Preparing children for the future has always been the focus at Forsyth School, but that focus is sharper than ever these days, when the future has never seemed more uncertain. “In some ways, last year’s recessionary downturn was one of the best things that ever happened in terms of getting parents to clarify their values,” says head of school Mike Vachow. “Many of them were facing a reduction in circumstances due to job loss or diminished savings, and they started asking themselves, ‘OK, what really matters to us, an expensive vacation, or our kids’ education?”
Most parents decided that education comes right after food, shelter and clothing in their hierarchy of needs. “They know it’s not something you can skimp on, and they’re willing to sacrifice to provide the best possible education for their kids,” says Vachow, now in his third year at Forsyth after 22 years as an educator. “As teachers and administrators, it’s up to us to carry out that commitment.”
When educators talk about training kids for the future, most tend to mention computer labs and wireless access. “Forsyth is well-equipped with the latest technology, but we understand both the plusses and pitfalls of high tech,” Vachow says. “Just because we live in a computerized society doesn’t mean that brand-new skills are required. Critical thinking, self-discipline, and a sense of personal and social responsibility can help kids sort out the deluge of information and become discerning citizens of the world around them. To teach and learn those skills, there’s no substitute for people interacting with other people, not just with a screen.”
Forsyth, which now has 393 students and a student-teacher ratio of eight-to-one, is known for challenging academic programs and innovative, hands-on learning environments. The school has a native habitat garden, where students monitor a soil testing facility and learn about plants and insects, and a multidisciplinary global citizenship lab where kids use the Internet to work on projects with students in other countries. “Our mission is to provide a supportive atmosphere and challenging, engaging work so that kids can become confident, lifelong learners,” Vachow says.
Forsyth also offers its students an outstanding visual and performing arts program and year-round league sports. A strong sense of community exists among the students, parents and staff. “It’s as much a neighborhood for our families as it is a school,” Vachow says. “Ours is a largely dual-income parent body, and we support their needs with a comprehensive extended day program that includes after-school classes, band and piano lessons, and vacation and summer programs. Our parents don’t have to load the kids into the minivan and run them to lessons and activities all over town—we supply a lot of what they need right here.”
Forsyth also emphasizes health and wellness. “We have two registered nurses on campus, and our kids have physical education every day,” Vachow says. “We’ve also started a farm-to-school lunch program that stresses nutritious, organic, sustainable foods cooked from scratch. We educate kids to think about what they eat, and what kind of impact it has on their health and the environment.”
Kids are under more scrutiny and pressure than ever before, Vachow notes. “Parents are really anxious today, worried about what the future holds for their kids,” he says. “But when you have engaged students, caring parents, creative and compassionate faculty, and a clear mission, like we do at Forsyth, you have kids who will be able to meet whatever challenges the future brings.”