Gateway Academy Tour

Carolyn Means - Monday, August 27, 2018

A lot can happen at a school when I miss visiting for three years, and at Gateway Academy the changes are many. Cosmetic enhancements to the campus include resurfacing the parking lot and planters with crepe myrtle on the back deck. Beautiful new wood floors and classroom doors have transformed the inside of this school. Gateway serves about 70 middle and high school students who need a small, supportive school but want programs offered at main stream schools. Gateway has this figured out by placing all students in one of five houses named for ancient Greek city states - Athens, Sparta, etc. Each house has its own color and unique gryphon based on the school mascot. Student uniforms have also changed for the better. Students have shirts the color of their house and blue shirts for field trips. Each day students earn points for their house by demonstrating positive behaviors and teamwork. On my visit there was great excitement as students in each house were putting up their group-designed hallway bulletin boards. No doubt there would be points for the best. Gateway students begin their day with exercise on spinning bikes, or running, or using other stationary equipment that is also accessible if a student needs a short break. Social skills are taught as a course and at teachable moments. Business and college readiness skills are part of the curriculum and help students prepare for internships in the community. The culinary program teaches all students basic cooking, serving, catering, nutrition and sourcing healthy foods. I had a brief chat with a senior who spoke about SAT and ACT prep classes and the ease of being able to take these tests at Gateway. Theater is a popular class and the annual musical involves students on stage and behind the scenes. Performances are staged in the Gateway gymnasium before large audiences. Gateway is a member of TAPPS which enables students to play sports such as basketball or volleyball against other small schools. 

Fusion Academy Tour

Carolyn Means - Monday, August 27, 2018

Fusion Academy in Houston's Galleria is one of a chain of schools that has swept the nation since it's founder began the first school in California. Some of the keys to Fusion's success are complete uniformity from the curriculum down to the decor, plus the highly positive environment for middle and high school students. There is a lot of laughter at Fusion that balances with the serious work of learning. My tour last week gave me a chance to look at the school for a student who would benefit from one-to-one, self-paced instruction, a dynamic history teacher and a strong art program. Fusion has a highly experienced special education co-ordinator and four faculty members with special education training. The art teacher is a gifted connector with kids of all ages. He teaches painting, drawing, photography, origami, animation, and pretty much whatever the students are interested in. The history teacher has been with the school for four years and memorabilia around his room would stimulate conversations about military history, geography, current events, and ancient civilizations. He teaches history at all levels including AP. For a student like my client, Fusion's newest program, COGx, would be an option with potential to increase working memory, processing speed, and general study skills. Fusion's college counselor individualizes for the needs and interests of the students and was able to get significant scholarship funds for many recent graduates.  Fusion has a rolling admission policy. They often get new students a few weeks after school begins and even well into the school year when poor academic performance, illness, bullying or other issues make a school change a real option.

Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Local Houstonians know it as simply "Duchesne", where generations of their daughters were educated from pre-school through high school, graduating in white dresses, well-prepared for college. Tucked away among tall trees in Memorial, even at a busy intersection, the gracious campus is an ideal location for a school. As a Sacred Heart School, Duchesne, is among the finest of Catholic schools in this region for offering an all-girls education that is balance with arts, athletics, technology, service and faith. 

Thanks to a delightful tour and a visit with newly appointed Tony Houle, Director of Admission and Strategic Imperatives, I had a rich update on Duchesne. The school profile of today's Duchesne reflects the changing demographics of Houston over the 30+ years since my daughter's contemporaries graduated from Duchesne. Current statistics include diversity of religion at 40% and color at 42%. 100% of graduates are admitted to a 4-year college or university, and 1-on-1 laptops in middle and upper school - plus the girls run The Cave where laptops are serviced (DASH was the first all local school to institute a laptop program). Duchesne academics offers 23 Advanced Placement courses, and now has one of only 3 All Girls Texas Robotics Teams - fittingly called Iron Plaid. In their first competition they took 4th place in the State. Today's Duchesne student is also a servant in our community, beginning with her school's Social Awareness Program in pre-K. A huge change in the School is the involvement of girls in athletics. The swim team is among the best in the City and volleyball ranks high. Field sports are soon to have their home games actually at "home" when the newly expanded, regulation size playing field is completed. 

Of course, one can quickly notice a change in the school with faculty. A few of the beloved Sisters who founded the school still live on campus, but the faculty and administration are lay people, not members of a religious society. New faculty and new instructional strategies in the hands of talented teachers engage the female brain - yes, according to Michael Gurian, the brain is either male or female and there are educational applications, accordingly. For example, the new "modeling" curriculum in Aimee Modie's chemistry class, the Lucy Calkins reading and writing program in elementary grades, flexible seating in classrooms and halls, and walls for girls to write math problems or messages find a particular expression in an all-girls school. Duchesne librarians are special ladies who make the libraries vibrant hubs of activity. There are still stacks of books - hooray, but a also audio books, advanced technology and spaces for group work and conversation. 

The goals of a Duchesne's Sacred Heart Education have not changed, nor has the fact that an all-girls education offers enormous values to girls not found in a coed school. Duchesne graduates are confident, competent, powerful young women who are allowed to be themselves, think critically, be curious, intellectual, and independent and to assume leadership roles in an school environment free of male approval or disapproval. For families with girls from three years through high school, Duchesne offers a unique opportunity for her education among Houston's private schools. 

The Parish School

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

With the faculty busy preparing their classrooms, I toured The Parish School with a client and super Admission team member Sarah Swantner. In spite of the soaring summer heat, there was a lovely breeze permeated by the fragrance of cedar from the recently completed first phase of the Margaret Noecker Nature Center. This beloved, late Head of School was one of the caretakers of the gardens, including the butterfly garden where I was able to capture a photo of a Monarch enjoying the nectar of a bright pink blossom. I knew founder Robbin Parish growing up here in Houston, and we both went to Camp Waldemar where Robbin, who had dyslexia, recalled her happiest days. The School's expansive grounds away from commercial activity, feature limestone buildings with cedar beams and gardens with native Texas plants, echoing Robbin's summer camp environment. The Carruth Center proving support services for children is also located on this campus at the west end of Hammerly off the Beltway.

Robbin pioneered social language curriculum and multi-sensory instructional strategies meant to bring success for the whole child. Those methods were foundational to the Project-Based Learning curriculum and instruction that Parish has recently adopted. PBL is a breath of fresh air - engaging and effective in developing critical thinking skills. Most of our mainstream academic schools have gone to PBL which has obvious expression in the Maker Spaces of schools where outcomes in tangible forms begin with a question seeking a solution. These could be 3-D models, electric toothbrush robots, or a cardboard and straw maze for a Madagascar hissing cockroach (a long-term library visitor) Strongly kinesthetic Parish School children are highly attracted to this kind of learning. Next door to the library is the music room where students learn to play all types of percussion instruments to accompany their many choral performances in front of audiences. The students will be singing at the annual benefit luncheon on October 4th at The Junior League.  

Single-sex Education Shows Benefits

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Gurian Institute developed from the work of Michael Gurian who has written numerous books on how boys and girls learn in ways that differ from one another. Their recent e-newsletter referred to an article on this topic in Education Week, citing not only gains in test scores, but also those "soft skills" which are hard to measure but make life much better and learning more successful. In Dallas ISD comparisons were made between coed schools and all girls or all boys schools. The measurable gains in reading and math were clearly evident, yet the more impressive "gains" were summed up in the comments by the boys. In comparing their former coed school experiences, the boys reported that students in their current school were calmer and less disruptive, more cooperative and built friendships more easily. The boys said they liked the emphasis on leadership, forging stronger relationships and helping each other become better students and peers. For the all girls school, the benefits were greatest in the freedom girls found to explore math, science and technology. Single-sex schools in Houston include The Regis School of the Sacred Heart, (preschool thru 8th grade) and two high schools for boys - Strake Jesuit Preparatory and St. Thomas High School. We have three high schools for girls - Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, Incarnate Word Academy, and St. Agnes Academy. St. Thomas' Episcopal School offers a coed program in Bridge and Kindergarten, single sex from grades one to eight and coed in high school. 

A Tour of St. Francis Episcopal Upper School Campus

Carolyn Means - Thursday, August 02, 2018

Twenty-two trail-blazing students are about to embark on their freshman year at Houston's newest high school, the Upper School at St. Francis Episcopal School. Yesterday, I had a tour of the large campus with Director of College Counseling and Interim Head of Admissions, Steven Scales. While preserving the elegant finishes and furnishings of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Cooper who owned this property, spaces have been re-purposed as administrative offices and student-centered environments. Ranging from the student center in the historic Richmond House, dining, study and meeting spaces in the Andrews House, six modern classrooms in a separate academic building, science labs upstairs in the Crum Athletic Center, to large playing fields, the facilities have been designed with today's students in mind. I enjoyed a brief chat with Kara Henderson, Upper School Head, who will be teaching all levels of Spanish and Freshman Seminar. Before her most recent position at Emery/Weiner School, Kara was at St. John's School. Angie Flowers, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, also came to St. Francis from St. John's. She has been working for the past two years on translating the high school vision into a road map for the talented faculty assembled for the Upper School. With the addition of a grade each year and the development of the remaining acres of the South Campus, St. Francis Episcopal School will be a strong preschool to high school option for Houston families.  

Southampton Montessori School Tour

Carolyn Means - Friday, July 27, 2018

The campus of Southampton Montessori School is a little gem tucked in the neighborhood surrounding Rice Village - a sprawling collection of shaded cottages on both sides of Robinhood at Morningside.

The school is a Houston Montessori institution that fostered the growth of many of our finest Montessori schools. I have worked with numerous Southampton children over the fourteen years of my practice when families are looking for the next school after their child is ready to leave the 3-6 year class. Montessori children are already lovers of work, able to focus, and possess a strong foundation in reading and math, so they transition well into traditional programs.

The charm of Southampton is immediately evident as one enters the office with its soft pink and white colors and charming decor. Each classroom is well furnished with Montessori materials.  Children were busy with practical life activities, on task alone on their rugs, or having a lesson in small groups. The large playground features a darling playhouse, huge climbing structure, plus a swimming pool that is the hit of the summer camp. Southampton also has a lovely gym with hoops and a shiny floor to serve the day and after-school program.

Children from several public and private schools come after school by bus to Southampton as well as in the summer. The teachers are certified in Montessori methods, and this is not always the case in "Montessori" schools. The only drawback to this wonderful school is the long waiting list for the 2-year old class. Right now, the children get places according to the date they are registered, so consider getting on the list when your child is an infant so you have a choice when your child is ready to begin school. 


Thrive Academy - A New Houston School

Carolyn Means - Wednesday, July 18, 2018

My life's passion is for children to find joy in learning. I often use the phrase, "I want to find a school where your child will thrive." So how excited was I when Dr. 

Chris Zaddach, Interim Head of School and Admission Director, invited me to coffee to hear about a new school with the awesome name of Thrive Academy! Thechild who could be a perfect fit for this school is entering Grades 1-8 and has yet to find joy and success in school. Thrive will offer a low stress environment where there is a tolerance for movement, conversation, creativity, and achievement in a rich curriculum. This could be a child whose abilities are overshadowed by poor communication and executive functioning skills that often result in anxiety, discouragement and lower than expected achievement. The school has been dreamed of and backed by a strong group of parents and professionals. Thrive Academy is located at 1231 Wirt Road, just north of I-10 on the campus of the Houston Mennonite Church. Read the flyer on the Thrive Academy Facebook page for more about the mission of this new school. 

The British International School of Houston

Carolyn Means - Monday, July 09, 2018

Recently I had the great pleasure of touring The British International School of Houston - which is actually located in Katy on N. Westgreen Blvd. Definitely not the former British School, BISH is now owned by the Nord Anglia School group, and they really know how to design a school.

The building is four stories high and architecturally stunning with an atrium featuring the "Bomba" - a huge cafeteria on the first floor.  The family I was touring with was greeted by the Head of School, the Assistant Head of School, several members of the Admission staff, the heads of several athletic programs and the chair of the music department. All questions were welcomed and answered transparently. The school can serve students with a range of academic abilities from age 2 to high school.

There is a learning center for all grades and differentiation is a common instructional strategy. Students come to TBISH from across the globe or across Greater Houston for the excellence in education, the quality of the IB Diploma plus the State of Texas diploma, and the expansive array of extracurricular offerings. Partnerships with the National Jr. Olympic Swim Team, MIT, and Julliard, The Texas Medical Center, NASA and local offices of world-wide energy corporations enhance programs across the school. The distinctive international community is stimulating and reflects the world this generation of students will encounter. The school provides bus transportation to some areas of Greater Houston, so this should be a school to visit regardless of the location.  

STEM at The Regis School

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

STEM is the big curriculum magnet at schools these days. At The Regis School of the Sacred Heart, STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - is a perfect focus for a school providing a unique education for boys ages 3-8th grade. The youngest boys learn to write code with legos on the library wall or bots in the elementary maker space. They design mazes with tape on the hallway floor. Older boys in the Mac lab create original designs which they produce on 3-D printers, learning the value of precise measurements. New furniture on wheels spins, goes up and down and across the floor in the math lab where boys work in pairs and groups on math projects and games. Since my last campus visit two ping pong tables have been placed in open hall space, golf and tennis have been added to the athletic options, and the new lights on the playing field have promoted more night games on campus. Eighth grade graduates this year will be headed for some of the following high schools: The Kinkaid School, Strake Jesuit Preparatory, St. John's School and St. Thomas High School. 

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Nothing is more important than your child's education. SCHOOL SOLUTIONS in Houston, Texas, offers educational consulting services to help parents make the right choice for their child’s school. As an Educational Consultant and founder of SCHOOL SOLUTIONS in 2004, I have helped over 1000 students find the right fit at over 90 different Houston private and public schools, from preschools to high schools, including special needs schools.

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Recent Blog Posts

  1. Gateway Academy Tour Carolyn Means 27-Aug-2018
  2. Fusion Academy Tour Carolyn Means 27-Aug-2018
  3. Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Carolyn Means 21-Aug-2018
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