repetitious learning—with child-centered activities that are tactile and creative. Because engagement is a precondition, no learning happens until the curriculum becomes more personalized and meaningful for every student, with Nysmith teachers working hard to build environments that sustain engagement and nurture potential.
Recognizing that children start out with an instinct to explore and discover, the Nysmith team taps into the unique fascinations that keep the spark for learning alive, which in turn sends a powerful message that learning doesn’t end with childhood.
At Nysmith, the “gifted” child is defined as one who loves learning and who has the capacity, inquisitiveness and interest to learn.The curriculum is therefore designed to nurture the gifted student’s innate joy in discovery and to fuel natural enthusiasm. By being entertaining and interactive, but educational as well, and encouraging and building academic skills and analytical problem solving, each child’s creative potential is drawn out. Further, by being introduced to—and learning to overcome— challenges within an encouraging environment, students gain a sense of competence, something that all enthusiastic learners share.
Of course, as the old proverb says, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, so to fully judge the effectiveness of Nysmith’s combination of nurturing environment and rigorous curriculum it is important to note that its students regularly place in the top 1 percent nationwide in national tests for math, reading and language. The school has also been nationally recognized for its achievements in fostering children’s interest in science and math, winning a 2014 “Tommy Award” from Thomas Jefferson High School (the #1 High School for STEM and #2 Public High School in the U.S.*) as well as being named a “Top 10 School in the World” for Academic Excellence in 2015 by Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. For the chance at the kind of academic advantage that can be acquired at Nysmith, parents have even been known to quit jobs and sell homes just to move to the area and enroll their children in the school.
High test scores and awards aside, Nysmith’s stated goal remains the creation of an educational experience that is truly enjoyable. Every day at the school offers students the opportunity to find their own creativity and become the best version of themselves. Providing exceptional academics and captivating young minds with serious fun is Nysmith’s continuing commitment to every student’s success.
Nysmith School for the Gifted
* Niche’s 2019 Best Schools in America; www.niche.com