Michelle Toma-Harrold is TCS’s Director of Learning Strategies and Academic Support and parent to Emily and Danielle who graduated from The Children’s School in 2013. Emily and Danielle graduated from The Atlanta Girls’ School in 2019. Emily currently attends the United States Naval Academy and Danielle attends Elon University in North Carolina. In their first year, Emily survived a rigorous 7-week bootcamp at the Naval Academy and Danielle made the President’s list and won a Black Excellence award for having a high GPA (3.8+) at Elon University.
My husband, Phill, and I first fell in love with The Children’s School in the spring of 2004 when we toured the school as prospective parents for our then three-year-old children, Emily and Danielle. We knew we were interested in TCS for its whole-child approach, embedded social-emotional learning, and value for diversity. Even though different words were used to describe it then, the sense of community, joyful celebration of and respect for childhood, and promotion of students’ authentic selves were evident.
While we walked around campus, small, yet meaningful interactions stood out – students happily running up to adults to say hi or share stories (and adults looking equally as happy to say hi and hear them), teachers talking to students through teachable moments in peer conflicts, a pre-k student hugging the head of school and asking her to open his cheese crackers, and teachers and students buzzing while learning in their classrooms. Fourteen or so years later, I still remember it vividly!
As a psychologist who consulted around education, I knew the critical function that strong relationships with teachers play in students’ love of learning and academic outcomes. I also had countless opportunities to see inside schools and classrooms across the city. What we saw on our visit – teachers who were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and went out of their way to extend themselves to the kids and kids who were happy, joyful, engaged in learning, and who seemed to love school – was noteworthy. This is what we wanted for our children. While this is what brought us to the school, we stayed because what we saw on our tour proved to be the truth of TCS for our children and our family until they reached the end of their TCS path in sixth grade.
Now that Emily and Danielle are seniors in high school at The Atlanta Girls’ School, I’ve thought a lot about these early years and my gratitude for the foundational experiences they had here. First, they were well prepared academically and moved seamlessly into a new curriculum that included changing teachers for each course (which requires negotiating varied styles, expectations and routines); honors, AP (advanced placement), and independent study classes; group projects; various presentations to groups of all sizes; a bigger homework load; and considerably more freedom.
At TCS, because of the guidance from their teachers, they felt valued and grew to become self-reliant learners who know how to forge close relationships with their teachers and manage their time effectively. This has been critical to their success in middle and high school (and no doubt will remain so in college) when needing to bravely advocate for themselves, attend teachers’ office hours for tutorials, ask questions and present information in classes or assemblies, apply and interview for internships, and use small segments of found time to stay on top of class work.
Moreover, beyond that, they were ready to jump into their middle and high school experiences with both feet. They continued with the passions they developed at TCS, such as acting and drama, and were fearless in trying new endeavors, such as volleyball, cross country, and track; capitalizing on leadership opportunities, such as being the captains of their sports teams and becoming a class representative; and traveling internationally on their own. They have navigated the, sometimes challenging, social waters of middle and high school with maturity, poise, and grace. They are inclusive connectors of people, who use their well-honed social skills to foster effective group cohesion and collaboration on school projects and other group activities (of which there are many!) and to build rapport unselfconsciously with the people they met and worked with while traveling abroad.
Most of all, TCS provided my kids with a set of academic, social, and emotional experiences that were just right for them. TCS struck an effective balance of providing support and expressing confidence in their abilities while also stretching them just beyond their comfort zones so that they grew and developed resilience. They learned to know themselves well and found their voices, and they aren’t afraid to use them appropriately in order to get their needs met. They were prepared to take in and run with what their next set of experiences had to offer. This is the stuff of success in school, work, and life, and this grounding is the lasting legacy of their time at TCS, which I know will serve them well in whatever comes next. I can’t imagine it any other way.