The pandemic pushes some parents to choose private schools.
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
Since the earliest days of the pandemic in 2020, when it was clear that schools across the country would be closed for the year — and that all students would have to adapt to online learning — many parents determined that full-time, at-home education wasn’t the best option for their family.
As Forbes reported this past June (https://bit.ly/3z7k20N), parents saw and heard how different private and public schools handled educating kids at the start of the pandemic, and they weren’t always pleased with what they saw in the public realm. Additionally, the article stated that private schools largely went back to in-person learning at the beginning of the school year last fall, while public schools remained closed or opened with a hybrid model. “While remote learning during COVID-19 was definitely better than nothing, many parents also found they couldn’t handle the uncertainty about it all, or the potential for having to homeschool their kids while also trying to work,” reported the magazine’s Robert Farrington.
According to a report from EdChoice (an American education reform organization) earlier this year, 41 percent of parents were more likely to prefer a private education for their children post-pandemic. Overall, private school enrollment doesn’t quite bare out this preference on a national scale, but many private schools have reported increased registration this year — including some in Cobb County. We spoke with two schools (Brookwood Christian and North Cobb Christian) about their growth.
Brookwood Christian School
Compared with the last school year, Brookwood Christian has seen a 23-percent increase in student enrollment. To help with that increase, the school added three teachers to keep its class sizes small. “Enrollment has increased at Brookwood Christian School this year because parents have seen at home with their own eyes how much their children are struggling in school,” says the school’s Director, Kim Wigington.
The non-profit Brookwood (located at 4728 Wood Street in Acworth) caters to students with learning disabilities in reading and math. It is one of the few schools serving dyslexic students in the metro Atlanta area, and one of only two schools that serve high school students. “Online schooling is great for a small percentage of students, but not for all students and certainly not for students with learning disabilities,” Wigington said. “I think the pandemic put a spotlight on education in general, and our parents began to see that neither the online classes nor the traditional setup was working for their kids.”
The school offers specialized teaching methods, such as the Wilson Reading Program (using Orton Gillingham principles) by teachers who are certified in Wilson. Brookwood’s math program reads the text to the students so they do not have to be fluent readers in order to succeed in math. “Our class sizes are eight students or less,” Wigington said. “Students have art, nature studies, and time outside. We don’t forget to support the parents either. Each building has an administrator whom parents can call with questions and needs.”
Most parents who choose Brookwood do so because they know someone whose child thrives at the school, Wigington said. As parents started to talk to their friends about the difficulties in public schools last year, they realized what a different experience our students were having, she added. Since August of last year, Brookwood has held in-person classes five days per week. The school has taken all precautions and followed CDC guidelines. “We have increased time outside and created outdoor classroom space,” Wigington said. “Our school day and facilities are built around the needs of bright students with learning disabilities. We even have multi-age classrooms where students are grouped more by reading level than by age.”
Wigington says about half of Brookwood’s students come from Cobb County. The other half come from Bartow, Paulding, and Cherokee counties. Most of them come to Brookwood from public schools. She added that if growth continues, the school may be able to add a new, separate building to house its middle school students. Currently, the school’s elementary students (first through seventh grade) have their own building, as do the eighth through 12th graders.
Director Wigington recognizes that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in our education system. She knows that everyone involved is adapting as best they can. And while the students at Brookwood Christian are thriving, Wigington knows that not every family is able to send their children to such a school. “Our students are the kids who fall between the cracks in a traditional school,” she said. “They don’t fit in the special education classroom, but they are not succeeding in the regular classroom either. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of private school; private schools are expensive. There is a bottom-line cost to educate each student, and not everyone can afford it.
“For this reason, we accept state scholarship sources, private and foundation grants and donations, as well as local fundraising to make the tuition as affordable as possible to families who need the financial assistance,” Wigington continued. “It costs money, but we are resourceful and conscientious about spending and budget so much that we have the lowest tuition in the area among schools offering similar services.”
North Cobb Christian School
North Cobb Christian School (NCCS) provides families with a unique K3 through 12th-grade education option that puts children’s cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual needs at the forefront. NCCS challenges students academically, fosters them spiritually, and guides them to discover their God-given purpose and abilities. The school prides itself on being a close-knit community with caring teachers, more than 50 athletic teams and 17 performing arts ensembles, schoolwide weekly chapel, annual retreats, Spring Term trips for middle and upper school, and five Upper School Academies (magnet programs) that allow students to develop their full potential to impact the world for Christ.
North Cobb Christian’s Head of School, Todd Clingman, says many of the parents who have come to the school in the past two years say they had been considering NCCS for a long time. Factors surrounding COVID and current world events were the final encouragement they needed to make the switch for their children. “Parents are currently looking for an educational partner for their children that they can trust, whose position and stance on world events supports their own convictions,” Clingman said. “Parents who are looking for trustworthy and transparent school leadership that prioritizes biblical principles while providing an excellent education for their children have found that in NCCS.”
The real win for NCCS is that nearly all the students the school gained last year stayed this year, he continued. Some came due in part to COVID, but they are all staying due to the positive school culture. “We originally came to NCCS due to COVID and the public school’s COVID policies, so in a way I am thankful for the craziness of last year, as it led us to NCCS,” said Kristen Johnson, an NCCS lower school parent. “We choose to stay, however, because of the God-focused approach to all things. I was so impressed with the school’s leadership through the chaos of last year. I saw the school navigate some very difficult situations, yet always approached each one with integrity, transparency, and in seeking God for wisdom and direction. We are so grateful for the opportunity to send our daughter to a school that prioritizes and believes in the power of prayer, that seeks God first in all things, and is unashamed to stand up for what is right and true according to God’s Word.”
While in-person learning has been the focus, NCCS has responded to our new reality with flexible options for students when needed. According to Clingman, in response to parent and faculty feedback and in alignment with guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health, the school is promoting health and wellness while bolstering NCCS’ nurturing culture and prioritizing the mental health and developmental needs of its students. “We are emphasizing in-person learning and also providing video recordings of all core subjects for fifth through 12th grades each day, so students who need to quarantine or stay home can still benefit from direct instruction,” he said. “Younger students who need to participate in at-home learning work with their teachers to implement an individualized learning plan.”
The school has more than 1,000 students for this academic year, up from less than 900 students two years ago. Clingman said most new students came from public schools. “NCCS has a strong reputation in the community for being authentically Bible-based, as well as for having very robust programs for academics, arts, and athletics,” he added. “We have gained many families who are looking for strong student opportunities, as well as alignment with their Christian values.”
The growth at NCCS continues. The school opened a new, 38,000-square-foot upper school facility this past December, which includes a STEM center with a robotics lab, physics lab, and makerspace, as well as student collaborative spaces, classrooms, offices, and an adjacent parking lot. Clingman said this upper school addition, in turn, opened space for the lower and middle schools to expand across existing facilities. Other recent additions to the 50-acre campus include a renovated main building, updated athletic facilities, and new turf for the Jacob Dennis Football Field. Additionally, NCCS is constructing a security guardhouse, which will open this fall.
North Cobb Christian also is preparing to launch the second phase of its Upper School Building campaign, which will add an additional 27,760 square feet to the new facility, including a student-run coffee shop, chorus room, flex classroom space, kitchen and additional student dining room, state-of-the-art biology and chemistry labs, and dedicated upper school space for the Dr. Carolyn Ware Moving Forward Program, which provides academic support.
“Above all, we are a family,” Clingman says. “The number-one comment we receive from parents and students alike is that NCCS is a true, genuine family. NCCS feels like home.”