The School Dilemma – The Westwood School Review

>>>This is my personal review of The Westwood School located on Proton Road. This tour occurred on April 9, 2014. I am not a school expert…this is actually the very first private school I have toured and I might have gotten some facts incorrect. I am in fact HUMAN! For more information on the school you can visit their site at http://westwoodschool.org/<<<<<

The Westwood School is located in an indiscreet industrial/business park area of Farmer’s Branch. I’m fairly familiar with the area since our first apartment was about a half a mile away. It is not your ideal location for a school but they have space planned wonderfully. The beginner (age 2)- Middle School programs are housed in one big building and uses the traditional 3-year Montessori model for classrooms: ages 3-6 years, grades 1-3 and grades 4-6 and then move towards the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme for grades 7-8. There is a gymnasium, multipurpose room, a couple of age-based libraries and outdoor areas as well as a café that the upper grades run themselves (complete with ordering product, managing the finances and making the drinks).

For the most part each 3-year cycle classrooms has 20 students with 2 accredited Montessori teacher and share 1-2 teachers-in-training between 2 other classrooms. The school also offers a high school at a different location located in the same area. In total the two campuses house approximately 300 students.

They do require uniforms of different colored polo shirts and bottoms. Honestly, there was so much variety, I’m sure any family/child could find a color they liked. The school is not crazy expensive but it is not the cheapest out there, admission starts around $11,300 and going up to max of $18,500 . Their admissions process is a five step process and is laid out very nicely on their site.

I will focus on the Preschool-Lower Elementary sections since this is what I was most interested in on my tour. Each of the Preschool and Lower Elementary classes are set-up similarly. There are wooden tables, kitchens, bathrooms, lots of books and works scattered through the room. The rooms all lead to either a library or an outdoor space. The school makes sure that each classroom has a nice balance of boys vs girls and active vs thoughtful students. There are areas for personal belongings and quiet time. In all, it looks like any classroom…..but then you look closer.

The children are not sitting in circles, singing songs. They are not sitting side by side at 6-top tables working together on the same writing skill or math project. Each child is working independently, on a mat, a table or an area in the room, on something completely different than the child next to them. Yes, in one classroom, I noted that all 15+ children appeared to be working on something different….by themselves. This is true Montessori in the works. It was amazing to see three year olds working on cleaning a mirror next to a 6 year old working on counting to 100 with beads on the floor. In 2 classrooms I saw the students take their works over to the teacher for assistance and in one classroom I saw a teacher sit down with a student to show them a (what appeared to be) a new works project. In one of the grades 1-3 classroom I watched a group of 4 children work on the floor to solve some kind of counting or geography puzzle, while others were reading in the corner and others were sitting at tables working on math blocks.

What this shows me is that this is a true Montessori program in progress. It validates the “Montessori at home” books that I have sitting on my shelf that given the confidence and the ability, children can work and LEARN independently. I could tell that these children did this daily and they enjoyed it. The director pointed out a boy who had been sitting in a chair, she said that it appeared he must have been having some difficulties, so he was waiting until his body calmed so his brain could focus again. It was amazing to see that discipline was not forced on him, it was encouraged for him to self-control himself and when he was ready….he got up and went back to his project…..no timer was set, no corner was used. She mentioned that they will also sometimes use the garden as a way for children to refocus. They can go outside and sweep or water the plants and take in nature to calm themselves down before returning to the classroom to continue their studies.

As many people who understand Montessori the outdoor space for a school is very important. I have to say that the space was a little underwhelming coming from the Montessori pre-school that we previously attended (St. James). There are 2 areas, one for the younger children and one for the older kids. The younger space is fairly large with a field to play soccer and a multilevel play area with room to ride bikes around a swingset/jungle gym. There is also ample outdoor dining space and work space which is nice for the children to move outside if they needed/wanted to. The outdoor space for the older children is a little open area with lots of picnic areas. They do use the lower elementary space for active time as well.

I was not able to observe the upper and middle school classes in action because they were testing on this day. Yes, even in Montessori schools there are tests. These tests are for a few reasons, one to see if the children are meeting levels of skills but also for the school to see if they need to improve on any areas in teaching or focus. The students at the older ages can also qualify for pre-college summer programs through these tests scores. One of the interesting things that the director was telling me is that at this level (6th plus grade) they have to spend time teaching the children to fill out bubbles on answer sheets, something that most students in other educational programs are doing as early as kindergarten.

The upper classes also run the “Ibeanery Coffee House” which is a brainchild of the children a few years ago. They run the whole coffee shop, complete with a drink board to rival Starbucks options. It is a pretty impressive venture, so impressive that the architects of their new building are going to do pro bono work to make the Ibeanery an innovative part of their design.

Which brings me to their expansion and move. They are slated to move to a new location for the 2015-2016 year….of course the year we are looking to place our oldest. This campus will hold K-12 in an innovative 2-story building on 7 acres of semi-wooded land at I-35 & 635 which is a significant distance for me to drive to from where we live. However the facility sounds amazing and will have the most up-to-date Montessori and high school features including 3 science labs and 2 gyms. The school has many drawings about this new expansion in their reception area but nothing featured on their website yet.

A few other things to note, there is very little turn-over in teachers, which is always a good sign for a school. The 3-6 year old classrooms all have a dedicated Spanish speaking teacher and all other classes offer Spanish for either half day or a few hours a week. They also offer Mandarin classes for all students as well. This is a “bring your child into the building” kind of school, so don’t expect to kick your kid out of the car because your baby fell asleep on the drive over. With the new expansion they are still only hoping to grow to about 450 maximum students, pre-K through twelfth grade. There are over 45 countries represented by just the students of the school, this is not adding in the multinational faculty. They also offer a very expansive list of extra activities for your children to participate in, from Girl Scouts to Track teams which keeps your children participating with their classmates outside of school. H

ere is my list of positives and negatives. They will be different than yours, and I hope that you find my information helpful in considering Westwood. I want to tell you…please don’t tour it, just because if we do decide it is the school for us, I don’t want the competition. 🙂

Positives

Montessori
Dedicated Spanish teacher in first year (Kinder) then Spanish classes after that
Small campus to dip our toe into private school life
Did not seem pretentious or upscale, very down to earth campus and kids
True focus on the children, on citizenship and responsibility
Complete program K-12 with bridging from Montessori to the International Baccalaureate programs
30 plus minutes of outdoor play time
Parent programs held throughout year
World Diversity in student and faculty body
Extra activities for students
School coffee shop! What better reason to drive in traffic than to pick up coffee made by a bunch of pre-teens

Negatives

Location, location, location!
Future location
Small school….could be cliquish or hard for children to find their place
Must walk into school to drop off children (however, they do offer the coffee shop as an incentive)
Not as pretty of an outdoor space as some private (or public) schools
Not many male faculty at the lower levels

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